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Back in the days when his phone was tapped by the FBI, George Carlin used to answer it with a hearty, "Fuck Hoover." He knew that some wincing bureau drudge was listening in, waiting for him to accidentally let fly with in, criminating information about shipments of Mary Jane or the comic's role in the international communist conspiracy.

As a kid, the Carlin routine made me laugh. After all, I was surrounded by people (mostly nuns) who remembered Joe McCarthy fondly. I heard his name muttered in prayer more than once during May Day crownings of the Blessed Virgin Mary--flowery foe of pinkos everywhere. Hoover ran a close second to Tailgunner Joe among the secular saints of my childhood Catholism, right up there with Vince Lombardi and J.F.K.

But it was always hard to like Hoover, even for a junior G-man. So imagine this red's great glee when Anthony Summers let us all in on some secrets about old J.E.H.--both in the pages of Vanity Fair and in a book en, titled Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. Turns out that the right's long-time hero preferred the company of men and loved to dress in women's clothing. Tee hee.

At first I howled with laughter. Hoover in seamed stockings. Hoover in a red feather boa. Hoover with a five o'clock shadow, asking the wife of a friend to call him Mary. How deliciously ironic, I mused to myself. If only the good sisters had known. . . .

The fun wore off--and quickly. I realized that some were using Hoover's sexual preference and fondness for gender-bending to demonize a man rightly and already despised for genuine reasons. Who cares, or should care, that Hoover was gay? What bearing did his sexual preferences have on his loath, some policies?

It's the King James problem all over again. Several historians believe that James I was gay, and some have tried to suggest a correlation between the king's self-hatred and his hand in England's witchhunts. This, of course, is psychohistorical bullshit, but the parallel to Summers' portrait of J.E.H. is apt. To say that Hoover hated commies merely because he really hated gays, and that he really hated them only because he couldn't stand himself, is both ridiculous and dangerous.

Still, Summers comes perilously close to suggesting as much. And Peter Maas, writing in the May 1993 issue of Esquire, argues that Summers may have been too credulous and slipshod in his research. Maas, no friend or supporter of the late FBI director, follows the interview trail that led to Summers' "discoveries" only to find little more than hearsay.

Here is Summers' argument in brief: J. Edgar Hoover was allegedly having a long-term affair with his close companion and confidant (and number-two man at the FBI), Clyde Tolson. Famed mobster Meyer Lansky obtained photos of Hoover and Tolson in flagrante delicto and held these over the director's head, threatening exposure should Hoover seek to meddle in Lansky's rackets. This, according to Summers, was one of the main reasons for the dismal record Hoover compiled in doing battle with la Cosa Nostra.

When Peter Maas reached Lansky's closest associate, Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo for comment, Alo responded: "Are you nuts?" Maas elicited similar rejoinders from several of Summers' other "sources," among them clothing designer John Weitz, New York journalist Pete Hamill, and William Hundley, who tracked organized crime in J.F.K.'s Justice Department. As for the tale of Hoover's alleged crossdressing, Maas observes that Summers' sole source was Susan Rosensteil, who, in Maas' words, "has been trying to peddle this story for years."

Maas also suggests (as Summers himself does in other portions of his book) that Hoover failed against the mob not because he was being blackmailed but, rather, due to his sheer incompetence and narrowness of vision. "The truth about Hoover," writes Maas, "was far less racy than his rumored queerness. Although it doesn't make for big headlines, he was a law-enforcement fraud. The reasoning behind his steadfast denial of the Mafia's existence for so long was that of a classic bureaucrat."

Hoover's men only jailed "car thieves, bank robbers, and alleged communists"--this because the director's stringent dress code, which bound agents to suits, ties, and white shirts, precluded any real undercover work, according to Maas. Hoover's unwillingness to go after the mob was more a matter of charlatanry and sheer bureaucratic entropy than sexual skullduggery.
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Title Annotation:Against the Grain; homosexuality of J. Edgar Hoover
Author:O'Sullivan, Gerry
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:False history, gas chambers, blue smoke, and cracked mirrors.
Next Article:Self-consuming artifacts.

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