Learn about the beta

11. Memorandum From the Director, Motion Picture Service, United States Information Agency (Shelton) to the Director (Murrow)1

The Ugly American2 has a rather long history which I will be glad to fill you in on at your convenience.

About two years ago, the Department of State and this office were approached by a representative of Universal International Pictures relative to the possibility of achieving two objectives: (1) to obtain approval of a script which would make it possible for the Department and this office to request cooperation on the part of a Far Eastern country (preferably Thailand) in connection with the production of the film on location; and (2) to assist Universal International Pictures in obtaining aid from the Department of Defense in connection with a number of items available only from the Department of Defense which were necessary to the production.

The first script which was submitted was completely unacceptable to everyone concerned. A meeting was held by representatives of the film company with the Department of State and us regarding changes which might make the script suitable. It was our fear at the time that neither Mr. Englund3 nor certain other people associated with the production of the film were dealing with the Government in good faith in this matter.

In the meantime, since I was going to the Far East on other business, the Department of State requested that I include a full discussion of this problem with Ed Muhl, Vice President in Charge of Production of Universal Pictures in Los Angeles, and that I also discuss fully with Alexis Johnson, our Ambassador to Thailand.

I had such a discussion with Ed Muhl and received from him assurance that under no circumstances would his studio favor the production of this film unless the script could be written in a manner which would not be harmful to the overall interests of the United States. He assigned his assistant, Mel Tucker, to insure that this entire production was handled in a responsible manner rather than in the [Page 42]what appeared to be considered sensational approach which was favored by George Englund.

I then discussed the entire situation with Ambassador Johnson upon my arrival in Bangkok. I also discussed the matter with John Steeves in Hong Kong since he had at almost that exact time been appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. The conclusion of our Ambassador in Thailand was in general that there would have to be a script which was satisfactory to us since inevitably the Thai Government would more or less want to be guided by our advice relative to whether or not they should assist in making the film in Thailand. It appeared clear that the Thai Government would not want the film made if it would be detrimental to US interests.

Various people connected with this production, including George Englund, have been to Thailand at least twice to discuss the entire project and to “scout locations.”

Several representatives of Universal International came back to Washington and met with Ed Kretzmann, several other people in the Department, and me about a year ago at which time they brought what they described as a “step outline” of a proposed new approach to the Ugly American script. This “step outline” had removed most of the objectionable parts of the original script from the viewpoint of ICA, the Foreign Service, the State Department in general, but had substituted a USIA “Information Officer” as the “heavy.” There appeared to be an obvious effort on their part to play off the varying special interests of the regular Foreign Service, political appointees, ICA, the State Department and USIA and they had apparently decided that if they could mobilize the support of the rest of the forces by removing portions which they considered negative they could get away with the use of USIA as the “heavy.” There was, however, a fairly good closing of ranks at this point and an insistence on the part of everyone concerned on the Government’s side that such an identification of USIA must not be used and an alternative proposal was made that the “heavy” be made a vague assistant in the Embassy unidentified as to his specific assignment.

After this meeting, the group from Universal International promised that they would submit a completed script consistent with all the suggested changes. Although we have heard from time to time that they were “working on the script,” they have not delivered it to either State or us as yet.

I want to emphasize that our relations with Universal International are extremely good as they are with every Hollywood film company. As a matter of fact, this has been the only case that I can recall of where there has been obvious efforts made to pressure various elements of the Government in an apparent desire to create friction within the Government so as to prevent a solid position regarding The Ugly American.

[Page 43]It has been my observation, rightly or wrongly, that this effort has been made primarily by George Englund who has used John Horton (a public relations consultant here in Washington) in an effort to create some confusion on this entire matter. My feeling is that Ed Muhl is anxious to avoid anything that would be openly detrimental to the Government.

I have gone into this in some detail because of the very complicated history of this matter. There are many more points which I have not mentioned in this communication which I think are significant. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this with you.

Turner B. Shelton4
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1961, Entry UD WW 142, Box 7, Miscellaneous #2—Various Subjects. Limited Official Use. Payne initialed the top right corner of the memorandum.
  2. Reference is to the prospective film of the 1958 novel written by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.
  3. George Englund, a motion picture director.
  4. Shelton signed “Turner” above his typed signature.