January 20, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kameny visited by DiCaprio, Black

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • While it’s a popular myth that Tolson and Hoover are buried side-by-side, it isn’t true. However, there is an amusing incontrovertible gay connection to their graves. Anti gay military ban pioneer Leonard Matlovich [Kameny was the inspiration and mentor for his challenge to the Air Force] chose the location for his own grave in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery in the same row as Tolson and Hoover. Hoover is several yards down in a small, fenced-in family plot while Tolson is only four graves from Leonard’s iconic gravesite. Tolson’s is identified by the pink [!] stone in the photo at:

    http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs886.ash1/179448_1389127187862_1822575019_741498_957134_n.jpg

    It was but one of the reasons Leonard chose Congressional over Arlington [ as Walt Whitman fans know, Peter Doyle, his assumed great love, is also buried in the former], but he often laughed imagining the outrage of various FBI Troglodytes when, in their pilgrimage to Hoover’s and Tolson’s graves, they read Leonard’s epitaph: “A Gay Vietnam Veteran – When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

    In any case, while Frank is likely only to have been able to repeat hearsay about Hoover and Tolson, it’s marvelous that a star of DiCaprio’s standing wanted to hear directly the great man’s own encounters with the FBI.

    An article about the at least BFFs in a 1953 edition of “ONE” is thought to have led to the magazine’s first trouble with the US Postal Service, which in turn led to a precedent-setting Supreme Court free speech ruling. The following is an excerpt of an interview with the late Jim Kepner in “Making Gay History” by Eric Marcus:

    “That article attracted the interest of the FBI. Much later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we found a note from Hoover to Tolson, which I have a copy of somewhere in storage, saying, ‘We’ve got to get these bastards’. There was also a note to the post office from Hoover urging them to check into ONE.

    At the same time as the seizure, the FBI showed up at ONE’s office wanting to know who had written the article about Hoover. They also came to visit me a couple of times and visited most members of the staff. One of the FBI agents sat right there in that chair. I was nervous; it was a tense situation. They asked me if a couple of members of the staff were Communists, and I hooted and said that they were very conservative. They were. I probably shouldn’t have even told them that. I did say that I had been a member of the Communist party and that I had been kicked out for being gay. They wanted me to name people I had known in the Party and what they did. I owed no thanks to the Party for kicking me out, but I would not give information about individuals who were in the Party, whom I still respected.”

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