President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 in April 1953, effectively banning gay people from working in the federal government. While thousands of gay men and women lost their jobs in what's now known as the "Lavender Scare," one closeted gay man, Robert Cutler, sat atop the National Security Council, having helped draft the order.
Cutler's sexual orientation comes to light in a new biography, "Ike's Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler," by Peter Shinkle, Cutler's great-nephew. Shinkle, a reporter of 19 years at various news outlets, shared details of Cutler's dual life during a book talk Feb. 12 at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, 104 S. Michigan Ave.
Shinkle said he first learned of Cutler's secret sexual orientation in 2006 when asking his mom and aunt what they knew about their uncle.
"I was shocked," Shinkle said. "He was a friend and advisor of President Eisenhower in the 1950s, an era in which homosexuality was widely condemned. It was viewed as criminal, a disease, a dangerous sign of subversion and kept in the closet. Could it be true that a top aide to Ike was gay?"
Cutler was a retired brigadier general who served in the U.S. Army in World War I and World War II. Following Eisenhower's inauguration, Cutler proposed reform of the National Security Council, which Eisenhower approved, appointing Cutler as the nation's first ever National Security Advisor, Shinkle said. In this role, Cutler helped shape U.S. strategy during the Cold War.
According to Shinkle, Cutler got involved with the Eisenhower administration while on the campaign trail in 1942. He helped Eisenhower secure the Republican presidential nomination and was hired to write speeches and deal with other matters.
Shinkle said that during the campaign, Cutler met a young speechwriter and secretly gay man Steve Benedict, and the two became close friends. Shinkle said he met with Benedict in 2008 while researching Cutler's life, and Benedict gave Shinkle a set of Cutler's private diaries. Inside was the key to the family secret.
The diaries revealed that Benedict had introduced Cutler to another young gay man, Skip Koons, a former Navy intelligence officer who Cutler hired as a staffer for the National Security Council, Shinkle said. Cutler quickly developed romantic feelings for Koons, beginning "the greatest adventure of my life," he wrote.
Shinkle said his biography follows Cutler's secret life as a gay man and contributions to the Eisenhower White House, showing how the two stories were intertwined. For instance, Koons and Benedict eventually fell under investigation for homosexuality under the same executive order that Cutler helped draft five years earlier, Shinkle said.
"The ultimate lesson to be drawn from this sorry saga is that politicians may seize upon a vulnerable minority, drum up fears about them and use those fears to their own political advantage," Shinkle said. "Furthermore, even those who by reason of their personal or professional experience should know better, can stand by silently as tremendous wrongs unfold."
"Ike's Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler" was published on Dec. 4, 2018, by Penguin Random House and can be purchased online at www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/577223/ikes-mystery-man-by-peter-shinkle/9781586422431/ .