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The Real J. Edgar Hoover

With Anthony Brooks in for Tom Ashbrook

Leonardo DiCaprio brings J. Edgar Hoover to life on the big screen. We’ll look at the FBI’s real J. Edgar, and his lessons.

F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover is seen in his Washington office, date unknown. (AP)

F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover is seen in his Washington office, date unknown. (AP)

J. Edgar is Clint Eastwood’s new movie about the man who built and ran the F.B.I. for almost four decades. For most of those years the FBI WAS J. Edgar Hoover – who made the bureau into a powerful national police force, and took down notorious bank robbers with names like Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde.

But Hoover was also a man of dirty tricks and secret lists who kept his grip on power by threatening anyone who got in his way, including subversives, critics and Presidents.

This hour, On Point: J. Edgar Hoover; still with us.

-Anthony Brooks


Kenneth Ackerman, author, historian, and practicing attorney. He’s the author of Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919-1920.

Douglas Charles, Assistant Professor of history at Penn State Greater Allegheny. He’s the author of J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists: FBI Political Surveillance and the Rise of the Domestic Security State, 1939-45.

Cartha Deloach, served as a deputy director of the FBI from 1965-1970. Author of Hoover’s FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover’s Trusted Lieutenant.

From The Reading List

The New Yorker “Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” is, of all things, a portrait of a soul. The movie is a nuanced account of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a sympathetic monster, a compound of intelligence, repression, and misery—a man whose inner turmoil, tamed and sharpened, irrupts in authoritarian fervor. Eastwood and the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have re-created that period in the nineteen-twenties and thirties when a righteous young man with a stentorian style could electrify a nation. Outraged by scattered bomb plots and shifting values—what seems to him the moral chaos of modern life—Hoover senses that Americans need safety, or, at least, the illusion of safety, and he becomes the vessel of their protection, exercising and justifying, with ironclad rhetoric, his own dominance.”

Time “He virtually invented the FBI and its predecessor the Bureau of Investigation, bringing forensic science into the modern age and, with the 10 Most Wanted list in every post office, luring the citizen into the crime-stopping process. He oversaw the men who brought down John Dillinger and arrested Lindbergh baby killer Bruno Hauptmann. ”

The L.A. Times “In February 1970, a top aide to President Nixon warned J. Edgar Hoover that a new reporter in town, Jack Nelson, was said to be gunning for theFBI.”

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  • Terry Tree Tree

    Will he wear a red gown, like the one that Gay Edgar was found dead in?

    • Anonymous

      I realize you all are trying to point out Hoover’s hypocrisy, but I ask that you rethink using “gay” as a slur, or conflating transvestism with homosexuality.  (Different phenomenon.)  Consider if someone were to call him J. Edgar Jew-ver, because of a perceived tightness with money.  It’d be pretty offensive.  So why is “gay” ok?

      • RethinkThis

        GLBT is not a slur, it’s a fact of human existence. 

        Your attempt at enforcing your own interpretation of political correctness is the hypocrisy here.

        Also, your ‘miser’ analogy is a fallacious comparison.

        You and the people who clicked the ‘like’ button after your reply should use their critical reasoning skills and rethink your post.

        • Anonymous

          In “Gay Edgar” “gay” wasn’t being used as a slur?  Most gay men don’t wear dresses so he was correct to write to not conflate homosexuality with transvestism. 

          • RethinkThis

            A play on words/letter: gay edgar/j edgar.  Get it? 

            I don’t believe the poster intended it as a slur, more likely a sly remark, or an attempt at making a pun, a joke.

            Maybe people are just a little too politically correct or maybe people don’t have a sense of humor.

            When a person can’t say someone is fat – when they are overweight, or can’t say someone is handicapped – when they are physically or mentally challenged,  or can’t say they are blind – when they are sight impaired, then America has put political correctness above descriptive accuracy.

            Besides, the above attempts on humor are probably based on misinformation – Hoover was most likely gay and didn’t wear dresses:


          • Anonymous

            I understood the pun.  It wasn’t witty.  In the context of the entire sentence the word was used as an insult.  It wasn’t used merely to identify Hoover as gay but to insult him as it was linked to the dress reference.  Hoover was a national disgrace but it wasn’t because of his sexuality other than that he was a hypocrite. 

          • RethinkThis

            Insult?  Then, I guess we won’t be seeing you in a comedy club any time soon or any Hollywood movie that has a man in a dress.

          • Anonymous

            I didn’t say insults couldn’t be funny. 

          • RethinkThis

            I think you did.

          • Anonymous

            In all of your other examples, fat vs. overweight, handicapped vs. challenged (by the way, why not use retard then?), etc, the usage is not labeling someone based on the worst sort of stereotyping.  So they’re not really applicable to what I’m talking about.  “Gay Edgar” has nothing to do with descriptive accuracy.  

          • RethinkThis

            Most humor usually involves generalizations and stereo-typing.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            Astute observations!
                Horse-racers and golfers have a handicap.  To keep changing the nomenclature, helps to reinforce stereotypes, in my opinion.

        • Anonymous

          GLBT is not a slur, nor is gay inherently derogatory.  The point of objection is in referring to someone in a derogatory manner using the most facile of stereotypes.  Hence the comparison to using a stereotype of jewish folks as miserly.

          The posters above referred to Hoover as a prancing, cross-dressing pervert and he is “Gay Edgar”.  His alleged homosexuality is not what was objectionable about him, so to focus on that particular aspect of his life and personality in a disparaging way, is my opinion, inappropriate.

          • JustSayin

            It is fun to fish out the PC police and uncover their prejudices.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Thanks for discerning the attempt to point out the hypocracy.  I did not coin this, repeated it from a U.S. Navy shipmate, over thirty-five years ago!
             I am a tolerant, but NOT interested male, that likes to expose hypocracy.
             Those that I offended, please see it from my point of view.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        No slurs to gays intended, except J. Edgar.  There are a coulple of accounts of circumstantial evidence, that say he was.  He did follow some of the traits of the time, for gays.
            I was pointing out the HYPOCRICY, of his persecution of gays, while evidently being in the closet, himself! 
            Who knows what actual National Security breaches he caused, with the hypocricy?

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Glad I started the following discussion!  The slur was on Hoover’s hypocracy! 

  • ScariestManInDC

    I saw the previews for the movie. 

    As far as previews go, it looked pretty good.

    Though, I didn’t see DiCaprio in a dress.

    Kind of makes me wonder about Clint’s authenticity.

  • JustSayin

    A true conservative… Determined to control the populace with unlawful Orwellian peeping into other peoples lives. The great moralizing rhetoric and the government behind him 100%.  Let’s jail all those perverts and commies…. All while being the biggest creepiest prancing cross-dressing pervert that was NEVER entered into the “FBI files”.

    In the name of liberty, the name of this vile pervert should be expunged from every public building…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

      I would say that people whose career’s involve bugging peoples phones, employing hidden video cameras, stocking people, access to consumer records, conducting sting operations under false identities, entrapment, interrogation…etc.  require individuals with perverse tendencies. 

      One only has to watch these NCIS and secret agent shows to realize the underlying salacious attraction to such endeavors that feign as an honorable profession.

    • William

      He would be more of a liberal than conservative. Obama has created a special web site and encourages people to inform or report fellow citizens that are critical of Obama’s radical agenda. This type of behavior is similar to what Hoover did during his era.

      • Anonymous

        Just because the moderate Obama does something does not make it liberal. 

      • JustSayin

        I think the dividing line between conservative and Liberal could be described as What can the government do for the people, or What can the government do to the people.

        Hoover was a conservative as they get… but that has nothing to do with Obama.

      • Terry Tree Tree


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    An appropriate subject after the subject of GPS and illegal search.

    I think a show just on J. Edgar’s companion, Roy Cohn may be even more interesting.     

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    The real issue of J. Edgar Hoover’s homosexuality,  is that at the time, homosexuality was not accepted and illegal in many states.

    Through operatives like Roy Cohn,  Hoover was totally compromised by via the media, who could easily bring the scandal to the surface at whim.  This is why political candidates are chosen by big money, not for their leadership skills, but for the skeletons in their closets that assure their complete cooperation.

  • Not an Alex Jones fan

    Convicted Watergate burglar, G. Gordon Liddy, is still defending the actions taken by J. Edgar Hoover when he was the director of the FBI. 

    That says a lot about the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover.

    • NotAYouFan

      It says more about Liddy.

      • Not an Alex Jones fan

        I’ll take that as you being a fan of J. Edgar Hoover.

        What’s in your files?

  • Drew You Too

    I could care less what his sexual orientation was, what I do care about were his actions. So a movie is coming out and this becomes a worthy On Point topic? pfft

    “Hoover, he was a body remover
    I’ll give ya a dose
    But it’ll never come close
    To the rage built up inside of me
    Fist in the air, in the land of hypocrisy”
    ~~Rage Against The Machine
    ~~Wake Up!

  • T. Smith

    The issue is not that J. Edgar Hoover was a homosexual, but that he was a closeted homosexual who actively persecuted other homosexuals.  Pure scum.

  • Oliver Graham

    Fascinating—in a sad way—that everyone seems to know about & focus on the alleged cross-dressing… which is totally irrelevant compared to how he consistently broke the law & willfully destroyed people lives/careers “simply” for his need to find Reds under every bed.

    My standard, opening line about Hoover… “Anything bad you’ve heard about Hoover?  It’s worse than you can imagine.”  “Think you don’t have something to hide?  Not to worry… I have agents who can take care of that.”

    • Terry Tree Tree

      I wonder how much damage he did to this country, by someone knowing about his sexual orientation, and using that as blackmail to get spies and criminals Top Secret Clearances?
          How much damage was done, by terrorizing people with his files and his agents, for his  own power?
          One account I read, said that he shafted his boss, to get his job!
           Much has come out about J. Edgar, that indicates that he was bad for the U.S., and criminal.   A movie can start the discussion, but will NOT provide in-depth analysis.

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/onanov Donald Baxter

    Does diCaprio do drag in this movie?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Modern violators of civil rights, I knew the man.  He was a friend of mine.  Modern violators of civil rights, you’re no J. Edgar Hoover!

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Hoover was nothing new.  He was a participant in the ancient idea that the government owns us and dispenses whatever rights to us that it sees fit.  The USA Patriot act is a current illustration of this evil.

  • Anonymous

    Was J. Edgar Hoover homosexual? Roy Cohn, Senator McCarthy’s (Commie Hunter) lieutenant, who died of AIDS outed Hoover before he died. I can’t believe heterosexual men are still so insecure that they cannot cede this point. I would grant the point that there was no such thing as being ‘gay’ in his time partly through his intentional harassment of gay activists.

    My own father, who was prone to Fascist ideology, worked with the FBI on a local police level when Hoover was still active. I know that their actions were not motivated by the highest principles. They were and are dedicated to maintaining the status quo, which is absolute corporate power today.

    I find the canonization of Hoover very odd. I suppose it indicates that we are once again going deeper into dark times in which personal freedoms will be swept away in the name of the financial interests of Wall Street and politicians.

  • Walter McGill

    Why no mention of Hoover being a racist?

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Too many flaws, too little time.

  • ContollingThePower

    What gave Hoover power and kept him in power for four decades are the the same unethical, immoral entities keeping people in power today.

  • JustSayin

    Speaking of government incompetence. The much ballyhooed test of the Emergency Alert System just took place. And for those of you who missed it… LOL The sound (even the digital) was so bad it was totally incoherent. I bet the entire thing was years and millions of dollars in the planning and execution.

    The audio was a remarkable simulation of South Park’s Kenny McCormick however. Maybe there’s a message in that. Just pitiful. Just pitiful.

  • Brett

    I remember Hoover’s reign well…he was like the Vice Principal of the United States. He and Nixon must’ve been a real hoot together!

    • Rob (in NY)

      Believe it or not, Hoover did not have a strong relationship with Nixon either. He probably had his best working relationship with Coolidge and FDR.   I would attribute this more to Hoover than the Presidents that he served under.     Most historians of the FBI argue that Hoover’s reign/tactics really changed starting in the early 1950s when he became paranoid and obsessed with maintaining  his power base. I would argue that Hoover is a case study on why term limits need to be applied to powerful executives that head government agencies (e.g. whether it be the FBI, Federal Reserve,etc..).  If Hoover retired from the FBI in 1945 after WWII, he probably would have been remembered by the public soley for his work building the FBI rather than as a paranoid man obsessed about keeping his job.         

      • Brett

        Thanks, Rob, but what I meant (being that Nixon was also a paranoid obsessed with holding on to power) is that the two would have been interesting to watch in a meeting (fly on the wall, that sort of thing). I agree, Hoover got pretty wacky after the ’40′s and would probably not have had a good relationship with any president after FDR.  

      • Terry Tree Tree

        J. Edgar’s paranoia probably came about in part, due to FDR playing him off Wild Bill Donovan, head of the O.S.S., Office of Strategic Services, our main spy network durring WWII.
           FDR kept them working against each other, to get the best of each!

  • Jux

    In the early 60″s my great-aunt gave me a book titled “J. Edgar Hoover Talks to Teens”.  Can you imagine?  I wished I’d saved it.

  • IfTheNameFits

    Where’s Edgar?

  • Deeeefense

    Hoover had enemies such as the KKK, communists, nazis, mobsters and general liberals.  That is why there has been so many lies against him.
    Check out the MOBSTER woman who CLAIMED Hoover dressed in drag.    Susan L. Rosenstiel, a former wife of Lewis S. Rosenstiel, chairman of Schenley Industries Inc., as saying that in 1958, she was at a party at the Plaza Hotel where Hoover engaged in cross-dressing in front of her then-husband and Roy Cohn, former counsel to Senator Joe McCarthy.  These were the lies against Hoover

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M5AP7LKQNQPFIOEGE5VMHOSEHI Big Chee

    Amazing how Hoover’s overt racism is incredibly disregarded and glossed over during this broadcast and most certainly this film.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Unfortunately, overt racism was considered normal for that time!

  • Stever

    J Edgar Hoover was one of the worst people ever to have risen to power in the United States. He made the FBI into something approximating a secret police. He is responsible for a lot of the hysteria surrounding leftist political movements in the 20′s, 30′s 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, linking them with communism. The Mafia had photographic evidence of Hoover in drag. He slept in the same bed with Clyde Tolson, his constant companion.  The Mafia threatened to expose him if he didn’t leave them alone, so Hoover turned to hunting down communists and the mafia flourished from the end of WWII to the Kennedy administration when RFK  launched some 95 inverstigations into Mafia activities. And he had racketeering statutes to make his investigations a real threat to the Mafia bosses, men in their 50′s or older. Conviction would mean a life sentence. We know what happened to the Kennedys. Hoover, Hoover… a first class son of a bitch.

    • EvilIsAsEvilDoes

      I wonder who put him in power and kept him in power for so long and why?

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Hoover’s Secret Files on nearly anyone, KEPT him in power, and probably got him there.  
           His boss had a pretty big scandal, and Hoover took over, temporarily, becoming tooo permanent!

  • Joe Ski

    Very interesting hour, but disappointing that Anthony Brooks spoke to Cartha Deloach for only 5 minutes and did not ask him any tough questions about Hoover’s sexuality, alleged racism, abuse of power, etc., etc.  Were there preconditions set by Deloach on the questioning – or did Brooks just “drop the ball”?  And why didn’t the other 2 guests interact with Deloach?

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