Here it is. The sensational tour of the dark underbelly of our nation’s Capital: “its avenues, its alleyways, its cat-houses, its dumps, its mansions, its hotels, its police stations, its jails, its courts, its clubs, its closets and its catacombs.”
Your tour guides are Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer. Lait was the editor of the gossipy New York Daily Mirror. Mortimer worked for him, writing a noirish gossip column called New York Confidential. Together, with gossiper Walter Winchell and muckraking columnist Drew Pearson, they had turned the morning tabloid into America’s second-largest daily in terms of circulation.
Lait and Mortimer had already collaborated on two very successful books: New York Confidential (1948) and Chicago Confidential (1950). But D.C., was something else. “It was our toughest task of digging, but we turned up plenty. We think we have X-rayed the dizziest — and this will amaze you, as it did us, the dirtiest — community in America.”
Their digging resulted in their third great opus, Washington Confidential, where they found “a cesspool of drunkenness, debauchery, whoring, homosexuality, municipal corruption and public apathy, protected crime under criminal protection, hoodlumism, racketeering, pandering, and plundering, among anomalous situations found nowhere else on earth.”
According to Lait and Mortimer, Georgetown was mostly “rich, red or queer. . . . The women wore flat-heeled shoes and batik blouses, and went in for New Thought. The men, if you can call some of them that, wore their hair longer than we do…” Northwest was crowded with “the rialto, marts of commerce, homes of the wealthy … where they rub shoulders with the lowly and the wicked, not to overlook Washington’s No. 1 problem, the colored.” There were three skid rows. “One is for the general riffraff; the second is for old-timers; the third is exclusively for sailors.”
As with their other books, Lait and Mortimer packed Washington Confidential with tons of salacious gossip. Starting with insatiable “G-Girls” — government office workers — living in boarding houses and run down hotels: “They are not all physically repellant, nor do they behave generally like spinsters are supposed to. The deadly monotony of their routine tasks and their lonesome lives wears out their charm before it destroys their looks. … One of the sights of Washington is the outpouring of the janes at five o’clock. Many of them dash for cocktail bars, where they compete with harlots, who violently resent them and call them ‘scabs.'”
“Washington drinks more than any U.S. city,” they claimed. Despite that, they decided that the city’s respectable social scene was deader than a door nail. They blamed Eleanor Roosevelt. “She choked the last breath out of social tradition with her Negro friends, her boondoggling, sweaty indigents, her professional Socialists, her dedicated slum-house guardians of gutter garbage, and her antics as the militant apostle of democracy and equality.”
As for Mrs. Roosevelt’s Negro friends: “If Washington got home rule, its first mayor would be a gentleman affectionately known to his constituency as Puddin’ Head Jones. And Mr. Jones is a Negro. We will tell you what no one else has dared to publish — there are more Negroes than whites in Washington. … It is not uncommon to see white women living with colored men, especially jazz band musicians… Many Negro madams and pimps employ white girls for their colored trade. In some New Deal left-wing circles, it is considered chi chi to meet socially and even sexually with Negroes.”
So yeah. Washington Confidential is both racist and misogynistic. And it’s xenophobic and rabidly anti-New Dealer. By the way, it’s also homophobic, which more or less goes without saying. Mortimer and Lait dedicate an entire chapter to the pansies. Here it is:
Chapter Fifteen: Garden of Pansies
If you’re wondering whether your wandering semi-boy is tonight, he’s probably in Washington.
The good people shook their heads in disbelief with the revelation that more than 90 twisted twerps in trousers had been swished out of the State Department. Fly commentators seized on it for gags about fags, whimsy with overtones of Kinsey and the odor of lavender. We pursued this subject and we found that there are at least 6,000 homosexuals on the government payroll, most of them known, and these comprise only a fraction fo the total of their kind in the city.
The only way to get authoritative data on fairies is from other fairies. They recognize each other by a fifth sense immediately, and they are intensely gregarious. One cannot snoop at every desk and count people who appear to be queer. Some are deceptive to the uninitiated. But they all know one another and they have a grapevine of intercommunication as swift and sure as that in any girls’ boarding-school. Since they have no use for women in the main, and are uneasy with masculine men, they have a fierce urge, even beyond the call of the physical, for each other’s society. They have their own hangouts, visit one another, and cling together in a tight union of interests and behavior.
Not all are ashamed of the trick that nature played on them. They have their leaders, unabashed, who are proud queens and who revel in their realm. Your reporters, after years around show business, are familiar with those of their breed, unembarrassed in their presence. But, with the exception of crude male prostitutes whom they have encountered in police courts and on the sidewalks of New York’s Lexington Avenue and in Harlem, they still had a whisper of an illusion left: they got the idea, because they had met so many with marked talents, that by a pathological compensation many of them possessed artistic traits.
In Washington they found this false. The exceptional ones do drift to Broadway and to Hollywood. But they are no more representative of their numbers than are the gifted men and women who find their places in the arts of the great mass of people from whom they become detached to follow the livelier professions.
Now we have found out that where the dull, dumb deviates go. We had assumed that, as they grew up in small communities where they soon become obvious and odious, they took flight for the stage, the screen, interior decorating, exotic literature, and other fields centered in the metropolitan market places. That is not true. Only a few can and do enter the avenues where their talents make them equal, often superior.
So, what becomes of the marked twilight sex, unwelcome at home, pariahs afar? We might ask what becomes of the clubfooted or pockmarked girl similarly situated. She is in a panic about the present, still more so about the future, and she searches for security. Where can that be captured? Nowhere else as surely as in the civil service. There, in the mediocrity and virtual anonymity of commonplace tasks, the sexes — all four of them — are equal in the robot requirements and qualifications. There is no color line, no social selectivity; not even citizenship is always a prerequisite. Once the precious appointment is filed in a machine which knows no discrimination, there it stays for life.
Like immigrants from foreign lands, for these people are aliens in their own, they attract — more often send for and finance — those who speak their language and live their kind of lives. Congressman A.L. Miller, of Nebraska, a physician, author of the District’s new bill to regulate the homos, enunciated with an oratorical flourish the deathless statement that “birds of a feather flock together.” William Jennings Bran came from Nebraska, too.
The 6,000 who made the perennial payroll drew many more thousands who flunked it. Like pug-nosed, freckle-faced girls of no distinction, who became waitresses and car-hops, these inverts who are washed in with the tide and beached in the mud become clerks in shops, hairdressers, waiters, bartenders, most often in places habitually patronized by those of their own stripe.
The Washington vice squad had listed 5,200 known deviates. Dr. Ben Karpen, psychiatrist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, believes they are in the tens of thousands.
Their chief meeting-place is in leafy Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. They make love under the equestrian statue of rugged Andrew Jackson, who must be whirling on his heavenly horse every time he sees what is going on around his monument. Lafayette Square is no bohemian section, like Washington Square in New York. The three sides other than the White House have such buildings as the Cosmos Club, formerly the home of Dolly Madison; the national headquarters of the League for Political Education of the American Federation of Labor; the Hay-Adams House, one of Washington’s finer hotels, and other dignified structures.
How the fairies happened to pick this place for their rendezvous, and how the cops let them get away with it, no one can trace.
The police keep making arrests, but it does not deter the homos from hanging out around the square. They make pickups there and quite often engage in immoral acts practically under the eyes of the sparrow cops.
They also foregather in Franklin Park, a few blocks away, in the center of the business district.
There is no geographic section where degenerates generally live. That is part of the general picture, everything, everywhere, in Washington.
Many rich fairies and lesbians live in expensive remodeled Georgetown homes, the nearest thing to a left-bank neighborhood. This is also a left-wing center.
Some parties which take place in Washington pervert sets are orgies beyond description and imagination. Every invention of Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade had been added to and improved upon, and is in daily use. Week-ends find the pansies and lady-lovers in broad, baronial estates of wealthy perverts in near-by Virginia and Maryland. Many of the third sex journey regularly to New York, where they have friends in esoteric circles.
Washington has its transvestites, who get their thrills from appearing in the clothes of the opposite sex. Some of the ritzier dress shops on Connecticut Avenue couldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fairies that buy French imports. Many dress in drag on Thanksgiving day and mingle in the holiday crowds with the costumed young folk.
While these lines were being typed, a member of the staff of Democratic Senator Edwin G. Johnson, of Colorado, who recently made front pages when he attacked the morals of the movie industry, was arrested by two vice-squad officers in the men’s room in Lafayette Square and charged with committing indecent acts. Booked in $500 bail, he pleaded not guilty. He and Senator Johnson, who appeared with him in the preliminary hearing before the United States Attorney, made no statements. He was later acquitted by a jury.
The same day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Warren Wilson asked for the night closing of public comfort stations, calling them breeding places of perversion. Commenting on the increase of such cases, Wilson said, “Ninety percent of these offenses are committed in men’s rooms operated by the federal government.”
Wilson mentioned Lafayette Square, Stanton Park, Dupont Circle, and Franklin Park. He recommended that all these comfort stations be closed after 4 P.M. as policemen on the 4-12 shift could do so, and be kept closed until 8 A.M.
“These stations were constructed when there were no other facilities in downtown Washington,” Wilson said. “Today, hundreds of restaurants are required to have toilet facilities by law. Many hotels have been constructed since the comfort stations.
“Public place are becoming cesspools of perversion.”
Many cocktail lounges and restaurants cater to irregulars. Most of them are near the Mayflower Hotel. The most popular resort is the Jewel Box, near 16th and L, NW, formerly known as the Maystat. It is a cocktail lounge with entertainment by a piano player, who sings semi-risqué lyrics.
The waiters are obvious fairies. Most customers seem to fit the pattern. The night we went there, a police car, with sirens screaming, pulled up. We figured it was a pinch. After the cop threw out two customers, a waiter told us everything was okay.
“Those boys got fresh,” he said. “They tried to flirt with those two women sitting there. We don’t tolerate flirting — anyway not with women.”
Then he minced off, hand on hip.
Fags also like the restaurant known as Mickey’s, behind the Mayflower. They patronize the second floor of a place in the 1700 block of H Street. One night two Congressmen, a couple of army officers, and two young servicemen were mixing beer and gin there, and kissing each other. They also swish around the Sand Bar in Thomas Circle.
A favorite meeting-place for keeping appointments is the lobby of the Franklin Park Hotel. The Riggs Turkish Bath, the only one in town, under Keith’s Theatre, was closed up because these undesirables took it over. Its license has since been restored.
Black Washington has its share of deviates, too.
There is free crossing of racial lines among fairies and lesbians. We have seen aristocratic Southerners, on the bias, hunt down Negro men for dalliance. We bumped into a gal to show business, who we know is queer, sitting with two mannish-looking women at the Jewel Box. She invited us to a party in Black Town, an inter-racial, inter-middle-sex mélange, with long-haired, made-up Negro and white boys simpering with females of both races mingled in unmistakable exaltation.
During the summer, groups of colored fairies make up “yachting” parties and cruise the Potomac in the steamer Robert E. Lee. One Saturday night, last summer, over 100 cops were dispatched to the docks when the “Society of Female Impersonators” was to have a midnight sail. They found 1,700 Negro men, all dressed as women, on the boat, and as many more trying to get on. A riot was in the making, but the cops busted it up and kept it quiet when they hauled away two wagon-loads. The ship finally got off at 2 A.M.
Two weeks later, in another melee on the same boat, a colored man was fatally shot by a police detective after he jumped into the water. Another Negro, who pleaded guilty to having started the riot, was fined $200 for having endangered the lives of 600 persons. Some months later, Washingtonians were mystified by an ad in a daily paper which read as follows: S.S. Mt. Vernon — moonlight cruise — 8:30 p.m. — beer — stag or drag.
No one knows how many lesbians there are, because the female — or is it the male — of the pervert species is seldom spoken about and is much less obvious. Psychiatrists and sociologists who have made a study of the problem in Washington think there are at least twice as many Sapphic lovers as fairies. A large incidence of lesbianism is concomitant with the shortage of men, where women work together, live together, play together, and love together.
Some display themselves, strut around in fairy joints; all queers are in rapport with all others. You will see theim also in some of the late bottle-clubs, on the make for the same girls the he-wolves are chasing.
The mannish women used to hang out oat the Show Boat Bar, H and 15th, until the management drove them out. Many lesbians frequent Kavakos’ Grill, in the SE section, though this is not any joint so specializing. The club, owned by Bill Kavakos, a rich Greek who likes to gamble, is near the Navy Yard. It caters to sailors and slummers.
A breakdown of occupations in one group of 543 perverts who were arrested showed some interesting sidelights. Among them was only one actor, but 92 students. There were 58 Army personnel and 28 from the Navy. Even the rugged Marines appeared. Among the deviates were one bartender, one barber, and one baker. There were four attorneys, only two doctors, and only one embalmer. This is the record.
|Embassy personnel||1||Skilled laborer||17|
|Government employee||57||Stenographer and sec’y||4|
|Historian||1||Teacher and professor||12|
With more than 6,000 fairies in government offices, you may be concerned about the security of the country. Fairies are no more disloyal than the normal. But homosexuals are vulnerable, they can be blackmailed or influenced by sex more deeply than conventional citizens; they are far more intense about their love-life.
Foreign chancelleries long ago learned that homos are of value in espionage work. The German Röhm, and later Göring, established divisions of such in the Foreign Office. That was aped by Soviet Russia, which has a flourishing desk now in Moscow. According to Congressman Miller, who made a comprehensive study of the subject, young students are indoctrinated and given a course in homosexuality, then taught to infiltrate in perverted circles in other countries. Congressman Miller said:
“These espionage agents have found it rather easy to send their homosexuals here and contact their kind in sensitive departments of our Government. Blackmail and many other schemes are used to gather secret information.
“The homosexual is often a man of considerable intellect and ability. It is found that the cycle of these individuals’ homosexual desires follow the cycle closely patterned to the menstrual period of women. There may be 3 or 4 days in each month that this homosexual’s instincts break down and drive the individual into abnormal fields of sexual practice. Under large doses of sedatives during this sensitive cycle, that he may escape such acts.
“The problem of sexual maladjustments are most urgent and still far from a solution. In the Army, several thousand men were discharged. When caught in the act, they are generally discharged without honor, which means loss of citizenship. Many failed to survive the rigors of warfare and intimate association with men. The majority were unable to conceal their tendencies, and were eventually eliminated with disgrace.
“Never is the bond which unites two friends such that the acquisition of a new friend by one is regarded angrily by the other; but quite otherwise is the life among homosexuals. Here jealousy reigns supreme. Male homosexuals will not share their fairy with anybody.
“The sexual attraction exercised by a man on another male may be apparent in many ways. The homosexual will become excited by the mere presence of some man in a public place. A taxi driver finds fares making indiscreet advances. The homosexual has no sensation in the presence of the most beautiful and seductive female. Her amorous advances to him may even be repulsive.”
Until the recent purges in the State Department, there was a gag around Washington that you had to speak with a British accent, wear a Homburg hat, or have a queer quirk if you wanted to get by the guards at the door.
One high State Department official was a notorious homo who preferred young Negro boys. He was detected in a Pullman car of the Southern Railroad — on the funeral train to bury Speaker Bankhead, father of Tallulah — making immoral advances to a porter. The story reached newspaper offices, but before it could be printed the State Department sent out an urgent appeal to editors to “kill,” because it might imperil the war effort. When this official’s misdeeds were placed before President Roosevelt, it was said he refused to replace him because they both “wore the same school tie.” After resigning from the government, this official almost died of exposure when a Negro farm hand, jealous because of his attention to another, slugged him.
Aware of the seriousness of the problem, the State Department has a highly hush-hush Homosexual Bureau, manned by trained investigators and former counter-espionage agents, whose duties are to ferret out pansies in Foggy Bottom.
But the department cannot free itself of boondoggling tendencies, for at the same time it retains a personable and intelligent young lady to prepare a treatise on homosexualism, the purpose being to see if it’s possible to cure or contain the deviates who remain on the rolls. Her assignment requires her to visit faggot dives, observe the queers in action, and ask them how they got that way.
The following will be denied, but whenever possible the YMCA is vetoing the use of its facilities, especially the swimming-pool, to all State Department employees, just to be on the safe side.
A man of almost cabinet rank in the Defense Department is also a pervert, with bivalent tendencies, a two-way performer.
These are no isolated incidents. The government is honeycombed in high places with people you wouldn’t let in your garbage wagons.
David K. Eichler, a brilliant 37-year-old Harvard post-graduate who was a top policy-maker in the State department as Deputy Secretary General of the Far Eastern Commission until a couple of months ago, was arrested by Park Police on the Ellipse, charged with committing an unspeakable act with a Negro man He put up $25 “forfeit,” a Washington variation of cash bail, about which more in another chapter. The next day, at the hearing, the colored man pleaded guilty, but when Eichler didn’t appear the judge told the prisoner he might have to change his plea, inasmuch as his co-defendant wasn’t there.
The black fairy said, “Never mind, judge. I had a good time.”
Shortly after his arrest, Eichler went on a vacation trip to the South. After learning about the pinch, security officials instituted a search for him and summoned him back to Washington. Eichler admitted nothing, but resigned his $9,000-a-year job. He wasn’t asked to stay.
On the other hand, the Grand Jury voted a no-bill when Eugene Desvernine, 34, acting officer-in-charge of Caribbean affairs in the State Department, was arrested for an alleged sex offense against a 13-year-old boy. Desvernine, suspended from the department after his arrested in East Potomac Park, has been restored to duty.
The original charges against fairies in the State Department listed only 91, but considerably more than a hundred have been discharged from it since. More are asked to withdraw. And there are believed to be hundreds not yet shown up.
Republicans who tried to get a special “pervert squad” formed were voted down on straight party lines by Democrats, who found themselves having to protect strange bedfellows. When you read of a fag being fired or quitting, don’t think Washington’s homosexual population is reduced that much. It isn’t. Odds are the discharged degenerate is shifted onto some other government payroll. At least eight were transferred from the State Department to Agriculture. Hundreds of others driven from one department minced into others.
At the end of 1950, State said they were all gone. But on the first day of 1951, the Washington papers carried this brief item under the heading: Two men Face Sex Charges.
“Alan A. Wakefield, 26, State Department employee, was released under $300 bond pending a hearing on a disorderly conduct charge. Vice Squad detectives arrested him in the men’s room of a downtown hotel.” He was since convicted of disorderly conduct.
Dr. Kinsey wasn’t appalled by the 6,000 fags in government jobs. According to his calculations, 56,787 federal workers are congenital homosexuals. He includes 21 Congressmen and says 192 others are bad behavior risks.
We still favor the two-party system.
The Pullman car incident that Lait and Mortimer referred to occurred in September 1940, on a special train returning to Washington from House Speaker William Bankhead’s funeral in Alabama. Sumner Welles, a senior State Department diplomat and FDR confidante, was on board, along with Roosevelt and other cabinet members. Welles’s had a reputation for being one of the most thoughtful and wisest foreign policy advisers, but when he was drinking, his sexual appetites, which cut across all gender and racial lines, got the better of him. At around 4 a.m., drunk and tired, Welles solicited Pullman car porters for sex. The incident was reported to the Secret Service, the railroad President, and, eventually, to Roosevelt himself. Roosevelt protected Welles for the next three years, until he let him go in 1943 following intense pressure from the State Department.
Lait and Mortimer declined to name Welles in Washington Confidential. Welles was still a well-respected speaker, author, and media adviser on foreign relations. Welles will be outed in 1956 in the May issue of Confidential. The scandal magazine was unrelated to the Lait and Mortimer books, although its owner, Robert Harrison, would later say that he was inspired by the books’ popularity.
Washington Confidential was an instant success. Within three week, more than 150,000 copies were sold, 40,000 in Washington alone. Critics weren’t so enraptured. The Washington Star called the book a “compendium of half-truths, distortion and inaccuracy which would make the average busy-body gossip sound like a judicial paragon.” It also said that the authors’ claim of being reporters was “a libel on every accurate reporter in the country.”
A young Washington Post critic by the name of Ben Bradlee called it “the sloppiest reporting ever put between two covers.” The errors were numerous, and somewhat comical: There is no Cleveland Parkway. They give the wrong address for the Chinese embassy. They get the names of one prominent doctor and two well-known criminal lawyers wrong. They give the wrong film title and wrong opening date for a theater. And what they claimed to be hard-to-get facts had already been published by the Washington papers long before the book hit the stands.
Lait and Mortimer candidly admitted in their first chapter, “We have nothing to sell except books.” That was supposed to be their way of saying they had no particular axe to grind. In fact, it was probably the only honest sentence in the entire book. But whatever the critics had to say about it, the public lapped it up. Washington Confidential shot up to the top of the New York Times best-seller list just three weeks after its debut, and it which went on to become the best-selling non-fiction title for all of 1951.
“The Capital’s Oldest Profession.” An excerpt from Washington Confidential. New York magazine (August 4, 2013).
John Kelly. “Commies, clip joints, easy women: The world of ‘Washington Confidential’.” Washington Post (January 9, 2016).
Dahlia Lithwick. “G-Girl Confidential.” Slate (July 25, 2001).
On the Timeline:
For March 5, 1951:
|President:||Harry S. Truman (D)|
|Vice-President:||Alben W. Barkley (D)|
|House:||234 (D)||199 (R)||1 (Other)||1 (Vacant)|
|Southern states:||103 (D)||2 (R)|
|Senate:||49 (D)||47 (R)|
|Southern states:||22 (D)|
|US killed in action,||993||(This month)|
|Korean conflict:||18,541||(Since Jun 28, 1950)|
Headlines: U.N troops continue to slowly push North Korean and Chinese troops northward through South Korea toward the 38th parallel. Reports from China indicate growing friction between Chinese communists and Soviet officials. A top American scientist says that American atomic weaponry can “destroy Russia” if the Soviets start a war in Europe. The Senate approves a bill to lower the draft age from nineteen to eighteen. General Motors reports a profit of $834 million (about $8.2 billion today), a world record. At least nineteen are dead following a severe winter snowstorm in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and parts of Iowa and northern Wisconsin.
In the record stores: “Be My Love” by Mario Lanza, “If” by Perry Como, “My Heart Cries for You” by Guy Mitchell, “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page, “Aba Daba Honeymoon” by Debbie Reynolds, “You’re Just In Love” by Perry Como, “Mockin’ Bird Hill” by Les Paul and Mary Ford, “Would I Love You” by Patti Page, “Roving Kind” by Guy Mitchell, “I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat” by Mel Blanc.
On the radio: Lux Radio Theater (CBS), Amos & Andy (CBS), Jack Benny Program (CBS), Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy (CBS), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), People Are Funny (CBS), You Bet Your Life (NBC), Fibber McGee & Molly (NBC), Walter Winchell’s Journal (ABC), Bob Hawk Show (CBS), Life With Luigi (CBS).
On television: Texaco Star Theater/Milton Berle (NBC), Fireside Theatre (NBC), Philco Television Playhouse (NBC), Your Show of Shows/Sid Ceasar & Imogene Coca (NBC), Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC), Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (NBC), The Lone Ranger (ABC), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), Hopalong Cassidy (NBC), Mama (CBS).
New York Times best sellers: Fiction: The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier, The King’s Cavalier by Samuel Shellabarger, The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. Non-fiction: The Mature Mind by H.A. Overstreet, This I Remember by Eleanor Roosevelt, Home Sweet Zoo by Clare Barnes, Jr.
David Dempsey. “In and Out of Books” The New York Times Book Review (March 25, 1951): 8.
Harvey Breit. “Talk with Lait and Mortimer” The New York Times Book Review (April 25, 1951): 23.
David Dempsey. “In and Out of Books” The New York Times Book Review (December 30, 1951): 8.