Clint Eastwood’s Hoover Bio, Starring DiCaprio, gets it all wrong

Published on: October 29, 2011

M E M O

 

CLINT EASTWOOD’S HOOVER BIO

STARRING DICAPRIO

GETS IT ALL WRONG

Sadly, the new Warner Bros. epic is full of errors

and misrepresentations.

Here’s the real, never-been-told inside scoop on the

celebrated FBI Chief.

from

LARRY COHEN

Producer/Director/Writer of the 1975 motion picture

“THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a great fan of Clint Eastwood’s…and I happen to like the guy.  I worked closely with Clint on a screenplay some thirty years ago at Universal and again at Malpaso, his own company.  Clint actually optioned “THE HOSTILES” twice in an effort to get it made with co-star John Wayne.  Unfortunately, Duke did not sign on and Clint and I were both disappointed that the film never came to be.

Over the years, I’ve had several cordial encounters with Clint so I have no axe to grind with him personally.   He’s a great filmmaker and a fine fellow.  Unfortunately, his new movie about J. Edgar Hoover is so full of untruths that I can’t sit idly by without making comment.

I recently received a call from Leonardo DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way, asking to see a copy of my movie about J. Edgar Hoover, which starred Broderick Crawford as Hoover and Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, with a splendid cast headed by Jose Ferrer, Celeste Holm and Rip Torn.  It was a very well regarded film, particularly in England where it had a significant theatrical run plus two highly promoted telecasts on the BBC.

In America, the film was a victim of the fears of film distributors that the FBI would retaliate against them for releasing a picture critical of the Bureau — particularly at a time when the FBI anti-piracy seal was being affixed to every VCR put on the market.  Still, the film was released by American International Pictures and received many terrific reviews.

After sending a copy of my film to Mr. DiCaprio, I got a call to schedule a meeting with him — but it was unexpectedly canceled and there was no follow-up. I could only assume that Leonardo had been advised by Warner’s attorneys or by Clint himself to steer clear of me.  (I might add I consider Leonardo a most gifted actor and I wish him nothing but success in this new role).

Shortly after I was privileged to read Clint’s screenplay on Hoover, I did receive a call from Mr. Rob Aurins, who identified himself as Clint’s producing partner.  His message expressed sincere interest in discussing what elements I might add to the new movie but after I returned the call, I never heard from him again.  It’s unfortunate since the new movie is full of inaccuracies and outright misrepresentations.

The Eastwood film script is based on a script by Dustin Lance Black, the gifted author of the highly acclaimed film, “MILK,” the study of the life and death of the celebrated gay political leader.  This time around, Mr. Black has chosen to portray J. Edgar Hoover as a closeted gay man.  Unfortunately, while Harvey Milk’s sexuality was an open book, the matter of Hoover’s sex life is grossly distorted in this script.  It’s totally fabricated but will soon be accepted as fact unless someone contradicts it now.  There have been previous assertions made over the years about the sexuality of the FBI chief and his number one aide, Clyde Tolson.  Little attention is given to the era in which these two gentlemen grew up.  They were both born before the turn of the century at a time when many men lived as “bachelors.”  It was traditional in those days to remain under their parents’ roof — often for life — providing continued support by handing over their weekly paycheck.  The fact that Mr. Hoover lived with his mother until her death was not at all unusual behavior — in fact it was customary for his generation.  We cannot judge Hoover by today’s standards.  He and Tolson never lived together and never shared bedrooms.  They enjoyed sporting events, the racetrack and Tolson served as Hoover’s only full time bodyguard.  There is no doubt an emotional dependency developed, but no proof of any overt sexual activity.  Even so, Mr. Black’s first draft has a kissing scene between Hoover and Tolson.

It’s true; there were many stories in publications unfriendly to Hoover, labeling him homosexual.  I don’t suggest there’s anything at all wrong with an individual adopting a gay lifestyle.  In fact Hoover might’ve been a much better person if he’d had some outlet for sexual expression.  But painstaking investigations never uncovered a single piece of evidence to indicate Hoover was anything but asexual.  He did date actress Dorothy Lamour and Ginger Rogers’ mother but for the most part, he remained celibate.  I covered these allegations responsibly in my movie and tried to substitute facts for rumors.  Still, oddly enough, I was the recipient of London’s Gay Critic Award in 1978 for my depiction of the Hoover-Tolson relationship.

In some remote cases when something was published questioning Hoover’s sexual preference, FBI agents telling them to “put up or shut up” soon visited the authors.  No one ever had any back up.  Those high up in the Bureau who knew Hoover and Tolson closely never believed a word of it.  However, years later a writer named Anthony Summers — seeking to write a scathing exposé-type book about J. Edgar Hoover — decided to include uncorroborated allegations by an alcoholic woman who served time at Rikers Island for no less than perjury.  This woman, the irrational ex-wife of one of Hoover’s old friends, claimed that she had been taken by her husband to a party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where she witnessed J. Edgar Hoover cavorting in drag, calling himself “Mary” and engaged in open homosexual activities.

The absurdity of this story is clear to any responsible historian and a great number of volumes have been published since which have totally discredited these falsehoods.  Susan Rosenstiel had a grudge against Hoover for helping her husband during a divorce action that she brought against him…and she wanted to get even.  But a convicted perjurer is not a reliable source.  And the absurdity that Mr. Hoover would have publicly displayed himself in women’s clothes at a party defies credibility.  Unfortunately, Clint and his screenwriter decided to compound this fiction by concocting a scene that no one in the world testifies to — that of Mr. Hoover trying on his mother’s clothes soon after her death.  It’s simply unsubstantiated, irresponsible and exploitive.  Long ago, television and nightclub comedians perpetuated the falsehood that Hoover was a cross-dresser to get laughs — calling him J. Edna Hoover.  And even President Bill Clinton, went so far as to make an unfortunate joke at a correspondents dinner in Washington, commenting that he had still not found anyone to fill J. Edgar Hoover’s pumps.  He got his laugh, but this unpleasant smear enraged certain people within the FBI who still retained allegiance and respect for J. Edgar Hoover for his forty-eight years of service.

It was soon after making this bad taste joke that Bill Clinton started to have his own troubles.  A woman named Linda Tripp approached Monica Lewinsky and began pumping her for information and Mr. Clinton soon found himself in the midst of the most embarrassing exposé in modern politics.  He was eventually impeached — and acquitted.  But he lost his license to practice law and sadly, it tainted his illustrious career as Chief Executive.  Perhaps he never should have told that bad joke because the FBI had used very similar tactics to retaliate and discredit its enemies throughout the Hoover Administration.

And now Clinton himself was perhaps to bear the brunt of resentment deep inside the Bureau.

Before making my Hoover movie, I’d spent years doing research — talking with long-time Hoover associates.  Among them was William T. Sullivan, formerly the number three man in the Bureau.  Sullivan took me into his confidence.  He admitted personally writing the letter to Martin Luther King suggesting he commit suicide.  But in Mr. Eastwood’s movie, Hoover is depicted as personally writing the letter, which is a falsehood.

Another revelation from Sullivan was the identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate informant who led to Nixon’s eventual demise.  In truth, the critical “leaks” to Woodward and Bernstein came from the very highest echelon of the FBI.  We strongly indicated this in our film but were not allowed to specifically name Mark Felt as the informant.  His identity was not to be revealed until thirty-five years later with much hullabaloo.

In our original film, I included a shot of a headline that states: “Mark Felt denies he is Deep Throat” — which is as far as the studio’s lawyers would allow me to go.  But there was much more to these revelations since Mark Felt was not acting simply of his own volition.  After Hoover’s death and Tolson’s retirement, Mark Felt moved into position as the number one man at the Bureau. He virtually ran the FBI.  But the unanswered question remains:  Why would Felt, a conservative, choose to leak info damaging to Nixon and aid Woodward and Bernstein?  Simply because he was carrying out Hoover’s explicit orders given shortly before his death to bring down the Nixon Administration. Mark Felt was never an initiator of policy — simply a functionary.  He would never have acted except under Hoover’s direct instructions.

This wasn’t a random act.  It was part of a carefully worked out program.  The first step in Hoover’s plan had been to remove Spiro Agnew as Vice President.  There’d be no point in toppling Nixon only to have Agnew take his place in the White House.  He was worse than Nixon.  Hoover’s resentment stemmed from the fact that Nixon was attempting to set up his own personal investigative unit, usurping the role the FBI had played under seven presidents.  It was the Bureau that wiretapped people, broke into their offices and home and read their mail.  These were code named “Black Bag Jobs” and ever since the Roosevelt administration, Hoover had claimed the exclusive right to carry them out.

The federal prosecutors who brought the case against Spiro Agnew for taking bribes in his vice-presidential office admitted in their published book that they received their inside information from the very same source as Woodward and Bernstein.  The press has never commented on the evidence that the FBI first brought Agnew down and then followed up with the destruction of the Nixon Administration.  This was J. Edgar Hoover’s final legacy — and it worked out exactly as he intended.

The news media chose to ignore the revelations in my film.  After all, a moviemaker couldn’t be taken seriously and the press preferred to make two Washington reporters the heroes of Watergate.

I had hoped that this information would finally be made clear in Clint Eastwood’s new movie.  He now had the full opportunity to include these facts as well as the strong indication that Hoover had ordered the copying of certain tapes that Nixon had recorded in the Oval Office.  Learning they’d been duplicated, Nixon realized that if he erased the original tapes, there was always the chance that the duplicates would show up.  These tapes — kept in Room 172 1/2 of the Executive Office Building — had not been guarded.  A few had even been removed by Ehrlichman and played at Washington parties.  Hoover was well aware of the existence of these tapes because many of the Secret Service Agents servicing Nixon had formerly been FBI men and once a G-man, always a G-man.  This would finally explain why Nixon failed to degauss the tapes — which put the final nail in the coffin of his Administration. This was all covered in my 1976 movie.

Moving on to other errors in Mr. Black’s script that is so badly researched it even spells Tolson’s name wrong.

He spends a good half an hour of the film focusing on the Lindbergh kidnap case — a crime in which J. Edgar Hoover had only the most peripheral involvement. Almost exclusively the New York and New Jersey Police Departments and Elmer Irey handled the investigation, the Chief of the Treasury Agents, who supervised the passing of the traceable ransom money.  Hoover personally had little to do with solving this crime.  Although he later tried to take credit for it.

Much is also made in the movie of Hoover’s reluctance to pursue members of the Mafia.  It’s true that through certain contacts like Walter Winchell (the noted columnist) Hoover had a direct line to a number of Mafia chiefs — like Frank Costello.  What isn’t widely understood is that Hoover had worked out a secret “gentleman’s agreement” with the organized crime bosses.  He realized that prostitution, loan-sharking and gambling were vices that could never be eliminated — just as alcohol consumption had failed to be eradicated by prohibition.  As part of the deal, Hoover had the top mobsters agree to severely limit narcotics traffic, which he realized was the most insidious threat to the public good.  And over many decades, the drug trade was kept under strict regulation.  It was only much later — after the break-up of the mob’s national organization — that everybody who could purchase a plastic baggie got into the drug business for themselves.  This new laxity opened the door for black gangsters, the Mexican Cartel and the Russian underworld to move into the drug trade, which then multiplied a thousand fold into the national disgrace it is today.

Early in his career as FBI Chief, Hoover had personally arrested Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the dreaded head of Murder, Inc., who had been forced to surrender to Hoover by the Mafia organization itself.  This was not the simple capture of a criminal.  This was a deal with the Cosa Nostra Organization to remove a vicious killer who had been bringing too much negative attention to organized crime.  It marked the beginning of the “arrangement” with the mob bosses that Hoover felt was the lesser of evils. Heroin and cocaine traffic was kept to a minimum while Las Vegas flourished.

Over the years, Hoover broke many laws and violated the privacy of thousands of Americans.  But every president he worked under was complicit in his actions.  During the Korean War, it was Hoover who fueled Senator McCarthy and fed him information, instructing him exactly how to use it.  In later years, when Hoover pulled the rug out from under McCarthy, the Senator from Wisconsin was immediately discredited and destroyed.  He’d simply been a tool of Hoover.

But there was a purpose to the creation of this demagogue.  It was to instill fear of dissent during the Korean War, which was an extremely unpopular conflict.  Red Chinese troops had entered the war and our troops were being slaughtered.  Some 60,000 Americans died in this war and there were hundreds of thousands of casualties.  The losses in Iraq and Afghanistan pale by comparison.

And yet, at home there was little or no dissent on the streets or on the airwaves.  There were few demonstrations and little public opposition.  Controversy was silenced because fear was in the air, a fear, which prevented criticism of the Korean intervention and eventually allowed a settlement to be negotiated that has endured for over fifty years.  North and South Korea were divided at the thirty-eighth parallel.  The United States managed to achieve its goal — which was made impossible in Vietnam by the huge public outcry.  Hoover helped prevent a similar humiliating disaster during Korea and as despicable as many of his actions were, an unpopular war was brought to an acceptable conclusion.  The “McCarthy” era was a national disgrace and a shameful period in our history.  Yet the result was thousands of American lives were probably spared because the war was settled at the conference table and our soldiers could withdraw honorably instead of freezing to death in another incredibly bitter winter of combat.  Shameful things were done to a positive result and we can’t excuse the despicable methods, but it explains the motivations behind the outrages that were perpetrated.

Finally, the hottest story that I could have added to the Clint Eastwood movie regards the Kennedy assassination and Hoover’s belief, beyond any doubt in his mind, that the President had been assassinated under orders from Fidel Castro.  The killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, an avowed Marxist who had fled to Moscow and then returned, had a long history of being associated with pro-Castro organizations and had quietly visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City just a few weeks before the assassination.  Still, the government felt compelled to hide Castro’s complicity from the American people.  If it were revealed that Castro had directly ordered Kennedy’s death, we would have little choice but to invade Cuba.  It might precipitate a world war — because the Soviet Union could intervene on Castro’s behalf.  Was it worth plunging the nation into a nuclear confrontation when Kennedy himself had provoked his own death by ordering Castro’s murder?  The Cuban leader was merely retaliating.

One might wonder why, in today’s world — when we have had a rapprochement with Red China, when we have made peace with the Russians and Vietnamese, while we have dealt with numerous dictators — that we still refuse to recognize Cuba and to have any reconciliation with Castro or his brother.  This is because every president that comes into office is soon apprised of the secret that Castro is the murderer of an American president and has gone unpunished.  Only when Castro is finally deceased will the truth be revealed, but the Cuban leader seems to live on forever.  And the truth remains unspoken.  I can’t prove the above is factual — only that it represents Mr. Hoover’s belief.  Somebody ought to check it out.

Many of Hoover’s top echelon knew of his belief in maintaining the secret.  It’s been whispered but never openly discussed.  I heard it thirty-five years ago during my research.

It’s unfortunate that none of the above material will be seen in Clint Eastwood’s movie version of Hoover’s life.  I certainly recommend that anyone seeing this movie also have a look at my film, “THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER,” which MGM is releasing on DVD and can be purchased over Amazon and MGM Archives.  It presents a much more accurate and full picture of Hoover’s career and behavior and Broderick Crawford is the precise image of Hoover.

When we shot at Hoover’s home in Rock Creek Park outside of Washington, his elderly neighbor stepped outside to watch and saw what he thought to be two dead men, Hoover and Tolson, walking out of the adjoining house.  The poor old fellow had a heart attack and collapsed on his lawn and was taken away by ambulance.  Fortunately, he survived.

In our film, which we shot in Hoover’s actual office, Hoover’s home, in Tolson’s apartment and in all the real locales such as the Quantico Training Academy and the Justice Department itself (but without FBI censorship or approval), you will see the places where it really happened — with many of the real people that surrounded Hoover playing themselves.

I wish Clint Eastwood nothing but good luck and offer my continued friendship.  It’s just that I believe I have an obligation to the truth and to J. Edgar Hoover himself who harmed a great many people, but did perform a unique service to his country for forty-eight years.  There will never be anyone like him again.  Thank God.

As my movie shows, they were all bad guys — the presidents, the politicians and the FBI director.  There were no heroes — only ambitious men doing what was expedient.  Hoover sacrificed the lives and reputations of many decent people in the interest of what he considered “the good of the nation.”  It’s disgraceful and tragic –and it’s got the makings of a great movie.  I have hopes that perhaps a new version of the script has been fashioned since the draft I received.  But certainly my disappointment in what could have been the definitive J. Edgar Hoover movie must be expressed.  And I thank you for your time and attentions in reading this — and hope that you’ll pass it on to your friends and fellow movie fans.

Sincerely,

Larry Cohen

P.S.  What follows are a few of the rave reviews for “THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER” from its London opening and its eventual release in the United States back in 1978.

LONDON REVIEWS

LARRY COHEN’S

THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER

“Absolutely riveting…enormously entertaining”

Tom Milne – Observer

“One of the very few films I have seen this year that I could see over and over again”

Margaret Hinxman – Daily Mail

“A VERY CONSIDERABLE ACHIEVEMENT…BRODERICK CRAWFORD GIVES A STUNNING PERFORMANCE”

Derek Malcolm – Guardian

“Compulsive viewing…a masterly cast…faultless performances all around” William Hall – Evening News

“It is a film you will do yourself a disservice by missing”  Tom Hutchinson – Hampstead and Highgate Express

REVIEWS FOR THE AMERICAN RELEASE OF

“THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER”

“THE GREATEST FBI MOVIE OF THEM ALL”

Cleveland Amory

“A NATIONAL EVENT!  Crawford plays Hoover with great dignity.  He brings pathos to the power and the glory.”

James Wechsler, N.Y. Post

“A PHENOMENON!  Crawford is excellent!”

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Saturday Review

CRAWFORD IS GREAT!  His best since “All The King’s Men.”

Toronto Star

FASCINATING…Crawford’s resemblance to Hoover is uncanny.

Bruce Williamson

Playboy

“PROBABLY THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE ABOUT AMERICAN POLITICS.”

Robin Wood

Film Comment

THERE IS SMASHING STUFF TO SEE IN ‘J. EDGAR HOOVER.’”

Washington Star

“IT COULD BE HOLLYWOOD’S BIGGEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR.  Crawford makes Hoover a man — not a myth!”

Cleveland Amory

(The film is now available from

Amazon or from MGM Archives)

 

One Response to “Clint Eastwood’s Hoover Bio, Starring DiCaprio, gets it all wrong”

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