Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and “J.Edgar”

Charles Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and J. Edgar

Charles Lindbergh makes an appearance–several of them, in fact–in the new biopic J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonard DiCaprio as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.  The movie is a huge, stately bore, beautifully filmed and embarrassingly written and acted.  The positive reviews are, I believe, more about the reviewers’ reverence for Clint Eastwood, as close a thing as we have now to a sacred cow in Hollywood.  I’m more in line with the negative reviews, like this one from

The sensational part of the Hoover life story–his supposed homosexuality and  long (though perhaps unconsummated) liaison with his assistant, Clyde Tolson–gets quite a bit of attention in the movie.  A friend of mine invented an “elevator pitch” for the movie:  “It’s kind of like Public Enemy meets Brokeback Mountain.”

The Lindbergh connection was, of course, the reason I went to the movie, and in fact the 1932 kidnapping is a major plotline– more so than any other in this historical-pageant-like film full of subplots and vignettes, with the exception of the first one, the Palmer Raids against “subversives” and anarchists in 1919.   However, one would not go to J. Edgar for a strictly documentary report on the kidnapping–not that such a thing is conceivable, given the rancorous disagreements out there on Exactly What Happened in March 1932.

The Lindbergh name is introduced in the movie by the Old-Guy Hoover (Leo in tons of creepy make-up), dictating his bogus memoirs, when he pops a quiz on the transcriber:  “Who was the most famous man in the world?”   There it is–Lindbergh and the muse of Fame, forever intertwined.   The flashbacks proceed to the kidnapping case, which the film presents in quite a number of episodes, some of them oddly out of sequence, some of them more-or-less right (the baby’s body being discovered accidentally by someone who had stopped to pee in the woods near the Lindbergh’s house).  “Jafsie”–the mysterious person who “helped” Lindbergh with the case–makes an appearance or two, including a few scenes in the Bronx cemetery, where ransom money was paid, supposedly to the person eventually apprehended and charged with the crime, Bruno Hauptmann.  The famous wood-products scientist, examining the ladder found at the crime scene and testifying about it later in court, is also a minor character here.   And so is Hauptmann, played by a scary and scared-looking actor who doesn’t look a thing like Hauptmann.

Josh Lucas, who plays Lindbergh, is a handsome and talented actor, but at 40 years of age, is a decade older than Lindbergh was at the time of the kidnapping.  If you want to see what he looks like and don’t want to bother with the movie, check out this softball interview with Josh Lucas from the WB channel:

Lindbergh and American culture–A new blog

Welcome to the first post in a new blog, “Lindbergh and American Culture.”

To an extent matched by few others in his time, Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-74) sought to be the teller of his own tale.  From 1927 to the last months of his life, he was constantly writing, eventually publishing six autobiographical works and leaving unpublished more than a thousand pages of memoir.  He was also the author of several scientific articles, a score or more of anti-interventionist speeches and articles, and a series of thoughtful commentaries about the environment and wilderness.

Lindbergh’s writings, and the way they collectively reveal–and conceal–the self that he meticulously constructed for nearly half of the twentieth century, are the starting points of my investigation.

My intent, however, is to go beyond the writings, indeed beyond the man himself, to understand how this fabled life was—and continues to be—narrated in the public arena.  Because of his fame and the complexities of his character, Lindbergh becomes a prismatic figure through whom is refracted the interplay between self and celebrity, between a private life and a public reputation, between history and memory.

What I hope to offer is not only an entirely new way of examining one of the most examined of 20th-century lives, but also a nuanced perspective on the broader cultural currents through which that life flowed.