Booknotes+ Podcast: Beverly Gage, “G-Man”

By | January 17, 2023

In Yale history professor Beverly Gage’s 837-page cradle-to-grave biography of J. Edgar Hoover, she writes, “I do not count myself among Hoover’s admirers.” However, in the introduction, she says her book “G-Man” is less about judging him than about understanding him. Hoover ran the FBI for 48 years until he died at age 77 in 1972. Prof. Gage, who did her undergraduate work at Yale and received her Ph.D. from Columbia, writes that “Hoover emerged as one of history’s great villains. Perhaps the most universally reviled American political figure of the 20th century.” She joins us to talk about her new book and the complicated life and career of J. Edgar Hoover.

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In Yale history Professor Beverly Gage's 837 page Cradle to grave biography of J Edgar Hoover she writes quote I do not Count myself among Hoover's admirers Unquote However in the introduction she says her Book G-Man Is less about judging him than about Understanding him Hoover ran the FBI for 48 years until he Died at age 77 in 1972. Gage who did her undergraduate work at Yale and received her PhD from Columbia Writes that Hoover emerged As one of History's great villains Perhaps the most universally reviled American political figure of the 20th Century Beverly Gage in your book you say I do Not count myself among Hoover's admirers Why did you feel the need to point that Out Trying to take someone who who's been a Pretty one-dimensional villain in our Public culture and say he was more Complicated he did have certain Redeeming features and that he's more Important than we have necessarily Understood and simply by humanizing him By making him more complicated I think There was some danger that people were Going to read this as a as a revisionist History uh as somehow championing Hoover And I I wanted to make it clear that

That wasn't my intention I think the Book itself makes that clear as well To get you into talking about J Edgar Hoover and I haven't heard you talk About read about it in your book Tom Charles Houston who was he and explain The Hoover personality around that whole Story Yeah Tom who's Character he was He was conservative and he understood Himself to be doing among other things Kind of taking charge of Nixon's war With the bureaucracy and in this case With the intelligence establishment Which is to say that Nixon very much Wanted to bring the intelligence Agencies under more control of the White House in some sense to politicize them And Houston was part of that so in 1970 As this young man he isn't put in charge Of bringing together the heads of the Intelligence agencies and coming up with A plan to go even more aggressively Basically against movements that are are Criticizing the Nixon Administration and Causing what they see as disruption in American Life black power civil rights Anti-war the student left Um and so he comes up with this plan to Be more aggressive on those fronts and Amazingly it is J Edgar Hoover who says Actually this all seems quite Problematic some of it seems illegal I

Don't think we should do this and it's This moment of kind of bureaucratic Mastery for Hoover Nixon wants to move Ahead Hoover says no and then Nixon both In his Memoir and in conversations with Staffers says well you know Jay Edgar Hoover doesn't want to do it there's There's not much a president can do and So he gives in to Hoover Um you're right as a person Houston was More skeptical not only of Hoover but of Any unelected bureaucrat who chose to Spend a lifetime in government explain That Well I think that is what Hoover Represented uh to a figure like Houston And I think it was one of the things That was most interesting to me in Writing this biography is that we tend To kind of narrate our political history As a series of battles between Republicans and Democrats and election Cycles and you know there are a lot of Good reasons for that but there's this Other story that is about the growth of The federal government and about a Series of incredibly important actors Um who made their careers and their Power in that part of the state that is Unelected so for Houston and for I think A lot of conservatives of the 60s and 70s and since the unelected wing of the State was often seen as a kind of Bastion of of liberalism

Particularly parts of the administrative State that had been built by the New Deal or by the Great Society but there Was a larger critique of the Administrative State generally that I Think Houston was reflecting how much Interaction was there between Tom Charles Houston in 1970 he couldn't have Been very old and Jay Edgar Hoover did they talk to one Another would Hoover deign to talk to Somebody as young as he is and tell us Why Well when they were coming up with the Houston plan there were a couple of Meetings that were these kind of Meetings of officials where they all got Together so in those cases Houston and Hoover were in the same room although Hoover uh by all accounts was pretty Theatrical about being dismissive toward Houston and he would call him you know Hutchins or Hutchinson or get his name Wrong and he was also pretty dismissive About him in conversation with top Officials the actual details of the plan Hoover delegated to upper level Officials in in the FBI figures like William Sullivan who was one of the most Important officials during the Nixon Years and so they were the ones who had A lot more interaction even though Hoover turned down this idea how much of It was actually implemented by Nixon

Through Houston or how did he get it Done Well one of the funny things about the Houston plan is of course that the FBI Itself was already engaged in quite a Lot of infiltration and surveillance and Disruption aimed at the very groups that Nixon was interested in Um they certainly continued that though It is true during this period of the Late 60s and early 70s Hoover was Growing more cautious about it in part Because he believed that there was a Public critique that had already started And that was really going to come and he Was absolutely right about that but the Army the CIA the NSA I mean there's all Sorts of stuff going on so in effect I Think the Houston plan saw a lot of what It had on paper though in a formal sense It was not approved by the president and Wasn't wasn't implemented in that way as You point out in the book it's eight Presidents for J Edgar Hoover from Coolidge to Nixon and we have some as You well know plenty of audio tape about Nixon and and also LBJ which we have We're going to run a little clip here From Richard Nixon and I want you to Tell us about their relationship beyond The Houston plan Edgar I wanted to tell you that I was so Damn mad when that Supreme Court had to Come down I personally didn't like their

Decision but unbelievable wasn't it you Know those clowns we've got on there I'll tell you I hope I outlived the Bastards well I hope you do too I mean Politically too because we've got to Change that Court there's no question About that whatsoever I thought it was a Possibility of five to four yeah you Know I thought I thought we ought to get White what's the matter with him I don't Well of course wizard white is an Old Kennedy crowd right but then the other One know what in the hell is the matter With stork well Stewart is a is a very Wishy-washy individual he switches from One side to the other yeah and I wasn't Surprised that he on this thing he Switched this is depending on paper's Case what do you hear there between These two men Well I think the first thing about Hoover and Nixon is that they had been Friends for a long long time by the time Nixon became president they got to know Each other in the late 40s they were Very close when Dixon was vice president In the 50s and then they maintained that Relationship socially as well as Practically throughout the 60s which Were the years when Nixon was in a Little bit of the political Wilderness So the first thing I hear is that They're being pretty honest with each Other right they're not pulling a lot of

Punches there's that history of Closeness that you can hear and they Shared a lot of the same political views Um both in terms of Gossip in Washington And the kind of power plays that they Both enjoyed and then you know in terms Of a kind of hostility not only to Liberalism and certain kinds of liberals But uh especially to you know kind of IV Educated liberal goals that they thought Were being far too nice to the new Left To the student movement the anti-war Movement Etc so I also hear this sense Of of common Outlook and common enmity There now it is true that when Nixon Became president They thought it was going to be great And it turned out that they had a whole Series of conflicts and in the end the Pentagon papers ends up being one of These instances in which they run into Conflict with each other Nixon really Wants the FBI to go after Daniel Ellsberg who they understood to have Leaked the Pentagon papers Hoover is a Little more cautious about that because He says to Nixon in a different tape you Know they're going to turn Ellsberg into A martyr if we do some of the things That you want to do to him it becomes One of the reasons actually that Nixon Creates the plumbers is Hoover's Resistance in cases uh like like Ellsberg to be as aggressive as Nixon

Wants what about the story behind the Next Administration and his people Around him wanting to fire Uh J Edgar Hoover I mean he was he died In in the Nixon administration at 877 And he'd been there as you point out for 48 years what happened when they wanted To to uh Tell him it's time to retire Yeah the amazing thing about Hoover's Career or at least one of them is that That he was simply there for so long so He would become director of The Bureau In 1924 at the age of 29 and then he was Still there 40 some years later and in The end 48 years later by the time he Died so as the 1960s went along there Was talk of a is is Edgar getting too Old Um is he amassing actually too much Power and so there was talk of Retirement Lyndon Johnson is actually The person that we owe our greatest Dubious debt to for keeping Hoover on There was a mandatory Federal retirement Age of 70 at that point but Johnson Exempted Hoover from that and so he was Able to stay on past the age of 70. and Nixon when he came into office thought This is going to be great my old friend Edgar's there he's going to do what I Want they got into these conflicts so by 1970 and 71 Nixon is saying you know the Time really may have come to to begin to

Try to ease him out there are a series Of very funny memos uh sort of Brainstorming memos and conversations Between Nixon and his staffers where They're saying okay how are we going to Do this maybe we can make him a Supreme Court Justice maybe we can let him keep His you know special government car and His staff and Nixon does sit down with Hoover at one point and say uh you know Edgar I think after the election we Really ought to say you're stepping down Your moment has come will retire you as A hero and Hoover kind of says yeah I Don't really want to do that and Nixon Says oh well okay and gives in but then Hoover dies several months later you're Gonna note I'd never seen this before Um and I'd be understood where you found It I wrote it down by October Nixon Suspected that Mark felt Was the leaker thanks to a tip from a Press source I'd never seen that where is it where Was that where'd you find that Was the deep throat and eventually we Found that out years later but go ahead Right so uh if I'm remembering correctly That is from a conversation with one of Nixon's top staffers maybe erlichmann or Dean but but it's from it's from a Conversation where they're talking about Felt uh pretty explicitly and then other Scholars have kind of dug in and tried

To figure out you know where they seem To have gotten this but uh so they had Their suspicions about who was deep Throat long before it was public and and Again they didn't really feel as with Hoover that they could act on it Immediately because uh they were worried Um about the FBI's investigation and They were worried about what else a Figure like felt might know it might be Might be willing to leak This is uh an 837 page book I believe It's 8 37 pointed out in the Introduction that you didn't hear uh 2009 you started all this 13 years work At it he said well Tell us how that happened and fits I saw An interview with you long time ago on I Saw it on YouTube where you were you Were saying something like the book will Be out in 2013. uh but talk us through a little Bit of the process on this Right so it is true it took me more than A decade and I of course wasn't working On it every moment at that time I'm also A professor and a mom and all of those Other things Um but I think I entered into this being Very drawn to uh two things one was the Sheer scope of Hoover's life and career Which covered so much of the 20th Century Um and then the number of new files and

Research materials that had come out During the period from the mid 90s which Was when the last round of biographies Had come out up to the moment that I Started and then continued working on it So as it turns out those two factors Mean that it takes a really long time to Write and to get into enough of the Material to have some understanding of What happened in all of these different Periods you know one thing I found this Is the first first biography I've ever Written and there are lots of advantages And appeals to biography as a structure But one of the things that it does is Have a kind of completist ethos which is To say you're kind of obligated to learn At least something about everything of Significance in uh your person's life And in Hoover's case that was such a Vast array of things both in terms of The the primary material and that just In terms of the secondary sources any Single episode that's a vast literature Attached to it um so that's why it took So long I want to go into some detail as A matter of fact I want to make sure That people that listen to this podcast Know I'm not trying to go from Cradle to Grave in spite of the fact that you did In your book because give you that need To go out and buy your book then they Can get all the details but I do want to Talk some process but before I do that I

Wrote down three questions as I was Reading it they all follow uh one after The other first one is which part of his Life made the biggest impact on you I would have to say it was the early Part of his life because There were certain ideas that we could See from his later career ideas about Anti-communism ideas about government Service and how he understood that and Bureaucracy ideas about race that I Wanted to know the origins of and then There was just the question of Hoover as As a man how did he get the personality And the quirks that he had and a lot of Those I I found in his early years so I Was able to uncover some kind of family Incidents and traumas that he had never Discussed very much and of course There's a certain kind of a speculative Nature to how those impacted him since He didn't talk about them but they Seemed important the context of Washington DC the fact that he was born In Washington raised in Washington to Never left seemed really critical both For thinking about his path into career Government service and the kinds of Ideas that he brought with him and then Also thinking about things like race and Segregation he grew up in a in a Segregating city and was really Influenced by a lot of those ideas and His religiosity uh his religious

Conservatism I could also see forming There so as a biographer I just found Those early years really fascinating and Then part of the argument of the book is That there are a lot more continuities Between the Progressive Era the early 20th century and where we end up in in The 60s and 70s than we always recognize And that you can see some of those Through through a figure like Hoover got The impression that you thought his Grandfather's uh suicide is ants murder Had some impact on him could you explain Both of those Major family Family parents it seems that they both Came together and got married we were Pretty young I guess pretty typical for The moment 18 19 20 years old but they Have both just lost their fathers and They uh and one of those fathers had had Committed suicide and so that seemed Sort of important to understanding what Might have connected them Um and then there's this fascinating Moment that I had never seen mentioned That was much easier to uncover because We now have digital newspaper databases Where you can search for things like This I knew the family name and plugged It in and it turned out that his Mother's brother's wife had been Murdered by her lover in this very Dramatic way that was on the front pages

Of the newspapers and so you have to Think for a future a future law man I Mean Hoover was 10 years old at that at That point he must have known something About this and and thought something About it at the time Second question I wrote down which part Of your research did you enjoy the most Struggle over communism in the 20th Century and so that is in terms of my Scholarly interests Um I think part of the the draw in Thinking about that as the big theme of Hoover's life a big theme anyway Um and there are just great new Materials that have come out since the End of the Cold War on that subject Probably my my favorite file was the File called solo and solo was a very Secret FBI operation but that now has Been fully released by The Bureau they Were two brothers who were inside the Communist Party had been very serious Communists in the in the 40s and 50s had A break with the party and then were Kind of reactivated by the FBI in the 50s to go back into the party and be FBI Informants one of them ended up as the International representative of the Communist Party traveling around the World meeting with figures like Khrushchev and Mao and Castro and then Coming back and telling everything to The bureau and then the other one ended

Up as sort of a financial Courier of Money from the Soviet Union uh back into The United States and he would dutifully You know count it all up turned it over To the FBI they would uh write down all The bills and then he would hand it on To the party and that continued for About 30 years Um all in secret so those files were Really fascinating I didn't actually Have a chance to write about them in as Much detail as I as I read them because You know for Hoover their only relevant Uh in as much as they they kind of shape His world who maintains solo where do You find that information So there are a remarkable number of Really interesting files including the Solo files that are up on the FBI's own Site so it used to be if you wanted to Read FBI Files you either had to file Your own Freedom of Information Act Request or go to the FBI's in-person Reading room but now there is a site Called the FBI Vault and they put up a Lot of their most famous or most Recently released cases there's a lot That's not there but for people who are Just starting to do this kind of Research the vault is a really Fascinating place to I would say spend a Few hours but if you really get into it It could be years that's the warning Where did you write this physically

Uh I wrote it in New Haven which is Where I live Um and I spent some time in DC doing Research in various Summers especially Um so yeah I was mostly writing either At home or at my office at Yale sitting At my computer it turned out that um you Know the pandemic was was uh uh actually Weirdly useful for these final phases of The book because it took away all other Distractions and ability to do anything And so uh it it was It was kind of Useful to be you know trapped in my Townhouse uh with with J Edgar Hoover How did you keep the information Uh in the computer or whatever how did You know where everything was all of Your research files Yeah so I tried to do this as an almost Exclusively digital project which is to Say uh I did not want to have to build a Wing of my house to house everything on Paper Um and in fact Freedom of Information Act requests lots of other sources are Now sent digitally Um so I've got a a big hard drive and Various backups which have all of the Individual files and things that were on Paper I photographed so I have basically You know tens of thousands of of jpegs So if they weren't available in digital Form I digitized them in that sense and Then I work in a database called

FileMaker which is basically glorified Index cards which you can glorify in in All sorts of ways and so from that Primary research I took my own notes and Extracted my own quotes into this FileMaker database Um and then tagged all of those with a Bunch of different things themes that I Was interested in dates uh so that if I Got to chapter 47 let's say and I wanted To know everything that happened in Order in 1960 I could search it that way If I was interested in you know what was The Communist Party doing in the 50s I Could do searches that were for Communism at a certain date range and so That's where it all is did you submit a Manuscript when it was completed or as You went along to the publisher I turned in the first half uh quite a Long time ago and then the second half Came many years later uh and then there Were a couple of final chapters that I Snuck in at the very end my third Question I wrote down is which part of The writing was the most rewarding Chapters um trying to understand Hoover As as a man and trying to understand Relationships in part because that Challenged some of my Um kind of descriptive writing skills in A way that uh more analytic uh or more Sort of and then this happened and then This happened and then this happened

Forms of History uh didn't and then I Also really enjoyed some of the chapters That were just the blow by blow of some Big case Um that I found really fascinating so The German saboteurs case of 1942 I Don't have too many chapters that are Just set pieces about a single case but That one was so big and dramatic and had So many fascinating details uh that it Was just kind of fun to write as a Pretty straight narrative where was Hoover about the German uh Americans That were here during World War II what Was his attitude about the internment And also the Japanese while we're Talking about it Yeah Hoover got his start in World War One his one of his very first duties in The government when he went to work for The justice department which was in 1917 The moment that the United States was Entering World War one was German Internment and registration uh that was The one of the first things he was Tasked with doing and I think he learned A lot of lessons from the World War One Experience but when World War II came Around the FBI actually engaged in its Own targeted internment program which Included not only a small number of Japanese Americans but also uh well they Weren't American citizens but Japanese Living in the United States Germans

Italians and Hoover had been planning That since really 1939 so when Pearl Harbor came along it happened pretty Quickly but interestingly he opposed Mass Japanese internment which started In 1942 in part because he said look We're the FBI will tell you who's Dangerous you don't have to in turn Everyone and he also thought that the Internment of Japanese Americans who Were American citizens was simply Unconstitutional and he really thought That told that to the Roosevelt Administration but they they obviously Didn't agree when did they release the Background on the German internment And the German story and all that when Did where did you find that material and Is it new Right well there are really fascinating Files that are are very little used on German internment as you might imagine Both in World War one and uh in World War II you know the fact of internment Was pretty public I mean there's lots of News coverage and these are camps right I mean they're they're probably people Can see that this is uh that this is Happening uh the German saboteurs case Which was 1942 was a slightly different Story uh because that was Um done in a pretty hush-hush manner I Mean there was publicity about it but uh They ended up being tried by military

Commission and then executed actually in In secret uh by presidential order and So a lot of the details of that uh Didn't begin to come out until after the War um and then have have continued to Come out since then uh there's a street In this town DC 30th Place Uh LBJ lived there and Hoover How how have did you go to those homes To see how far apart they were Uh I did I did I walked uh 30th Place And in fact Um I I knocked on the door and and the The owners there were very kind about Letting me peek inside uh but yeah Hoover only ever lived in two places uh He was born just a few blocks away from Uh the capital in a little part of Capitol Hill called Seward Square he Lived there with his mother until she Died when he was 43 years old and at That point he moved out to 30th Place Which is further out in the Northwest Sort of up by um Chevy Chase and uh he And Lyndon Johnson were neighbors they They walked their dogs on the street the Johnson girls used to sneak up and Allegedly steal some of Hoover's flowers And then run away and say they had Stolen things from the FBI director but So they had a they had a very neighborly Relationship there LBJ I we've got good audio and I'm sure You've listened to it this is LBJ and

Hoover November the 29th 1963 after the Assassination very short time after the Assassination one week talking about Warren the Warren Commission members It's uh about 56 seconds let's run it And then you can react to what you're Hearing What do you think about out in Dallas uh I think he would be a good man what do You think about John McCloy uh I'm not As enthusiastic about about McCloy I Knew him back in the Patterson when Patterson's down here secretary thing He's a good man But uh I'm not so certain as to the a Matter of the publicity that he might Seek on it what about General Nordstrom A good man All right I guess bogs has started in the house I Thought maybe I might try to get bugs And Jerry Ford In the house and maybe try to get dick Russell and uh Maybe Cooper in the Senate yes I think So I don't know you know anything of any Reason uh just talking to me and you're Going to talk black Brothers yeah I know Well there is any reason or any of that I thought Russell could kind of look After Uh the general situation I see that the States and their relationship Russell Would be an excellent man

Talk like brothers What what did what what do you think That meant why was he doing why was LBJ Talking to Mr Hoover about being his Brother Well they were pretty close Um by this moment They had been neighbors as we said and Especially during the years that Johnson Was vice president they both were sort Of on the outs with the Kennedys and had Bonded over that and saw each other as As basically sympathetic in that sense Of course this was also something Johnson did and said with a lot of People right he wants to bring you in Close you're the most special Confidant Right I mean that was a that was a Schtick and a skill of Johnson's and I Think some of this was genuine Consultation and others was kind of Hoover management he wanted to make sure Hoover felt consulted uh in part because The Warren Commission was going to be Something of a challenge to the FBI Right if we remember what happened in The Kennedy assassination Kennedy is Killed Oswald is arrested but then of Course Oswald himself is murdered and One of the things that that means is That there isn't going to be a trial and So there's a lot of anxiety about how You're going to demonstrate That Oswald did this or whoever might

Have done it but they believe pretty Early on that it was that it was Oswald And Oswald acting alone and uh for a Little while there's an idea that simply The FBI producing a report and J Edgar Hoover saying this is what we believe Will be enough but there's enough Suspicion and public pushback that That's one of the reasons the warring Commission forms and so it's a very Touchy subject early on Johnson wants to Make sure that Hoover's going to Cooperate and kind of feel secure with The Warren Commission and I think you Can see that sort of negotiation going On in this conversation too as if we're Listening it's a much longer we have all The audio on our on our website but as We were listening to he kept saying to Ourselves you know seven days later they Basically had concluded what has been Generated millions and millions and of Books and movies and everything since Then it comes back to the same Conclusion they had about Lee Harvey Oswald seven days later I just did a Podcast with a man named Paul Gregory Who 60 years ago knew Lee Harvey Oswald And Marina Oswald and he believes that It was a single assassin and it was Lee Harvey Oswald what do you think about Because you've seen so much of the of The Research files on all this stuff why did

Why why does it take so long to get to The conclusion they had after seven days Yeah the Kennedy assassination was one Of these moments where obviously it Needed to be covered in the book it was Hugely important both to Hoover's Public Image and his future and his Relationship with Johnson and to the Country at large uh and yet I didn't think I was gonna you know come Up with a brand new solution to the Kennedy assassination or even be able to Look at every book and every file right I mean this is just a vast a vast amount Of material so this is one of many Places in the book where I had to figure Out you know what my my strategy might Be and I got particularly interested in Hoover's experience of it in the the Week that was concentrated around the Assassination itself when so many Dramatic things happen from the Assassination to Oswald's murder to the Creation of the Warren Commission and How many kind of dramatic pivots that Required how much pressure the FBI was Under Um and then the Warren Commission itself In which Hoover is clearly trying to Manage the Warren Commission politically Is producing a lot of material holding Back some material that he didn't want To be seen and working very closely with With Johnson so those were the kind of

Political questions that led me in but You know one of the interesting things To your to your point why has this had So much currency I think Hoover and Johnson could see in that moment Partly because of Oswald's murder partly Because of Oswald's truly bizarre Biography that means affecting to the Soviet Union and coming back and the Trips to Mexico and all of that uh that There was just in this moment of Cold War intensity going to be a lot of Suspicion and that that would probably Go on for a long time they wanted to try To contain it with the war on commission They didn't manage to do that you know And in Hoover's testimony at the Warren Commission he basically says look this Is our best judgment but I think that People are gonna spin around about this For for decades to come Another subject in in the whole book and I've counted the number of photographs That would I don't know what the label Would be but it was either a photograph Of Clyde Tolson Uh or Clyde Tolson and Jay Edgar Hoover Together they're 26. which is a very Large number it's a sub story throughout Your entire book about homosexuality and His relationship to Clyde Tolson and as You well know you can go out to the Congressional cemetery and there's J Edgar Hoover and his mother and right

Down three four gravesites Clyde Tolson And the family and all that stuff what What do you where's your head after all The research you did on Clyde Tolson and Jay Edgar Hoover and why was that so Much a part of your book Well it was so much a part of the book Because it was by far the most important Relationship in Hoover's life he and Tolson met in the 20s Tolson became a Bureau agent in 1928 and then for most Of the next uh four plus decades he was At Hoover's side at almost every moment He rose very quickly to become the Number two figure at the bureau but Besides working together they really Lived a very open social partnership They traveled together they had all of Their meals together you know they went To Broadway shows and nightclubs and the Track and uh all of their leisure Activities were side by side and so that Material is actually very well Documented you mentioned these 26 photos Of the two of them together that are in The book there are hundreds more that I Could have chosen both official FBI Photos press photos of them doing Something like eating at a restaurant And then what were most interesting to Me were these series a really quite Intimate personal photos that Hoover had Saved mostly from their vacations Together in the 30s and 40s and in the

Book you see photos of them in their Bathrobes or sunning on the beach or Kind of looking into the camera and Pretty intimate and affectionate ways at Each other And so I tried to to use this material To think about their relationship You know in the end I think it's very Clear uh they were each other's most Important relationship they effectively Acted as each other's spouses I think They deeply loved and cared about each Other it is impossible to say whether They were having a sexual relationship We just don't know that um and probably We'll we'll never know that and as a Historian I try to stick with the Evidence that we have Um and you know Hoover was a very public Figure and so during his lifetime there Were of course rumors that they were Engaged in a quote-unquote homosexual uh Relationship as it would have been put At the time and Hoover was very Aggressive about policing those rumors And was very aware of them would Actually send FBI agents to the door of Someone who had been overheard at a Party saying you know hey I hear these Rumors about about the director and of Course he was very involved in as the FBI was institutionally in policing Other people's sex lives and in Particularly in the 40s and 50s having

Gay people purged from their government Jobs so it's a very complicated story But in terms of Hoover and Tolson you Know on the one hand they have this very Open clearly very affectionate and Important relationship and then there Are just parts of that relationship that Remain a little hidden to us On page 534. I can't even read it it's that strong Language and it was it struck me as Um Bobby Kennedy is a liberal icon And people that I observe who are Liberals are very tolerant of supposedly Of other people's lifestyle but you have Some quotes in on that page That Bobby Kennedy used to call Jared to Hoover Jay Edna and his friend Clyde J Edna and Clyde according to aides he liked to Crack jokes about Hoover's masculinity And I can't read it because it's just Too strong a language and I but when Tolson was admitted to a hospital Bobby Wanted to know why was it a hysterectomy The gossip about this sort of comment Sometimes made its way back to Hoover in 62 a wiretap captured by a Philadelphia Mobster falling to a friend that Bobby Quote once Edgar Hoover out of the FBI Because he's a fairy what is it about a Liberal icon like Bobby Kennedy talking This way and where did you find that Well I think a lot of that homophobia

Was just very widespread in all circles In this in this moment and you know it's Worth keeping in mind it still was even In the late 50s into the 60s federal Policy that you could not be gay and be Employed by the federal government now There were lots of gay people working For the federal government nonetheless But so in that sense it it wasn't so Unusual in that kind of Gossip was all Over Washington although uh particularly Notable here Hoover and the Kennedys Also really didn't like each other Um you know of course one of the things That outraged Hoover about John Kennedy Were all of the rumors and fact about His own extramarital sexual activity Right here is this good Catholic Presenting himself as a as a as a loyal Husband father of a couple of young kids And Hoover has some sense of of what Kennedy is doing so so there's there's a Very complicated sexual politics in all Of that but in funny ways I mean there Were moments where In that sort of epic war with uh with The Kennedys which was you know a fight Over age and culture and politics and All sorts of things there were a few Moments where I I had some some sympathy For uh for for Hoover Um and uh he didn't like Bobby Kennedy Going around with his you know tie Untied and his shirt sleeves rolled up

And you know Hoover was a very buttoned Down guy and thought this was an outrage We used it's also say here Bobby went Beyond this Idol chatter and briefly Initiated an investigation into Hoover's Private life hoping to prove once and For all that the director preferred sex With men Uh when did When did the society change and I guess Do we care anymore about homosexuality Well you know I think a lot of those Changes began to happen during precisely This period uh so another episode that I Recount in the book is of the Madison Society which was one of the first uh Kind of gay rights homophile Organizations to start up during this Period and that was in the Washington DC Chapter explicitly about these these Civil Service rules against the Employment of gay people in in the Federal government but they are Beginning to push back on that they're Ultimately successful obviously in that But not uh not for a little while but They have a little fun with J Edgar Hoover along the way they put him on Their mailing list uh Hoover does not Like being on the mailing list and being Invited to their local lectures and and Meetings and they do uh finally sit down With some FBI officials and they say Okay well we'll take the director off of

Our mail list if you'll take us off of Your lists and and stop conducting Surveillance and doing all that so it's You know it's not an episode with a lot Of uh I think ultimately dramatic impact But it's very telling about the changing Politics of that moment You say that they rode to work together Every day but they did not live in the Same house And they had lunch every day at Harvey's Which I think was in the Mayflower Hotel That they went on all these vacations to Miami and to La Jolla and New York and All these places why would the director Of the FBI If he was in a position where he had to I mean presidents told him go find the Homosexuals in our government why would He take a chance like this and and uh And what evidence did you find that he Knew through those years that people Were saying the kind of things that they Were saying about him Well there are Father um registering these rumors uh Telling agents to go out and find the People and shut down the rumors and Assure them that these things are not True it also wasn't an entirely static Situation which is to say that in the 30s and 40s you had much less virulent Anti-gay politics in Washington than you Get by the late 40s and and into the 50s

And so you know in the 30s Hoover and Tolson are in New York moving in a Kind Of Broadway crowd a nightclub crowd uh The Stork Club and other clubs where you Wouldn't be openly gay but there were a Lot of a lot of gay people Um and so that was a much more fluid Environment and that changes over time I Think in part Hoover thought he was the Exception to the rule Um and in part I think that he believed That he was exercising a proper level of Kind of decorum and self-control right Those are big parts of his psychology His makeup his self-presentation Um and when you look at his attitudes Toward other people Uh for instance when Lyndon Johnson's Aide Walter Jenkins is found in 1964 Engaged in a homosexual encounter in uh In the YMCA in Washington you know Hoover's response to Jenkins is oh he Lost control right you can't do that in Public places all of this sort of thing He has a certain amount of sympathy he Thinks Jenkins is sort of mentally Unstable has lost control of himself so I think there was a narrative for Hoover About his own ability you know to Control his behavior his desires um and Uh and we don't know how effectively he Did that in private but but I think it Was important to how he understood Himself you say it was a sad story about

His relationship with uh uh Mr Purvis What's that story That is some really fascinating Correspondence that is in the archives At Boston University uh Melvin Purvis Ultimately became one of the most famous Bureau agents of the mid-1930s he became Known as kind of the man who got John Dillinger he was the head of the Chicago Field office but that correspondence is Mostly slightly earlier and it's a very Intimate correspondence between Hoover And one of his employees and it's some Of the best personal correspondents that We have certainly from that period Sometimes they're talking about Bureau Business but often they're kind of Engaged in an almost flirtatious banter You know Hoover is trying to get Melvin To call him by his first name and making Jokes about how good-looking Melvin is And how much the secretaries at the FBI Like him they're talking about their Personal lives and their habits and Their social lives and so it's a Fascinating correspondence they're very Close in the 30s but then partly because Purvis becomes famous partly because Purvis in becoming famous isn't abiding By Hoover's rules and regulations as Hoover wants but they have a very Dramatic and quite cool break in about 1936 and Hoover really doesn't want to Engage with Purvis from that point on

Does a lot of Uh makes a lot of effort to kind of Contain and disparage Purvis and the Purvis ultimately kills himself and Hoover doesn't publicly recognize that Either Why what was this what were the Circumstances around purposes suicide You know they were Uh clear that he was quite uh ill at That point he had he had a I forget Exactly what uh what was wrong but he Was in a lot of pain Um his son has actually written a very Powerful and moving Memoir about his Father based in part on these letters And it was his son who put these letters At Boston University and sort of tells You know the family story from uh from From the inside but you know there's Also a piece of it that I think his his Career had been constrained uh he had Been frustrated for for various reasons Though you know it's of course hard to Say in the end why why anyone Um does that but it was many years after After Hoover I believe it was in the Might not get the year exactly correct But it was in the early 60s so it was Quite a long time after his his FBI Years right down the street from where Our offices are located is the national Law enforcement Museum what can you see Hoover in that museum

So I haven't been there in a couple of Years but the last time that I was there They had a reconstruction of Hoover's Office which was terrific I assume that It is still there they have Hoover's Desk a lot of the materials from his Office and they also have this Incredibly valuable collection of Hoover's personal materials for research So they are the ones that have his Childhood Diaries his private photo Albums a lot of what we can get about Um the uh the early years in in Particular those photos of Tolson that You mentioned that's where you can go And see those When you did your work how much did you Rely on other researchers at all To get your material Yeah one of the great things about being A professor is that you have lots of Smart students who you can get Interested in things like Jay Edgar Hoover so I did hire research assistants Both undergraduate students and and Graduate students here and then and then A few people who were you know in in Locations that I needed that that were Not available there were not students at Yale and mostly they took photographs of Archives that weren't digitized and then Brought the photographs to me and I I Did all of the processing of of the Information but the sheer physical labor

Of of going to the archives getting the Materials sitting there with the camera I had lots of really really terrific and Uh and valuable researchers who helped Me I can't let you go without asking you About the course you were teaching at Yale in which the donor got in the Middle of it and you walked away from it Can you explain that and what's the Status of that now is that it called the Grand strategy of course That's right so beginning in 2017 here At Yale I took over a course called Studies in Grand strategy which was a Class and really a program that had its Own endowment had a series of Summer Fellowships you know guest lecturers a Guest practitioners had been founded by John Gaddis and Paul Kennedy and a Couple of other Charles Hill in Particular who were all professors here Specialists in foreign relations they Had run it for a while we're getting Near retirement and wanted a successor So I took it over made some changes to The program but as you say I got in a Conflict with one of the donors who Wanted to exert a lot more control over The program than I thought was Appropriate for a donor and you know Being a a professor I said I want to run My own courses as I see fit and make Those judgments myself unfortunately the University uh sort of backed the donor

Rather than be so I reside from teaching That and I'm now back just being a a Regular old history professor at Yale Which uh is not such a bad gig and which I like quite a lot what happened to the Course then after you walked away [Music] There is a little bit uncertain they Haven't brought in a new formal faculty Director at this point but it is still Running and it's actually still running With pretty much the syllabus that I had Designed which was both about foreign Policy and also about sort of strategies Of social change and politics so in a Practical sense I think the experience Of the course uh is is a lot like what It was when I was there I'm just not There then someday someone else will Probably come in and put their own stamp On it what led to your appointment to The National Commission on the Humanities and how involved are you and What do you do as a as a member of that Commission Yeah I'm still in pretty early stages on That and I actually don't know what led To my involvement uh because one day the White House called and said we'd like to Nominate you to the National Council on The humanities and I said well that Sounds interesting Um and so basically what we do is get Together and consult with the National

Endowment for the Humanities we are sort Of the the final review of Grants we Make suggestions about speakers and Programming and so it's a it's a sort of Both formal and informal conversation But we're sort of the board of advisors For the National Endowment for the Humanities and it's been really really Fascinating and fun thus far how did you Get interested in history Well I think I was always interested in History even as a as a child I read a Lot of you know historical novels I Liked writing my my history papers but Uh in college I became an American Studies major that I thought I was going To be a journalist coming out of college And did that for a few years but I found That being a journalist I kept asking Questions both about you know the deeper Story that was there and I thought I was Writing on a surface level about a lot Of different things and I also realized That I I kind of liked books and I liked Big projects and I liked being able to Sit with things for a while and it Seemed like uh really universities are One of the only places where you can do That anymore you know and it's uh it Takes a lot of support and time And collaboration to do to do a project Like this and there aren't that many Places that you can you know have Someone who's who's willing to employ

You over a long period of well 13 years In this case while you're while you're Producing a big book like this I have a Tricky question for you is there a Favorite Yale Professor that taught you Years ago when you got your Undergraduate degree or for that matter At Columbia where you got your PhD Yeah I think I was influenced by lots of Folks so I wasn't a history major at Yale Where I Was An undergraduate and so Now I'm in the history Department which Is slightly different from from American Studies but I would say particularly in Graduate school as a historian I was Very influenced by Alan Brinkley who was My advisor was one of the kind of great Historians of the new deal but I think Especially you know at a certain moment In time was one of these figures who Revived the study of political history Of high political actors at a moment When that wasn't so fashionable in the History profession and then Eric foner Who is a great 19th century historian Historian of the Civil War Reconstruction was another one of my Advisors also very influential in Thinking about social movements and Thinking about race and thinking about Interactions between mean High political Actors and people on the ground and they Were both great models of you know both Being serious Scholars and being kind of

Publicly engaged writers they're great Craftsmen the great stylists Um and and serious Scholars so they Definitely put their their stamp on me Are you ready to do another book and if So do you have a subject that you Decided on I am I think ready to do a few more Books Um I am not going to do a giant archive Book that's my next project I think I Need to get away from the desk and get Away from documents for a little while Um and so I am thinking about a book uh That is going to explore some of the Ways that uh people on the ground in Historic sites and that we as a nation At large are you know contesting and Reinterpreting our history in this Moment so I'm thinking about it as a Little bit of a history road trip so I Think I'm going to do that for a while Um get me get me away from the computer Screen and the desk now that we can in Fact do that and then I will get back Into the archives for another project Soon you have one or two children I have one child you mentioned him in The book as Basically growing up while you wrote This book how old is he now So he is now 19. has he read your book I do not think so no he read the Dedication page

The name of the book is G-Man J Edgar Hoover and the making of the American Century Our Guest has been Professor Beverly Gage thank you very much for Joining us today Thanks so much Brian Thanks for listening to the book notes Plus podcast please rate and review book Notes plus and don't forget to follow so You never miss an episode Questions or comments we would love to Hear from you you can email us at Podcasts at C hyphenspan.org [Music]