The book “Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship,” details the extraordinary relationship between two unlikely friends.
JFK, or ‘Jack’ as he was known by his close friends and family, had a gay best friend named Lem Billings, who he met in prep school when Kennedy was 15 and Lem was 16.
The pair became the best of friends who wrote letters to each other when they were apart, traveled to Europe together and were so close that Joseph Kennedy Sr. thought of Billings as another son, according to GregInHollywood.
The book details JFK’s angry reaction to Lem after he made a sexual advance towards him, saying: “I’m not that kind of boy.” But this misunderstanding did not end the duo’s relationship.
From the time he and Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings met at Choate, until the President’s assassination thirty years later, they remained best friends.
Lem was a virtual fixture in the Kennedy family who even had his own room at the White House.
The book about their friendship draws on hundreds of letters and telegrams between the two, Billings’s oral history and interviews with family and friends like Ben Bradlee, Gore Vidal, and Ted Sorensen.
It was a friendship that endured despite an era of rampant homophobia.
Billings was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School and was an advertising executive at the Manhattan advertising firm Lennen & Newell. He put his business career on hold to work on Kennedy’s campaign for president.
Bradlee says in the book: “I suppose it’s known that Lem was gay….It impressed me that Jack had gay friends.”
Billings obviously never came out but did once say: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”
Kenneth Hill of WoolfAndWilde, conducted a fascinating interview with David Pitts, the author of ‘Jack and Lem’, to uncover some more details about the extraordinary relationship between the two unlikely friends: Kenneth Hill: How would you characterize the friendship between JFK and Lem Billings?
David Pitts: The way I would characterize it is that is was a very close, deep, friendship across sexual orientation lines.
KH: You said that this was the story of a friendship that crossed sexual orientation lines, which I think is really an interesting element of it, but talk a little bit about the depth of this friendship. The fact that it started when they were very young and, from what I read in the book, they were basically inseparable for the rest of their lives except when circumstances had them in distant cities.
DP: Yes, indeed. I think there were a number of elements to it. First of all, there were a series of bonding events early on. One was the fact that they both hated that school [Choate] in which they met. And were engaged in all kinds of pranks which almost got them expelled twice. That was obviously a bonding phenomenon. Secondly, they roomed together for part of the time at the school.
Thirdly, and I think this is really important, John Kennedy was so sick most of his life, far earlier than when most people think, including when he was at Choate, and Lem was the person at boarding school — his mother and father did not come to the school when he was ill; Lem was there. Lem was the person who was always there for him and took care of him. And then fourthly, there was the two month trip to Europe that they took, just before WWII in 1937, just the two Americans at that pivotal time, I think that was obviously a very strong bonding event.
And then over and above these issues, I would say this — and this is kind of a complicated thought because we really don’t have language to express these kinds of relationships — and that is, I’m firmly convinced after working on this book that John Kennedy’s sexual interests were in women. We don’t need much evidence of that, the evidence is all over the place. But his strongest emotional attachments were to men — and principally, to Lem. We don’t have a word for that, right? Somebody who prefers the opposite gender for sexuality, and the same gender for deep, emotional attachments.
KH: We don’t really have a word for that. I guess “man’s man” used to sort of mean that, but JFK took it so much further in a way because he loved being around men, he knew some men were attracted to him and even seemed to enjoy it. He liked the stimulation of those relationships, there was nothing sexual about it, but there was something about that male-male dynamic that fed him.
DP: I think that’s exactly right. There was one reviewer who wrote, “What’s the big deal here? This guy’s writing that JFK was comfortable with gay men, so big deal, we all knew that.” But of course it’s not the fact that he had a friend named Lem Billings who was gay. This was the closest person in all the world to him outside of his family for 30 years. He wasn’t just “a gay friend” on the side.
KH: One of the very surprising facts that comes out in this book is that Lem had his own room at the White House? DP: Yes, that’s one of the revelations in the book that’s really surprising. And actually some of the people who were working in the White House very close to JFK didn’t know it. For example, Ted Sorensen whom I interviewed for the book, perhaps the closest aide to JFK, saw Lem around the White House all the time, but he told me he didn’t know that he’d had his own room there and was staying there so much of the time. But yeah, that’s another indication of the depth of the attachment.
One thing I was intent on doing when I wrote this book, because I thought it would be open to various forms of attack, is that I never went beyond what the documents said. The book is a lot of quotes from documents, or that interviewees said. This friendship might have contained a lot of things that I wasn’t able to find out because I didn’t want to enter the area of speculation. KH: It seems without a doubt that Lem was in love with JFK. But it’s never stated explicitly because you don’t have any record of his ever saying that. DP: No, I think the closest … I mean, these were more sedate times, especially where homosexuality is concerned. Even in the various documents, Lem is never overt in his statements. But there was one statement from one of the documents, and I have it in front of me here, that I think is just expresses his feelings. Here’s the quote: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”
This is somewhat of a difficult thought as well, but I think gay people had a way back then of telegraphing to future generations what their feelings were that they could not express candidly at the time. And anybody who reads some of these words today would have no doubt what Lem’s feelings were, but in the context of that time it was not obviously understood.
Being openly gay is effectively illegal in more than 70 countries — and can result in severe punishment, sometimes even death.
See how Australia’s position on same-sex marriage compares around the world.
The state of marriage rights
Voters’ ‘yes’ response to the SSM postal survey is Australia’s latest step towards allowing same-sex couples to marry, and may prove close to the culmination of a long campaign.
Campaigners have suggested Australia is lagging behind rest of the world.
It is fair to say that most countries with similar cultural backgrounds to Australia have now legalised same-sex marriage, but based on total country numbers, Australia remains part of the majority in restricting marriage to couples made up of a man and a woman.
Out of 209 countries the ABC examined, only 24 allow same-sex couples to marry.
There is no same-sex marriage in Asia or the Middle East, and South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalised it.
In Europe, the legal status of same-sex marriage is mixed. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, with other Western countries including the United Kingdom, France,Spain and Germany following it.
Yet more than half of European Union members have not.
Some countries in Eastern Europe have recently sought to amend their constitutions to entrench the “traditional definition” of marriage:
Hungary brought in a new constitution in 2011 that specifically restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.
Voters in Croatia(2013) and Slovakia(2015) voted to change the definition of marriage in their constitutions so that it applies only to a union of a man and a woman, although the Slovakian referendum was invalid due to a low turnout.
In December 2015, Slovenian voters rejected the legalisation of same-sex marriage in a referendum.
Australia made a similar amendment to its Marriage Act in 2004, adding a definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.
How have countries legalised same-sex marriage?
In Australia, Parliament can legalise same-sex marriage by amending the Marriage Act but the Government’s policy has been that its MPs will only be able to vote for same-sex marriage if a majority of Australians support the change via a plebiscite.
The Government’s compulsory plebiscite proposal was defeatedin the Senate. Instead, the non-compulsory Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between September 12 and November 7.
After the survey returned a yes outcome, a private member’s bill will now be debated in Parliament to legalise marriage between people of the same sex.
Out of the countries that have legalised same-sex marriage:
Only one country, Ireland, put the change to a people’s vote. A referendum was legally required, held in May 2015, and overwhelmingly passed.
Parliaments legalised same-sex marriage in 20 countries.
Court rulings prompted the change in five countries.
The highest-profile court decision was in the United States in 2013, whenthe Supreme Court effectively legalised same-sex marriage by finding the Defence of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
Most recently, in April 2017, the Constitutional Court of Taiwan (Republic of China) ruled that the Taiwanese law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. It ordered that a change in the law had to occur within two years. At the time of writing, same-sex marriage is still unavailable in Taiwan.
Where is being gay illegal?
Marriage is an important issue in Western countries but elsewhere in the world, LGBT people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.
There are more than 70 countries where homosexual acts are illegal.
The countries shaded in the map above are those where there is a law that prohibits homosexual acts in part or all of the country.
Most of these countries fall within two main categories — just over half are former colonies mostly in Africa that inherited discriminatory laws but never repealed them, while the others are majority-Muslim countries.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual report of “state-sponsored homophobia”.
What exactly is outlawed varies from country to country. Twenty-eight states only prohibit relations between men.
A common formulation is a prohibition of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.
Sometimes gay sex is placed in the same category as bestiality.
In India it is an offence to “voluntarily [have] carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”.
In Mauritius, it is a crime to commit “sodomy or bestiality”.
In Uganda, a law provides for a seven-year jail term for anyone who conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Not all the countries with these laws actually enforce them for consensual sex at home.
The Singapore Penal Code prohibits “any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private”, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
But National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Lynette Chua says the ban has “seldom been applied in private, consensual situations and [is] typically used in non-consensual situations or cases involving minors”.
Similarly, Shakira Hussein of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne suggests that in Islam “on all sexual matters … it isn’t the act itself that is to be punished but the public commission of it”.
“Some sharia scholars say that the laws against illicit sex should basically be regarded as laws against public indecency, since they require four witnesses.”
Even if bans aren’t strictly enforced, they often still have a harmful impact on LGBT people.
Achim Hildebrandt of the University of Stuttgart says such bans “represent an ever-present threat of blackmail and public disgrace … they drive gays and lesbians out of public life and prevent them from demanding more far-reaching reforms such as the outlawing of discrimination in the workplace and the housing market”.
Where do LGBT people risk the death penalty?
The death penalty is in place for same-sex sexual acts in at least 11 countries.
According to the IGLA, the death penalty applies in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.
In theory the death penalty could also be imposed in Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emiratesthrough sharia law, but this does not appear to have occurred in practice.
Information on when the death penalty has been carried out is not readily available.
The “Erasing 76 Crimes” blog, which advocates for the repeal of anti-LGBT laws around the world, indicates that only Iran and Saudi Arabia have actually carried out executions for same-sex activity in recent times.
The blog’s founder, Colin Stewart, says that in Saudi Arabia“beheadings have been imposed for homosexual behaviour in the past, including three men in 2002, but imprisonment and lashings are a more common punishment”.
“Iran is second in the world for frequency of executions [after China], including executions for homosexual activity, although the facts about the offences being punished are often unclear or misrepresented in news accounts.”
At the same time, Dr Hussein points out the existence of established trans communities in Iran and Pakistan. She tells the ABC:
“Some same-sex male couples circumvent laws against homosexuality by getting a doctors’ certificate to say that one half of the couple is a trans woman. Supposedly, this is meant to be followed up with surgery, but that isn’t necessarily carried through.
“Pakistan has had a ‘third gender’ option on the national ID card for a few years now [and] Iran has one of the highest rates of male-to-female trans surgery in the world.”
What other forms of harassment take place?
Intimidation of LGBT people is not restricted to the threat of jail or death.
Homosexuality is legal in Russia but in recent years the Government has imposed laws that ban “promotion” of “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism”.
Omar G Encarnacion of Bard College in New York suggests thatRussia’s law “is so broad that it outlaws gay pride parades, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, gay symbols such as the rainbow flag, and even a public admission of homosexuality, unless made in the way that casts homosexuality in a negative light”.
Closer to home, Singapore takes a tough line on “promotion” of LGBT issues — on paper at least.
According to Assistant Professor Chua, “Singaporean media are banned from carrying content that “promotes”, “justifies” or “glamorises” “lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism [and] transvestism”.
In mid-2014, the National Library of Singapore announced it would pulp its copies of three children’s books with LGBT themes. According to the Government-linked Straits Times Newspaper:
“And Tango Makes Three is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together; The White Swan Express features adoptive parents such as a lesbian couple; and Who’s In My Family highlights different family structures and includes same-sex parents.”
After a public outcry, two of the books were returned to the library but placed in the adults’ section.
In June 2016, the Singapore Government announced that“foreign entities should not fund, support or influence” Pinkdot, an annual LGBT event held in a Singapore park.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, suggests“Singapore’s demand that foreign companies stop sponsoring PinkDot encourages corporations to discriminate against LGBT people”.
Leaders in other countries freely use discriminatory language against LGBT people:
In 2015, the mayor of Budapest in Hungarydescribed the city’s Gay Pride rally as “repulsive”.
In Africa, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has describedhomosexual people as “disgusting”.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has previously said that:“Homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs; dogs and pigs will never engage in homosexual madness,” and followed this up in 2013 by stating that LGBT people were “worse than pigs, goats and birds”.
In 2016 the ageing ruler vowed that Zimbabwe would reject any foreign aid that is “given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages”.
Are things getting better for LGBT people?
With LGBT harassment and criminal penalties continuing in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe, the picture may seem bleak.
But veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, who famously attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in March 2001 and was then beaten by the president’s bodyguards, is more optimistic.
“There are rays of hope [in Africa], with the Seychelles, Mozambique and Sao Tome & Principe recently decriminalising homosexuality [and] in 2014, the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights urged member states to protect LGBT people against discrimination and violence,” he says.
Ty Cobb from Human Rights Campaign said: “We have seen great progress with regards to global LGBTQ rights in recent years, with three countries decriminalising same-sex activity just [in 2016], 20 countries and certain jurisdictions in Mexico have marriage equality and more and more countries are taking measures to improve the lives of trans individuals.”
At the same time, Mr Cobb notes that anti-LGBT movements continue to work against the community.
“Extremists have organised marches against marriage equality efforts in Mexico, American evangelicals have resorted to exporting their dangerous messages of hate from Eastern Europe to Africa, and [Islamic State] continues to target and kill members of the LGBTQ community throughout the Arab world,” he says.
In Singapore, there are signs of increased cultural acceptance of the LGBT community, with the 2016 release of home-grown web drama People Like Us taking place with no real backlash.
Telling the stories of four gay men in Singapore, the series has been well-received by the local community.
Filmaker Leon Cheo says apart from some “thumbs-down” on YouTube, “we haven’t received flak or negative emails or comments from Singaporeans at large”.
Mr Cheo says while the situation for LGBT people in Singapore is improving, “challenges such as censorship of neutral and positive LGBT news, film and TV, and archaic anti-sodomy laws still exist”.
“One of our creative objectives was to portray Asian gay men neutrally or positively [so that the] series could play a part in changing the hearts and minds of the citizens and government of Singapore,” he says.
In the Middle East, LGBT rights remain strongest in Israel although it is unclear whether or when same-sex marriage might be legalised there.
There was no royal or parliamentary law against homosexual activity in England until 1533, but a number of medieval legal sources do discuss “sodomy:.
Fleta, xxxviii.3: Those who have dealings with Jews or Jewesses, those who commit bestiality, and sodomists, are to be buried alive after legal proof that they were atken in the act, and public conviction”
[Fleta, seu Commentarius Juris Anglicani, (London: 1735), as trans in Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 145]
Bailey notes that it is improbable that the penalty or burial alive was ever inflicted in medieval times [although Tacitus refers to it among ancient Germans in Germania 12].
Britton, i.10: “Let enquiry also be made of those who feloniously in time of peace have burnt other’s corn or houses, and those who are attainted thereof shall be burnt, so that they might be punished in like manner as they have offended. The same sentence shall be passed upon sorcerers, sorceresses, renegades, sodomists, and heretics publicly convicted”
Bailey notes that this implies a process in which ecclesiastical courts made the charges and convictions and the state put them into effect. There do not seem, however, to have been serious efforts made to put theory into practice. The preamble to the 1533 Law seems to make this clear.
25 Henry VIII. C6
Le Roy le veult “Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day. of the next Parliament”
[Bailey, 147-148, and H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970) [British title: The Other Love]
Note that the law only ran until the end of the next Parliament. The law was reenacted three times, and then in 1541 it was enacted to continue in force for ever. In 1547, Edward VI’s first Parliament repealed all felonies created in the last reign [I Edw. VI. C.12]. In 1548 the provisions of the 1533 Act were given new force, with minor amendments – the penalty remained death, but goods and lands were not forfeit, and the rights of wives and heirs were safeguarded. Mary’s accession brought about the repeal of all Edward’s acts in 1548 [1 Mar c.1]. It was not until 1563, that Elizabeth I’s second Parliament reenacted the law [5 Eliz I. C.17] and the law of 1533 (not 1548) were given permanent force.
In 1828, the statute of 1563 was revoked by a consolidating act, but the death penalty was retained. In 1861 life imprisonment, or a jail time of at least ten years, was substituted for the death penalty. All these laws were against buggery, and indeed the law of 1828 had discussed matters of proof in terms of penetration. Note that other sexual activities were not specifically criminalised.
In 1885 Mr. Labouchere introduced an amendment to the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. It read:-
48&49 Vict. c.69, 11: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits or is party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour”
So for the first time private acts were brought under the scope of the law, as were acts other than anal penetration. This became the famous blackmailer’s charter, and was the law used to convict Oscar Wilde.
[for all the above see Bailey 145-152]
It was the Act of 1533, then, which first made buggery an offense under English criminal law. This law survived in various forms England until 1967, although it was amended in 1861 to substitute life imprisonment for the penalties of death and forfeiture of property.
But the direct effects of this law were not restricted to England. Because of England’s success as a colonial power, and its tendency to impose its entire legal structure on the ruled areas, legal prohibitions against homosexual activity derived from this law extended well outside England. In Scotland, for instance, (which has a separate legal system) the law was not changed until 1979. In many American states “sodomy” laws are still on the books, as also in former British colonies in the Caribbean.
The original document of 1533 survives – select the link for a a jpg image
. [ref. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)
J. Edgar Hoover led a deeply repressed sexual life, living with his mother until he was 40, awkwardly rejecting the attention of women and pouring his emotional, and at times, physical attention on his handsome deputy at the FBI, according to the new movie, “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood.
Filmgoers never see the decades-long romance between the former FBI director, and his number two, Clyde Tolson, consummated, but there’s plenty of loving glances, hand-holding and one scene with an aggressive, long, deep kiss.
So was the most powerful man in America, who died in 1972 — three years after the Stonewall riots marked the modern gay civil rights movement — homosexual?
Eastwood admits the relationship between Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer, is ambiguous.
“He was a man of mystery,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week. “He might have been [gay]. I am agnostic about it. I don’t really know and nobody really knew.”
In public, Hoover waged a vendetta against homosexuals and kept “confidential and secret” files on the sex lives of congressmen and presidents. But privately, according to some biographers, he had numerous trysts with men, including a lifelong affair with Tolson.
Dissociation — denying homosexuality, but displaying sexual behavior — is “not uncommon,” according to Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who is an expert in gender and sexuality.
Men with strong attractions to other men can have different degrees of acceptance from being fully closeted to being openly gay. And even if they are homosexually self-aware, they can embrace it or reject it publicly.
“We confuse sexual orientation with sexual identity,” said Drescher. “Some men do not publicly identify as gay, regardless of their sexual behavior.”
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks a group that is not labeled “gay” but “men who have sex with men.“
Roy Cohn, the lawyer who served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist campaign of the 1950s and who successfully convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage, denied he was gay, despite an attraction to men.
Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986, was a contemporary of Hoover and according to one biography, the two attended sex parties together in New York in the 1950s.
Cohn was characterized in a scene from Tony Kuschner’s play, “Angels in America,” speaking to his doctor: “…you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with, but they don’t tell you that … Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who f****s around with guys.”
Hoover’s degree of self-awareness may have been the same as Cohn’s. Despite his same-sex dalliances, he occasionally sought a “Mrs. Hoover” and even courted — albeit uncomfortably — actress Ginger Rogers’ mother and actress Dorothy Lamour.
Hoover’s neuroses were likely rooted in childhood: He was ashamed of his mentally ill father and was dependent on his morally righteous mother, Annie, well into middle age. Until her death in 1938, Hoover had no social life outside the office.
In the film, Annie chastises her powerful son as he wilted before some of his FBI critics, telling him, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”
In a 2004 biography by Richard Hack, “Puppetmaster,” which was culled from the notes of Truman Capote, who had begun interviews on Hoover and Tolson’s relationship, the author says Hoover was not gay, but suggests the man was vicariously turned on by the smut he collected on others.
One 200-page secret document was on the extracurricular activities of Capote himself, who was openly gay.
But Anthony Summers, who exposed the secret sex life of Hoover in his 1993 book, “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” said there was no ambiguity about the FBI director’s sexual proclivities.
“What does Clint Eastwood know about it?” he asked ABCNews.com. Summers collaborated with historians and conducted 800 interviews for the book, including nieces and those who were young enough at the time to have known the man personally.
“We were able to get a close view of the man as an individual and as a human being — as close as anybody who had not been afraid of him since he died,” said Summers.
With interest in the Eastwood film, publishers in the U.S. and in Britain are issuing a remake of the book.
One medical expert told Summers that Hoover was “strongly predominant homosexual orientation” and another categorized him as a “bisexual with failed heterosexuality.”
Hoover often suppressed his urges, but would break out in lapses that could have destroyed him — alleged orgies in New York City hotels and affairs with teenage boys in a limousine, according to interviews conducted by Summers.
“He was a sadly repressed individual, but most people, even J. Edgar Hoover, let go on occasion,” he said.
Hoover as a Cross-Dresser Is Controversial
One short scene in the film showed the FBI director in anguish over his mother’s death, putting on her dress and beads, a nod to Summers expose that Hoover had been a cross-dresser.
The Washington Post recently dismissed that account because of a discredited source, but Summers maintains he had two other independent sources from different periods in Hoover’s life.
Hoover often frequented New York City’s Stork Club and one observer — soap model Luisa Stuart, who was 18 or 19 at the time — told Summers she saw Hoover holding hands with Tolson as they all rode in a limo uptown to the Cotton Club in 1936.
“I didn’t really understand anything about homosexuality at the time,” said Stuart. “But I’d never seen two men holding hands. And I remember asking Art [Arthur] about it in the car on the way home that night. And he just said, ‘Oh, come on. You know,’ or something like that. And he told me they were queers or fairies — the sort of terms they used in those days.”
Hoover promoted men inclined to homosexual indiscretions, including Tolson, who had barely 18 months experience with the FBI when he became Hoover’s deputy.
The pair used to make “saucy jokes” about some of the other agents, like Melvin Purvis, who was a hero for arresting John Dillinger, according to Summers.
Purvis’s son shared his father’s 500-letter correspondence with Hoover, who teased the good-looking, blond-haired agent as “the Clark Gable of the FBI,” even though he was heterosexual.
Many were intimate and one was highly charged with innuendo, as Hoover referred to himself as the “Chairman of the Moral Uplift Squad.”
Ethel Merman, who had known Hoover since 1938, knew his sexual orientation, according to Summers. In 1978 when the actress was asked to comment on Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign, Merman told the reporter, “Some of my best friends are homosexual. Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover, but he was the best chief the FBI ever had.”
Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, confirmed that Hoover and Tolson sat in boxes owned by and used exclusively by gay men at their racing haunt Del Mar in California.
“They were nodded together as lovers,” he told Summers.
Another FBI agent who had gone on fishing trips with Hoover and Tolson revealed that the director liked to “sunbathe all day in the nude.” Even novelist William Styron told Summers that he once spotted Hoover and Tolson in a California beach house — the director painting his friends toenails.
But, according to Summers, “Nobody dared say anything, he was so powerful.”
The author interviewed the widow of respected Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Dr. Marshall de G. Ruffin, who treated Hoover in 1946 after his general practitioner had been “puzzled by a strange malaise in his patient.”
Monteen Ruffin told Summers that Hoover was “very paranoid” about anyone finding out, and he eventually stopped seeing the psychiatrist. She said her husband burned the evidence.
“He was definitely troubled by homosexuality,” she said in 1990, “and my husband’s notes would have proved that … I might stir a kettle of worms by making that statement, but everybody then understood that he was a homosexual, not just the doctors.”
As the movie depicts, after Hoover’s death, his loyal secretary Helen Gandy destroys the “official and confidential” files.
When Hoover died in 1972, President Richard Nixon ordered his “dirty tricks man” Gordon Liddy to scour the FBI director’s office for files. But when they arrived, someone had taken “drastic action,” said Summers. Nothing but tables and chairs remained.
Summers said he is often asked, but rarely answers the question about what he personally thought of Hoover as a human being.
“Yes, I had sympathy for somebody who has to bury their real preferences through a long life in the public eye,” he said. “But not sympathy for the way in which he was dictatorial, the way he behaved politically and personally to people right from the beginning in his late teens and early 20s.
“He was totally self-serving and the way in which he was a repressed homosexual didn’t require him to abuse individual rights and human liberties the way he did,” said Summers. “It does not begin to justify his behavior toward blacks and concoct an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King and suggest he end it all and kill himself.”
Psychiatrists have concluded that Hoover “no doubt” had a narcissistic personality disorder, perhaps because of his dependency on a forceful mother who had “great expectations for her son,” he said.
“Studies suggest that people with such backgrounds block their feelings and cut meaningful relationships,” according to Summers, who said Hoover would have been a “perfect high-level Nazi.”
However, Eastwood, who is a Republican, contends that J. Edgar Hoover was “probably good for the country,” and whether he was homosexual or not makes no difference.
“I don’t really know and nobody really knew,” he told ABC. “It’s definitely a love story. You can love a person and whether it goes into the realm of being gay or not, is here nor there.”
A younger generation of gays was moved by the film precisely because it portrayed such an iconic figure’s struggle with his sexuality.
“The audience I was in clearly rooted for Hoover to be gay and to have happiness in his sex and love life,” said Ben Ryan, a 33-year-old novelist from New York City. “In a pivotal scene between DiCaprio and Hammer in which the two men engage in the classic brawl-leads-to-furious-kiss, everyone got so excited when they finally locked lips.”
“Anyone in their right mind would see this movie and say, ‘Oh, well, of course Hoover was gay,'” he said. “The more suspicious among us might think that the filmmakers were still afraid of Hoover’s ghost suing them for libel if they just put it right out there that he was gay.”
Still, he said, the film is a “tragic story that should hopefully teach society lessons about how dangerous sexual repression is.”
For much of history, LGBTQ+ royalty needed to hide their identities. Even though some societies embraced homosexuality, most refused to accept a gay monarch. But before we talk about LGBTQ+ kings and queens, let’s start with the history of sexual identity.
The terms heterosexual and homosexual didn’t exist until the 1860s. And until the 1930s, heterosexual meant an abnormal attraction to the opposite sex. For centuries, many societies didn’t see sexuality in binary terms at all. Ancient Greeks and Renaissance Florentines took both male and female lovers. King Edward II of England openly kissed his male lover on his wedding day. And the Roman emperor Hadrian named a city after his male lover. Many kings and queens needed to keep their sexuality quiet, but others defended their lifestyle openly.
Queen Anne Was Clos4 With Her “Lady Of The Bedchamber”
The last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne of Great Britain maintained a long-term relationship with Sarah Churchill in the early 1700s. Anne wrote to Sarah, “I hope I shall get a moment or two to be with my dear… that I may have one dear embrace, which I long for more than I can express.”
Anne has been called England’s lesbian queen because of her close relationship with Churchill, who served as “Lady of the Bedchamber.” But when Queen Anne pulled back, Sarah publicly accused the monarch of choosing another woman over her. Anne stayed above the fray, however, and remained popular through her death in 1714.
Pope Julius III Named His Lover A Cardinal
Pope Julius III ran the Catholic Church from 1550 to 1555. He also created a scandal thanks to his young male lover. Julius met Innocenzo, a 15-year-old beggar, in 1548, when Innocenzo was fighting with his pet ape on the street. The future pope swept the boy away and named him a cathedral provost.
When Julius became pope two years later, he convinced his brother to adopt Innocenzo, and later named his alleged lover a cardinal. Julius’s enemies called Innocenzo “Cardinal-Monkey” and complained the boy shared the pope’s bed.
Edward II Kissed His Male Lover In Front Of His Bride
Most stories about a royal’s sexuality were only mentioned in secret and whispers. That’s not the case for King Edward II of England, who openly showed affection for his male lover, Piers Gaveston. When Edward married Isabella of France, he showered kisses on Piers in front of the entire court.
As chroniclers wrote at the time, Edward’s affection for Gaveston was “beyond measure and reason,” “excessive,” and “immoderate.” One writer even said, “I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another.” The relationship didn’t end well: Edward’s barons beheaded Gaveston.
Queen Elizabeth’s Partying Sister Allegedly Had A Female Lover
The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, was known for being a party girl. In addition to multiple affairs, she married bisexual photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who explained, “I didn’t fall in love with boys, but a few men have been in love with me.”
Royal reporter Noel Botham claimed in his book Margaret: The Last Real Princess that Margaret had an affair with the American ambassador’s daughter, Sharman Douglas, known as Sass. One of Douglas’s close friends told Botham that Sass confessed to being the princess’s lover in the 1950s.
Richard The Lionheart Shared His Bed With France’s King
Richard the Lionheart became King of England in 1189. Today, he’s famous for his role in the Third Crusade and his alleged association with Robin Hood. To others, though, Richard I is a gay icon. The king chose not to marry and never fathered an heir. Instead of having a queen by his side at his coronation, Richard invited his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to play the role of his partner.
According to historical documents written at the time, Richard shared a bed with King Philip II of France. One chronicler even wrote the men were so close that “at night the bed did not separate them.”
Prince George Had A Ménage A Trois With An Ambassador’s Son
Prince George was the son of George V and the brother to Edward VIII and George VI. Called “the most interesting, intelligent and cultivated member of his generation” by biographer Christopher Warwick, George also allegedly carried on multiple bisexual affairs.
Married to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Prince George never stopped partying. In the 1920s, George became addicted to morphine and cocaine during an affair with American socialite Kiki Preston – known as the girl with the silver syringe. George reportedly had a ménage à trois with Kiki and Jorge Ferrara, the son of Argentina’s ambassador. George died in 1942 in a tragic plane crash.
Hadrian Named A City After His Male Lover
Roman emperor Hadrian is best remembered for building Hadrian’s Wall, marking the northern border of his empire. And although Hadrian married around the year 100 CE, he also had a male lover. Hadrian’s partner was a young Greek named Antinous. When his lover drowned, Hadrian founded a city in Egypt and named it Antinopolis in his honor.
The Romans didn’t care about men taking male lovers. It was only important what part a man played during sex:
older men always needed to take a dominant, active role.
Alexander The Great Had Sex With A Eunuch
Alexander the Great conquered enough land to rule one of the largest empires in ancient history. During a whirlwind military campaign, Alexander toppled the Persian Empire and invaded India. But where did he fall on the spectrum of sexual identity? Historians still debateAlexander’s sexual preferences, but most agree he had sex with men and women.
Alexander’s most likely male lover was Bagoas, a eunuch. Being a eunuch, the Greeks didn’t see him as a man – instead, he was in a third category, between man and woman. Many also believe Alexander maintained a relationship with his companion Hephaestion. The ancient Greeks were very open-minded about homosexuality.
James I Defended His Right To Love Other Men
When James I of England took the throne in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth, he had big shoes to fill. England loved Elizabeth, and they remained uncertain of the Scottish ruler with a reputation for homosexual love affairs. In his early years, his new subjects circulated a Latin phrase which translates to “Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen.”
As James rode through the streets of London, people yelled out “Long live Queen James!” James himself defended his right to love other men in 1617, in a speech to his Privy Council:
I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George.
The Last Medici Ruler Lost Tuscany Because He Wouldn’t Have Sex With His Wife
The last Medici to be Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone, knew if he didn’t issue a male heir, his domain would go to the Bourbon rulers of Spain. Gian Gastone’s sister arranged his marriage to a German princess, but she refused to move to Florence. Gian moved to her small village, but eventually ignored her and spent his time with a male groom, Giuliano Dami, who reportedly became his lover.
Gian Gastone also allegedly paid young male prostitutes for sex. They became known as the Ruspanti, after the coins (ruspi) Gastone gave them. Needless to say, Gian Gastone never produced an heir and the Spanish seized Tuscany when he died.
Henry III Of France Was Called A Buggerer And A Sodomite
King Henry III of France was the son of Catherine de Medici and the last Valois king of France. In 1589, one of his subjects called the king “Henry of Valois, buggerer, son of a whore, tyrant.” During his lifetime, Henry was attacked for sexual deviancy, and people blamed the calamities of his reign on his sexuality.
Although Henry endured repeated accusations of sodomy, most historians believe they were just rumors. As Nicolas Le Roux argued, “It is less the supposed or real sexual practices of the king and those close to him that interests the historian than the image of illegitimacy conveyed by the discussion of sex.” In short, regardless of his sexual identity, Henry’s enemies used slurs to attack his masculinity.
King William II May Have Had An Affair With A Bishop
The third son of William the Conqueror became King of England in 1087. William II, also known as William Rufus, was his father’s favorite, explaining why William the Conqueror skipped over his older sons to make him king.
For centuries, rumors swirled about William Rufus’s sexuality. The king never married or fathered a child. His close advisor, Ranulf Flambard, is considered a possible sexual partner. William appointed Flambard as the Bishop of Durham in 1099. As William’s reign was over a thousand years ago, however, historians don’t have much to extrapolate from, other than the king’s close friendship with Flambard and his reputation for surrounding himself with attractive men.
Louis XIII Of France Might Not Be The Sun King’s Father
Most famous for his son, the Sun King, Louis XIII of France became king at 9 and helped transform France into a major European power. He married Anne of Austria at 14, and loathed her. Many assume Louis XIII was gay, and believe Louis XIV might not have been his son at all.
According to rumors, Louis carried on relationships with two men: Charles d’Albert, Duke of Luynes and Henri Coiffier de Ruzé, Marquis de Cinq-Mars. While little proof remains that Louis had sexual relationships with these men, many generally accept the king did not enjoy sex with women.
The Hopetoun Blunder was a political event immediately prior to the Federation of the British colonies in Australia.
Federation was scheduled to occur on 1 January 1901, but since the general election for the first Parliament of Australia was not to be held until March of that year, it was not possible to follow the conventions of the Westminster system and appoint the leader of the majority in the House of Representatives as Prime Minister. Instead, an interim government would be appointed, holding office from 1 January until the result of the election was known.
The first Governor-General of Australia was John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun. His initial task on arriving in Australia on 15 December 1900 was to appoint a Prime Minister to lead the interim government. It appears that Hopetoun had little knowledge of the Australian political scene and had no formal instructions from the Colonial Office. On 19 December, following the precedent of the Canadian Confederation, Hopetoun commissioned the premier of the most populous colony to form a government. That state was New South Wales, and its premier was Sir William Lyne.
This was an unfortunate choice as Lyne had become premier in September 1899 only after the government of the more popular and experienced George Reid had lost its majority in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Lyne supported federation only at the last minute after long being a strong opponent and, as a result, he was unpopular with other leading colonial, pro-federation politicians including Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin. The Bulletinsummed up many people’s view when it editorialised, “Among the men who can claim by merit or accident, to be front-rank politicians of Australia, Lyne stands out conspicuously as almost the dullest and most ordinary”.
Despite significant efforts, Lyne was unable to persuade other colonial politicians to join his government and was forced to return his commission to Hopetoun. Alfred Deakin, amongst others, then persuaded Hopetoun to appoint Edmund Barton as Prime Minister. Barton was successful in forming a government, which took office on 1 January 1901. He appointed Lyne as his Minister for Home Affairs in what many saw as a gesture of reconciliation.
Hopetoun’s error in calling on Lyne to form a government became known as the “Hopetoun Blunder”, and it marked the beginning of what many historians consider to be his unsuccessful term as Governor-General.
Politicians and journalists are more unpopular today than ever. But in the past in London they stood a very real risk of being lynched.
One of the many politicians to be lynched was Walter Stapleton, Lord Treasurer of England, who came to a sticky end around 1326.
Victim of the London mob
Not only was he in charge of the country’s finances, Walter was a leading adviser to King Edward II and – typical of the Middle Ages – also the Bishop of Exeter. Men of the cloth often held top political positions. It wasn’t seen as unusual or ungodly. However, the conduct of King Edward II was seen as less than godly – with accusations of sodomy and vice swirling around him.
Edward’s own queen launched a rebellion to overthrow her husband the king in alliance with her lover. Londoners came out in the queen’s support. The king fled towards Wales while his Lord High Treasurer, the unfortunate Walter, tried to lock the gates of the city to stop Queen Isabella getting in.
Stapleton is one of many medieval lynched politicians
However, he’d misjudged the mood of London very badly.
The hapless politician galloped as fast as he could towards St Paul’s cathedral to plead for sanctuary but was intercepted by the mob. They pulled Walter from his horse, stripped his clothes (worth a pretty penny I’m sure) and dragged him naked to the stone cross that once stood in Cheapside.
There, they proclaimed him a traitor and cut off his head – putting it on a pole and processing around with it. The same fate befell his servants whose headless bodies were tossed on a heap of rubbish by the river.
Over fifty years later, a similar gory end came to Simon Sudbury, the Lord Chancellor of England. Like Walter, Simon held some ecclesiastical positions as well as being a politician. He was both Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury – so a top nob in medieval society. But the London mob soon cut him down to size – literally.
Poll tax leads to politicians being lynched
Regrettably, Sudbury supported the introduction of a poll tax. The peasants hated it. They marched on the capital and surrounded the Tower of London where Simon was holed up with the Lord Treasurer Sir Robert Hales.
Eventually, the two men were handed over to the mob and beheaded. Apparently, it took something like eight blows to take Simon’s head off. His skull can still be seen in the church of St Gregory in the town of Sudbury, Suffolk today.
Londoners have frequently rioted and attacked top politicians with no regard to their rank or position. During the 1780 anti-Catholic “Gordon Riots”, the house of Lord Mansfield was thoroughly plundered. In 1815, Lord Eldon – the Lord Chancellor – confronted a mob that was breaking the windows of his home with a shotgun in his hand!
Eldon was hated by the city populace as he’d managed to oppose just about every progressive measure you could imagine including the abolition of slavery and attempts to secure affordable bread for the poor (the Corn Laws).
But the pelting of Eldon’s house with stones wasn’t a one off incident. Lord Wellington – hero of Waterloo – was assailed in his carriage by Londoners – as was King George III and King George IV.
So if politicians think they’ve got it tough today – pick up a history book. They’re getting off lightly in our times – with just a few hostile tweets. In the past they were lynched – their lives cruelly cut short.
The Peasant’s Revolt: The Death Of Simon Of Sudbury
The death of the Black Prince in 1376 can be equated to an ocean landslide that eventually causes a devastating Tsunami on the other side of the world. I consider it the starting point of the Wars of the Roses, and also the catalyst for all that occurred after the arrival of Edward’s ten year old son on the English throne up to his usurpation in 1399. Putting the many effects of Edwards death aside, I would like to write of one man, Simon of Sudbury, who was caught up in all of this.
It was the events that occurred in six months of 1381 that lead to Sudbury’s violent death.
Sudbury, as his name suggests, was from the village of Sudbury in Suffolk, its not known when he left this small East Anglian village or if he ever revisited but he certainly had a great fondness for place. He founded St Leonard’s, a leper hospital in 1372 and the College of St Gregory two years later, in which his brother John said to have been warden.
In the late 1340’s Sudbury had studied in Paris, moved to Rome and then back again to England for a post in the court of Edward III. It was as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey, that he crowned the little son of the Black Prince as Richard II King of England. Five years later it was Sudbury, in his new post as Chancellor of England, that the rioters used to vent their anger.
England had not recovered from the Black Death, workers were few, jobs were many, the treasury was empty and in an effort to counter this taxation was increased. This, of course, angered the the poor, for they had come to like their ‘freedom.’ In 1380, to rectify the situation, a poll tax to raise money to help England financial situation was introduced, those in authority thought it a grand idea the rest of the country did not, consequently, there was trouble. Between 13th and the 15th June over 100,000 peasants marched on the countries capital led by one Wat Tyler. No doubt, watching the proceedings from within the Tower of London, Sudbury may have seen the young king do his bit in appeasing the men, making promises (that he didn’t keep). Sudbury and Robert Hales, England’s Treasurer soon realised that their lives where in danger when they saw that the rioters had siezed an opportunity and entered through the gates of the Tower of London. Hiding in the White Tower, Sudbury was found praying. Both men were dragged out and both were decapitated. Sudbury must have suffered greatly, his ear was sliced and the bone in his neck had more than one cut leading us to believe that it must have taken more than two strokes to take off his head. Both Sudbury and Hales heads put on poles and carried about the city by the rioters. As mentioned earlier, the boy king never kept his promise to the peasants and eventually Wat Tyler’s head was exchanged for that of Sudbury’s.
His body was taken to Canterbury but his head elsewhere.
Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached.
In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,
“I hope people in Sudbury like what we’ve done but he’s a strange looking fellow so it’ll be interesting to see their reactions.”
Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached.
In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,
“I hope people in Sudbury like what we’ve done but he’s a strange looking fellow so it’ll be interesting to see their reactions.”
In an effort to scare people away from drinking alcohol, the American government once poisoned certain alcohol supplies; this resulted in the death of over 10,000 American Citizens.
This, of course, was during Prohibition. The government became frustrated with the fact that despite the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol being banned, the number of people drinking alcoholic beverages was markedly higher than it was before Prohibition. So to try to get people to stop drinking, the government decided to try a scare tactic.
One way bootleggers of this time made alcoholic beverages was to use denatured, industrial alcohol as the base. Denaturing the alcohol is simply a process to make it undrinkable, usually by adding something that makes it taste or smell disgusting or will induce vomiting. This was originally done (and is still done to this day) in order to allow companies to get around having to pay the high taxes associated with the manufacturing and sale of alcohol meant to be drunk. Alcohol used industrially, for non-beverage applications, are denatured and thus, they don’t have to pay these taxes and so it is significantly cheaper, gallon for gallon. Without this tax break, literally thousands of industrial products would become drastically more expensive than they currently are.
During prohibition, this denatured alcohol was often stolen from companies that made industrial alcohol used in various paints and solvents and the like. The bootleggers would then have their own chemists whose job it was to make the alcohol palatable again, basically undoing the denaturing process or to “renature” the alcohol.
With an estimated 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol stolen annually in the 1920s to be later renatured and sold as drinkable alcohol, the government, under President Coolidge, decided to up the stakes and make some of the denaturing formulas lethal, instead of just designed to make the alcohol unpalatable. To do this, they’d generally add things like methyl alcohol (the main denaturing chemical at 10% added, even today); other chemicals added are things such as kerosene, brucine, gasoline, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, chloroform, carbolic acid, acetone, and many others that were difficult for the bootlegger’s chemists to get out when they’d renature the alcohol.
After the first 100 or so people died shortly after the new denaturing process was released around Christmas, health officials were outraged and the news media picked up the story as intended. Unfortunately, the government’s plan didn’t quite work from that point on. It didn’t scare people away from drinking and rather had little to no effect on people’s consumption of alcohol; instead, the estimates are that it resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people with a much larger number severely sickened and many blinded by the poisoning.
As New York City’s medical examiner Charles Norris stated: “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.” (Chuck Norris fighting the man even back then) 😉
People at the time, though, were split on the poisoning program, even with the deaths that were happening because of it. One side felt that the people who were drinking the illegal alcohol got what they deserved, particularly because they knew the risks and broke the law anyways; the other side felt it was a national experiment on exterminating members of society that the government felt were undesirable as American citizens. As one Chicago Tribune article in 1927 stated: “Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified.”
Now, to be clear, the various governments of the world still require denaturing of alcohol that is not for oral consumption and the standard requirement of 10% methyl alcohol is still in effect in most countries. This isn’t really a problem anymore because people have much better ways to get their alcohol than trying to deal with denatured alcohol. The problem at the time was that the government knew full well that people would be drinking this poisoned alcohol and they hoped the deaths that resulted from this would scare other people away from drinking. Further, when it was clear that it wasn’t scaring anyone away from drinking and literally thousands were dying per year with significantly more than that severely sickened, they kept the program going anyways, though it was hotly debated in Congress.
So next time you start thinking the U.S. government is impossibly screwed up today; headed down the tubes; and beyond fixing, well, if you study American history much at all, it’s pretty clear it used to be a lot more screwed up than it is today, not just concerning this issue, but many, many others. And yet, we’re still here. 🙂
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The term “The Real McCoy” originated in the prohibition era. Captain William S. McCoy was a rum runner who coordinated most rum transported by ship during prohibition. He was known for never watering down his imports; thus, his product was “The Real McCoy”.
This wasn’t the only time the U.S. Government decided to poison the supply of some illegal substance in order to try to scare people away from using it. In the 1970s the government sprayed marijuana fields with Paraquat, which is an herbicide. They thought this had the dual benefit of killing large portions of the crop and also scaring people away from buying marijuana in those areas because the surviving plants would essentially be laced with a mild toxin. Public outcry at the time however, forced the government to stop doing this.
It was the 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, which banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States (note: it didn’t ban the consumption of alcohol). The Volstead Act, officially the “National Prohibition Act”, then laid out the rules for this ban and was passed on October 28, 1919, despite President Wilson’s veto; prohibition itself began on January 1st, 1920. Only 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents were hired to enforce this act, nationwide.
The Volstead Act was amended on March 22, 1933 by the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed the manufacturing and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment itself was repealed in December of 1933. When President Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, he made the now famous remark, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” A mere one day after the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect on April 7, 1933, Anheuser-Busch, Inc, sent a case of Budweiser to the White House as a gift to President Roosevelt.
As happens quite often when people are told they can’t do something, the banning of alcohol resulted in alcoholic beverages being consumed at an estimated three times the rate it was before the banning took effect.
Prohibition was widely supported by diverse groups across the nation when it first was made law, even among the heavy drinkers. It was widely thought that a ban on alcohol would drastically improve society as a whole (many of society’s problems of the day were thought to be a result of rampant alcohol use; some were even actually valid points, though many were not). Thus, sacrificing alcoholic drinks was a little thing compared to creating a better society. Will Rogers often joked about the southern prohibitionists: “The South is dry and will vote dry. That is, everybody sober enough to stagger to the polls.”
One of the chief controversies of the day among medical professionals was that alcohol was prescribed by physicians for medicinal purposes. As such, medical professionals across the nation lobbied for the repeal of prohibition as it applied to medicinal liquors, such as beer, which was often prescribed.
While the Volstead Act banned the manufacturing, sale, and transport of alcohol, it did allow home brewing of wine and cider from fruit. An individual home was allowed to produce up to 200 gallons per year.
Grape growers of the day began selling “bricks of wine”, which were primarily blocks of “Rhine Wine”. These often included the following instructions: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.”
Also because the Volstead Act did not ban the consumption or storage of alcohol, before the act went into effect, many people stockpiled various alcoholic beverages.
Notorious gangster Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and many others made their riches primarily through illegal alcohol sales and distribution. Capone controlled over 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago alone. Speakeasies were basically places that discreetly served liquor. They often also served food and had live bands to make themselves look like credible institutions. Others were simply regular businesses that kept alcohol on hand to sell to patrons who knew of their side-business.
The term “speakeasy” comes from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering, so as not to be overheard.
The repeal of the Volstead Act not only took the primary funding away from numerous gangsters, but also created thousands of new jobs at a time when they were desperately needed in the United States.
Today in the United States about 50% of people report drinking more than 12 alcoholic beverages in the last year; about 14% say they drank 1-11 alcoholic beverages in the last year; with the remaining 36% abstaining from alcoholic beverages in the calendar year the survey was done.Source: Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008, table 27
The total for all alcohol related deaths per year in the United States is around 85,000 deaths a year. For comparison, the number of deaths associated with Tobacco annually is around 400,000-500,000; poor diet and physical inactivity at around 365,000; prescription drug related deaths around 32,000; suicide around 30,600; homicide around 20,000; gun-related deaths around 29,000; aspirin related deaths around 7,000; all illicit drug use at around 17,000; and Marijuana deaths around 0. 😉
The word “prohibition” comes from the Latin “prohibitionem”, meaning “hindering or forbidding”. It was used to mean “forced alcohol abstinence” as early as 1851.
On New Year’s Eve in 1966, undercover officers atthe Black Cat Tavern inSilver Lakebegan to handcuff and beat the patrons and staff as everyone was exchanging celebratory midnight kisses. An estimated 14 people were arrested, many charged with lewd conduct and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
Other Silver Lake gay bars, including New Faces, a few doors down, were targeted the same evening. Two years before the Stonewall uprising, more than 200 people came together outside the Black Cat for one of the earliest U.S. LGBTQ-rights demonstrations. Picketers gathered on February 11, 1967, to peacefully protest the police raids that had been conducted weeks before. Alexei Romanoff, a former owner of New Faces, describes the Black Cat demonstration as a turning point. During a time in which homosexuality was illegal in most states, LGBTQ people developed elaborate codes and survival strategies to avoid arrest. But that February night, Romanoff says, the community stood up and fought back.
Now 82, he is the last surviving organizer of Personal Rights in Defense and Education (P.R.I.D.E.), one of the groups that helped stage the 1967 stand. We traveled back to that monumental moment with Romanoff.
How were the protests organized?
We didn’t have computers, we didn’t have cell phones, but what we did have was called a phone tree. One person would immediately call another 10 people and tell them what had happened, and then each of them would call 10 more people. It took us about two weeks to organize the protest. The Hub Bar [in Alhambra] was the only place that allowed us to meet. We were cautious. We kept moving the demonstration up and down the block so we couldn’t be charged with loitering. We had flyers printed up. People would ask what was going on. We’d give them a flyer, and if they dropped it, we would rush over, grab it and pick it up so we wouldn’t be considered to be littering.
What was the protest like?
If you look at the pictures, none of the regular news media covered us. They were all from the Free Press at the time. They were the only ones that covered the demonstration. A couple of years ago, I met with [former] police chief [William J.] Bratton, and we were looking at the pictures, when I said, “Do you see anybody smiling there?” He said no. And I said, “That’s because [the protesters] were all terrified to do this, but they knew they had to.” It took place in the evening because they had jobs they would likely lose the next day.
What were the risks?
If the major news media would have covered that demonstration, their faces would have been in the newspapers, but the newspapers didn’t think it was very important because it was only those “unhappy homosexuals.” At that time, we could be put into a sanitarium for being gay. And our families could have us committed if they were embarrassed by us. There, you were subject to shock treatments and chemically castrated. We were afraid, but we couldn’t take it anymore. You couldn’t just come in, beat us up and take us to jail because we were who we were.
What was the aftermath of the protests?
Once you let the cat out of the bag, there’s no stopping it. I started an organization, Santa Monica Bay Coalition for Human Rights. In 1970, we were marching in the LA Pride parade, and we had this big banner. I was in the front, and there were mounted police officers. I was nervous, but one of them turned his horse away from all the rest and gave me a V-for-victory sign. I knew we were going to be okay.
And what was the legacy at the Black Cat?
We got the Black Cat designated as a historic landmark. There’s a plaque on the front of the building now. When I went back one time, there was a note that was attached to the plaque, and all it said was “thank you.” That was enough for everything.
Romanoff discussed the evening’s events with Time Out, and his account has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Why it’s impossible to Sorkin-ize the great revolutionary clown.
At the end of his autobiography,Soon to be a Major Motion Picture,60s radical activist Abbie Hoffman includes a sarcastic epilogue retracting everything he has ever believed. At the time he wrote the book, Hoffman was living underground, on the run from the law on drug charges, and he offered to give the following “confession” in exchange for readmission into respectable society:
You know, I’m really sorry and I wanna come home. I love the flag, blue for truth. White for right. Red for blood our boys shed in war. I love my mother. I was wrong to tell kids to kill their parents… Spoiled, selfish brats made the sixties. Forgive me, Mother. I love Jesus, the smooth arch of his back, his long blond curls. Jesus died for all of us, even us Jews. Thank you, Lord. … I love Israel as protector of Western civilization. Most of my thinking was the result of brainwashing by KGB agents… I hate drugs. They are bad for you. Marijuana has a terrible effect on the brain. It makes you forget everything you learned in school… I only used it to lure young virgins into bed. I’m very ashamed of this. Cocaine is murderous. It makes you sex crazy and gets uneducated people all worked up. Friends are kidding themselves when they say it’s nonaddictive. The nose knows, and the nose says no… Once I burned money at the stock exchange. This was way out of line. People work hard to make money. Even stockbrokers work hard. No one works hard in Bangladesh—that’s why they are starving today and we are not. … Communism is evil incarnate. You can see it in Karl Marx’s beady eyes, long nose, and the sneering smile behind his beard….Our artists are all perverts except, of course, for the late Norman Rockwell. …Our system of democracy is the best in the world… Now can I come back?
Part of Hoffman’s life is now indeed a major motion picture, Netflix’sThe Trial of the Chicago 7,written and directed byTheWest Wingcreator Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is an unfortunate choice to bring Abbie Hoffman to the screen, since Sorkin’s basic worldview is one Hoffman completely rejected.TheWest Wingis known for showing a faith in good liberal technocrats to govern wisely, yet Hoffman was a “burn down the system” anarchistic radical. Sure enough, Sorkin’s Hoffman is almost the Jesus-loving patriot of the actual Hoffman’s biting satire.
The story of the Chicago 7 is one that needs to be remembered, so we can be glad that Netflix chose to bring it to the screen. After the 1968 Democratic convention, at which antiwar protesters clashed with Chicago police and were savagely beaten, shocking the country, the Nixon administration brought charges against a number of the event organizers.Nixon’s justice departmentwanted to teach the New Left a lesson in order to demonstrate it was serious about “restoring law and order,” and the charges against the defendants were flimsy. The trial itself was a farce, thanks in part to a biased judge who saw conviction as a foregone conclusion. But the defendants, instead of accepting their fate, decided to use the media attention being paid to the trial to publicize the cause of the antiwar movement, and called an array of celebrity witnesses (Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Jesse Jackson, Judy Collins, Norman Mailer, Arlo Guthrie, and even former attorney general Ramsey Clark) to “put the government on trial” and turn a political persecution into a media event that would keep the left’s message on the national agenda. Ultimately, while most of the defendants were convicted of conspiracy to riot, the convictions were overturned on appeal and the government dropped the case. The Chicago 7 trial’s historical significance is (1) as an example of the American government trying to criminalize dissent and intimidate the political left through selective prosecution and (2) as an example of how defendants can successfully fight back through turning a trial into a media spectacle and winning in the “court of public opinion.”
Abbie Hoffman, the most charismatic and media-savvy defendant, was one of the most colorful figures of the ‘60s left. Coming from a serious activist background as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Hoffman’s Youth International Party (Yippies) engaged in attention-grabbing stunts to publicize left causes. Infamously, Hoffman sneaked into the New York Stock Exchange and dumped dollar bills onto the trading floor, sending brokers scrambling for cash. In a giant antiwar march, he led a group trying to perform an “exorcism” of the Pentagon and send it off into space. At Woodstock, Hoffman scuffled with Pete Townshend of The Who when Hoffman stormed the stage to give a political speech. Hoffman’sSteal This Bookgives advice on how to shoplift, deal drugs, and live free through all manner of scams.
Hoffman was an attention-seeker and provocateur, but he was also serious in his moral commitment to ending the Vietnam War, and his often-ludicrous counterculture antics came from a hatred of selfishness, authoritarianism, racism, and militarism. He was a utopian and an absurdist, but by pushing the boundaries of what civilized society could tolerate, he helped to make it freer.
Sorkin’s film does portray Hoffman relatively positively—even though Sorkinadmittedhe couldn’t really relate to him and found him somewhat intolerable—and Sacha Baron Cohen gives a strong performance. In fact,The Trial of the Chicago 7presents Hoffman as charming, colorful, rebellious, and committed to using theatrics as a serious form of protest, a un-loving counterweight to fellow defendant Tom Hayden, who comes across as a humorless prig (though a somewhat unpleasant note at the end of the film mentions that Hayden went on to serve a number of terms in the California legislature while Hoffman ultimately “killed himself,” perhaps Sorkin’s way of suggesting that in the long run the ‘work within the system’ types will prevail). Sorkin’s Hoffman is not held up as a figure of ridicule, but rather as someone who has a different notion of how to help the antiwar movement.
Yet whileThe Trial of the Chicago 7is sympathetic to Hoffman, it also softens him in a way that ultimately amounts to historical fabrication. In the climax of Sorkin’s film, Hoffman takes to the stand and defends the protesters actions by invoking Lincoln and Jesus, and gives a tribute to democracy that could have come fromTheWest Wing.[Update: have since discovered Sorkin in factdirectly recycledWest Wingdialogue for theChicago 7movie.] “I think our institutions of democracy are a wonderful thing that right now are populated by some terrible people,” Hoffman tells the court. In the film, Hoffman is a relatively benign spokesman for the basic right of dissent.
In reality,Hoffman’s testimonywas far more radical. He even read out the Yippies’ list of demands, which included, among other things:
an immediate end to the war
“a restructuring of our foreign policy which totally eliminates aspects of military, economic and cultural imperialism
the withdrawal of all foreign based troops and the abolition of military draft”
“immediate freedom for Huey Newton of the Black Panthers and all other black people”
“the legalization of marijuana and all other psychedelic drugs;
the freeing of all prisoners currently imprisoned on narcotics charges,”
“the abolition of all laws related to crimes without victims,”
“the total disarmament of all the people beginning with the police,”
“the abolition of money, the abolition of pay housing, pay media, pay transportation, pay food, pay education. pay clothing, pay medical health, and pay toilets,”
“a program of ecological development that would provide incentives for the decentralization of crowded cities and encourage rural living,”
“a program which provides not only free birth control information and devices, but also abortions when desired.”
Hoffman was a revolutionary, not just a critic of the war, and he said so plainly. But Sorkin cuts the bits of Hoffman’s speech that would endear him far less to a mainstream audience. For instance, Sorkin keeps the part of Hoffman’ssentencing statementin which he suggested Lincoln would have been arrested if he had done what the defendants did. He removes the parts where Hoffman offers the judge LSD, says riots are fun, calls George Washington a pothead, and says that Alexander Hamilton probably deserved to be shot. This stuff is, yes, clownish, but it was part of Hoffman’s effort to turn the whole proceeding into an absurdity.
Sorkin takes other creative liberties with history that end up distorting it. Sometimes these are arbitrary, small, and relatively harmless (defendant Lee Weiner wasextremely hairy and hippie-ishbut is presented in the film as clean-cut and nerdy). Bobby Seale, the Black Panther defendant who was infamously bound and gagged in the courtroom when he continuously spoke out about the violation of his right to counsel, actually managed to repeatedly wriggle out of the physical restraints the government put on him; the film portrays the government as effective in silencing him. Worse are things like portraying the prosecutor (an anti-communist ideologue in real life) as an agonized, conflicted idealist who sticks up for civil rights. Or showing Quaker pacifist Dave Dellinger punching a cop. Or treating the Panthers, armed revolutionaries, as peaceniks who preferred words to guns.
The film’s biggest problems come from the fact that Aaron Sorkin subscribes to an ideology I call Obamaism-Sorkinism (like Marxism-Leninism). The tenets of this ideology are that American institutions are fundamentally good, and that while we argue, ultimately our interests do not conflict, and nobody is evil or irredeemable. So of course the prosecutor is good. It could not be that Hoffman et al. want to destroy everything the prosecutor holds dear and create a society of sex, drugs, and rock & roll that would horrify him.
To me, the most disturbing way in which Obamaism-Sorkinism infiltrates the film is in the treatment of the Vietnam War. American liberalshave a tendency to think of the war as a noble mistake, and to focus on the deaths of American troops rather than Vietnamese civilians. In reality, antiwar radicals did not usually speak in the name of the troops against the government, but instead spoke up for the Vietnamese.The Trial of the Chicago 7shows protesters waving American flags; they would probably have been waving Viet Cong flags. (Hoffman got into a tussle with a court marshal when he tried to bring a Viet Cong flag into the courtroom, an incidentcaptured in the courtroom sketches.) The film ends with Tom Hayden upsetting the judge by reading out the names of the American war dead. This incident didn’t happen, but whatdidhappen at sentencing was David Dellinger making a plea on behalf of those oppressed by the United States:
[W]hatever happens to us, however unjustified, will be slight compared to what has happened already to the Vietnamese people, to the black people in this country, to the criminals with whom we are now spending our days in the Cook County jail. I must have already lived longer than the normal life expectancy of a black person born when I was born, or born now. I must have already lived longer, 20 years longer, than the normal life expectancy in the underdeveloped countries which this country is trying to profiteer from and keep under its domain and control… [S]ending us to prison, any punishment the Government can impose upon us, will not solve the problem of this country’s rampant racism, will not solve the problem of economic injustice, it will not solve the problem of the foreign policy and the attacks upon the underdeveloped people of the world. The Government has misread the times in which we live, just like there was a time when it was possible to keep young people, women, black people, Mexican-American, anti-war people, people who believe in truth and justice and really believe in democracy, which it is going to be possible to keep them quiet or suppress them.
Instead of choosing to end with a moment of tribute to American soldiers (as uncontroversial a statement as it is possible to make), Sorkin could have ended with the defendants’ real-life statements calling out the country for its hypocrisy and injustice. He decided not to.
There is something odd and troubling in the way that Sorkin has Abbie Hoffman cite the Book of Matthew on the stand, as if to suggest that every real American is a flag-waving patriot who loves Jesus and the troops. (Recall Hoffman’s epilogue.) In fact, one of the most interesting elements of the real Chicago 7 trial was an ongoing tussle between Abbie and the judge, Julius Hoffman, over the meaning of their shared Jewish identity (not to mention surname). Abbie Hoffman infamously threw Yiddish slang at Judge Hoffman, calling him a “schtunk” (stinker/vulgar person) and a “shanda fur die goyim” (a Jew who embarrasses other Jewish people by doing the dirty work of the gentiles). Abbie called the judge “Julie” and said he would have been a glad servant of the Nazi regime. Abbie Hoffman drew much of his approach to rebellion from Jewish culture—from Jewish anarchism and the prophetic tradition to the comedy records of Lenny Bruce—and he believed the judge was choosing to serve the WASP elite in its persecution of racial and religious minorities. (Interestingly, Judge Hoffman seemed to have a strange soft spot for Abbie; many of Abbie’s most savage criticisms were grounded in a moral appeal to their shared cultural ties.)
We see, inThe Trial of the Chicago 7, some of the ways that the defendants mocked the court (such as, for example, by coming in wearing judicial robes and talking out of turn). But the transcripts are rich with absurdity, and I think Sorkin left most of it out because it doesn’t really make for a good courtroomdrama, since it was a ridiculous courtroomcomedy. Below are a few of my favorite snippets from a transcript loaded with ludicrousness:
From Allen Ginsberg’s testimony
MR. WEINGLASS (DEFENSE ATTORNEY):
Let me ask this: Mr. Ginsberg, I show you an object marked 150 for identification, and I ask you to examine that object.
Yes. [Ginsberg is handed a harmonium and begins to play it.]
MR. FORAN (PROSECUTOR):
All right. Your Honor, that is enough. I object to it, your Honor. I think it is outrageous for counsel to—
You asked him to examine it, and instead of that he played a tune on it. I sustain the objection.
It adds spirituality to the case, sir.
Will you remain quiet, sir.
I am sorry.
Having examined that, could you identify it for the court and jury?
It is an instrument known as the harmonium, which I used at the press conference at the Americana Hotel. It is commonly used in India.
I object to that.
I sustain the objection.
Will you explain to the Court and to the jury what chant you were chanting at the press conference?
I was chanting a mantra called the “Mala Mantra,” the great mantra of preservation of that aspect of the Indian religion called Vishnu the Preserver. Every time human evil rises so high that the planet itself is threatened, and all of its inhabitants and their children are threatened, Vishnu will preserve a return.
Abbie Hoffman pipes up about the jailing of David Dellinger
Mr. Marshall, will you ask the defendant Hoffman to remain quiet?
You are a tyrant, you know that.
The judges in Nazi Germany ordered sterilization. Why don’t you do that, Judge Hoffman?
Just keep quiet.
We should have done this long ago when you chained and gagged Bobby Seale. Mafia-controlled pigs. We should have done it. It’s a shame this building wasn’t ripped down.
Mr. Marshal, order him to remain quiet.
Order us? Order us? You got to cut our tongues out to order us, Julie. You railroaded Seale so he wouldn’t get a jury trial either. Four years for contempt without a jury trial. No, I won’t shut up. I ain’t an automaton like you. Best friend the blacks ever had, huh? How many blacks are in the Drake Towers? How many are in the Standard Club? How many own stock in Brunswick Corporation? [references to the judge’s condo building andan exclusive club for local Jewish leaders]
Bring in the jury, please.
From the testimony of Timothy Leary
MR. KUNSTLER (DEFENSE ATTORNEY):
I call your attention to March of 1968, somewhere in the middle of March, and I ask you if you can recall being present at a press conference?
Prior to this press conference had you had any other meetings with Jerry and Abbie?
Yes, we had met two or three times during the spring.
Your Honor, I object to the constant use of the diminutives in the reference to the defendants.
Your Honor, sometimes it is hard because we work together in this case, we use first names constantly.
I know, but if I knew you that well, and I don’t, how would it seem for me to say, “Now, Billy—”
Your Honor, it is perfectly acceptable to me—if I could have the reverse privilege.
I don’t like it. I have disapproved of it before and I ask you now to refer to the defendants by their surnames.
I was just thinking I hadn’t been called “Billy” since my mother used that word the first time.
I haven’t called you that.
It evokes some memories.
I was trying to point out to you how absurd it sounds in a courtroom.
From the testimony of Judy Collins
Who was present at that press conference?
There were a number of people who were singers, entertainers. Jerry Rubin was there, Abbie Hoffman was there. Allen Ginsberg was there, and sang a mantra.
Now what did you do at that press conference?
Well—[sings] “Where have all the flowers…”
Just a minute, young lady.
[sings] “—where have all the flowers gone?”
DEPUTY MARSHAL JOHN J. GRACIOUS:
I’m sorry. The Judge would like to speak to you.
We don’t allow any singing in this Court. I’m sorry.
May I recite the words?
Well, your Honor, we have had films. I think it is as legitimate as a movie. It is the actual thing she did, she sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which is a well-known peace song, and she sang it, and the jury is not getting the flavor.
You asked her what she did, and she proceeded to sing.
That is what she did, your Honor.
That’s what I do.
And that has no place in a United States District Court. We are not here to be entertained, sir. We are trying a very important case.
This song is not an entertainment, your Honor. This is a song of peace, and what happens to young men and women during wartime.
I forbid her from singing during the trial. I will not permit singing in this Courtroom.
Why not, your Honor? What’s wrong with singing?
May I respond? This is about the fifth time this has occurred. Each time your Honor has directed Mr. Kunstler that it was improper in the courtroom. It is an old and stale joke in this Courtroom, your Honor. Now, there is no question that Miss Collins is a fine singer. In my family my six kids and I all agree that she is a fine singer, but that doesn’t have a thing to do with this lawsuit nor what my profession is, which is the practice of law in the Federal District Court, your Honor, and I protest Mr. Kunstler constantly failing to advise his witnesses of what proper decorum is, and I object to it on behalf of the Government.
I sustain the objection.
From the testimony of Abbie Hoffman
Did you intend that the people who surrounded the Pentagon should do anything of a violent nature whatever to cause the building to rise 300 feet in the air and be exorcised of evil spirits?
I sustain the objection.
Could you indicate to the Court and jury whether or not the Pentagon was, in fact, exorcised of its evil spirits?
Yes, I believe it was. . . .
The defendants and the witnesses sang, they shouted, they showed utter contempt for the entire process. Defense attorney William Kunstler says that that “defense table was strewn with dozens and dozens of books (plus clothing, papers, candywrappers, and other assorted debris)” because the defendants treated the courtroom like their living room. They read books throughout the trial. They undermined the authority of the court at every turn, calling the judge by his first name (when they weren’t calling him a fascist) and thumbing their noses at all of his rulings. “Our whole defense strategy was geared around trying to give the judge a heart attack,” Hoffmanjoked, “because we weren’t going to beat the charge.” Sorkin portrays little of this, and I’m not surprised: how can someone who believes in process and institutions accurately portray the total breakdown of process and institutions that occurred in the Chicago 7 trial?
I have had a feeling of spiritual kinship toward Abbie Hoffman since my undergraduate years at Brandeis University. He loomed large among leftists on campus when I was there, as one of the university’s most famous alums—although one never boasted about on the admissions brochures. (The Sorkin film does contain a wonderful exchange in which buttoned-up Tom Hayden says to “tell Abbie we’re going to Chicago to protest the war, not to fuck around,” and Abbie replies, “Tell Tom Hayden I went to Brandeis and I can do both.”) Abbie was an inspiration because he was joyous, funny, and never sold out. He did somersaults in front of the courthouse. His colleague Jerry Rubin may have entered the world of business, but Abbie spent much of his post-1960s life fleeing from the government on drug charges, and then as part of the environmental movement. In the years just before his death in 1989, hewas stilla proud warrior for the counterculture. Fellow defendant Lee Weiner, in his autobiographyConspiracy to Riot, describes Abbie as“vibrant, aglow with energy and political wit and satire in the service of changing America and ending the war,” with “long untamed hair and a joyful, full faced smile.” He says Abbie was “impossible not to like—at least most of the time.” Abbie was a revolutionary with a spirit of optimism and fun, the kind of person the left needs if it’s going to build mass support.
ABBIE HOFFMAN IN VARIOUS COURTROOM SKETCHES, 1970
Far from being a Jesus-loving patriot, Abbie Hoffman was a proud loudmouthed communist Jew who spat at everything pious and self-serious. (The epigraph of his autobiography is an anonymous hate letter he received that reads: “Dear Abbie: wait till Jesus gets his hands on you—you little bastard.”) Far from giving sermons on “the institutions of our democracy,” Hoffmandefendedthe true spirit of democracyagainstour institutions. “I believe in democracy with a passion,” he said, “but it’s more than something you believe in, it’s something you do. We are very complacent because we live in Canada or the United States, we live in ‘democracies’—democracy’s not a place you live in, it’s something you learn how to do and then you go out and do it. And if you don’t do it, you don’t have it.”
I like Abbie Hoffman because he knew how to, in his words, “make outrage contagious.” He pissed people off, but he did it in the name of values worth defending. When he wore his American flag shirt on the Merv Griffin show, the network censors were so horrified that they turned the entire screen blue for the duration of his appearance. In retrospect, it seems incredible that this could ever have been controversial, but the counterculture had not yet won. This was a time when people were roughed up and arrested for having long hair, before the right to abortion had been secured. America had to be liberated from the reactionaries and squares, and the hippies and yippies were a vital part of it.
When Hoffman spoke, he said, he “never tr[ied] to play on the audience’s guilt, and instead appeal to feelings of liberation, a sense of comradeship, and a call to make history. I played all authority as if it were a deranged lumbering bull and the daring matador.” This gleeful “fuck you” anarchist spirit is valuable. It is not people like the Abbie Hoffman ofThe Trial of the Chicago 7—those who dare to memorialize the troops and celebrate our institutions while critiquing them within reason—who are most essential to a thriving democracy. It is people like the actual Abbie Hoffman, who could never have been the subject of an Aaron Sorkin film, because Sorkin would never have been able to get a square liberal audience to like him. Abbie Hoffman was an American original, a great dissident clown who could never, and should never, be considered part of respectable society.
Steal This Archive? Abbie Hoffman’s Papers Become a College Collection
Thousands of letters and other artifacts from the life of the radical prankster of the counterculture are sold to the University of Texas at Austin.
There are notes and letters from other icons of the 1960s. Cards from John and Yoko. A letter from Allen Ginsberg, the poet, offering to help him raise defense money. A plea by Norman Mailer to the governor of New York, seeking executive leniency on his behalf.
The papers of Abbie Hoffman, the puckish activist who gained a national reputation as a radical hippie, make clear the extent to which the tumult of that era regularly swirled around him: the showering of the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills, the nomination of a pig as a presidential candidate, the turbulent demonstrations that rattled the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Now the trove of letters, manuscripts, photographs, F.B.I. surveillance reports, Christmas cards and thousands of other papers that memorialize Mr. Hoffman and his contentious role in American history have been sold to the University of Texas at Austin by Johanna Hoffman Lawrenson, his third wife and companion for the last 15 years of his life.
They will be housed at the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History where some of the items are to go on display Tuesday after a ceremony to mark the acquisition. Later, after much sorting and cataloging, the rest of the collection will become available to scholars and students.
Abbie Hoffman has not gotten his proper due historically,” Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, said. “He really was a pathbreaking guy in terms of the street theater approach to gain attention for the causes he advocated, particularly the anti-Vietnam War movement.”
Mr. Hoffman, whose infamously anarchic work, “Steal This Book,” included tips on how to shoplift, might be amused to have his papers end up in so solemn a setting as a university research library. He was arguably the most emblematic figure of the youthful protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a man who helped coin the term “Yippie” and co-founded the group that took that name. But he was always more of a comic provocateur than an ideologue, specializing in thumbing his nose at institutions and formalities in zany ways.
In 1970, for example, when he and the other so-called Chicago Seven were being tried on charges of conspiring to disrupt the 1968 convention, he taunted the judge, Julius C. Hoffman, for having the same last name by calling him his “illegitimate father.”
The Briscoe Center, which has major collections of papers from figures in the civil rights and antiwar movements, paid Mr. Hoffman’s widow $300,000 for the collection. The payment was covered by a donor’
In an interview, Ms. Lawrenson, a photographer and former fashion model, said she had been living in a one-room Manhattan apartment with 75 boxes of Mr. Hoffman’s papers for 30 years, and felt it was time to give them a useful home.
“I’m hoping the archive will help keep his spirit and his radical legacy alive and serve as a great resource for scholars studying 20th-century activism and organizing,” she said. “Abbie dedicated his life to social change, to creating a more egalitarian, compassionate world.”
Another archive of Abbie Hoffman’s letters and family photographs was collected by his younger brother Jack, who donated it about 10 years ago to the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
The trial of the Chicago Seven ended with Mr. Hoffman’s conviction for crossing state lines with intent to riot, but an appellate court overturned that decision in 1973. The same year, he was arrested on cocaine trafficking charges, later jumped bail and spent years as a fugitive, living with Ms. Lawrenson partly in Europe and partly in a remote hamlet in upstate New York, where, under the name Barry Freed, he campaigned to protect the St. Lawrence River.
He surfaced in 1980 with typical Hoffman panache, appearing for a Barbara Walters interview on national television. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in the cocaine case and served a four-month sentence. (Mr. Mailer later wrote Gov. Hugh Carey seeking a pardon for this offense.) Through most of the 1980s, he earned a living lecturing at colleges, focusing his activism on environmental issues. Mr. Hoffman, who had long experienced bouts of depression, was found dead at 52 in 1989 at his home in New Hope, Pa., an apparent suicide.
Some of the artifacts in the collection display other sides of Mr. Hoffman’s protean personality: a sober term paper he wrote at Brandeis University about “Internal Group Conflict in the Jewish Community of Worcester, Massachusetts,” for which he received an A grade; a stub of a $150 ticket to Madison Square Garden for the 1971 so- called Fight of the Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali; several letters defending his authorship of “Steal This Book” in the face of charges from an East Village buddy that he had stolen the text from him.
One note in the collection suggests that despite Mr. Hoffman’s reputation as an anti-establishment prankster, the seriousness of his intentions was apparent to a broader audience. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote him in 1988, two years after his daughter, Amy, had been arrested with Mr. Hoffman at a protest over campus recruiting by the C.I.A., and discussed the delays in securing the release of American hostages in Iran, who were notably held until the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. In the note, the former president absolved Mr. Hoffman of any responsibility for the arrest of his daughter, whom he referred to as a “strong and independent” woman. All the protesters were acquitted in 1987.
Robert H. Abzug, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Texas, said he was particularly intrigued by documents that outlined the changes in Mr. Hoffman during his years at Brandeis.
He came to the school as a relatively conventional student, wearing a jacket and tie, winning spots on the tennis and wrestling teams, even becoming the tennis team’s captain. But two unconventional professors, Dr. Abzug said, exerted significant influence: Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist who advocated social revolutions, and Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who argued that fostering human growth and self-actualization was more important than repairing neuroses.
Drawing on their ideas during rising ferment among the young, Mr. Hoffman felt liberated and was able to “unleash his personality” and lead “the theatrics ring of the New Left,” Dr. Abzug said. An example in the collection is a poster featured during the 1968 Democratic convention protests picturing Mr. Hoffman with an obscenity scrawled on his forehead and the caption: “The system is falling apart by itself. We’re just here to give it a little push.”
Mr. Hoffman’s style, Dr. Abzug said, entertained young people drawn to the movements of the 1960s and helped break down a stodgy culture as quickly as the ideas of more serious-minded radicals like Tom Hayden.
“It would have been a different era without the yeast of the Yippies and his making fun of a culture that was about to be challenged,” Dr. Abzug said.