Model, Countess, Author, WWII OSS Spy: Aline Griffith Is Dead

Aline Griffith, a former model from suburban New York City who transformed herself into a dressed-to-kill self-proclaimed spy and Spanish countess, died on Monday in Madrid. She was in her mid-90s.

Her death was confirmed by her family. She had been treated for emphysema for years.

Aline, Countess of Romanones, as she was known, was also the author of several books. Most of them, brimming with tales of her escapades as an American espionage agent, which began in Spain during World War II, were billed as memoirs — though they were believed to be heavily embroidered.

“Her supposedly factual accounts were completely fictional,” Rupert Allason, the British intelligence expert whose pen name is Nigel West, wrote in his “Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage” (2009).

Regardless, her purple prose beguiled readers and reviewers, and her recollections, real or fabricated, made spellbinding dinner conversation for the gaggle of celebrities she attracted.

“I always knew I had a good story,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1991.

Time magazine once exclaimed that she “lived a life of glamour and danger that Ingrid Bergman only played at in ‘Notorious,’ ” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 spy melodrama.

“I’ve been jailed in Malaga, kidnapped in Madrid and attacked in Switzerland,” the countess was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe in 1987.

She wrote that after being abducted as she was leaving a dinner at a Madrid country-club dinner with high-ranking Nazis in 1944, she shot one of the kidnappers, who turned out to be a double agent. She was uncertain, though, whether she had actually killed him.

“Naturally, I didn’t wait to take his pulse,” she recalled.

She said that before her marriage in 1947 she promised her fiancé, a Spanish nobleman, that she would retire as a spy.

But the job was irresistible. By her account she later traced stolen Nazi art; enlisted Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, in 1966 to help ferret out a Soviet mole who had infiltrated NATO; was assigned to prevent the assassination of King Hassan II of Morocco in 1971; and was dispatched to war-torn El Salvador in the early 1980s

“Espionage becomes like a drug,” she told People magazine in 1990.

Mary Aline Griffith was born in the Rockland County hamlet of Pearl River, N.Y. — on May 23, 1923, she said, although some records list her birth year as 1920.

Her father, William, manufactured printing presses at a plant owned by her grandfather and sold real estate and insurance. Her mother, the former Marie Dexter, was said to have been descended from the Pilgrims.

Mary Griffith attended the College of Mount Saint Vincent, a Roman Catholic school in the Bronx founded by the Sisters of Charity. She graduated with a degree in literature, history and journalism. Afterward she was hired as a model in Manhattan by Hattie Carnegie, the Vienna-born fashion entrepreneur.

When the United States entered World War II, she sought a role overseas, she said, but was told she was too young.

Her fortunes changed, however, after she went on a blind date with an agent for the government’s Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Through him she got herself hired as a code clerk deciphering messages in the United States Embassy in Madrid, where she posed as a socialite employed by American oil companies.

O.S.S. files list her as a former employee under the name Marie Aline Griffith. Her code name, she said, was Tiger.

It was in Madrid that she met Luis de Figueroa y Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, the count of Quintanilla and later of Romanones. He was heir to one of Spain’s largest fortunes and a grandson of a former foreign minister.

Her husband died in 1987. They had three sons, Alvaro, Luis and Miguel, who survive her, along with 13 grandchildren.

Charles Pinck, the president of the O.S.S. Society, an alumni association, wrote of the countess in an email, “She epitomized why it was said that O.S.S. stood for ‘Oh So Social,’ as many of its members were drawn from the Social Register.”

Posing as a socialite, even before she became one, was a good cover, the countess told The Los Angeles Times.

“With that, nobody’s going to think you’re doing anything worthwhile, except putting on your makeup or something,” she said.

She revealed her secret wartime role in 1987, when she published her first memoir, “The Spy Wore Red: My Adventures as an Undercover Agent in World War II.”

Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Michael Gross described the book as “delightful as it dances before the eye, detailing dirty tricks.” Her narrative, he wrote, introduced a new genre: “cafe espionage.”

In 1990 she published a sequel, “The Spy Went Dancing.”

“This book falls under the heading: If the author didn’t have a noble title, would we care about the story she has to tell?” Joanne Kaufman wrote in The New York Times Book Review. “The answer: We would, but not nearly as much.”

The countess also wrote “The Spy Wore Silk” (1991); “The Well-Mannered Assassin” (1994), a novel based on the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal; and another memoir, “The End of an Epoch” (2015).

“My stories,” she insisted, “are all based on truth.”

As a woman in the mostly male world of espionage, she saw her femininity as a strength, she said. She found, for example, that women were better than men in extracting classified information from other men.

She also acknowledged that she had managed to live free of the typical restraints placed on women of the mid-20th century.

“I’m a feminist, and I’m not a feminist,” she told The Boston Globe. “I love it when men kiss my hand. I love good clothes. I would not like to be a West Point cadet. On the other hand, I think women should be able to do whatever they want to do.”

In “The Spy Wore Red,” she recalled her initial encounter with a recruiter for the O.S.S.

“I wanted to tell him I had three great-grandmothers who had braved crossing this country to lay down roots in the Midwest, despite Indian attacks, birth without doctors, sickness without medicine, helping to build homes with their own hands, but I was afraid he would laugh,” she wrote. “Instead I said, ‘I love adventure.’ ”