Edmund Michael Burke (August 6, 1916–February 5, 1987) was a U.S. Navy Officer, O.S.S. agent, C.I.A. agent, general manager of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, CBS executive, President of the New York Yankees, the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Burke was born in Enfield, Connecticut, and attended Kingswood-Oxford School in Hartford, Connecticut. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania playing halfback on the football team. He graduated in 1939 and was given a tryout by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1941.[1]

World War II[edit | edit source]

After working as a cargo inspector in the New York waterfront,[2] Burke was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy. A chance meeting with head of the O.S.S General William J. Donovan led to transfer to his command. Donovan told him "Anybody who can run back punts the way you can ought to be able to wiggle behind enemy lines"[3]

Ensign Burke was sent to Algiers in 1942, then Sicily in 1943, and later landing in Salerno in the same year.

Burke was one of the members of the "MacGregor Mission" led by Lt. John M. Shaheen consiting of Burke, John Ringling North[4] and Marcello Girosi, a former New York businessman who had a brother Massimo who was an Italian admiral. The "MacGregor Mission" was responsible for discovering information on Axis weapons.[5]

One of the missions was to smuggle Italian Vice Admiral Eugenio Minisini out of Italy in 1943. Admiral Minisini was in the Engineering section of the Italian Navy and was directing the use of a magnetic firing device for torpedoes.[6] As the American Navy was having problems with their detonators setting off torpedoes this a crucial piece of technology. The four men landed by PT Boat in Capri and brought back Admiral Minisini.

Burke and North were both awarded the Silver Star for their work.[7]

Following the Italian campaign, Burke was parachuted into the Vosges region of France to arm and organise the French Resistance. During World War II, Michael Burke was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Cross, and the French Médaille de la Résistance.[8]

Cloak and Dagger[edit | edit source]

After the war Burke was recruited by Warner Brothers to be a technical advisor for Fritz Lang's O.S.S. film Cloak and Dagger. Burke had a bit part in the film but it was cut during editing.[9] During the filming he met Henry Ringling North's sister who he later married.[10] During the filming Burke and a fellow OSS agent Andreas Diamond met at Lang's home to discuss various methods of killing someone with your bare hands and were seen rolling around the floor to design a fight scene with OSS methods for the film.[11] A Warner Bros memo records the fact that the fight scene was the only scene that Gary Cooper, who had problems with the scientific dialgoues his character had to say, did well during the film.[12]

C.I.A.[edit | edit source]

When Burke's screenwriting career didn't pan out he was recruited into the C.I.A. after lunch in the Algonquin Hotel [13] serving in Rome and other parts of Europe for five years. Burke was allowed to use the cover of working for Warner Brothers whilst he was doing various scouting and liaision missions in Europe.[14] Using his experience with French Resistance groups in the War, Burke was given the mission to "Recruit a limited number of refugees, train them as agents and place them clandestinely back on their native soil. There they would seek out any incipient resistance elements that might exist" behind the Iron Curtain.[15]

In 1949 he replaced Robert Low as the American officer in charge of setting up paramilitary and political operations in Albania.[16][17] Following Albania Burke worked on Polish anti Soviet resistance operations and tested Soviet radar capabilities by using Polish pilots.[18]

Burke served as an intelligence and special operations adviser to John J. McCloy, the United States High Commissioner in Germany, from 1951 to 1954.[1]

Post CIA[edit | edit source]

Following his CIA career, Burke's brother-in-law and comrade in arms John Ringling North hired him for the [Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as an executive director. Though new to the circus world Burke found himself battling cheating ushers [19] and Jimmy Hoffa's Teamster Union.[20]

CBS[edit | edit source]

When his friend North hired a manager Burke didn't like, Burke left the big top and met Frank Stanton of CBS. Burke's European knowledge led him to be sent back to Europe to develop television programs, eventually becoming the President of CBS Europe. Burke was summoned back to America as Vice President in charge of Diversification.[21] One of Burke's accomplishments was recommending CBS purchase the rights to the play My Fair Lady.[22]

New York Yankees[edit | edit source]

CBS acquired the New York Yankees on August 13, 1964 in order to diversify their interests in the entertainment industry.[23] on September 20, 1966 Burke became President of the Yankees after Dan Topping sold the remainder of his stock to CBS.[24] Burke served as the team president and Chief Executive Officer while the Yankees were under the ownership of CBS.[25] In 1968, he was a candidate to become Commissioner of Baseball (although Bowie Kuhn would get the appointment).[26]

In 1972, CBS head William Paley told Burke to either sell the Yankees or buy them himself which he did with George Steinbrenner in January 1973. Burke and Steinbrenner had a parting of the ways with Burke resigning in April 1973.[26]

Burke's most famous achievement occurred when he successfully negotiated with Mayor John V. Lindsay to keep the Yankees in New York by having the city agree to rebuild Yankee Stadium.[1] Burke became President of Madison Square Garden in 1973 on a five year contract that also made him president of the New York Rangers and New York Knicks. In 1981, Burke sold his five percent stake in the New York Yankees for $500,000[27]

Retirement in Ireland[edit | edit source]

As a child, Burke had lived with his grandparents in Ireland. In 1960 he purchased a 500-acre (2.0 km2) farm in Aughrim near Galway.[1] Burke retired there in 1981. On a visit to the United States a woman once asked him if he were a gentleman farmer. He laughed and said "Well, I'm a gentleman".[22]

Quotes[edit | edit source]

My five years in England taught me that manners are more important than laws and that civility is the very stuff of a decent society[citation needed]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 John T. McQuiston (February 7, 1987). "Michael Burke, Ex-Executive with the Yankees, dies at 70". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/07/obituaries/michael-burke-ex-executive-with-the-yankees-dies-at-70.html. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  2. p.148 Grose, Peter Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain 2000 Houghton Miffin
  3. "Sport: CBS Bespeaks". Time. September 30, 1966. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,836453,00.html. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  4. http://www.circushistory.org/Bandwagon/bw-1987Nov.htm
  5. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/oss/chap8.pdf
  6. p.126 O'Reilly, Charles T. Forgotten Battles: Italy's War of Liberation 1943-1945 2001 Lexington Books
  7. p.77 Lankford, Nelson Douglas & Bruce, David K. E. OSS Against the Reich: The World War II Diaries of Colonel David K.E. Bruce 1991 Kent State University Press
  8. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.13, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  9. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0121798/
  10. p.106 Golenbock, Peter George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire 2009 John Wiley and Sons
  11. p.71 Britton, Wesley Alan Onscreen and Undercover: the Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage 2001 Greenwood Publishing
  12. p.122 Dick, Bernard F. The Star Spangled Screen: The American World War II Movie 1996 University Press of Kentucky
  13. p.149 Grose
  14. p.49 Riley, Morris Philby: The Hidden Years 1999 Janus Publishing
  15. p.152 Grose
  16. p.86 Gati, Charles Failed Illusions 2007 Stanford University Press
  17. Michael Burke diaries/datebooks 1949-1954
  18. http://www2.bu.edu/archives/about/capturing/espionage.html
  19. p.207 Hammarstrom, David Lewis Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus University of Illinois Press 1994
  20. p.216 Hammarstrom, David Lewis Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus University of Illinois Press 1994
  21. p.107 Golenbock
  22. 22.0 22.1 Vecsey, George (February 11, 1987). "SPORTS OF THE TIMES; 'Well, I'm a Gentleman'". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/11/sports/sports-of-the-times-well-i-m-a-gentleman.html. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  23. p.119 Sullivan, Neil J. Diamond in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium and the Politics of New York 2003 Oxford
  24. p.330 Gallagher, Mark & LeConte, Walter The Yankee Encyclopedia 2003 Sports Publishing
  25. "Mike Burke: Baseball America Executive Database". Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/execdb/?show=exec&eid=burkemi01. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.14, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  27. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p. 47, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0

References[edit | edit source]

Burke, Michael Outrageous Good Fortune 1984 Little, Brown

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