Beverly Hills Spy – Ron Drabkin '83

Windward Communications

Ron Drabkin ‘83 recently published his first non fiction book - “Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent War Hero Who Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor.”

What was your path after Windward?
I went to Duke after Windward, did a study abroad in Japan, which was all influenced by Windward’s study abroad program. After that, I went to Berkeley for grad school and worked basically for Intel and for a bunch of startups, in Silicon Valley, before heading back to Tokyo two years ago.

What piqued your interest in espionage nonfiction, and what inspired you to write a book on the topic?
I always knew that my dad was working in espionage, or didn't really know, but he talked about it a little bit. It was always a big secret, but his job was picking up foreign spies who worked at the aircraft factories in L.A. They had that unit and they would go around and arrest people. He didn't say much about it because it was top secret, but he obviously loved it.

When he passed away about five years ago, my siblings and I were cleaning out his place, and we just found all this spy stuff right in his office that we never were allowed to go into. Long story short, I was like, “God, this is interesting!” So I started writing to the FBI to get information. I got these files from the FBI, and it was early Covid, there wasn't much else to do. They sent me these files and I was like “Oh, my God, this is some crazy stuff!” Hollywood and Spies and Pearl Harbor. And I was like, wow, what a story. When the FBI goes and declassifies files, they don’t tell the world, hey, there's some hot stuff we just declassified. I just happened to hit it. And that was sort of the impetus.

How did you land a book deal with HarperCollins?
I think the short answer is it's just a really interesting story. And I had to tell the world, so I called up some people I thought would be interested. I called up The Hollywood Reporter and they quoted me in an article about what I found about the Hollywood stars and stuff like that, and then from there another newspaper called me. So then when my agent packaged it all in, the media had already covered it.

We know the last line of the book is particularly special. Could you expand on that last line and what inspired it?
There were a lot of great teachers at Windward and I always liked history, so Daniel’s classes always did it for me. His stories were so gripping. When I was writing the dedications in the book and thanking everyone, I started with the mechanics and ended with the emotional stuff – like my dad and grandpa – and then the people who really inspired me. I wrote, “I also think about my history teachers in school. In particular, I was thrilled by the lectures of Daniel Gavaldon and William Steele.”