PBS delves into Hoover's 'Secret Life'

February 09, 1993|By Newsday

J. Edgar Hoover was gay and was a heavy gambler, says a new PBS documentary that attempts not only to confirm persistent rumors about the longtime FBI director's alleged homosexuality, but also to indict him for failing to nip organized crime in the bud.

"Hoover's personal corruption," says the investigation premiering on "Frontline" tonight (9 p.m., Channels 22 and 67), "corrupted the very mission of the FBI . . . it was while Hoover was director [from 1924 to his death in 1972] that the Mafia was allowed to grow rich and powerful."

But people who knew Hoover and studied his career say the documentary, "The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," merely revives unsubstantiated rumors about him.

Asked whether Hoover was gay, William Corson, a former counterintelligence official who worked with Hoover in the 1960s, told Newsday, "That's crap. This kind of stuff is the fantasy of people who are trying to sell -- as if it's a Baby Ruth candy bar."

"Frontline" producers say that they have dug deeper and worked harder to get the truth. "You think everybody's done it, and you find out that people haven't," says "Secret Life" producer William Cran.

The hourlong report notes Hoover's FBI ignored the mob while it was organizing nationally. But while Hoover was publicly denying the existence of organized crime, he was regularly hobnobbing with mob figures, "Frontline" charges. And bookmaking kingpin Frank Costello was placing bets for Hoover, described in the film as a "devout gambler" by William B. Gallinaro, chief investigator for the New York Crime Committee from 1966-1970, and other high-placed sources.

But Richard Helms, whose career as director of Central Intelligence overlapped the Hoover years and who met with him frequently, said Friday: "As far as the Mafia, I always thought that the reason J. Edgar would never take on the Mafia had nothing to do with blackmail but had entirely to do with the fact that he was concerned that his beloved FBI would be tarnished with all the money that was sloshing around in the Mafia, that they might buy off some of his agents, or bribe them or corrupt them. . . . He wanted a squeaky-clean outfit."

The PBS report also attempts to go beyond rumors about Hoover's sexual orientation, showing on-camera accounts from people like former model Luisa Stuart saying that she saw Hoover and his lifetime aide and confidant Clyde Tolson holding hands after a hard-drinking party on New Year's Eve in 1936.

And Susan Rosensteil says on camera that she saw Hoover dolled up in a black chiffon dress, high heels and false eyelashes and being called "Mary" at a clandestine rendezvous with her own husband: the late philanthropist and longtime Hoover crony Lewis Rosensteil, who she says was bisexual.

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