FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When J. Edgar Hoover Tapped My Phone

by SAUL LANDAU

As a kid I listened on the radio to “The FBI in Peace and War.” My parents had listened during the mid 1930s to “G-Men.” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover helped produce those programs and, in the new biopic film, “J. Edgar”, we also learn that Hoover orchestrated several other radio and TV shows so as to portray the FBI’s arrests of “dangerous criminals” and its “monitoring” of “subversive communists” as the product of team approach, which he personally inculcated.

The grammar of entertainment, however, calls for individual heroes and Hoover didn’t want courageous field agents – like Mel Purvis who killed John Dillinger – to steal glory from him and, as the movie instructs us, he dumped him. Hoover’s ideal FBI consisted of look-alikes, with similar suits and haircuts – dictated by their boss. In the film, the young Hoover (Leonardo di Caprio) fires an agent with a mustache. Hoover didn’t approve of facial hair.

At age 10 I knew Hoover from all the radio talk as the leader of a police force that always got its man. My communist Uncle Max sneered. “Hoover’s a rotten phony. He dances in a tutu in his living room with his wife Clyde Tolson.”

I sputtered with indignation at such slander. I knew better because I listened to Gang Busters, which I even saw at the movies in the weekly serials. By the 1960s, I came to agree with Uncle Max. Under Hoover’s COINTELPRO, FBI informers penetrated civil rights and anti-war groups, agents provocateurs proliferated and the FBI committed criminal acts. Hoover destroyed people’s lives, which he justified with his trite anti-commy rhetoric.

In 1974, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I received 1,000 plus pages of my file, half of them blacked out. The Bureau had tapped my phone. Page after page recounts conversations I had with my father – nothing even remotely political – and plans I had to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit him. The FBI had planted an informant at the TV station where I worked, so that they had my air travel plans.

In the early 1970s, the Bureau revealed, under court order, that it had planted some 70 informants at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) where I worked. A federal judge made the Bureau pay all legal and court costs and enjoined them from repeating their activities.

In September 1976, the FBI began investigating the Washington DC assassination of Orlando Letelier by car bombing, which also took the life of Ronni Moffitt, an IPS colleague who sat next to him as the explosion ripped through his car. Honest FBI investigators solved the case and named the head of Chilean intelligence and other secret police officials along with five right wing Cuban exiles as the perpetrators.

Hoover’s political police did little to stop the Mafia or corporate crime, but did collect files on millions of Americans. Hoover’s librarian instincts?

I deduce from Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” that my radio show portrait, Uncle Max’s ridicule and my own experiences with the FBI omitted one item: Hoover also had a soul. DiCaprio plays a tortured, closet homosexual with a dominatrix mother (Judi Dench) who didn’t want “to have a daffodil for a son.”

When she dies, Hoover puts on her dress and necklace and weeps. Eastwood and script write Dustin Lance Black (of the “Milk” film) show that the powerful and controlling head of the country’s largest police agency also experienced deep emotional pain.

We see intelligence and ambition in his rise from librarian to keeper of the files. President John F. Kennedy slept with an East German spy, Hoover tells Bobby Kennedy so as to inform him not to even think about firing him.

Di Caprio grasps Hoover’s prurient disorientation, almost drooling, when he listens to a tape from a bug planted by Bureau Agents in Marin Luther King’s hotel room – with a woman. He gloats while reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s mail, “discovering” a supposed lesbian relationship with a woman reporter.

After Hoover died in 1972, we see Nixon immediately dispatch a squad to destroy Hoover’s secret files – some of them on Nixon. Hoover’s secretary-gatekeeper, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), has tried to limit J. Edgar’s overboard actions, and even in death she protects Hoover’s public image, which he equated with that of the Bureau. The film shows her shredding those files before Nixon’s destroy squad reaches Hoover’s office.

Eastwood portrays Hoover’s defenselessness in a lovers’ or married couple’s quarrel when he and his partner Tolson (Armie Hammer) – to whom he left all his possessions – punch, wrestle and then kiss. Hoover loved him, but the film doesn’t show or even suggest sexual consummation. The audience must judge this emotional, distressed, authoritarian control freak, this intelligent but vulnerable man, who gets embarrassed at a congressional hearing because of his self-promoting activities.

In the film old Hoover dictates his story to young Special Agents, but Hoover doesn’t tell the truth; rather he promotes himself by distorting the facts to reflect that he has single-handedly protected the country from ruthless killers, kidnappers (the Lindberg kidnapping occupies much film space) and all things that smack of communism, anarchism or pinko-leftism.

Hoover spews patriotism and hatred of communism, but the film leads us to suspect Hoover hated himself. Unable to control his most loathsome impulse – his mother hated “daffodils” – he tries to achieve power over people and institutions. The film subtly suggests Hoover became his own internal enemy; his mother subverted him by not allowing his sexuality (identity) to emerge. His career stained, not marked, decades of U.S. history and many people paid a heavy price for his psychic dynamics.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP plays December 1 at the Jamaica Plain Forum (Boston) 6 Eliot St, Jamaica Plain MA and on December 3 at the NY New School for Social Research, Kellen Auditorium 66 Fifth Avenue at 5:30 and 7:30 – with Landau present.

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey- The Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail