"There's something addictive about a secret." ~J. Edgar Hoover
Ok, another confession. I happen to love history. I am fascinated by certain eras and figures in history. J. Edgar Hoover was one of these intriguing personalities that has captured my interest. J. Edgar Hoover's name often conjures up images of the long by-gone gangster era, including infamous characters such as John Dillinger (and who can forget the famous death mask?), Ma Barker, Machine Gun Kelly, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and "Baby Face" Nelson. J. Edgar Hoover's reign as Director at the FBI covered multiple decades of the 20th century, a couple of which were during some of the most tumultuous times in American history. I've read a number of biographies on J. Edgar Hoover, very few of which were flattering. Most biographers accuse Hoover of extreme infringements on civil liberties during his years as Director. Many characterize it as the quintessential abuse of power. Others defend Mr. Hoover as a patriot who did what was necessary to combat threats and enemies to the American way of life. Regardless of the views of him, those who have studied him pretty much all agree that his power was unprecedented.
J. Edgar Hoover collected secrets. He collected all types of secrets, on all types of people. He had personal dossiers on presidents, members of Congress, writers, Hollywood actors, journalists, government employees, musicians, civil rights leaders, political activists, and many, many others. Electronic and physical surveillance were used to gain sensitive information. Telephone lines were tapped, and FBI agents were used to watch unsuspecting individuals, often catching them in very compromising positions.
The story of J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most fascinating to me. Some say he yielded more power than the President of the United States. Most of the presidents he served under feared him. The majority of them had skeletons in their closets, and weren't exactly sure what all Hoover knew about them. Hoover was an extraordinarily disciplined man, one who knew how to keep a secret. Most could only speculate what dirt he may have had on them. Sometimes Hoover would give a sly, subtle hint when he needed to gain cooperation. Hoover would leverage that knowledge to his advantage, time and time again. Whether it was to keep his job from one presidential administration to another (or to stay on as Director, well past the mandatory retirement age for government employees), to ensuring large budgets to the Department of Justice continued without question. Hoover's enemies gained special attention. Critical journalists often found themselves the target of FBI investigations, sometimes being forced into silence. Sometimes members of Hoover's inner circle would fall out of favor (a few remained loyal for the duration, especially noteworthy was his forever faithful second-in-command, Clyde Tolson). Many former G-Men describe Hoover as capricious and vindictive, oftentimes demoting agents without true just cause. Hoover is said to have harshly retaliated against those who dared to cross him.
Hoover was vehemently anti-Communist, and was renown for targeting political groups that were considered subversive. The middle part of the twentieth century proved to be fertile to a number of politically and culturally volatile events, entities and figures, like the House Committe on Un-American Activities, the Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers case (another great political story of which I am fascinated), the execution of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Senator Joe McCarthy, and Hollywood blacklisting. J. Edgar Hoover wrote & spoke frequently on the Red Menace. Anti-Communism provided Hoover with a forum to sustain and grow his power. And that, he did very well.
Clint Eastwood's new movie, J Edgar, is set to be released next weekend. Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover. From the previews I've seen, DiCaprio's physical depiction of Hoover is uncanny. I've read a few articles on the upcoming movie that indicates it will be an excellent film. However, like Hoover himself, the film is not without controversy. Clint Eastwood has come under fire from both sides of the spectrum, mainly over the issue of how the films depicts Hoover's sexuality. Among the more tantalizing rumors about Hoover involves speculation of his sexual orientation, and in particular, the nature of his personal relationship with Clyde Tolson.
|Clyde Tolson (left) and J. Edgar Hoover|
Here is the official movie trailer for Eastwood's new movie, J Edgar.
I will be watching the movie this upcoming Friday evening...hopefully with a review to follow shortly thereafter. I am very curious as to how it will portray him. Hoover really was an enigma, and much more complex than most people would think. It is easy to demonize him, but a fair and objective analysis should involve more than a cursory condemnation. I am looking forward to seeing this movie. Being a history geek, I hope that it does a good job of providing an accurate historical context and captures the societal and cultural differences that existed in Hoover's era.
Feel free to leave your thoughts, especially if you see the movie!
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