Edgar Hoover (1895 – 1972) was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Investigation, the FBI’s predecessor, in 1924 and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director for over 37 years.
Hoover lived with his mother until he was 40-years-old, awkwardly rejecting the attention of women and pouring his emotional and physical attention on his handsome number two at the FBI, Clyde Tolson.
In public, Hoover waged a vendetta against queers and kept “confidential and secret” files on the sex lives of congressmen and presidents. But privately, he had numerous trysts with men, including a long affair with Tolson.
Dissociation, denying homosexuality, but displaying sexual behavior is not uncommon. 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 gayly self-aware, they can reject it publicly.
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 Senator Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist campaign of the 1950s and who successfully convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage and mentored a young Donald J. Trump, denied he was gay, despite his many assignations with men.
Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986, knew and worked with Hoover and the two of them attended sex parties together in the 1950s. Cohn as portrayed in Tony Kuschner‘s masterpiece Angels In America, speaks to his doctor, angrily snapping:
…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 fucks around with guys.
Cohn assisted Hoover during the 1950s investigations of what was known as the ”Lavender Scare”. Cohn and McCarthy suggested that Communists overseas had convinced several closeted homosexuals within the U.S. government to leak important government information in exchange for the assurance that their gayness would remain a secret. A federal investigation that followed convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to sign an Executive Order in 1953, that barred homosexuals from obtaining jobs at the federal level. Hoover referred to himself as the “Chairman of the Moral Uplift Squad”.
Hoover’s degree of self-awareness was the same as Cohn’s. Despite his same-sex dalliances, he sometimes sought a “Mrs. Hoover” and even dated, albeit uncomfortably, Ginger Rogers‘ mother Lila and Dorothy Lamour.
Hoover was dependent on his morally righteous mother into his middle age. Until her death in 1938, Hoover had no social life outside the office.
Hoover often suppressed his urges, but lapsed into behavior that could have destroyed him, orgies in New York City hotels and sex with teenage boys in his limousine.
Hoover promoted men inclined to be gay, including Tolson, who had barely 18 months experience with the FBI when he became Hoover’s boy. The pair would make gay jokes about some of the other agents, including Melvin Purvis, who was a hero for arresting gangster John Dillinger. Purvis’s son published his father’s 500-letter correspondence with Hoover, who teased the good-looking, blond-haired agent as “the Clark Gable of the FBI”.
Ethel Merman, who had known Hoover since 1938, knew he was gay. In 1978, when the Merm was asked to comment on Anita Bryant‘s anti-gay campaign, she told reporters:
Some of my best friends are homosexual. Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover, but he was the best chief the FBI ever had.
Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, an early Gay Rights group, confirmed that Hoover and Tolson sat in boxes owned by and used exclusively by gay men at the racing track in Del Mar, California. Hay:
They were knotted together as lovers.
An FBI agent who had gone on fishing trips with Hoover and Tolson revealed that the they liked to “sunbathe all day in the nude together”. Writer William Styron claimed that he once spotted Hoover at a California beach house painting Tolson’s toenails. He said: “Nobody dared say anything, he was so powerful.”
Washington D.C. psychiatrist Marshall de G. Ruffin treated Hoover in 1946, referred by his regular doctor. Ruffin’s widow said that Hoover was very paranoid about anyone finding out, and he eventually stopped seeing her husband. She said her husband burned the evidence but had told her that everybody then understood that Hoover was a homosexual, not just his doctors.
After Hoover’s death in 1972, his loyal secretary Helen Gandy destroyed his official and confidential files. President Richard M. Nixon ordered his dirty tricks man Gordon Liddy to search Hoover’s office for files. But when they arrived, only the furniture remained. On hearing that Hoover had died of a heart attack, Nixon responded merely:
Jesus Christ! That old cocksucker!
After Hoover’s death, Tolson inherited more than a half-million dollars and moved into Hoover’s home, after accepting the American flag draped across the coffin at Hoover’s funeral. Hoover’s body lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where SCOTUS Chief Justice Warren Burger eulogized him. Hoover is the only civil servant to have lain in state. Nixon delivered another eulogy at the funeral service, and called Hoover:
…one of the Giants, whose long life brimmed over with magnificent achievement and dedicated service to this country which he loved so well.
Hoover is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C., next to his mother.
When I was a youth, there were all these rumors of Hoover being a cross-dresser. In fact, rumors of people seeing Hoover in a dress continue to this very day. And it was also alleged that the Mafia had some sort of blackmail material on Hoover, purportedly related to his cross-dressing which led to his reluctance to acknowledge or investigate both the Mafia’s existence and activities. Despite the continued rumors, there has never been any confirmation of the cross-dressing allegations.
President Bill Clinton, who had to decide who to appoint as FBI Director in 1993, joked during a press conference: “It’s going to be hard to fill J. Edgar Hoover’s… pumps.”
Psychiatrists have concluded that Hoover had a narcissistic personality disorder, perhaps because of his dependency on a forceful mother who had great expectations for her son. Studies suggest that people like Hoover block their feelings and cut meaningful relationships.
Hoover joined the FBI as America’s first great Communist scare was getting under way. He was in favor of deporting people merely for being members of radical organizations and used the Bureau to spy on lawyers representing those arrested in the infamous Red Raids of 1920.
He never joined a political party and claimed he was “not political”. In fact, he was a staunch, lifelong supporter of the Republican party. He secretly aspired to be president and considered running against Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he thought suspiciously left-wing. Hoover publicly expressed support for Senator Joe McCarthy shortly before McCarthy claimed President Harry Truman‘s State Department was harboring 200 members of the Communist party. His agents slipped file material to McCarthy for use in his infamous inquisition, while publicly denying doing so.
He shrugged off the miseries of African-Americans, claiming they were outside his jurisdiction. Hoover: “I’m not going to send the FBI in, every time some nigger woman says she’s been raped.” FBI agents paid more attention to investigating black militants than pursuing the Ku Klux Klan.
In the 1960s, Hoover worked diligently to establish that Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement were under Communist control. When surveillance established only that King was having sex with women other than his wife, FBI aides worked to discredit him by slipping this information to the press. When the civil rights leader was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Hoover was outraged. He later tried to prevent King’s birthday being declared a national holiday.
Hoover snooped on politicians, Supreme Court justices, and presidents. He built files on writers, actors, on citizens across the spectrum who caught his eye. Many feared what Hoover might have found, whether he had compromising information on them or not. The treatment of King and actor Jean Seberg are two examples: Jacqueline Kennedy recalled that Hoover told her husband that King tried to arrange a sex party while in the capital for the March On Washington and told Robert Kennedy that King made derogatory comments during the President’s funeral. Under Hoover’s leadership, the F.B.I. sent an anonymous blackmail letter to King in 1964, urging him to commit suicide.
Under Hoover, agents were directed to seize all pornographic materials uncovered in their investigations and forward them to Hoover personally. He kept a large collection, possibly the world’s largest, of films, photographs and written materials, with a special interest in nude photos of celebrities. Hoover reportedly used these to get off, as well as for blackmail purposes.
Hoover denied that there were secret dossiers. Acting Attorney General Laurence Silberman, the first person to peruse the secret files after Hoover’s death in 1972, wrote:
Edgar Hoover was like a sewer that collected dirt. I now believe he was the worst public servant in our history.
Tolson retired from the bureau on the day of Hoover’s funeral. He died in 1975, at 74-years-old. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, close Hoover’s grave.
Clint Eastwood, a talented filmmaker who is a Trumper, made a good film about Hoover, J. Edgar (2011), written by openly gay Dustin Lance Black, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover and Armie Hammer as Tolson, contends that Hoover was:
… probably good for the country and whether he was homosexual or not makes no difference.