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Friday, April 2, 2021

J. Edgar Hoover: Devil With the Blue Dress

     If the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to 1972 thought much about his legacy, he probably hoped to be remembered as the man who professionalized criminal investigation and elevated the image of the FBI agent. As the man responsible for the FBI fingerprint bureau, crime laboratory, National Police Academy, and the "FBI Bulletin," one could argue that Mr. Hoover played a positive role in the history of 20th Century American law enforcement.

    Hoover's critics, and there were many, portrayed him as a power-hungry phony who, over four decades, abused his power. Although a dozen or so books have been published about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI under his directorship, he probably wouldn't be remembered by the general public were it not for a book published in 1993 by the Irish journalist (some would say tabloid journalist) Anthony Summers.

     In Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Summers, relying on information from the embittered wife of a Hoover crony, paints Hoover as a cross-dressing homosexual. Ronald Kessler, a former FBI agent and author of "The Secrets of the FBI considers the cross-dressing story a fabrication by a vengeful woman who later served time for perjury. While most FBI historians agree with Mr. Kessler, the image of Hoover wearing a dress and high-heels has stuck. 
     Clint Eastwood's 2011 movie, "J. Edgar," had it not focused on Hoover's abnormally close relationship with his mother and his homosexual  relationship with his right-hand man Clyde Tolson, could have triggered a public debate over Hoover's place in the history of American law enforcement. 

     Agents who worked under Hoover, many of whom belong to the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, were outraged by the film. Other critics accused Eastwood of glossing over Hoover's abuse of power and corruption of the agency. It seemed that in making this movie Eastwood managed to offend everyone, including regular moviegoers who thought it was too long, creepy, and worse, boring and off-putting.

     As for J. Edgar Hoover and his legacy, he's not getting out of that dress any time soon.   

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