Dudley Clendinen: J. Edgar Hoover, ‘Sex Deviates’ and My Godfather

Roundup: Talking About History

Dudley Clendinen is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for The New York Times, and author of “A Place Called Canterbury.”

JUST before Christmas in 1952, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I., let President Dwight D. Eisenhower know that the man Eisenhower had appointed as secretary to the president, his friend and chief of staff, my godfather, Arthur H. Vandenberg Jr., was a homosexual.

It was part of a pattern of persecution that would destroy thousands of lives and careers. Earlier that year, the American Psychiatric Association’s manual had classified homosexuality as a kind of madness, and Republican senators had charged that homosexuality in the Truman administration was a national security threat. Hoover — the subject of Clint Eastwood’s new film — was determined to stave off such threats.

A public Puritan with a compulsively bureaucratic and controlling personality, he built an intricate system of files on people of influence — personal and confidential, official and unofficial, and all full of dirt. The most damning were the voluminous “Sex Deviate” files on famous actors, syndicated columnists, senators, governors, business moguls and princes of the Roman Catholic Church, just to name a few. There was one on Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic nominee for president, because some college basketball players being investigated by the F.B.I. for game-fixing claimed that Stevenson, one of “the two best-known homosexuals in the state,” was nicknamed “Adeline.” There was even a file on Eisenhower himself, recording rumors of an affair with Kay Summersby, his driver in Britain during the war....

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