Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Senator, The Director & The Comic Books: Kefauver, Hoover and the 1950 Anti-Comic Book Questionaire

Senator Estes Kefauver and FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, had an interesting relationship over the years.  Files reveal a raft of correspondence between the two, almost all of it complimenting each other, however the relationship between Kefauver and Hoover got off to a rocky start.  In January, 1947, Hoover was offended enough by remarks made by Kefauver to raise them with the then US Attorney General Tom Clark.  Hoover took umbrage at a report issued by Kefauver in which the FBI were painted as novices and that the Truman administration was planning to cut funding to the FBI as a whole.  Hoover’s outrage was passed on to both Clark and also Kefauver directly, resulting in an instant apology from Kefauver in which he claimed ignorance to the remarks and deflected the blame onto his underlings.  “Certainly no one on the Committee, or connected with the committee wish to do you or the wonderful work of the F.B.I. an injustice,” Kefauver wrote to Hoover, “and I regret exceedingly if any injustices were done. The report you will notice is by the Staff to the Members of the sub-Committee.  It was not prepared by the sub-Committee.” This apology and even the deflection would have appealed to Hoover who forgave Kefauver, but never forgot the slight.

Files also reveal that Hoover wasn't that enamored of Kefauver in private, often complaining about Kefauver using Hoover’s image without permission and especially irate with Kefauver’s constant requests to the FBI for background checks and information, with Kefauver going as far as to request that the FBI provide the same kind of protection to him as the Secret Service did to the President – a request that was denied – and that his son be given use the FBI shooting range to ‘try out’ a pistol that he had been gifted as a Christmas present in 1962.  But, no matter what the FBI might have privately thought of Kefauver, it was always noted that Kefauver was on a first name basis with J Edgar Hoover and such a relationship came with a high degree of discretion and politeness.  The connection between Hoover and Kefauver had its advantages though.  In 1960 Kefauver was the subject of a smear campaign run by the Ku Klux Klan as he was running for re-election. The smear was that Kefauver was far too liberal to be effective as a Southern senator, that he had met black leaders in private and public and was sympathetic to communists and coloured people. The FBI investigated the smear campaign fully and was able to both identify the people behind it put a stop to it. Along the way they were able to thwart death threats and other accusations levied against Kefauver, which seems to be the usual practice for politicians worldwide.

Whatever Hoover and the FBI might have thought of Kefauver and vice-versa was irrelevant to the two major committees that Kefauver headed during his time in the Senate.  In his first, the Investigation into Organised Crime in 1951, which was famously televised, Kefauver did the FBI a major favour by turning the spotlight onto the Mafia and avoiding the tricky question as to why the FBI had never properly investigated their activities.  In 1954 Kefauver released remarks by Hoover (from 1951) in which Hoover praised the work that the Crime Committee were undertaking, commenting, rather disingenuously, that Kefauver’s committee had brought to light a part of crime in America that was previously hidden from view, and thus giving the impression that the FBI had been acting all along.

Despite the assurances of friendship towards Kefauver from Hoover, it didn’t stop the FBI from collecting information about Kefauver’s private life, all of which was passed onto an eager Hoover.  Kefauver’s files contained information about potential bribes and bumbling, along with his apparent interest in young women who were not his wife, the FBI gleefully passing onto Kefauver a letter from one Marion Horio who, in 1952, complained about the ‘fat headed’ Kefauver keeping ‘concubines’ and ‘B-Girls’. If the FBI had chosen to act upon this information in 1952, then history might have been forever altered in regards to the Senate Hearings into comic books in 1954, but, as noted, Kefauver had protection at the highest level and the senate investigation into juvenile delinquency was one that Hoover and the FBI gleefully leapt into with gusto.

In 1948 Hoover became aware of Kefauver’s interest in juvenile delinquency in January 1948 when he read Kefauver’s remarks in the Congressional Record. The comments so moved Hoover that he dashed off a quick note of praise, the results of which would see the FBI providing its resources to Kefauver and his Senate Committee.  In May, 1950, Kefauver visited Washington and attempted to meet Hoover with a view of obtaining information.  It wasn’t to be as Hoover was out of the office when Kefauver stopped by, resulting in a memo being dashed off to Hoover’s right hand man, Clyde Tolson.  The memo mentioned how Kefauver was keen to get his hands on speeches and articles by Hoover about the ‘evils of comics’ and general advice on how to screen people in his office.  Hoover later wrote on the memo, “Ok to send articles but I think we should avoid telling him how to run his investigation”.  In this way Hoover was able to keep his distance, while appearing to be assisting.

In August, 1950, Kefauver wrote to a number of Government agencies, professionals, academics and comic book publishers asking them to complete a questionnaire.  The answers to the questions – seven in total for non-comic related people and four for comic book related people – resulted in over seventy respondents.  The answers themselves took up 254 pages of a report tabled during the senate hearings, but this report was not made freely available to the public, thus the questions, and answers, have remained unseen but for a few people. Here, for the first time since 1950, are the questions and answers that were submitted both to and from the FBI.

The ten pages that the FBI sent back to Kefauver were quoted during the senate hearings as absolute proof that comic books corrupted the youth of the day.  This is despite the FBI pointing to other factors in the community at the time and the overall positive effects that non-crime and non-horror comic books could have on children. Education standards, religion, lack of parental guidance, poverty, lack of respect for law and authority and more were cited in the report, yet these were glossed over during the senate hearings.  One answer that was certainly overlooked and ignored was the FBIs response when asked for statistics to prove juvenile crime can be directly linked to comic books. “The FBI does not have statistical data regarding the number of crimes which can be traced directly to the reading of comic books.”  Either the FBI had no record, or there simply was no proof anywhere. The truth, as history as shown, was more the latter than the former. Still, this didn't dissuade Kefauver from his campaign to eliminate comic books from the face of America and, by proxy, the rest of the world.

Immediately after the senate hearings, in June, 1954, Kefauver made arrangements to appear on national television and in doing so managed to anger Hoover.  The FBI were contacted and informed that Kefauver planned to directly quote a 1951 letter from Hoover on the subject of juvenile delinquency, and as such the television station required a “good photograph” of the director.  The memo was passed on to Hoover who angrily wrote at the bottom, “I certainly don’t approve of this” and the matter was closed.  Kefauver made one more attempt to link his crusade on juvenile delinquency with Hoover, extending an invite in October 1957 for Hoover to appear on a proposed new television show about the subject.  This time the message got across, Hoover did not appear on television, had no desire to and it would be a waste of the producer to even approach the FBI.

Despite the often bizarre and inappropriate requests Hoover and Kefauver remained in close contact, exchanging books and letters.  1960 saw the major investigation into the smear campaign which would have brought the two men together yet again.  In their last noted exchange, Hoover wrote to Kefauver when the latter fell ill in May 1963 and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Kefauver wasted no time in responding and when Kefauver passed away in August, 1963, Hoover instantly sent a telegram to his wife, expressing his deep sorrow at her loss.  Ironically the comic book industry that Kefauver had done so much to destroy in 1954 was starting to re-emerge with Marvel Comics beginning to establish its super hero universe and DC also following suit, ironically in the same month Kefauver died, linking their pre-Kefauver era with their post-Kefauver era with Justice League of America #21 with a cross-over between the Justice Society of America and the Justice League.  It was proof that the comic book industry could survive almost anything that was thrown at it.  It was hit by Kefauver, and the FBI, and hit hard, but the blow wasn't as fatal as first thought. People whose careers Kefauver had ruined with his crusade slowly started to find work in their chosen industry, some never returned, others thrived and became bigger and better than ever.

Kefauver would have hated what was published after his death. That alone is a worthy epitaph.

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