Canadian-born horror film icon’s father was a double agent in World War II

·National Affairs Contributor

What connects a woman born in the Canadian Rockies with Hollywood and a Second World War double agent?

A new book about Arthur Owens, a Welsh nationalist who duped the Nazis into thinking he was working for them to destroy the British Empire, reveals he was the father of B.C.-born Patricia Owens, best known for her classic scream in the horror movie The Fly.

She was born in Golden, B.C., during a period when her family lived in Canada as her father, an electrical engineer, operated his battery supply business. After 13 years in Canada, the Owens family moved back to Britain in the 1930s, where Arthur Owens had a rendezvous with destiny.

Writer Nigel West and filmmaker Madoc Roberts has pieced together the Owens' story using interviews and declassified documents in their new book Snow - The Double Life of a World War II Spy.

"He was the first double agent MI5 had before the war and was absolutely pivotal to the double-cross system which saved thousands of lives," Roberts told CTV News.

According to the book, Owens was doing business with both the British and German navies when Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service recruited him to gather information about Hitler's military buildup. Meanwhile, he was approached by the Germans to help with their British spy network.

"The Germans thought they had their master spy," said Roberts.

But Owens instead agreed to work for MI5, Britain's domestic spy agency, to expose German spies. He was given the code name "Snow" and became a key player in MI5's XX (for double-cross) program.

It was one of the most successful counter-spy programs in history, allowing the British to snap up every agent the Germans tried to infiltrate into the country and turn them around to feed misleading intelligence to their controllers in Germany. Among other things, they helped deceive the Nazis about the location of the planned D-Day invasion of Europe.

Despite Owens' contributions to the double-cross program, he remained an enigma to his handlers at MI5, co-author Nigel West told Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"We know what he accomplished, but his motives remain a mystery," West said. "Was he driven by his ardent Welsh nationalism, or was he a self-serving opportunist?"

Owens was a womanizer who left his family and remarried, and also had money troubles.

"The greatest brains of the Security Service tried their hands at winkling out the truth from Arthur Owens, and they were all baffled," said West. "Was he truly a German spy, a faithful double agent loyal to his MI5 case officers, or a shrewd operator whose fidelity was on sale to the highest bidder?"

Owens admitted his German connections as early as 1936 but the British never fully trusted him. He was imprisoned in 1941 but continued to use his radio to lure Nazi spies to Britain to be captured. He sank into anonymity after the war and died in Ireland in 1957.

Patricia Owens, building a career in Hollywood, was terrified her father's role as a Nazi spy would become public. She knew as early as the 1930s, when her mother had denounced him to British authorities.

She would play opposite Marlon Brando in Sayonara in 1957 before her iconic role in The Fly a year later, co-starring with horror master Vincent Price and David Hedison. Her famous scream came as she discovered her scientist husband, because of a teleportation experiment gone wrong, had the head of a fly.

Owens went on to make dozens of films and many TV guest appearances. It was not until the 1970s after secret documents were declassified, that she learned her father was a double agent. She died in California in 2000.

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