Tom Cruise played Col. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a gay, anti-Semitic Nazi.
When Tom Cruise received the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award in May of this year, I was astonished.
The self-described “international Jewish human rights organization” seemed unaware that three years earlier, the actor had played the “hero” in Valkyrie, an allegedly fact-based account of the 1944 bomb plot that failed to kill Hitler.
The film’s hero who planted the bomb was Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a staff officer in Berlin assigned to defending the capital.
As portrayed by director Bryan Singer and two screenwriters, Stauffenberg was an heroic Fifth Columnist who sacrificed his life because he opposed Hitler and his anti-Semitic policies.
As is often the case when Hollywood recreates the past, Valkyrie conveniently got its history wrong, very wrong.
"History is written by the victors," according to Winston Churchill, who might have added, “History is rewritten by Hollywood.”
My astonishment about Cruise and the Simon Wiesenthal Center gala was based on two books I’ve written:
Reel v. Real: How Hollywood Turns Fact Into Fiction revealed how Hollywood plays fast and loose with the truth in order to tell a good story, comply with contemporary morality, and many other commercial reasons.
Invisible People: History’s Homosexuals Unhidden devoted several pages to Stauffenberg because he was one of history’s invisible bisexuals.
Valkyrie airbrushed Stauffenberg beyond recognition and more than Playboy Photoshops aging actresses like Joan Collins, who posed semi-nude in the 1980s and looked as though the photographer had covered the camera lens with cheesecloth to hide the actress’, ahem, imperfections.
A headline from an imaginary tabloid popped into my mind after I found out about the Wiesenthal ceremony.
My headline was inspired by the bizarre TV commercial where a soap opera star hawks an herbal supplement with a non-sequitur intended to imply he's a medical expert: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
My tabloid version of the TV commercial:
“I’m not a homosexual, but I played one on film.” – Tom Cruise
“Ripped from the pages of The National Liar – Tom Cruise Plays Gay Nazi!”
For once, a tabloid would be telling the truth.
Tom Cruise, the most methodical of Method actors, had his straight hair permed to duplicate Stauffenberg’s curly locks for Valkyrie.
Despite his obsessive attention to detail and accuracy, the superstar didn’t bother to effect a German accent or research Stauffenberg’s background.
A little digging by Cruise would have revealed that the hero he had chosen to play in Valkyrie was gay, a reactionary, and a ferocious anti-Semite who supported Hitler until it became clear that the dictator was leading Germany to defeat and annihilation.
Without knowledge of the era and its players, Tom Cruise seemed like a perfect fit for the role of the German aristocrat.
The film’s title refers to Project Valkyrie, the code name for the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Hitler led by Stauffenberg.
In the film version Cruise, who specializes in playing flawed but courageous heroes, Stauffenberg is a self-sacrificing liberal who decides to kill Hitler after witnessing the mass executions of Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians during the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe in World War II.
Hollywood loves to root for heroes, the larger than life the better. But the facts of Stauffenberg’s life — as opposed to the myths — suggest he was not a flawed hero. He wasn’t a hero of any kind.
Valkyrie misrepresented Stauffenberg’s political beliefs and motives for blowing up Hitler in his East Prussian command center on a hot summer day in 1944.
Stauffenberg was not a liberal. He wasn’t even a moderate. The handsome colonel was a snobbish aristocrat of ancient lineage dating back to the 13th century when an ancestor served as chamberlain (chief minister) to the king of Württemberg.
In fact, Stauffenberg was the antithesis of a liberal. A reactionary and opponent of Germany’s democratic Weimar Republic in the 1920s, the count remained a lifelong monarchist who wanted to restore the corrupt, autocratic regime of the deposed, despised Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Stauffenberg did not object to Hitler’s genocidal policies. His motivation for killing the Nazi dictator had nothing to do with moral repugnance toward the Holocaust.
Stauffenberg was a right-wing capitalist who believed in the exploitation rather than the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Hitler’s invasion of Poland that launched the Second World War had Stauffenberg’s ecstatic support. The officer condoned and applauded using the Poles as slave laborers for the financial and military benefit of Germany.
Today, his political philosophy would be called “ethnic cleansing.” The practical effects of his ideology approved deportation of Polish citizens to eastern Poland in order to provide Lebensraum (living space) for German settlers in the vanquished nation.
Room would be made for the Aryan emigrants by starving the Polish inhabitants of the area and working them to death.
Stauffenberg went on record as a neocolonialist when he wrote, according to a 2003 history of his family, “It is essential that we begin a systemic colonization in Poland....I have no fear that this will not occur.”
Valkyrie’s star and Jewish director wouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot Pole or a 5-foot Russian the most controversial element of Stauffenberg’s life, which had nothing to do with ethnic cleansing or his reactionary political beliefs.
Stauffenberg, a happily married father of five, was bisexual.
Cruise almost certainly didn’t know the suppressed fact or details of Stauffenberg’s sexual orientation because he never would have played a homosexual hero.
The extremely litigious superstar is notorious for suing or threatening to sue anyone who writes about his alleged secret sex life, even when a writer describes the issue as “speculation” or discredits the rumor.
I have had personal experience with the paranoid litigiousness Cruise engages in to intimidate writers.
In 1995, I signed a contract with HarperCollins to write a biography of Cruise. Before I had begun researching the book and making phone calls for interview requests with the actor’s colleagues and friends, Cruise found out about the project.
His pit-bull attorney, Bert Fields, whom a magazine once planned to include in an unpublished article, “Hollywood’s 50 Most Loathsome,” faxed both the publisher and me, threatening to sue and demanded that HarperCollins drop the book.
Although the fax represented a clear-cut case of prior restraint and a violation of my First Amendment rights of free speech, HarperCollins caved in to Cruise’s threats within 24 hours of receiving Fields’s fax.
Although HarperCollins would have won the threatened lawsuit, the cost of litigation would have been prohibitive.
Blue-chip attorneys charge clients $750 or more per hour. Bean counters at HarperCollins did some craven math and calculated the costs-benefits ratio of publication vs. litigation.
The publisher decided it was cheaper to eat the advance paid it had paid me rather than cough up a form of legal extortion known as billable hours and nuisance lawsuits.
With apologies to Prince Hal’s fat friend, “A bargain — not discretion — is the better part of valor.” Or to paraphrase Flip Wilson, “Fiduciary responsibility made them do it.”
My agent spent the next two years searching for another publisher and found one who wasn’t intimidated by the superstar or his blue-chip ambulance chaser, Fields.
At least not too intimidated to publish the book. However, after I submitted the manuscript to the publisher (Taylor Trade), an editor deleted all references to Cruise’s sexual orientation despite my conclusion that the rumors about Cruise:
The gossip involved nothing more than the daydreams of delusional gay men who like to fantasize that they have a crack at getting the hunk into bed.
For the same reason, during the golden era of Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s, tyrannical studio chiefs ordered male movie stars to remain bachelors so female fans could continue to indulge their unlikely moist dreams of marriage to a matinee idol.
Cruise’s sexual identity remains such a cynosure almost three decades after the actor became the McDonald’s of box-office draws (over $2 billion earned), when I told my 67-year-old cousin, a Catholic nun, that I was writing a bio about Cruise, Sister Joan asked me, “Is it true he’s gay?”
Geraldo Rivera asked me, "Is Tom Cruise gay?"
When I appeared on Geraldo, the first question the talk show host asked was, “Now tell me, Frank. Are all the rumors about Cruise being gay true?”
I parroted the deleted passages in my Cruise bio that offered powerful albeit circumstantial evidence that Cruise was straight and suggested that rumors to the contrary had to do with gay men’s wishful thinking rather than the truth.
In fact, whenever I told friends I was writing a book about the actor, everyone knew someone who knew someone who knew someone of the same sex who had had carnal knowledge of the unknowable actor.
As I wrote in my biography before it was Bowdlerized by the publisher and I repeated on Geraldo, if Cruise had had sex with so many men – typically, urban legends claim he’s fond of pool boys and Sparklett’s deliverymen – one of these minimum-wage slaves would have come forward years ago and sold his story to the tabloids for six figures, possibly seven.
That’s not speculation. In 1991, John Travolta’s porn star/prostitute boyfriend, Paul Baresi, sold his story to a tabloid, illustrated with photos of the men together. Although the pictures were G-rated, they nevertheless suggested a romantic relationship. (Do you blow in your mother’s ear?)
Baresi was paid $75,000. Travolta never sued. His career was in a down turn at the time, and public interest in his private life had declined in proportion to the portly actor’s increasing waistline.
But a tabloid was still willing to pay a huge amount of money for the story.
Imagine the fee for a similar account about the world’s No. 1 box-office draw would have earned one of the legions of pool and water boys Cruise supposedly had sex with.
Not surprisingly, none of the revisionist history about Stauffenberg’s political conservatism or the genuine motivation for his assassination attempt on Hitler ever made it into a movie whose lead specializes in heroic characters.
If Cruise had had an inkling about Stauffenberg’s sex life, the film would have hit a red light before preproduction began.
Evidence of the aristocrat’s secret life is both circumstantial and corroborated by photos, as scholar and author Walter Storch wrote on the TBRNews.org web site, a compilation of previously published political articles.
First, the circumstantial details: Stauffenberg’s mother Karoline hired the nationally known poet and political scientist, Stefan George, to tutor her son and his two siblings.
George dedicated his 1922 political tract, Geheimes Deutschland (Secret Germany) and his 1928 work, Das neue Reich (The New Empire) to Claus’ brother Berthold.
George also led a cult-like literary collective, the Georgekreise (George’s circle), whose members included some of the greatest writers in Germany. Stauffenberg counted himself among the membership, the majority of which was homosexual.
George was openly gay. A collection of his love poems was published under the title Algabal, the German translation of the name of Rome’s most psychotic emperor, Elagabalus, who worked the streets and brothels of Rome in drag and married his male slave, Hercules.
After the failed assassination attempt and Stauffenberg’s execution, Heinrich Müller, not the most reliable source since he headed the Gestapo and reported directly to SS chief Heinrich Himmler, compiled dossiers on Stauffenberg, George, and their literary circle. Müller insisted the group was “entirely homosexual in nature.”
Müller corroborated his conjecture with substantive proof. Following the blowout at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s frontline HQs in Rastenberg, East Prussia (now Poland), the Gestapo raided the homes of Claus and his brother Berthold.
Photo albums of naked young men and a wardrobe filled with haute couture gowns were discovered. Müller’s dossiers, still extant, contains photos of Stauffenberg in women’s panties. Microfilm uncovered during the Gestapo raids shows the assassin wearing high heels and having sex with young men in military uniform.
By mid-1944 if not before, most Germans realized that the war was lost, but Hitler managed to maintain his hypnotic hold on the masses, who condemned Stauffenberg and the other conspirators as traitors even after the war and the revelation of Nazi atrocities.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, when two West German films put a heroic spin on the assassination attempt, that Stauffenberg was posthumously rehabilitated. The 180-degree change in public opinion, however, represented revisionist history of the most fraudulent kind.
Cynics who also happen to be realists have noted the convenient timing of the plot to kill Hitler in 1944. Germany’s surrender was less than a year away.
The late date of the conspiracy disproves a view filtered through rosacea-colored glasses that Stauffenberg and his allies championed liberty over tyranny, democratic ideals over totalitarian rule.
Stauffenberg claimed he had a change of heart about Hitler way back in 1939 after witnessing mass executions of civilians following the invasion of Poland.
Immediately after the German army secured an area, a group of professional hit men known as the SS Einsatzgruppen would turn up. Their assignment was to round up Jews and Communists, shoot them, and dump the corpses in mass graves the victims were forced to dig.
The Einsatzgruppen made unlikely assassins. Himmler inexplicably insisted that all officers in the paramilitary Einsatzgruppen hold doctoral degrees.
Other weird qualifications for membership in the Einsatzgruppen and the rest of the SS would have made Hitler and Himmler both ineligible to join. A single tooth cavity kept out prospective members of the SS.
Other requirements mandated blue eyes and blonde hair. Unlike German civilians, who only had to prove they had no Jews in their family tree as far back as their grandparents, SS applicants had to provide genealogical records that showed no Jewish blood flowed in their ancestors’ veins since the beginning of the 18th century.
Hitler would never have cleared either hurdle. A genealogist he hired to research his family’s background dug up the potentially disastrous revelation that one of the dictator’s antecedents had the Jewish surname Salamon.
Disaster was averted when both Hitler’s family tree and the genealogist who created it conveniently disappeared. To make sure no other incriminating birth records had been overlooked, Hitler turned a region of Austria he grew up into a restricted firing range German artillery obliterated.
The Einsatzgruppen, mass murderers with PhDs, dispel the elitist myth that Nazi atrocities were committed by bitter, alienated members of the lower classes who only joined the party because they needed a job during the Depression or resented the status and career opportunities enjoyed by their socio-economic betters.
Hitler’s massive spending on Germany’s infrastructure and rearmament, and the labor-intensive mechanization of mass murder, put unemployed Germans back to work.
The reasons National Socialism appealed to low-lifes fail to explain why the highly educated Einsatzgruppen execution squads were also drawn to a political party overrepresented by unemployed riff-raff.
Stauffenberg was a master of self-reinvention and a self-mythologist. By 1942, military experts, although not the public, realized the war was lost after the Red Army launched a successful counteroffensive at Stalingrad that ended at the Fuehrerbunker in April 1945.
Unaware or still in denial at the time, Stauffenberg in 1942 still supported Hitler and his colonization/depopulation of Eastern Europe.
Historians who haven’t been duped by Stauffenberg’s cinematic rehabilitation in the 1950s point out the long gap between the time Stauffenberg claimed he got religion – in 1939 during the invasion of Poland – and the time it took him to act on his new faith – 1944, when he tried to exterminate the ultimate Exterminator.
It’s an unlikely coincidence that the assassination attempt was made less than two months after D-Day.
After the successful landing in Normandy, not just military insiders but the most clueless Nazi zealots realized it was only a matter of time before the Allied juggernaut swept across France, the Low Countries and invaded the Vaterland.
Both Stauffenberg and the architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler, shared the same political pragmatism although Himmler was not an active conspirator. The SS chief knew of the conspiracy without informing his boss.
After Hitler’s assassination, Germany’s new leadership, both Stauffenberg and Himmler hoped, would be able to negotiate more favorable peace terms than a regime still led by Hitler. A delusional Himmler also believed he would become the new Fuehrer.
Stauffenberg’s own writing reveals he was no pacifist and lived in a fantasy world not far from the alternate universe inhabited by die-hard Nazis. At the Casablanca Conference in 1943, the Allied leaders agreed that they would only accept Germany’s unconditional surrender – no if’s, and’s, or bittes.
No negotiations, just sign on the dotted line of the instrument of surrender. Stauffenberg ignored the Casablanca decision and drew up a list of conditions for surrender that suggested he was almost as delusional a megalomaniac as the one he wanted to assassinate.
Although in no position to demand anything as the Allies relentlessly rolled across western Europe and approached the German border while the Red Army approached from the East, Stauffenberg’s wish list amounted to wishful thinking.
His unrealistic conditions included holding on to Austria, Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, and vast swaths of Poland already under Soviet occupation. His expansionist mindset revealed that he was still infected with Hitler’s lust for real estate.
Not only did Stauffenberg’s conditions refuse to relinquish territory conquered by Germany, he wanted to expand the Third and last Reich’s borders by annexing the Tyrolean region of the Italian Alps.
Per Stauffenberg’s formula, similar to the armistice that ended World War I while providing an incubator for the Third Reich, foreign troops would not be allowed to occupy Germany. And undercutting his reasons for turning against Hitler, among them the mass executions of civilians in eastern Europe, Germany would not hand over its war criminals to Allied justice. As for the Soviet Union, the would-be pacifist wanted to continue military operations against the Bolshevik Antichrist.
Only Hollywood, which did a similar rehab job whitewash on Charles Lindbergh’s isolationist anti-Semitism in the 1957 film, The Spirit of St. Louis, would attempt to perform a similar miracle of revisionist malarkey by turning a reactionary warmonger into a martyr for democracy and human decency.
Despite P.T. Barnum’s belief in the birth of a sucker every 60 seconds, there are some things the impressionable American public can’t be suckered into accepting.
Both the Lindbergh and Stauffenberg biopics were box-office calamities.
Some theatergoers, including me, laughed out loud as Tom Cruise tried to impersonate a German colonel without bothering to lose his American accent.
Meryl Streep would have played a more convincing staff officer in Nazi Germany’s mighty military machine, the Wehrmacht.
(Updated and excerpted in part from the author’s Invisible People: History’s Homosexuals Unhidden. Genesee Avenue Books, 2011.)
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders