Badpuppy Gay Today

Tuesday, 02 September 1997


The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961

By James T. Fisher

Book Review by Warren Arronchic


Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961, by James T. Fisher, University of Massachusetts Press, hardback, 352 pp. $29.95


For those old enough to recall the late 1950's, the name of Dr. Thomas A. Dooley rings bells. He was a foremost media-darling, touted as a caring hero, an American version of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, another hero of the times who'd lived and worked on behalf of natives in the African bush.

Dooley however, performed his "medical miracles" in Laos and Vietnam, a decade before major conflicts erupted in that area. Headlines everywhere praised him beyond measure. When he died in 1961, brought down by cancer, it seemed the nation had lost one of its dearest sons.

One of its dearest gay sons. But this was a secondary fact that the media, of course, never mentioned. Nor, to be fair, did most reporters have an inkling.

And whether Dooley was actually a "fine" person or not is now, with the publication of James T. Fisher's Dr. America, open to debate. It seems Tom Dooley flubbed the dub in medical school and decided, following his failures, to join the Navy.

In Vietnam the Navy put Dooley to assisting Roman Catholic refugees move South following the French-Indochinese war. Though his collaboration with the CIA may have been unwitting, he became a pawn in its elaborate game to make increased American involvement in Vietnam more palatable to U.S. voters.

To do this, the armed forces commands wove a myth around his work, emphasizing his heroism, attempting to turn the public's perception of the American presence in Vietnam into a tale that spoke of monumentally altruistic motivations.

Capitalizing on his unexpected fame, the effeminate male pop-star wrote a best selling book which drove his fame into high gear. But something unfunny happened on the way to receiving his Oscar. The Navy booted him out on account of his homosexual philandering. The hero, if he'd only philandered with ordinary folk, might not have lost his military station. But he was a social climber. It is believed that he seduced an admiral's son. So.

Dr. America tells how as a religious person, Dooley, a Roman Catholic, was active homosexually in Catholic circles. He was, as said, also active homosexually as a military man. He made it--when still quite young-- to New York and Chicago where, apparently, he did serious cruising. The focus of this book, however, isn't on Dooley's homosexuality, nor is it on his personal life. It is primarily an examination of those clandestine government forces using the would-be doctor to prepare ordinary citizens for their foray into America's tragic, misguided involvement in Vietnam.

TV talk-show host, Jack Paar, who was not exactly gay friendly, called Dooley "very handsome in an androgynous sort of way." On Ralph Edwards' This is Your Life, Dooley wore eye shadow. But these tidbits do not a gay biography make. Dr. America opens up cans of worms, however, and those worms--government agents--will squirm at what James T. Fisher has unearthed about their long-ago plans to bamboozle the public, readying the U.S. for a war it didn't win for a cause that wasn't just.

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