by ZJ Czupor
Tinker, Tailor, Author, Spy
He was a complicated cat and a skilled obfuscator. He was an author, a movie script writer, a suave cigar-smoking spymaster, a defender of the law—and a breaker of the law.
Journalist James Rosen called him a “passionate patriot; committed Cold Warrior; a lover of fine food, wine and women; incurable intriguer, wicked wit and superb storyteller.”
As an author, he was prolific. He wrote eighty novels, mostly spy thrillers. They were published in paperback with covers that featured women in various stages of dress, or undress. But he didn’t like the covers for he thought they “cheapened the contents.” He was published by such pulp fiction houses as Dell, Signet, Lancer, Gold Medal, Phantom, and later by Knopf, Putnam, and St. Martin’s.
He said he followed James M. Cain’s diction of “slapping the reader in the face within the first ten pages.” The writers who most influenced him were Hemingway, Raymond Chandler and John Dos Passos.
The New York Times called his novel East of Farewell, “the best sea story of WWII.” At the age of 28, as a reward for his first two books, he was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Creative Writing (1946) beating out Gore Vidal and Truman Capote.
Because he was a CIA employee, he wrote under several pseudonyms including Robert Dietrich, P.S. Donoghue, David St. John, Gordon Davis and John Baxter. Most of his novels were characterized as “predictable concoctions of espionage and sex in exotic settings.” He earned $20,000 a year from his writing. But he also wrote twenty-five novels under his own name, E. Howard Hunt.
Born in Hamburg, New York in 1918, Everette Howard Hunt, Jr., better known as E. Howard Hunt, graduated from Brown University proficient in Latin, Greek, and Spanish, and a degree in English. During WWII, he served in the U.S. Navy, The Army Air Force, as a war correspondent for Life magazine; and the Office of Strategic Services, (OSS), in China. The OSS was a cloak and dagger unit—the forerunner to the CIA, where he prided himself on being part of the CIA’s upper echelon. He became the station chief in Mexico City and recruited and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr. They became lifelong friends and Buckley became godfather to his first three children. He also served as Chief of Covert Action in Japan and Chief of Station in Uruguay.
In the span of thirty years, between 1942 – 1972, he wrote thirty-six novels, of which twenty-three were published by paperback houses. He said, “I had just married and needed more than my government salary, so I began writing for Gold Medal. Money was the motive, plus my own pleasure in writing for an appreciative mass audience. I could do a book in two to three weeks, working part time, so it was no strain at all, and the rewards were prompt.”
After he retired from the CIA in 1970, he worked as a writer for the Robert R. Mullen Company, a public relations firm and CIA front company. From there he was hired as a $100/day consultant by Chuck Colson to work on Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, where he joined the White House Special Investigations Unit.
Most famously, in the Spring of 1972, he organized the bugging of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. where he and his fellow operatives G. Gordon Liddy, and five other burglars were arrested. The night of the burglary, he bought them all a lobster dinner. Three months later, the gang, aka, “The White House Plumbers,”was indicted on federal charges. The break-in led to the greatest scandal in American political history and the downfall of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
He then pressured the White House and the Committee to Re-Elect Nixon for $120,000 in cash to cover their legal fees, for family support, and expenses. As a result, large amounts of money were passed to Hunt and his accomplices to ensure their silence, and for them to plead guilty. That December, his wife, Dorothy, was carrying $10,000 in $100 bills but was killed in a United Airline plane crash along with forty-three other passengers. Foul play was suspected but never proved.
The Washington Post and The New York Times investigations broke open the payoff scheme, which resulted in the beginning of the end of the cover-up and what we now know as “The Watergate Scandal.”
In 1973, Hunt was convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping which got him thirty-three months in thirteen federal prisons, where he was beaten, robbed, suffered a stroke, and worked hard labor on a cattle farm. While in prison, his boys turned to drugs and his daughters became estranged from the sons.
His daughter Kevan Hunt Spence, who grew up to be a lawyer, said, “Our life as we knew it came to an explosive end. Our home was lost. Our financial security was lost. Our mother was dead. Our father was in prison.”
Among the many novels Hunt wrote, his favorite was The Berlin Ending (Berkeley/Putnam, 1973) for it allowed him the opportunity he said to fictionalize several espionage cases of which he was aware. And the book helped him to externalize his own Watergate plight just before imprisonment.
Some books and articles related to the Kennedy assassination, claim that Hunt was in Dallas on November 22, 1963 and implicated him in a conspiracy to kill JFK. In 1978, Hunt denied knowledge of any conspiracy to kill Kennedy and said “no comment” when asked if he was in Dallas on that day. He sued media outlets for libel, prevailed, and was awarded $650,000 in damages. But in 1983, the case was overturned on appeal due to an error in jury instructions. See more on this below.
His many adventures inspired the character Ethan Hunt, the protagonist in the Mission Impossible films.
In his later years, he lost his left leg to arteriosclerosis and suffered from lupus, cancers of the jaw and prostrate, gangrene and loss of hearing. He died of pneumonia at the North Shore Medical Center in Miami in 2007. He was 88.
And that’s your Mystery Minute.