For nearly sixty years, one man dominated the fight against crime and the upholding of morality in public life: J. Edgar Hoover. He led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) turning a government agency into a revered national institution. Criminals, spies, and enemies of the United States were targeted with ruthless efficiency. And all that despite the man at the top of the FBI being a total closet case. Yes – it’s time to take a close look at the long-time LGBT boss of the FBI in all his cross-dressing glory!
Wait – you mean you didn’t know…
Hoover and his LGBT relationship
J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) never married. He was married to the job. His love was the bureau. And he lunched, dined, and vacationed with his sidekick and number two at the FBI, Clyde Tolson. Hoover would often leave touching notes for his housekeeper with instructions like: “Mr.T” might like pancakes for breakfast or such-and-such for dinner. But there was nothing to read into any of this. Or, was there…
In the 1990s, a couple of highly revelatory books claimed that leading organised crime bosses Meyer Lansky (1902-1983) and Frank Costello (1891-1973) had obtained images of Hoover and Tolson that suggested way more than a platonic friendship. In fact, the photos confirmed the FBI’s number one and two were a gay couple.
The author Anthony Summers, a former BBC producer, wrote in his book Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover that Lansky and Costello were able to pressure Hoover into leaving them alone. For years, the FBI boss even denied that organised crime existed. Let’s look at Summers’ allegations:
- Allegations about Hoover being gay dated back to the 1930s. Hoover was the FBI director from 1924 until his death in 1972. So for nearly all of his career, this hung over his head. And for most of that period, homosexuality was illegal.
- Two former officials of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – forerunner of the CIA – and others in the intelligence community had seen photos of Hoover having sex with Tolson.
- OSS chief William Donovan and Hoover investigated each other while feuding over who should control foreign intelligence.
- The OSS is alleged to have passed the Hoover images on to the Mafia.
- Summers quotes Susan Rosenstiel, fourth wife of mobster and liquor distributor Lewis Solon Rosenstiel, saying she saw Hoover dressed in women’s clothes and making out with guys at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. At one party in 1959, she watched Hoover with “a red dress on and a black feather boa around his neck…After about half an hour, some boys came, like before. This time they’re dressed in leather. And Hoover has a bible. He wanted one of the boys to read from the bible. And he read, I forget which passage.” Another had sex with Hoover while the bible was read and then Hoover asked the guy reading to join in.
- Hoover used his position at the FBI to life away details on the sex lives of powerful people including John F Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The late author Curt Gentry wrote J. Edgar Hoover – The Man and the Secrets in 1991. Gentry talked to mafia people who confirmed that Meyer Lansky had the incriminating images of Hoover and used them to exert leverage on the FBI boss. Lansky believed it gave him immunity from arrest or prosecution. But Gentry didn’t include this in the main body of his book.
It’s somewhat ironic that if you read right-wing and religious newspapers at the height of Hoover’s powers, they heap praise on the FBI chief as a bastion of morality. Hoover and Senator Joe McCarthy, with his purge of left-wingers and LGBT people in government positions in the 1950s, were seen as the hope for creating a Christian, God fearing, and moral America. Good thing the readers knew nothing of their private lives!
Hoover’s homophobia is cited as proof that the FBI boss couldn’t have been gay. But that is the easiest argument for sceptics to demolish. The hatred of closeted homosexuals against those who are more open or at least comfortable about their sexuality is a well observed phenomenon.
When Hoover died, Tolson inherited his estate worth $3.6m at today’s value and the American flag draped on Hoover’s coffin.