At the end of World War II, British spies were in pursuit of a charismatic, multilingual German agent who had befriended Hollywood celebrities and persuaded British and American detainees to broadcast propaganda for the Nazis.
Secret files from the MI5 spy agency declassified Friday reveal the colorful story of Werner Plack, a German agent who moved from the film sets and nightclubs of prewar Los Angeles to the hotels of wartime Berlin and occupied Paris.
A Nazi interrogated by MI5 described Plack as a "freelance propaganda agent."
MI5 said it was eager to find him because he had "taken part in the recruitment of British renegades" who helped the Nazi war effort.
He was involved in persuading British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse to make radio broadcasts from Berlin for an American audience in 1941 — broadcasts that caused outrage in Britain.
MI5 sources filled in a vivid picture of Plack, described as having an "elegant appearance," a "strong build" and "good teeth."
U.S. officials told the British he had lived for years in Los Angeles, where he worked as a movie extra and for German consul Georg Gyssling, "his duties being to report to Gyssling on important film personages."
He also "was engaged in selling German wines to well known members of the film colony," said the report, which added that Plack "was reported to drink alcohol to excess and to possess a poor credit record."
In June 1940 he got into a bar brawl with a man "who had expressed resentment at statements made by Plack concerning Hitler."
In August 1940, Plack boarded a liner in San Francisco bound for Japan — carrying, U.S. authorities suspected, American secrets disguised in code in religious texts. His papers were searched when the ship stopped in Honolulu, but no coded messages were found.
Plack returned to Germany, where he worked for the Foreign Ministry to find English-speaking propagandists for the Nazis.
Witnesses reported seeing him in the presence of Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves and Wooster, whose controversial broadcasts led some in Britain to accuse him of being a Nazi collaborator.
Questioned by MI5 near the end of the war, Wodehouse called the broadcasts a "hideous mistake" and said "I never had any intention of assisting the enemy."
And Plack seemed to be disappointed in Wodehouse. A detainee told MI5 that "Plack told me that the intention had been to use Wodehouse for propaganda purposes, but he had refused, after having spoken a few times, to broadcast any more on the German radio."
The file ends in December 1945, at which point Plack's whereabouts were unknown.