- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2001

In The Hidden Hitler by Lothar Machtan (Basic Books, $26, 448 pages, illus.) the author, a professor at Bremen University in Germany, claims Adolf Hitler, when he was young, was a sexually active homosexual. The most remarkable feature of the book is not its sensational thesis, but the utter failure of Mr. Machtan to provide anything other than a circumstantial case as he tortures facts on the Procrustean bed of his central idea.
The author admits at the start that after 80 years of research into Hitler's past, " … primary sources that might furnish … information about Hitler's homosexuality photographs, love letters or diaries do not exist, as everyone knows (emphasis added). Does this ugly little fact bother the author? Not at all. Since Hitler had "constant anxiety that incriminating evidence might come to light, he eschewed correspondence of a private nature." In other words, if documents proving Hitler was a homosexual have never been found, this helps prove Hitler was a homosexual.
"No sworn statements about Hitler's homosexuality, made in the course of criminal proceedings or police interrogations now exist," writes the author. But such documents "did at one time exist." How does the author know this? Because a man named Eugen Dollman claimed to have heard, in 1923, a Bavarian official read aloud from documents supposedly showing Hitler cruised for young men in Munich. But how does Dollman's unverified claim, published more than 25 years after the alleged reading took place, prove that such documents at one time existed? The crucial point in question was Hitler indeed a homosexual? is throughout the book taken as having been proved.
Did Hitler like the music of Richard Wagner? The author tells us Wagner's music provides a "safety valve" for homosexuals. Did Hitler, as a young man, spend years in Vienna? Aha! Vienna had a notorious "homosexual subculture." Did his political enemies say he was a homosexual? Where there's smoke, there's fire. Was Hitler less than forthcoming about many aspects of his past? He was in the closet. Why then did the overwhelming majorityof the party hierarchy who spent a lot of time with Hitler never say he was a homosexual?They were either under his spell or afraid. Did a childhood friend once write a description of Hitler in the nude? Proof of a homoerotic relationship.
Does the claim of Hitler's homosexuality lack hard proof? The author says this is because of "a seemingly impenetrable jungle of distortion, hypocrisy and camouflage." Did Hitler have no close personal friends? He did not want anyone to know his dark secret. But if he had close relationships with men, especially in the army, well, need anything more be said? Mr. Machtan even uses a "gay-by-association" technique, emphasizing that Hitler had a lot of "homosexual and homosexually inclined" (whatever that means) aides and colleagues, including SA leader Ernst Rohm. And here's the clincher how come this guy wasn't married? Hmmm?
If I did not know better I would think this book is a deadpan parody of Teutonic scholarship gone berserk. For all I know, Hitler may have been a flaming queen with a secret crush on Herman Goering and a repressed desire to slow-dance with Benito Mussolini, but "The Hidden Hitler" presents no credible evidence to support such an idea. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld has reminded us, that there's anything wrong with that.

Let's hear it for the much-maligned Gilded Age in New York City. Unapologetic greed, conspicuous consumption, actresses with hour-glass figures, great restaurants like Rectors, heroic trenchermen putting away 14-course meals without as much as a groan, golden pilsner by the bucket, bubbly champagne by the magnum, shady dealings among railroad magnates, and shenanigans in Tammany Hall. At the center of it all were legends like J. P. Morgan, Lillian Russell, Bet-a-Million Gates, Commodore Vanderbilt, and, the very symbol of his time,Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age, now given new life by H. Paul Jeffers (John Wiley, $30, 356 pages, illus.).
Mr. Jeffers has a breezy, anecdotal style perfectly suited to the fast-moving world of James Buchanan Brady (1856-1917), who rose from being the son of a New York bartender to great wealth and prominence as a salesman and, later, manufacturer of railroad equipment. The diamonds he wore to impress customers dazzled the press and the masses as well. He was lucky in business, unlucky in love, and had a decades-long relationship with Miss Russell, the darling of the New York stage. Mr. Jeffers assures us the friendship was platonic and I have no reason to doubt it since Brady and his lady-friend were too busy eating and traveling and enjoying themselves to do much else. I enjoyed this readable, unpretentious, happy book.

There are authors, there are successful authors, and then there are authors whose success is so staggering that they become demigods in the publishing industry. Decades ago James Michener was a demigod of this sort and in recent decades there have been Stephen King and Tom Clancy. Although each demigod achieves his or her status in a unique way, what they have in common is the ability to appeal not only to those who love to read, but to people who ordinarily do not read for pleasure. Somehow they stay within the boundaries of a genre and at the same time transcend those boundaries.
A young English woman named Joanne Rowling who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling has in the past decade joined this elite group of authors who achieve phenomenal, scarcely credible, popular success. In doing so, she broke through the boundaries of what are known as "children's books" or "fantasy novels." Her tales about Harry Potter, the schoolboy wizard, have long since ceased to be mere books and have become social and economic phenomena.
In J. K. Rowling by Sean Smith (Michael O'Mara Books, $22.95, 224 pages, illus.), Mr. Smith tells the story of one woman's progress from being a so-so student, an abused wife and a single mom living on public assistance, to becoming an author of international fame, with millions of dollars, and a makeover:
"She [now] looks rich. Her hair is now butterbeer blonde … [h]er skin is polished and immaculate, her clothes have designer labels and her jewelry is real diamonds."
I do not know what a butterbeer blonde color looks like, but I assume it is a good thing, and if we are to judge from Mr. Smith's book, J.K. Rowling deserves many good things, including real diamonds. Except for her talent and perseverance, she appears to be a thoroughly ordinary young woman, bright, if not brilliant, who had fallen upon hard times, but, through hard work and belief in herself, triumphed. Good for her.
I have not read any of the Harry Potter books and therefore was totally at sea when Mr. Smith made analogies between his subject's life and the action in her books. But it is not necessary to have read the Rowling books to enjoy this nice little biography. Since her fiction originally was written for a British audience, there are some problems of translation. I think I know what "swot" is (a nerd?) but what is a "smellie" ? I don't know. Maybe I don't want to know.

William F. Gavin is a writer living in McLean, Va.

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