33. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency (Wilson) to the Special Assistant to the President (Dungan)1

This is to warn against an end run.

Roger Tubby, Phil Stern, and I met today with George Englund, Mel Tucker, and John Horton representing Universal International Pictures who are the guiding spirits behind the movie, “The Ugly American.”2

They want the United States Government to inform the Thai Government that we have no objection to the film being shot in Thailand.

We carefully reviewed the script. Ed Murrow read it too. We decided that the U.S. Government most certainly should not give such clearance to the Thais. The film—although somewhat cleaned up—still portrays the United States as a power imposing its will on others. It also portrays an American Ambassador who, by his bull-headedness, causes a bloody upheaval in an underdeveloped Southeast Asian nation.

We informed these gentlemen that the U.S. Government took the following position: (1) We have no right or intention of censorship. (2) What you are asking for is a stamp of approval from the United States Government to do the film in Thailand. (3) We cannot grant that stamp of approval. (4) We are advising our embassy in Bangkok to this effect. If they are queried by the Thai Government as to our position, we will inform them that we believe the film is not in the interests of the United States Government or the Thai Government.

The film makers stated that they still intended to make the film. We said, “Okay. That is obviously none of our business, except insofar as you officially ask the United States Government to help you.”3

Donald M. Wilson4
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 151, Box 289, Director’s Correspondence—1961. No classification marking. Drafted by Wilson on May 25.
  2. See Documents 11 and 23.
  3. Wilson sent a copy of this memorandum to Dutton under a June 3 covering memorandum. Wilson, in the covering memorandum, wrote: “Reluctantly, I must report that our position on The Ugly American has been overridden by the White House. A message has gone to Bangkok which says that the United States Government will take no position one way or the other on the filming of The Ugly American in Thailand. This reversal took place because the White House felt that the Government must not get itself into the business of approving or disapproving films.” (National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1961, Entry UD WW 142, Box 7, Motion Picture—(IMS)—General 1961 January–Dec) Universal Pictures released the film version of The Ugly American, starring Marlon Brando as Ambassador Harrison Carter MacWhite, in 1963.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.