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Topics In the News
The Enigma of J. Edgar Hoover
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/27/11
Last updated on: 11/28/11
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J. Edgar Hoover.

The release of Clint Eastwood's film J. Edgar, featuring a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, has brought renewed attention to the enigma of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who enforced McCarthy-era regulations against homosexuals in federal employment yet to all appearances lived a homosexual life himself.

Although never elected to any office, Hoover wielded tremendous political power in the United States government for almost five decades, and through eight presidencies, as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Under his leadership, the Bureau developed from a weak and ineffectual collection of political appointees into one of the most efficient police agencies in the world.

It also developed into an undercover secret police that frequently used illegal means to gather damaging information, not only on criminals and political dissidents, but also on political leaders as well. Although Hoover was always in the front lines of government attempts to harass homosexual liberation movements, rumors that he himself was gay followed him throughout his career.

The New York Times of November 27, 2011 features an op-ed by Dudley Clendenin entitled "J. Edgar Hoover Outed My Godfather." The article tells the story of Arthur Vandenberg, Jr., who in 1952 had been appointed as secretary and chief of staff of President-elect Eisenhower.

When Hoover, who kept voluminous files on "Sex Deviates," exposed Vandenberg's homosexuality to Eisenhower, the appointment was withdrawn. Soon after assuming office Eisenhower issued the infamous Executive Order 10450 that mandated the firing of any federal employee guilty of "sexual perversion," by which was meant homosexuality.

In 1956, after he had left Washington, D. C. but had gained status as an expert on foreign affairs, Vandenberg may have again been victimized by Hoover. His career was destroyed when Confidential, a tabloid that often received information from the FBI, published a lurid exposé about him. Vandenberg committed suicide in 1968.

Meanwhile, Hoover continued to use his office to help enforce the ban on homosexuals in government employment even as he lived a life that seemed to many to be openly homosexual.

As Clendenin notes, Hoover and his associate director Clyde Tolson maintained separate residences, but "had lunch together, dinner together, rode to work in Hoover's car together, attended private dinners and receptions in Washington together, went to the horse races together, and vacationed in the same hotel suites together. By Hoover's standards, if they hadn't been the director and associate director of the F.B.I., they would have been in its Sex Deviate files together, because there sure was a lot of talk about them. Hoover sent agents to squash the talk and threaten the talkers wherever it occurred."

While Eastwood's film imagines Tolson and Hoover as lovers, Clendenin, however, speculates that they were not: "They weren't built for it. They were too prim, too rigid, too Victorian. The only way Hoover could be comfortable in such a public relationship, I think, was because he knew it wasn't sexual in private, whether he desired it to be or not. Hoover was too aware of the power of a secret. How could he permit anyone--even Clyde--to have something on him?"

Clendenin's story of his godfather Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. may be found here: J. Edgar Hoover Outed My Godfather.

The trailer of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, which opened in limited release in November 2011:

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