Shelton-Colby, a former U.S. ambassador, was disturbed by her stepson’s take on her dead husband, and, as it turns out, so is the rest of the Washington-based Colby clan. They are especially upset with the film’s suggestion that the former spymaster spent his retirement in deep regret and killed himself on a canoeing trip in the mid-1990s.
For the Colby family, the movie is yet one more turbulent moment stemming from the career of their patriarch, whose CIA directorship in the 1970s is one of the agency’s most controversial. And even though Shelton-Colby, the spymaster’s second wife, has been kept at a distance by most of Colby’s biological children, their grievances with the film have united them, at least in principle.
“Let me be very blunt,” said Shelton-Colby, 67, a foreign policy professor at American University. “I think Carl portrayed his father in the way he did to sell his film. Carl didn’t know his father. . . . He was not the cold, insensitive, unfeeling person that Carl portrayed in that film.”
Carl Colby, whose documentary opened in September and is playing in theaters nationwide, declined to discuss his family’s reactions to his film. Although “The Man Nobody Knew” features an extensive interview with his biological mother, Barbara H. Colby, and more than 30 journalists, ex-CIA officials and other dignitaries, Carl did not ask his three siblings to be interviewed.
“I asked my mother, ‘What if [others in the family] all object?’ She said, ‘They can make their own movie,’ ” Carl said in an interview. “We all have our own relationships. The film is about the oldest question: Who are your father and mother? What do they mean to you?”
It’s been 15 years since Bill Colby vanished on a solo canoe trip near his vacation home in Southern Maryland, only to be found dead days later, floating on the banks of the Wicomico River. The CIA’s 10th director was best known for revealing the “family jewels” — a compilation of the agency’s assassination attempts, drug testing on unwitting humans and eavesdropping on war protesters. The disclosures in 1975, historians believe, saved the CIA from destruction when members of Congress were eager for its death, but they made Colby a pariah to CIA officers who believed such transparency imperiled the agency’s mission and national security.
Naturally, the CIA director’s death on a canoe ride triggered murder conspiracy theories. But now, “The Man Nobody Knew” has set off a tense division between Carl, his stepmother and his otherwise low-key siblings: Jonathan Colby, 65, a managing director at the Carlyle Group, an investment firm; Paul Colby, 56, a government attorney; and Christine Colby Giraudo, 51, a public relations consultant.