Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and award-winning screen writer Dustin Lance Black visited pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny Tuesday at Kameny’s Washington home to talk about the FBI for the upcoming film “J. Edgar,” a dramatized biography of founding FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Kameny told the Blade the one-hour visit was arranged by Richard Socarides, the gay former Clinton administration official who later worked for a Hollywood film studio. Socarides is head of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters.
DiCaprio and Black sought Kameny’s insight on the chilling atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s in Washington for gays and others who often were targets of Hoover’s FBI, according to Kameny.
He said the two arrived in a limousine and were not accompanied by anyone else other than the driver, who did not come into the house.
“They had been over at the Justice Department prior to coming to my place,” Kameny said.
Kameny founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961, D.C.’s first gay organization. He told the Washington Blade in interviews that the FBI and D.C. police closely monitored the group and sent “plants” and undercover investigators to attend its meetings.
DiCaprio has been selected to star as Hoover in “J. Edgar,” which is being directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Warner Brothers. Black, nationally acclaimed for writing the script for “Milk,” the film about San Francisco gay rights leader Harvey Milk, wrote the script for “J. Edgar.” Its release is projected for 2012.
Black, who is gay, has yet to disclose any details of the script or story line for the film. But the film industry blog Band of Thebes reports that Armie Hammer, who stars in the film “Social Network,” will play the character Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man at the FBI and the notorious FBI director’s rumored lover. Actress Judi Dench has been tapped to star as Hoover’s mother.
Kameny said he told DiCaprio and Black about his own extraordinary encounter with the FBI and Hoover in the early 1960s, which the Blade reported 20 years later in a 1980s interview with Kameny.
As head of the Mattachine Society, Kameny told of how an FBI agent contacted him by phone and requested a meeting with the gay activist to discuss an important matter. Not knowing whether he would be arrested for some unspecified charge related to homosexuality, Kameny said he agreed to the meeting with great trepidation.
Upon arriving at FBI headquarters, then located in the Justice Department building, he and another Mattachine Society member who joined Kameny at the meeting were greeted politely by two FBI agents, Kameny recalled. To their amazement, one of the agents informed them that Hoover would very much like to be removed from the Mattachine Society’s mailing list, through which the group’s newsletter was being regularly mailed to Hoover at FBI headquarters in Washington.
Kameny said the group sent the newsletter to many high-level public officials in Washington, including members of Congress, the White House, Pentagon, Justice Department and other federal officials and agencies.
To the dismay of the agents, Kameny said he told them he could not make any decision on the matter without first consulting the Mattachine board of directors. He said he and the group, after conferring over the matter, agreed that they would not remove Hoover from their mailing list unless he agreed to certain conditions, including his designation of another high-level FBI official to receive the newsletter and that the newsletter would still occasionally be sent to Hoover to inform him of important developments.
In a phone interview Thursday, Kameny said the group sent a letter to the FBI agent informing him of those conditions.
“It said we would remove him from our mailing list but we wanted somebody else to be substituted and within the framework of the agreement we reserved the right, if the newsletter had some special item of particular relevance to J. Edgar, to send him that issue,” Kameny said.
“We never got a response, and that was the end of it,” said Kameny, who added that the group continued sending Hoover the newsletter for as long as the group kept publishing it—possibly for another few years.
Other gay activists have viewed this development as an extraordinary turn of events. Kameny and a small gay organization appeared to have turned the tables on Hoover, who was known to keep lists of citizens of all stripes he believed to be subversives, by putting him on a “gay” list.
Kameny said Thursday that DiCaprio and Black did not say whether they would consider incorporating the Mattachine newsletter caper into the “J. Edgar” script.