Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Culminating, Superb "Miss Gandy"


Last night I saw the new, nearly perversely static Clint Eastwood-directed movie, J. Edgar. Sitting through this bizarre film (awards for makeup and costumes, for sure), it was hard not to think about my father's FBI records, some 800 pages on Sidney Kaufman gathered over nearly forty years, especially given that Helen Gandy and Clyde Tolson were the two supporting characters in the film. Here is some of what I wrote about them in The Memory Of All That:

"There is a marvelous rubber-stamped list of names of FBI personnel to whom copies of the Kaufman documents were circulated. This was their work; this is what they got up every day to do — process this Confidential, Classified, Secret, and Top Secret information about my father. I like to imagine them, sitting at their desks, typewriters clacking and phones ringing in the background, like a newsroom. There is much to do, fresh reports on the Subject: Sidney Kaufman to pore over, there is new information gathered by SA [redacted] or reported by “[redacted], an informant who has in the past furnished us with reliable information” (or even better, information provided by the occasional “[redacted], an informant who has in the past furnished us with reliable and unreliable information”). Presumably there were reports written about these reports. Individuals must have been assigned to analyze and come to conclusions about the information that had been so painstakingly compiled about the Subject: Sidney Kaufman. Meetings must have occurred, decisions must have been made about further interviews with informants reliable and unreliable, and all those pretext phone calls must have been scripted and scheduled. And all of the reports were typed up, copied, circulated, and filed with all the other accumulated Sidney Kaufman information.

By the late sixties, the rubber-stamped copy list had been streamlined to simple names, but I must admit to a preference for the more traditional earlier iterations, when each name is given the honorific “Mr.” and then there is the culminating, superb “Miss Gandy.” This list of names reads:
Mr. Tolson
Mr. Boardman
Mr. Nichols
Mr. Belmont
Mr. Harbo
Mr. Mohr
Mr. Parsons
Mr. Rosen
Mr. Tamm
Mr. Sizoo
Mr. Winterrowd
Tele. Room
Mr. Holloman
Miss Gandy

I really love this list, which changes only slightly through the years of documentation of Sidney Kaufman’s activities. It is a sequence of names rich in possibility, yet, seeing it repeat throughout the pages of these files, it becomes reliable and familiar, like a wallpaper pattern or a melody. The names, when seen again and again, start to have a delightful rhythm and inevitability that invite memorization, like the presidents of the United States, or Latin declensions.

The roster of FBI employees who were copied on the steady flow of classified information about Sidney Kaufman over all those years is intriguing. Clyde Tolson was Associate Director of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover’s sidekick. Lou Nichols and Alan H. Belmont were Assistant Directors. John P. Mohr was head of five FBI divisions; he was the number three man after Tolson in FBI hierarchy. Alex P. Rosen was the FBI supervisor on the John Dillinger case and on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Joseph A. Sizoo was in the Domestic Intelligence Division. E.A. Tamm was an Associate FBI Director. Frank C. Holloman was s supervisor in the FBI Headquarters in the Crime Records Section, the Fugitive Desk, Plant Survey Section, Special Intelligence Section, Informant Section, and the Records Division.

“Miss Gandy” was Helen W. Gandy, J. Edgar Hoover’s ferocious and devoted executive assistant for fifty-four years. It is known that over a period of months following his death in 1972, she destroyed tens of thousands of pages of his “personal” files thought to contains the fruits of illegal wiretaps and a vast array of incriminating information about numerous public figures and government officials and their family members, as well as detailed reports from the spies Hoover maintained in every White House administration. Her devotion to the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover was that of a nun’s devotion to the Church and the Pope. Their relationship was decidedly odd; Hoover never once called her by her first name. Her mother was painted by Thomas Eakins.

J. Edgar Hoover is not on this list, because just about every document in my father’s files is a memo to The Director. The FBI surveillance of Sidney Kaufman that began in 1936 and apparently ended in 1972 is almost identical to the span of Hoover’s FBI Directorship."

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