J. Edgar Hoover: Gay or Just a Man Who Has Sex With Men?

PHOTO: J. Edgar Hoover, left, with his then assistant Clyde Tolson in Miami Beach, FL., Oct. 30 1938.
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J. Edgar Hoover led a deeply repressed sexual life, living with his mother until he was 40, awkwardly rejecting the attention of women and pouring his emotional, and at times, physical attention on his handsome deputy at the FBI, according to the new movie, "J. Edgar," directed by Clint Eastwood.

Filmgoers never see the decades-long romance between the former FBI director, and his number two, Clyde Tolson, consummated, but there's plenty of loving glances, hand-holding and one scene with an aggressive, long, deep kiss.

So was the most powerful man in America, who died in 1972 -- three years after the Stonewall riots marked the modern gay civil rights movement -- homosexual?

Eastwood admits the relationship between Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer, is ambiguous.

"He was a man of mystery," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" last week. "He might have been [gay]. I am agnostic about it. I don't really know and nobody really knew."

In public, Hoover waged a vendetta against homosexuals and kept "confidential and secret" files on the sex lives of congressmen and presidents. But privately, according to some biographers, he had numerous trysts with men, including a lifelong affair with Tolson.

Dissociation -- denying homosexuality, but displaying sexual behavior -- is "not uncommon," according to Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who is an expert in gender and sexuality.

Men with strong attractions to other men can have different degrees of acceptance from being fully closeted to being openly gay. And even if they are homosexually self-aware, they can embrace it or reject it publicly.

"We confuse sexual orientation with sexual identity," said Drescher. "Some men do not publicly identify as gay, regardless of their sexual behavior."

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks a group that is not labeled "gay" but "men who have sex with men."

Roy Cohn, the lawyer who served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist campaign of the 1950s and who successfully convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage, denied he was gay, despite an attraction to men.

Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986, was a contemporary of Hoover and according to one biography, the two attended sex parties together in New York in the 1950s.

Cohn was characterized in a scene from Tony Kuschner's play, "Angels in America," speaking to his doctor: "...you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with, but they don't tell you that ... Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who f****s around with guys."

Hoover's degree of self-awareness may have been the same as Cohn's. Despite his same-sex dalliances, he occasionally sought a "Mrs. Hoover" and even courted -- albeit uncomfortably -- actress Ginger Rogers' mother and actress Dorothy Lamour.

Hoover's neuroses were likely rooted in childhood: He was ashamed of his mentally ill father and was dependent on his morally righteous mother, Annie, well into middle age. Until her death in 1938, Hoover had no social life outside the office.

In the film, Annie chastises her powerful son as he wilted before some of his FBI critics, telling him, "I'd rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son."

In a 2004 biography by Richard Hack, "Puppetmaster," which was culled from the notes of Truman Capote, who had begun interviews on Hoover and Tolson's relationship, the author says Hoover was not gay, but suggests the man was vicariously turned on by the smut he collected on others.

One 200-page secret document was on the extracurricular activities of Capote himself, who was openly gay.

But Anthony Summers, who exposed the secret sex life of Hoover in his 1993 book, "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," said there was no ambiguity about the FBI director's sexual proclivities.

"What does Clint Eastwood know about it?" he asked ABCNews.com. Summers collaborated with historians and conducted 800 interviews for the book, including nieces and those who were young enough at the time to have known the man personally.

"We were able to get a close view of the man as an individual and as a human being -- as close as anybody who had not been afraid of him since he died," said Summers.

With interest in the Eastwood film, publishers in the U.S. and in Britain are issuing a remake of the book.

One medical expert told Summers that Hoover was "strongly predominant homosexual orientation" and another categorized him as a "bisexual with failed heterosexuality."

Hoover often suppressed his urges, but would break out in lapses that could have destroyed him -- alleged orgies in New York City hotels and affairs with teenage boys in a limousine, according to interviews conducted by Summers.

"He was a sadly repressed individual, but most people, even J. Edgar Hoover, let go on occasion," he said.

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