Martin Quigley, who used film work as cover for World War II espionage, dies

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 8:07 PM

Martin S. Quigley, an executive with movie-industry trade publications who used his ties to the film world as cover for espionage in Europe during World War II, died of a heart ailment Feb. 5 at his home in West Hartford, Conn. He was 93.

While posing as a commercial film rep in Ireland, he was working in fact for the Office of Strategic Services and its director, Maj. Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan. Toward the end of the war, he took a similar assignment in Italy, where he sent back-channel peace feelers to the Japanese government.

Mr. Quigley, who wrote two books about his years as a secret agent, came from a family with deep connections to the Catholic Church and the movie industry.

His father, whose name also was Martin, was a publisher of movie trade papers and a power broker between the church and Hollywood moguls. As one of the country's most prominent lay Catholics, the senior Quigley was credited with co-authorship of the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code that for decades imposed taboos on depictions of such things as "excessive and lustful kissing."

Martin Quigley joined his father's New York-based publishing empire in 1939 after graduating from Georgetown University. During World War II, he was turned down for Navy service because of poor eyesight. But his family was on close terms with Donovan, a corporate lawyer who led the OSS, forerunner of the CIA.

In 1943, Donovan sent Mr. Quigley to Ireland to gather intelligence on everything from the state of official Irish neutrality to local sentiments about the Allied and Axis powers. Both sides had legations on the Emerald Isle, and Mr. Quigley said his cover proved effective.

"It was a passport to be able to communicate with all kinds of people at every conceivable level," Mr. Quigley later told the Irish Emigrant. "I traveled around the country and would go to a provincial city and see the bishop, the newspaper editor, the cinema owner and the man on the street. People opened up. It was an ideal cover."

Mr. Quigley said his government work often overlapped with the legitimate interests of the American movie industry.

"I used to sit next to [Irish film censor] Richard Hayes and I would argue with him, trying to get him not to cut scenes where background 'Buy War Bonds' posters were included," Mr. Quigley told the Irish Emigrant newsletter. "He was adamant that anything visual alluding to the war would be cut."

Mr. Quigley reported to Donovan that he thought the Irish, despite their animosity toward the English, were confident of eventual Allied victory. At any rate, he noted, the Irish were too economically entwined with England to risk a pro-German alliance.

Mr. Quigley wrote in his 1991 book, "Peace Without Hiroshima," that Donovan sent him to Rome in early 1945 to try to facilitate negotiations through Japanese diplomats at the Vatican.

OSS historians confirmed that the Vatican was one of many diplomatic channels between the U.S. and the Japanese. The war ended that August after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan.

Martin Schofield Quigley was born in Chicago on Nov. 24, 1917. He was first in his class at Georgetown, where he helped found a sailing club.

In 1946, he married Katherine Dunphy. Besides his wife, of West Hartford, survivors include nine children, Martin M. Quigley of St. Petersburg, Fla., Elin Quigley of Garrett Park, William Quigley of Groton, Mass., Kevin Quigley of Arlington, Karen Quigley of Portland, Ore., Patricia Quigley of Concord, N.H., John Quigley of Cumming, Ga., Kate Quigley Lynch of West Hartford and Peter Quigley of Duxbury, Mass.; a sister; 27 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Mr. Quigley earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1975. He was a longtime resident of Larchmont, N.Y., a leafy New York suburb where he served two terms as mayor. He moved to Connecticut about four years ago.

His books included "Magic Shadows: The Story of the Origin of Motion Pictures" (1948); "Catholic Action in Practice: Family, Life, Education, International Life" (1963), a book about the Christian Family Movement co-written with Msgr. Edward M. Connors; and "A U.S. Spy in Ireland" (1999).

Mr. Quigley spent much of his career working for his father's Quigley Publishing Co., rising to be president and publisher. He tried to protect the Production Code but found that changing audience tastes, market demands and compromises by code administrators had made it obsolete by the 1960s.

When the film adaptation of Edward Albee's explicit marital drama "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" was released in 1966, the younger Mr. Quigley wrote a scathing editorial in his Motion Picture Herald lamenting that the code was "dead." At fault, he wrote, was "Virginia Woolf" itself with its literary pedigree and high-quality cast that included Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

"Many have held that 'good taste' is the ultimate standard," he wrote. "There is no such thing as 'good taste' in blasphemy, profanity and obscenity."

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