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See It Now: J. Edgar, Man of Mystery

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J. Edgar Hoover – former Library of Congress employee, longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a highly respected but feared individual – has been the subject of admiration and controversy alike. Some 40 years since his death, he has returned to the spotlight thanks to Clint Eastwood’s biopic “J. Edgar,” the DVD of which was released this month. (Although I haven’t seen the DVD, one of the extra features is a “Making Of …” segment, in which Eastwood talks about Hoover working at the Library.)

In Eastwood’s characterization, Hoover claims to have invented the Library’s card catalog system. While not true, Hoover did become very adept at using the resource – the knowledge of which he would later use to build the FBI’s own, very extensive files.

J. Edgar Hoover, Dec. 22, 1924 / National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

The Library had no direct input in the writing of the screenplay by Dustin Lance Black.  (Within the context of the film, the scene featuring the Library implies that Hoover might have been bragging to impress his date).

According to author Kenneth D. Ackerman, separating fact from perception of the legendary American is difficult. Hoover was a hero but also had a dark side. And, of course, the rumors circulating around his personal life remain.

Ackerman spoke at the Library on Jan. 18 regarding his book “Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare and the Assault on Civil Liberties” (Carroll & Graf, 2007). A webcast of his talk is now available on our site. Ackerman did much of his research here at the Library, using the many collections of our Manuscript and Serial and Government Publication divisions.

Regardless of the mystery and controversy surrounding Hoover, he built the FBI into a modern and professional crime-fighting organization, brought scientific investigation to the bureau, established an FBI National Academy and made the G-man brand hugely popular.

P.S. I’m hoping to make “See It Now” a more regular feature, in an effort to bring to you the various programming we host here at the Library.

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