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Monday 20 November 2017

Obituary: Zane Todd, Special Agent

Special agent in murky post-war Vienna who claimed to have helped inspire 'The Third Man'

SPIES: Zane Todd
SPIES: Zane Todd
Todd's doppelganger Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) with Harry Lime (Orson Welles)

ZANE Todd, who has died aged 89, believed himself to be an inspiration for The Third Man (1949), the classic post-war film noir thriller written by Graham Greene.

As a special agent in charge of the criminal investigation division in Vienna after the war, Todd was exposed to the treacherous tensions between the occupying powers of Britain, France, Russia and the United States. His most dangerous case involved two American medical officers who were stealing and selling penicillin on the black market, aided by a former Miss Austria, with whom they were living.

The case became the basis, first of Greene's film screenplay for The Third Man, and subsequently for his novella of the same name. Although Todd was never credited, he believed the author acknowledged him through Joseph Cotten's character, Holly Martins, an alcoholic American writer of pulp western stories. In the film, Martins gives a lecture in Vienna on the books of Wild West author Zane Grey, an apparent nod to Todd – who was named Zane Grey Todd by his mother after her favourite writer.

In his 1994 biography of Greene, The Man Within, Michael Shelden suggests that the author was told about black-market penicillin being sold by a gang that uses Vienna's system of sewers to move around the city by Peter Smollett, a Viennese journalist.

Todd insisted, however, that he knew his investigation was the inspiration for The Third Man because it closely mirrored his case, "except for the running around in sewers stuff that never happened". But perhaps the most compelling link to Todd is the woman in Greene's story. According to Todd, both doctors in the real case were romantically linked to the former Miss Austria and she was the conduit to the black market.

Holly Martins passed into film legend not least on account of the long scene with morally repugnant American racketeer Harry Lime (Orson Welles) at the Great Wheel: "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. . ." Todd, on the other hand, became chairman and chief executive of the Indianapolis Power and Light Company, retiring in 1989. He played a prominent role in the city's development and considered his efforts to preserve its historic Circle Theatre to be one of his greatest achievements.

Zane Grey Todd was born on February 3, 1924, at Hanson, Kentucky, into a family descended from Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. An academically gifted boy, Zane had a prodigious memory. In his dotage he claimed to remember every day of his life.

In 1943, Todd was drafted into the US Army, serving in Europe as a military police officer. After the war he was a special agent under General William Yarborough, later known as the father of the modern Green Berets.

Resigning from the Army and FBI in 1947, Todd decided to change his career direction to engineering, and in 1951 was Purdue University's top graduate. Joining the Indianapolis Power and Light Company, he became president and chairman of the board in 1975.

Zane Todd, who died on November 3, married, in 1950, Mary Snow, who predeceased him. He is survived by his second wife, Frances, whom he married in 1984.

Sunday Independent

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