I’ve been making great progress on my new book, and I’ve nearly hit 40,000 words. The bigger challenge is trying to interest anyone in it. It’s rather rude, really, that literary agents can’t be bothered with even a pro-forma rejection but instead expect me to wait out response windows for silence to speak for them. But on the plus side, I’ve had an opportunity to explore some areas of historical research I hadn’t had the opportunity to look into before. Honestly, it was a little weird.
I knew that the FBI had collected files on homosexuals on the theory that they were “subversives” who were going to undermine America or get blackmailed into communism, but it’s quite a different thing to actually read them. Rock Hudson’s FBI file makes for such sad reading. Many books have made reference to it, quoting the best-know sentence from a 1965 memo, that while the FBI did not conduct an investigation into Hudson for subversion, “Los Angeles has advised that Hudson is suspected of having homosexual tendencies.” Not many go into detail about the broader context.
While it’s true that there had been no formal FBI investigation into Hudson before 1965, Hoover had collected a decade’s worth of rumors about Hudson’s sexuality, including allegations that he had participated in gay orgies. The copy of a memo provided by Hollywood’s vice squad in Hudson’s file is heavily redacted, but newspaper reports in 2000, following a summary of the unredacted document in a biography of Burt Lancaster, make clear that LAPD and the Office of Naval Intelligence raided the heavily secured home of the wealthy host of gay sex orgies who had hired more than 250 Marines (!) over the previous few years to provide sexual pleasure to guests and secretly photographed the celebrities in attendance, including Hudson and Lancaster. The Navy was involved because another guest was a fleet admiral. Whether the story was completely true mattered less than that officials believed it, as evidenced by a 1963 memo fretting about whether Burt Lancaster was too liberal on racial equality. The memo repeated claims about Lancaster’s participation in the 1960 orgy and several others besides.
From 1961 on, the Bureau also documented accounts from “confidential informants”—Rock Hudson’s former male lovers, who rushed to Hoover’s offices to share their accounts of having sex with Hudson. Despite officially concluding that such information wasn’t actionable, they nevertheless kept a file on Hudson’s homosexuality.
One of those confidential informants gave the Bureau information on a homosexual affair with Hudson in 1965, while the Bureau was already looking into him. On May 14, 1965, the Los Angeles Bureau asked Hoover personally for permission to interview Hudson since “no derogatory subversive references” could be found in FBI records. The exact reason they wanted to interview him was redacted, but it appears to have something to do with a request from an unnamed agency making inquiries from Washington. Over the past 40 years, no researcher has yet determined the reason for this.
By June, the Bureau concluded that “in view of the information that Hudson has homosexual tendencies, interview will be conducted by two mature experienced Special Agents.” The interview was approved on June 3 and a write-up forwarded to the unnamed agency that requested it. The FBI arrived on the Paramount lot on June 23 and interviewed Hudson on the set of a movie he was shooting. The “mature” special agents had quizzed Hudson about his short-lived marriage to his agent’s secretary and forced him to make a phone call to prove that he didn’t know where his ex-wife was and that her alimony checks were sent to her care of a Beverly Hills advertising agency. It would be interesting to know what agency was so interested, but it was redacted.
It was all very strange, but the information retained interest for years to come. Both LBJ in 1966 and Nixon in 1972 requested copies of the FBI’s dirt on Rock Hudson, for reasons neither president’s staff ever explained. One of the memos to the White House has the words “sex offender” scrawled in an unnamed hand.
I found more amusing, however, a month-long flurry of memos in the FBI in 1971 arguing over whether a five-minute skit on the March 8 edition of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (available on Amazon Prime) was funny or subversive for depicting J. Edgar Hoover as having bugged the White House and President Nixon as talking to Hoover through a microphone in a White House flower vase. The memos were prompted by a series of letters from conservatives angry that NBC had defamed Hoover and was damaging public trust in the FBI—“insidious propaganda” one called it. The FBI agents discussing the situation thought the sketch made no senses—being unable to understand it—and wrote that it “was not at all funny, was typically tasteless, and sometimes downright vicious” before crowing about the show’s imminent failure: “It is noted that ‘Laugh-In’ has been steadily declining in the television ratings and it is easy to understand why when you see the type of material they are attempting to foist on the viewing public in the guise of humor.”
Oh, and just for kicks, the guy who wrote that was the same FBI official who wrote about Burt Lancaster’s gay orgies, M. A. Porter.
Every time I hear about how we’re supposed to be excited by the latest news about why we should assume that the government’s latest UFO investigation is serious and needs to be treated with gravity, I will remember that the government wasted enormous time and resources on such serious questions as whether Rock Hudson was gay and whether Laugh-In was funny.
Note: The schedule function on my website is not working, so I am not able to schedule blog posts ahead of time. Blog posts will go up when I have time to post them until the problem is resolved.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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