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What's In The FBI's Files On Pop Culture Icons Like Charlie Chaplin, Elvis And Walt Disney?

Thanks to the documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" (2006), we know that John Lennon has an extensive file compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1970s. But he's not the only celebrity who has a file with the feds. The FBI's online vault is a treasure trove of famous names. Here are seven surprising files from the bureau's archives.

1. Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin - who made America fall in love with his "little tramp" character - was closely monitored for un-American activities by the feds. The bureau kept tabs on any connections between the actor and communist organizations from 1922 to 1978 - a 56-year relationship that surpassed the length of Chaplin's marriages. The FBI also kept a separate file involving Chaplin's alleged violation of the White Slave Traffic Act, which tried to combat cases of forced prostitution and debauchery in America. The case against Chaplin centered on a paternity suit involving his protegé Joan Barry.

Other celebs who were monitored for ties with communism include director Orson Welles and actress Lucille Ball.

2. Walt Disney

No, the FBI wasn't worried that Mickey Mouse was a communist or that Donald Duck was teaching kids obscene quacks. The Disney file was mainly a background check put together when the famous animator invited children of special agents to visit Disneyland in 1954. Walt also wanted to collaborate on short films about the FBI that would be played during "The Mickey Mouse Club" (1955-1958) to get children interested in possible careers as federal agents.

3. "Louie, Louie"

Ever wonder what the lyrics of The Kingsmen's 1963 hit "Louie, Louie" are? The FBI did. In 1964, the bureau investigated allegations that the song contained lyrics that "violated laws against the interstate transportation of obscene material." They launched the study after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Post Office and the Department of Justice tried but failed to determine what the lyrics were. The FBI didn't have any luck either, and the investigation was dropped.

What do you think they were singing about?

4. Jimi Hendrix

On May 3, 1969, Jimi Hendrix was arrested in Toronto when Canadian customs agents found marijuana and other narcotics in his luggage. Canadian Immigration informed U.S. authorities that they wanted to deport Hendrix even if he was found innocent, so they were looking for previous convictions that would help them build a case against the guitar legend. The FBI put together a file on Hendrix's record, including an arrest for joyriding in 1961.

The file also includes information on police making drug busts along the road to Woodstock, where Hendrix headlined the famous music festival in 1969.

5. Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead

Being part of the 60s counterculture practically guaranteed that you would get an FBI file. The bureau kept tabs on Jefferson Airplane's involvement in demonstrations and protests - especially attempts to impeach President Richard Nixon. They also monitored The Grateful Dead's association with LSD in a heavily redacted file. But the uncensored portions do contain this gem: "The Grateful Dead is well known to DEA, San Francisco."

6. Jack the Ripper

Even though the infamous London night stalker's crimes predated the creation of the FBI by two decades, an agent took a crack at the infamous cold case in 1988- one hundred years after the Ripper's first murder. The file wasn't about solving the case so much as profiling the sort of person who could commit such horrific crimes. The psychological profile contains details like, "Jack the Ripper believed the homicides were justified and he was only removing perishable items - who were like garbage."

7. Elvis Presley

The King of Rock 'n Roll was adored by legions of fans in America in the 1970s. But Elvis' hero of that era was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, whom he described as "the greatest living American" according to FBI files. In December 1970, Elvis tried to drop by FBI headquarters to meet Hoover during the same trip in which he visited the White House to shake hands with Nixon and become an honorary narcotics officer. Agents described Elvis as "a sincere young man who was interested in becoming active in the drive against the use of narcotics, particularly by young people."

However, the agents nixed the meeting with Hoover. "Presley's sincerity and good intentions notwithstanding, he is certainly not the type of individual whom the Director would wish to meet. It is noted at the present time he is wearing his hair down to his shoulders and indulges in the wearing of all sorts of exotic dress."

But Hoover did send Elvis a letter apologizing for his absence and promising to keep the King's offer to help the FBI in mind.

h/t NPR


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