Power of one

One of mod­ern his­tory’s most enig­matic men has been put un­der the mi­cro­scope by mas­ter di­rec­tor Clint East­wood,

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - Peter Mitchell

FOR al­most 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was one of the most pow­er­ful and high- pro­file men in Amer­ica.

A some­times charm­ing but of­ten ma­li­cious public ser­vant, he had fil­ing cab­i­nets full of dossiers stuffed with se­crets about friends and foes.

Hoover was first el­e­vated to the po­si­tion of act­ing di­rec­tor of the Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion in 1924, main­tained the top job when the agency be­came the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion in 1935 and in­cred­i­bly re­mained at the helm un­til his death in 1972.

Just as Hoover de­lighted in in­ves­ti­gat­ing and air­ing ru­mours and in­nu­endo about oth­ers, whis­pers also tar­geted Hoover – in­clud­ing gos­sip that he de­lighted in dress­ing in women’s cloth­ing and was a clos­eted ho­mo­sex­ual.

In the new Clint East­wood­di­rected, Leonardo Di Caprio-star­ring biopic J. Edgar, Hoover’s pri­vate life and in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships are the fo­cus – although it does not go be­hind the be­d­room door.

The film ex­am­ines the re­la­tion­ship Hoover, played by Dicaprio, had with his al­most in­sep­a­ra­ble col­league, Clyde Tol­son ( played by Ar­mie Ham­mer).

It also looks at the de­vo­tion Hoover’s sec­re­tary He­len Gandy ( Naomi Watts), who worked for him for al­most 50 years, had for her boss.

Dicaprio, 37, un­der­went a ma­jor phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion to play Hoover from a man in his early 20s un­til his death aged 77.

His wardrobe in­cluded pros­thetic dou­ble chins, nose aug­menters and a bald cap.

Dicaprio’s trade­mark widow’s peak was plucked. The ac­tor also em­barked on a fact- find­ing mis­sion to get a grasp of Hoover.

This in­volved read­ing many books de­voted to Hoover and vis­it­ing the FBI and other Hoover haunts, in­clud­ing a res­tau­rant where Hoover and Tol­son ate at al­most ev­ery day.

‘‘ I re­traced his steps,’’ says Dicaprio, who has been in Syd­ney re­cently shoot­ing Baz Luhrmann’s

The Great Gatsby. ‘‘ I vis­ited his house and where he passed away. I went to the FBI where I sat be­hind his desk.

‘‘ I vis­ited the res­tau­rant where he went ev­ery day. I met with [ for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of the FBI] Deke Deloach . . . who is aged in his 90s and is the last man still alive who worked with J. Edgar Hoover.

‘‘ He was the man who got me closer to him than any book could.

‘‘ He re­ally cap­tured him for me. He told me what his sense of hu­mour was like, the way he would sit in his chair, how he would hold his hands, the foods he liked and his re­la­tion­ship with Tol­son.’’

‘‘ He is giv­ing a ser­mon and speech about catch­ing criminals and he’s look­ing into the cam­era, but then they switch lenses and you get a mo­ment where he doesn’t think he’s on cam­era and he’s scratch­ing his face,’’ Dicaprio ex­cit­edly says.

‘‘ You get to see him re­lax for just three or four sec­onds. I was like ‘ Oh, I got that lit­tle mo­ment’. It was a habit. Youtube is great.’’

Dicaprio be­lieves he ac­cu­mu­lated enough in­for­ma­tion about Hoover to shoot down the story that the FBI di­rec­tor went to a party wear­ing a dress and in make- up.

The ac­tor be­lieves Hoover was too pro­tec­tive of his per­sonal life to do that.

‘‘ Not in a mil­lion years would he be dress­ing up as a woman at a party,’’ Dicaprio says. ‘‘ That was the big­gest joke.

‘‘ That has stayed with J. Edgar Hoover for so long that he dressed up in a woman’s dress, put makeup on and went to a party.

‘‘ He was so damned para­noid about any­one think­ing he was ho­mo­sex­ual.

‘‘ He was in­cred­i­bly para­noid about ev­ery­thing in his life. The idea he would be an open ho­mo­sex­ual and dress like a woman was ab­surd.’’

On the ques­tion of whether Hoover was gay and in a re­la­tion­ship with Tol­son, Dicaprio says any­one who knew the truth is dead.

‘‘ At the end of the day, the truth is no one knows the real truth,’’ Dicaprio says.

‘‘ I think if you talk to the FBI and cer­tain oth­ers they will tell you, ‘ No way there was a ho­mo­sex­ual re­la­tion­ship go­ing on. These men were of ser­vice to their coun­try and they were pro­fes­sion­als’.

‘‘ Then there is a whole other group who will tell you ‘ Are you out of your mind? They were in­cred­i­bly gay. They were a cou­ple. Look, they drove to work to­gether. They had lunch and din­ner to­gether. They lived to­gether. Nei­ther of them ever mar­ried or had re­la­tion­ships with women that any­one knows about. They went on va­ca­tions to Florida and Palm Springs to­gether. They went to the track to­gether ev­ery week­end. There wasn’t a minute that they didn’t leave each other’s side. Hoover left Clyde Tol­son ev­ery­thing he had when he passed away. They are buried next to each other. They lived to­gether. Put the pieces to­gether’.’’

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on a pos­si­ble sex­ual re­la­tion­ship, Dicaprio, East­wood and screen­writer Dustin Lance Black fo­cused on Hoover’s in­sep­a­ra­ble re­la­tion­ship with Tol­son.

‘‘ What­ever hap­pened be­hind closed doors, we didn’t show in this film,’’ Dicaprio says.

‘‘ We showed the ten­sion buildup of two men who ob­vi­ously had strong feel­ings for each other.

‘‘ There’s no way you could spend your life with some­body like that and not have those in­tense feel­ings for one an­other.

‘‘ What­ever hap­pened be­hind closed doors was their busi­ness and I don’t know if there is any­one liv­ing who truly knows the an­swer.’’

English- born, Aus­tralian- raised ac­tress Watts, 43, ad­mits to not know­ing too much about Hoover and, par­tic­u­larly, Gandy, be­fore she re­ceived a phone call from East­wood ask­ing if she would be in the movie.

How­ever, af­ter em­bark­ing on a re­search mis­sion, Watts came to re­spect the loyal sec­re­tary.

‘‘ There’s a great strength and poise to her,’’ Watts says.

‘‘ There weren’t big, flashy mo­ments that are al­ways fun for an ac­tor to play, but I liked her com­po­sure and that she was able to stick it out for that long and see ev­ery­thing she saw play out and hold to her word to keep all of his se­crets.

‘‘ She did just that. I thought that shows a re­mark­able strength.’’

Ham­mer, 25, best known for play­ing the Win­klevoss twins in

The So­cial Net­work, hired a re­searcher to dig up in­for­ma­tion about Tol­son and was sur­prised with what was un­earthed, par­tic­u­larly in­ti­mate pho­tos Hoover took of Tol­son sleep­ing that added to spec­u­la­tion they were lovers.

‘‘ I def­i­nitely found some stuff that would lead to spec­u­la­tion. Ab­so­lutely,’’ Ham­mer says.

‘‘ The pic­tures of Clyde Tol­son sleep­ing. That’s pretty in­ti­mate.

‘‘ They lived to­gether. They were buried next to each other.

‘‘ You would, of course, make as­sump­tions if you knew male and fe­male co- work­ers who showed up to work to­gether, then went to lunch to­gether, then went to din­ner to­gether, then left to­gether, then showed up to­gether the next morn­ing to­gether and they did that for 40 years.

‘‘ I don’t think it would be a stretch to make an as­sump­tion.

‘‘ Yes, there was no proof but that’s what made this movie more in­ter­est­ing.

‘‘ Ev­ery­body knows the de­tails and dates of Martin Luther King, the civil rights move­ment and the [ anti- com­mu­nism] Red Scare, but it is the small scenes . . . that breathe life into those dates and make it more than just a doc­u­men­tary.’’

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