I am no more than 14 pages into Joe LeSueur’s amazing memoir Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) when I am “gobsmacked” by the following passage.
A year younger than me, though he gave the impression of being several years older, partly because he smoked a pipe and spoke in premptorytones, Timothy seemed ideal for a pleasure seeker plainly destined to muddle through life. But the person who loomed as a potential lover in the afterglow of Laguna Beach was someone I never got to know. Significantly, I was unaware that he was linked to the most important court trial of the day until one morning a week aftermy arrival, I opened the Times and found his name emblazoned on the front page. Found it? It jumped up at me from a dense block of print as forcefully as if it were my own name: Timothy, identified as Alger Hiss’s stepson, was scheduled to testify that afternoon at the perjury trial that was tearing the country apart. So that was what he’d gotten up at dawn and taken an early-morning train to Washington! I was at once stunned, apprehensive, and titillated; yet when I saw Timothy late that night at the Blue Angel, where I sometimes joined him for a drink, I said nothing about the story, nor did I subsequently refer to it or bring up his relationship to Hiss. That was how close we were; there was nothing but sex between us, though I didn’t fully admit it to myself at the time. Also, in retrospect, I realize that the curious way I dealt with the Alger Hiss situation didn’t deal with it — says a lot about my style at that time, my social and psychological disposition, it you will: I had the crazy notion that if I asked questions or confessed ignorance about something,I’d appear gauche and unsophisticated, the last thing I wanted. At all costs, the impression I had to give was that nothing shocked, daunted, or touched me.”
But of course it did — which is why LeSeuer brought it up. And surely gay historians of that particular “dark period” in American history can be grateful for his confirmation of what has been suspected by many for some time — that Whittaker Chambers’ contretemps with Alger Hiss may have had less to do with politics as its generally understood than as a result of what might be called “an incomplete forward pass.”
One of these days some intrepid scholar may attempt to examine the role “homosexuality” played during the” Cold War — involving such disparate figures as Alger Hiss, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess on the left (so splendidly played by Alan Bates in Schlesinger’s An Englishman Abroad ) to the “Usual Suspects” on the right — Chambers, Roy Cohn, J. Edgar Hoover, Francis Cardinal Spellman, et. al. But not right now for, as LeSeuer demonstrates, the dust still hasn’t settled on that time — even as it’s tinnily echoed in our own thanks to David Brock and Matt Drudge.
When my boyfriend Bill worked for the 8th Street Bookshop in New York he used to see Alger Hiss quite frequently, as the former D.C. bigshot was reduced to working as a stationary salesman. “He once wrote me a letter,” Bill recalled, “saying I was the one of nicest people he ever dealt with. At the time I thought it was very sweet. But now, judging from that passage in LeSeuer, it looks like he was just hitting on me!”
“Oh come on now,” I said, “That’s surely got to count as the least egregious come-on you’ve ever had. You probably just reminded him of Timothy Hobson.”
“But I don’t smoke a pipe.”
“Hmmm. True. Well let’s just say you’re catnip to communists.”