FBI Files

'J. Edgar': The History Behind the Leonardo DiCaprio Movie (Photos)

Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood cast Leonardo DiCaprio to portray the rise of Hoover in J. Edgar, beginning with his appointment as the head of the FBI in 1924, through the Cold War and civil-rights years, until his death in 1972. The all-star cast includes Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and The Social Network’s Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s aide and rumored lover. See who plays Charles Lindbergh, Robert F. Kennedy, and more of the major players in Hoover’s life and how they stack up to the real-life men and women.

Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood cast Leonardo DiCaprio to portray the rise of Hoover in J. Edgar, beginning with his appointment as the head of the FBI in 1924, through the Cold War and civil-rights years, until his death in 1972. The all-star cast includes Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and The Social Network’s Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s aide and rumored lover. See who plays Charles Lindbergh, Robert F. Kennedy, and more of the major players in Hoover’s life and how they stack up to the real-life men and women.

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Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

Three-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio transformed himself—both physically and politically—to portray J. Edgar’s leading man through his half-century rise to become one of the most powerful men of his time. “My politics aren’t in line with his,” outspoken Democrat DiCaprio told FlickAndBits.com. “I think he had a very right-wing puritan view on how to protect democracy in our country, by any means necessary. But I believe in his heart he believed he was a great patriot, he believed he was there to protect the U.S. at all costs, but I think he stayed in power for way too long, which was the great tragedy of his career. Fifty years and eight presidents, he should have been gone long ago.”

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J. Edgar Hoover

As a fervent anti-communist, the legendary and controversial head of the FBI for the majority of the 20th century spent his years devoted to upholding his own perception of justice and truth. And J. Edgar Hoover’s mother, with whom he lived until she died, was often his political compass. “Truth-telling, I have found, is the key to responsible citizenship,” Hoover once said. “The thousands of criminals I have seen in 40 years of law enforcement have had one thing in common: every single one was a liar.”

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Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson

Hoover was a highly guarded person who allowed only a small inner circle to get to know him. His aide Clyde Tolson was his closest companion—and rumored lover. “Clyde was his lapdog and his go-to hatchet man,” The Social Network star Armie Hammer, who plays Tolson in J. Edgar, told New York magazine. “But Clyde took so much abuse—it was so hot and cold—that it didn’t make sense to me why he would stick around for so long if it weren’t a tragic love story.”

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Clyde Tolson

Clyde Tolson joined the FBI in April 1928 and replaced Frank Baughman, who had gotten married, as Hoover’s second in command. The two attended social functions together and were described as having a spousal relationship, but there’s little proof that they were more intimate than business partners and good friends.

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DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover and Hammer as Clyde Tolson

Hoover and Tolson worked together for nearly four and a half decades, and their were-they-or-weren’t-they relationship has been the subject of speculation ever since. “Back then, to be publicly gay, you were done for. But even in his application to the FBI, Tolson said he had no interest in marrying or being with a woman,” Armie Hammer told New York magazine. “While not fully out, he knew who he was and almost embraced it. He loved getting the sharpest suits. He was like, ‘Look at my fucking awesome pocket square. I am flossing it.’”

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J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson

“They rode to and from work together, ate lunches together, and vacationed together,” Richard G. Powers wrote of Hoover and Tolson in Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. “When Hoover traveled on official business, Tolson traveled with him ... The relationship was so close, so enduring, and so affectionate that it took the place of marriage for both bachelors.” When Hoover died in 1972, it was Tolson who inherited his estate and accepted the U.S. flag draped on his coffin. The two are buried just a few yards from each other in the Congressional Cemetery.

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Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy

Hoover’s personal secretary, Helen Gandy, is presumed to have been most privy to the FBI boss’s endless secrets, and she stood by him even after he died. “Her level of commitment, her absolute need to service her country, her sense of duty, and even way after he passed away and her career was finished she still kept her word,” Oscar nominee Naomi Watts said about playing Gandy to FlicksAndBits.com. “That was really my big question, ‘How? How do you do that? Is that really because you’re just serving your country or does she have a place in her heart for him?’”

Harvey Georges / AP Photo

Helen W. Gandy

Helen Gandy briefly worked in a department store in Washington, D.C., before she found a job as a file clerk at the Justice Department in 1918. Not long after, she went to work as a typist for Hoover and continued working for him for 54 years, until his death in 1972. Three years later, Gandy testified before a House Government Operations subcommittee and told the panel that she destroyed Hoover’s “Personal File” after his death. “I can give you my word,” she reportedly said during her testimony. “I know what there was—letters to and from friends, personal friends, a lot of letters. I tore them up, put them in boxes, and they were taken away to be shredded.”

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Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh

The day after famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped from his home in New Jersey in March 1932, J. Edgar Hoover contacted the headquarters of the New Jersey State Police and informed them that the FBI would be assisting in the investigation. More than a year later, the FBI was given exclusive jurisdiction in the Lindbergh case and eventually arrested and charged Bruno Hauptmann, who was later executed. “J. Edgar and the FBI and the government as a whole saw that this was a chance [for] a combined national effort in crime-fighting,” Josh Lucas, who plays Lindbergh in J. Edgar, told TrailerAddict.com. “[Hoover] affected day-to-day society in America on a very profound level.”

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Charles Lindbergh

The investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping was certainly contentious, as Hoover butted heads with Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the then-fledgling New Jersey State Police (as well as the father of the Desert Storm general). As the search continued, the Lindbergh Law was enacted, giving the FBI full jurisdiction over kidnapping cases. “When the kidnapper was finally captured, it was not due to any scientific investigation on the part of the Bureau,” Tru TV says. “Hoover rushed to New York for the photo opportunity when the New York City police commissioner announced the arrest of Bruno Hauptmann. While the Bureau had done almost nothing on the case, Americans were led to believe that master detective J. Edgar Hoover had triumphed once again.”

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Damon Herriman as Bruno Hauptmann and DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

Australian unknown Damon Herriman was cast to play the German carpenter convicted of abducting and murdering Charles Lindbergh’s infant son. “As Hoover took a personal interest in the case, quite a bit of the film is dedicated to the Lindbergh case,” Herriman told MediaMikes.com. “It’s the first time I’ve played a real person and you do feel a responsibility to capture them as accurately as possible. Luckily there are a few YouTube clips of the real guy from the court case. Other than that, I’ve been reading up a lot on the case and working on the German accent. You don’t want to have real Germans laughing at the screen!”

AP Photo

Bruno Hauptmann

The German ex-convict arrived in the U.S. illegally in 1923 and worked as a carpenter. He wed a German waitress two years later, and in 1933 he became a father. But in 1935, Hauptmann became “the Most Hated Man in the World” in one of the most publicized trials in history and was sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son. On April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed via electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison and reportedly maintained his innocence until he was taken to the death chamber.

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Jeffrey Donovan as Robert F. Kennedy and DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

As attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy relentlessly crusaded against organized crime, often butting heads with Hoover when it came to strategy. “They had a contentious relationship,” Burn Notice star Jeffrey Donovan, who plays RFK in J. Edgar, told MovieWeb.com. “In a lot of ways, Bobby thought that Hoover was out to get him and out to get the Kennedy family. There were a lot of reports in the history books that Hoover had a lot of damaging evidence on the Kennedy family.”

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J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

In 1963, Hoover, who believed Martin Luther King Jr. was up to no good, alleged to Kennedy that some of the civil-rights activist’s advisers were communists. Kennedy was worried that any public reports of Hoover’s findings would be damaging to civil-rights initiatives and told King to rid himself of any suspicious allies; he eventually had the FBI wiretap King for a limited time. Hoover, however, extended the wiretapping, which continued until 1966. Just days before Kennedy’s assassination and weeks after King’s, it was revealed what Hoover had been up to. “The transcripts from the wiretaps on King and his advisers also answer a question that came to preoccupy President Lyndon Johnson just as it had the Kennedy brothers and J. Edgar Hoover: Was Martin Luther King Jr. any kind of communist sympathizer? Of course not—but the FBI never passed [that] along,” The Atlantic reported of the notorious wiretapping.