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SPY! The Glorious Mind of Agent Garbo by Ken Mastel

A Christmas Carol – Keyano Theatre Company
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SPY! is based on the true story of a secret double agent during World War II. Garbo is called the greatest spy (and liar) in history. This meek, bubbling, unskilled chicken farmer become the scourge of the Nazi regime and the most important character in the D-Day invasion.

The show is based on the true story of Spaniard, Juan Pujol Garcia, code named “Garbo”, a secret double agent during World War II. He is called the greatest liar in history. This meek, unskilled chicken farmer became the scourge of the Nazi regime! He is both James bond and Inspector Clouseau. What? You’ve never heard of him? The single most important man affecting the success of the Allied invasion of Normandy, and you’ve never heard of Agent Garbo? I’m not surprised. His story was
classified as top secret for decades after the war. But now his odyssey begs to be told.

The story opens with a prologue, a scene that is a flash forward. It is 1956. MI5 agents are toasting Juan Pujol, the man who saved the world, secret double-agent Garbo. They have just learned of his death in North Africa. Garbo is a man few of them knew in person, but all of them know him by reputation, and as their mentor, the “master of all spies”. The only man in history to be awarded medals of valour from both opposing forces in the war, the MBE from Buckingham Palace, AND the Iron Cross from the Third Reich. These agents know him as a genius, but his MI5 handler Tomas Harris, who knew him personally, at first at least, saw him as a buffoon.

Back to 1939, Lord Torre, a friend of Juan’s enters his hotel in Madrid, Spain. Juan has smuggled booze from Portugal for his friend. They lament over the news that Germany has invaded Poland. Juan hates fascists because of Spain’s experience with Franco. Later, he vows to his beautiful young wife Ariceli, who is pregnant with their first, to do something to stop the Nazis. “Can one raise a child in such a world?” Ariceli, adores her husband but often has to bring him back to earth. She says, “You are just one, what can one, or what can Juan do? He decides for the good of humanity, he must become a spy for the Allies, and heads to the British Embassy in Barcelona to offer his services.

There he meets handler Tomas Harris, but as a simple chicken farmer with no military skills or training of any kind, they reject him on six different occasions. Undeterred, he decides to try to become a spy for the Nazis in the hopes of feeding them nothing but false information, hampering them with wild goose chases. He meets with an agent named Federico Knappe, and through shenanigans, is accepted as a Nazi spy. He is to go to England, recruit agents as his underlings and report on on all things, ships, troops, trains and planes.

Juan has no passport to even get to England, but through the use of tourist brochures and books on the British military from the public library in Madrid, Juan, now German code named “Arabel” starts sending off a myriad of reports. His lies become more grand, and his tone is verbose and fanatical. His intel is reaching the highest level of the Third Reich, including Hitler himself! He becomes so successful, the Brits, and Harris have learned through the deciphered enigma code, that the Germans have a new super-spy in England who poses as a Spanish chicken farmer! It can’t be Juan? Now it is MI5 who seek and find Agent Arabel..

After interrogation, Juan convinces Harris that he is not really a German spy, but is just “acting.” MI5 tests the German confidence in this most unlikely of agents and cannot believe that the Abwher swallow his lies whole without question. Some lies bordering on the ridiculous (battleships on Lake Windemere?). So Juan becomes a double agent. The Brits give him the code named “Garbo” after the great actress Greta Garbo. Juan has created a network of 27 imaginary agents that help him report on all parts of England. These fake agents form a very real ensemble cast visible only “in the mind of Garbo.” The Nazis compare him to a 45,000 man army, and abandon the idea of sending any new agents into the UK.

The ensemble sing and dance their way through Juan’s imaginary schemes. “They’ll Come For You” tell of a greater Nazi plan, the “final solution”. There are spies counting Jewish populations all over Canada. They sing the Monty Python-esque “You Know I Hate The English,” and the Elvis inspired “First United States Army Group.” Juan throws a fancy party for all of his fake agents and they tango. Is Juan losing his grip on reality? The stress of his work is taking a toll on his marriage. Ariceli is leaving. He must decide whether to be with his wife and “little Juan” or stay and fight his clandestine war. For his family, he must fight. Ari sees this as abandonment. He does not love his family.

In preparation for the Allied invasion of France, Harris and Juan build their deceptions to send the Nazis north, to defend Pas de Calais, away from the beaches of Normandy where the real invasion is going to happen. A fake army complete with hundreds inflatable tanks are deployed at Kent to solidify the illusion. But just when the plan looks fail-proof, a new character appears. Fritz Guttmann, a Nazi agent who has learned that Garbo and Arabel are one in the same. He threatens to reveal all to the Reich if Harris does not comply with his desire to be on the winning side. Garbo usurps Guttmann, lies to his Nazi handlers and convinces them that Guttmann is the real traitor.

D-day. Soldiers pour onto the beaches. The fight is intense through the song “Stay In Calais.” All the while, Juan is sending intel urging the high command to see the Normandy invasion as a diversion, and send troops to Calais. His messages go directly to Hitler himself. Hitler believes his trusted agent Arabel more than he does his top General, Rommel, and stacks his defenses against the fake FUSAG army of inflatable tanks and plywood planes. This allows the Allies to sweep though France to win the war. While celebrating an unimaginable success, Juan is sad to learn that Guttmann is dead by suicide.

The war ends. His job complete, Juan must go back to his civilian life, but his alter ego must remain a secret in fear of Nazi reprisal. He thinks he is safe, but completely by chance, he runs into his Nazi nemesis Federico. Juan thinks it is the end, but to his surprise, Federico greets him like a secret friend. The Nazis are fooled to the end. He, and the rest of the German war machine would never learn that their most trusted spy Arabel worked against them the entire war. To remove himself as a danger to his wife and children, Juan recluses himself in North Africa, where MI5 learns he dies of malaria.

A final deception by the incomparable agent Garbo. He has faked his own death, to protect his wife and family from the Nazis, and lives an anonymous life in Venezuela, failing at most of his civilian ventures. To save his family from tyranny, he fought the Nazis with his only tools, guile and deception, and then in a sad twist, had to deceive and give up his own loved ones to protect them from reprisal.

In 1984, after being believed by all to be dead for three decades, Juan is found by British war historian, Nigel West, and brought back to England. This time, he is greeted by the Prince at Buckingham Palace. At MI5, he is greatly saddened to learn of his friend Harris’ death, but he is finally hailed as war hero. By winning D-Day, it is Garbo who has saved the world! There is a touching meeting with his wife, Ariceli, and his son “little Juan” who is now a grown man. A son who has come to understand the love of a father that is so powerful as to fake his own death and give them up forever to protect them. A son that Juan missed watching grow up and missed so dearly.

Juan Pujol was in attendance at the 40th anniversary observance of the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1984 on the Normandy beaches. The unremarkable little man walks between the rows and rows of crosses, reading names and ages of the young soldiers. He falls to his knees in tears believing that he somehow did not do enough.
Then there is a ripple of talk that runs through the crowds of veteran soldiers gathered there. They had long heard the stories of the mysterious Agent Garbo who had steered the Nazis war machine in the wrong direction on that fateful day. They seek him out and find him. Here is ecret double-agent Garbo, the master of all spies, the lying chicken farmer who brought down the Third Reich, kneeling in the sand. The crowd grows around him, and they raise him up, and with a mighty cheer shout, “This is Garbo, the man who saved our lives!”

There are many story arcs woven into this story. It is a husband-wife story, and an unconquerable love of a father for his son story. It is a bond between best friends, David versus Goliath and a who-knows-what-you-can-be-unless-you-try story. For me, Juan’s impact on history will never be calculable. By shortening the war he saved tens of thousands of lives on both sides, including likely, my wife’s grandfather, George Wheatly, a Canadian tank gunner. Without Garbo, maybe my wife, her mother and my children would never be never born.

My father grew up in a tiny Canadian prairie hamlet. As a young teen in the depression 30’s his family had a German drifter, Rudolph, come work for them. My father did some snooping and found papers that proved Rudolph a German spy. My grandfather threatened to kill Rudolph if he was doing anything to hurt the family. That day Rudolph packed his bags and was let on his way. The final solution had found it’s way to tiny Liebenthal Saskatchewan.

Genre: Musical – biography

Acts: Two

Running Time: 125 minutes

Characters: 18 characters played by 9 female and 9 male actors (doubling possible)

Setting: WWII motif, MI5 and German offices, Spanish balcony

Production/development history: 2022 Manluk Theatre, Wetaskiwin

Royalties /

Photo by Jodi Eaton

Playwright Bio:

Ken has written over a dozen produced shows and appeared in over 50 commercials both speaking and SOC. Provincial and National Ads: West Edmonton Mall, The Brick, McDonalds, Capital Ex, All-weather Windows, Com-Cheque, Power Reading, TurboGas, Alberta Treasury Branches. Many print ads. International Ads: for Bayer, Abflex, and Rockford (Pennsylvania) Health Authority.

Education: University of Calgary, BEd.
I have taught drama for 25 years and have directed dozens of plays including: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Wizard of Oz, and Beauty and the Beast.

Other Talents:
I have sung and played guitar professionally for 25 years, doing covers varied from Roy Orbison to ACDC. I also perform in a Hank Williams/Buddy Holly Tribute show.


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