Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961

Overview

This book chronicles the life of Tom Dooley, the American doctor whose much-publicized exploits in Vietnam and Laos during the 1950s helped lay the ideological groundwork for the U.S. military intervention a decade later. The scion of an upper-middle-class St. Louis family, Dooley was an enormously complex and fascinating individual. He was a devoutly religious Roman Catholic as well as self-styled playboy socialite, a devoted physician to the poor and a tireless propagandist for the "Vietnam Lobby," a shameless ...
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Overview

This book chronicles the life of Tom Dooley, the American doctor whose much-publicized exploits in Vietnam and Laos during the 1950s helped lay the ideological groundwork for the U.S. military intervention a decade later. The scion of an upper-middle-class St. Louis family, Dooley was an enormously complex and fascinating individual. He was a devoutly religious Roman Catholic as well as self-styled playboy socialite, a devoted physician to the poor and a tireless propagandist for the "Vietnam Lobby," a shameless self-promoter and a closeted homosexual, a victim of Navy persecution and a beneficiary of CIA support. Dooley first gained notoriety as a young Navy doctor charged with overseeing the evacuation of Catholic refugees from North Vietnam in the wake of the 1954 Geneva Accords. His celebrity grew after his book Deliver Us from Evil, a fervently anticommunist account of his experiences, was serialized in Reader's Digest. By the end of the decade, as his name became associated (albeit mistakenly) with a ballad popularized by the Kingston Trio, he had achieved the status of "America's first pop star saint." In addition to exposing the roots of the Vietnam War, Dooley's story illuminates a broad range of developments in post-World War II United States culture - from the "Americanization" of Catholicism to the rise of the mass media.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An accomplished biography of an almost forgotten, but important, player in American Vietnam War policymaking in the mid- and late 1950s.

A handful of Americans, most of them intelligence operatives, were present at the creation of the Republic of (South) Vietnam in 1954. One of them was Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, the until-then unremarkable son of a prominent St. Louis family. Dooley went to North Vietnam in 1954 as a US Navy doctor to administer to refugees who wished to flee south before the Communist takeover. The next year the self-promoting, flamboyant physician became "the symbol of Vietnamese-American friendship in the ongoing struggle to promote the first democracy in Southeast Asia," notes Fisher (Humanities/St. Louis Univ.) in this myth-breaking biography. Fisher presents a deeply researched and highly critical study of a man who in the late 1950s was "America's first celebrity-saint" by virtue of his seemingly selfless medical work in Vietnam and Laos and his loudly professed Roman Catholic beliefs. However, according to Fisher's convincing work, Dooley actually was an abrasive, arrogant, self-aggrandizing egotist who was also "naive to the point of self-delusion." It appears that he did truly care about helping destitute Vietnamese and Lao citizens. But Dooley, who died of cancer in 1961, allowed himself to be used shamelessly by the CIA and by the so-called Vietnam Lobby to put an idealistic face on the growing American involvement in Vietnam. One of the "lives" Fisher's subtitle refers to was Dooley's secret homosexual persona. Dooley's homosexuality shadowed every facet of his life in the homophobic era in which he lived, especially after it led to his embarrassing dismissal from the Navy.

Fisher's examination of that part of Dooley's life is, like the rest of the book, insightful and enlightening.

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Chapter One


What Tommy Knew


Between late December 1955 and the first week of 1956, Dr. Thomas A. Dooley III signed publishing agreements with Reader's Digest and the prestigious New York firm of Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. To support the massive publicity campaign for his first book, Deliver Us from Evil, Dooley supplied "biographical" materials to his sponsors. His invention as a public figure was launched in these sketchy documents that, among other fictions, reported that he "completed his undergraduate work at the Sorbonne in Paris." For the remainder of his life Dooley revised and rewrote his life story with brazen disregard for consistency, as though his experience was meaningful only as it could be invoked to serve the demands of the moment. Given license to continually reinvent himself, he simply intensified patterns that had marked his earlier years. Between 1946 and 1958, for instance—in completing a series of passport applications—Dooley alternately listed his father's birthplace as Hannibal, Joplin, Springfield, or St. Louis, Missouri (Thomas A. Dooley Jr. was born in Moberly, Missouri, in 1885).

    Dooley's imaginative renderings of his own life proved contagious to others, particularly those who wrote of his youth. One of his hagiographers erroneously reported that he was a high school track and swimming star who "soloed with famous orchestras." Those who sought to debunk Dooley's legend were no less prone to lapses in factuality: a journalist writing in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1991 claimed that Dooley's father"was a railroad foundryman, a hard drinker who hoped that his namesake would become a prizefighter." Thomas A. Dooley Jr.'s status as a wealthy, refined, second-generation executive and pillar of the St. Louis Catholic establishment actually ranks among the less contested facts of the Dooley saga.

    Between Dooley hagiography, timeless and eternal (a cover story in the Liguorian, a Catholic magazine, from June 1991 is virtually identical to devotional works written during his lifetime), and the resentful exposes that emerged in the wake of the Vietnam War, one might hope to discover the "historical" Tom Dooley. But the precelebrity, presainthood version is only faintly accessible to us, due in part to the influence Dooley's public image inevitably exerted on the memory of his friends and acquaintances. In light of Tom Dooley's adult reputation as a manic extrovert, even the surviving artifacts of his childhood feature a rather impersonal tone, as though he had already learned to present versions of himself to others (and even to his scrapbooks) while deferring the emergence of a "stable" identity.

    In the absence of the core personality that custom demands we first locate in a subject's childhood, the Dooley legend spawned dark rumors about "a missing diary" that could provide insights unobtainable through traditional methods of invasion. As there is no such diary and the belief in its existence only enriches the quality of his elusive genius, we are left in an encounter with this uniquely vulnerable individual who so often resembled a lost boy.

Thirty years before Dr. Tom Dooley met the Kingston Trio at a nightclub in the Chase Hotel, a testimonial dinner was held in an adjoining banquet hall at the Chase honoring his grandfather, Thomas A. Dooley Sr., for fifty years of service to the American Car and Foundry (ACF) Company of St. Louis. The seven-course meal served on that February night in 1929 included medallions of halibut with egg sauce; breast of chicken, nonpareil; artichoke bottoms, florentine; and harlequin ice cream with cardinal sauce. The three hundred distinguished guests were entertained by the Maxwell Goldman Orchestra, the St. Louis Quartette, "Our Own Jack Ryan, Storyteller," and a production of ACF Motion Pictures, "In the Service of Transportation." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the seventy-three-year-old Mr. Dooley "appears unusually active for his years. He is a resolute walker and each morning, rain or shine, tramps from his home at 6314 Waterman Avenue to Art Hill [located across spacious Forest Park]. An automobile takes him the rest of the way to the plant. It's a rare occurrence for him to miss a day at work."

    Thomas A. Dooley, district manager of American Car and Foundry Company, was a self-made captain of industry whose labors subsidized the carefree youth of his grandson. A large, robust man, he had earned the plaudits bestowed on him at that testimonial dinner through a lifetime of earnest toil. Because the onset of the Great Depression was but months away, the banquet represented one of the final tributes to that buoyant spirit of American enterprise which originated—according to historian T. J. Jackson Lears—half a century earlier, at a time when "the stout midriff was a sign of mature success in life. Affluent Americans devoured heavy meals at huge banquets. They accepted the congratulations of afterdinner orators. The speaker announced the marriage of material and spiritual progress. His audience nodded approval. There was no limit to American abundance. There was no impediment to the partnership of Protestantism and science." Although it was an "age of confidence," as Lears argues, the self-satisfaction of the late nineteenth-century industrial elites barely obscured the gnawing dread of "overcivilization" that affluence had wrought. By 1929 business leaders had long grappled with a much more tangible concern: the very immigrants whose labors generated industrial fortunes also threatened Protestant cultural authority with their unfamiliar languages and religions. As the historian of St. Louis's business elite wrote, "In a population consisting of a variety of linguistic and religious groups, a largely native American, Protestant business community could hardly hope to provide a universally accepted cultural leadership." It would not be for lack of effort that they would know only limited success.

    The stewards of wealth in St. Louis had more practical experience with cultural diversity than did their counterparts in most American cities. Since the town's founders and many of its earliest prominent families were French Catholic, there was no Protestant creation narrative akin to those of Boston or Philadelphia. There had even been a small group of prefamine Irish Catholic immigrants who achieved wealth and some status. John Mullanphy arrived in St. Louis in 1804 and "virtually cornered the cotton market following the War of 1812"; he soon became St. Louis's first millionaire. Richard C. Kerens, a transportation director for the Union Army, established a tradition of Irish success in the railroad industry as a prominent investor in the Iron Mountain, the St. Louis, and the Arkansas and Texas railroads. Thousands of impoverished Irish immigrants arrived in St. Louis in the 1840s; most settled in the notorious "Kerry Patch" on the city's near North Side. Nativist violence and gang warfare rendered the famine-era Irish unsavory in the eyes of the Protestant establishment: as late as 1878 a city guidebook claimed the "chief amusements" of Kerry Patchers "consist of punching each other's eyes." Still it was not so unusual for a postfamine Irish migrant to St. Louis like Thomas A. Dooley to rise steadily through the ranks—from carpenter to foreman to manager—as it would have been in an eastern concern.

    Like so many other Irishmen, Dooley had vigorously pursued railroad work in a career that took him from Glendale, Ohio, to Moberly, Missouri (an early hub of the Wabash and Pacific railways), and finally to St. Louis, where he found employment as a carpenter with the Missouri Car and Foundry Company. He married Annie Hogan, an Irish Canadian woman who gave birth to Thomas A. Dooley Jr. in 1885. Missouri Car and Foundry operated a small shop that produced eight to ten wooden cars daily prior to merging with several other car companies to form the American Car and Foundry Company. By the early years of the century, with Dooley at the helm as district manager, ACF's St. Louis plant employed three thousand workers and produced 2,250 boxcars per month. In his greatest personal triumph, Dooley designed and supervised the production of the first all-steel railcars in time for use by the United States military during World War I, for which the firm reaped over $100 million in government contracts. In a 1919 letter to W. K. Bixby, one of the founding partners of ACF, Dooley described the platinum, gold, and enamel Tiffany watch presented to him in gratitude by the corporation: "The engraving on the face is as follows: `Nothing easy, but nothing impossible.'"

    Thomas A. Dooley Sr. combined an adherence to the work ethic embedded in that maxim with a devotion to corporate authority. "One of my axioms all through my life has been loyalty," he exulted in the 1919 letter to W. K. Bixby. Bixby was one of the true giants of St. Louis commerce and society: a director of the dazzling 1904 World's Fair and a collector of great art and rare books who retired before the age of fifty to his magnificent home on Portland Place, one of St. Louis's fabled "private streets." Bixby embodied an interlocking directorate of the St. Louis industrial elite dubbed "The Big Cinch" by muckraking journalist William M. Reedy in the late 1890s. "Less than twenty men run it," he wrote. "They dare do anything. They control the banks, the trust companies, the street railroads, the gas works, the telephone franchises and the newspapers."

    Bixby was a director of both St. Louis Union Trust and Boatmen's Bank; when the Wabash Railroad fell on hard times in 1905 a federal judge appointed Bixby receiver even though he headed a company that made railroad cars. He was a major benefactor of the Missouri Historical Society, Washington University, the St. Louis Public Library, the Bibliophile Society, and the First Congregational Church of St. Louis, as well as being "one of the most important backers" of Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Letters from Thomas A. Dooley Sr. to Bixby featured a masterly blend of camaraderie and deference, confirming his role as steadfast lieutenant in the corporate chain of command: "The photograph of you hanging in my office, with the inscription: `T. A. D. With very best wishes of his old friend, W. K. Bixby,' is such a matter of pride, that all visitors visiting my office, and there are many of them from all over the United States, especially since we are working on the Government cars, that it gives me great pleasure to see them reading the inscription under the photo and to have them know that Mr. W. K. Bixby is Tom Dooley's old friend."

    Mr. Dooley carefully avoided overreaching himself: though he had moved his family from an immigrant neighborhood in South St. Louis to a fashionable West End address, he evaded the wrath directed at some of his new neighbors by the likes of society columnist "Virginia Dare," who sneered: "The West End is full of folk who cannot achieve the Imperial Club and will not if they strive till judgment day." Along with the far wealthier Busch family, whose vocation as brewers was viewed with disdain by the cream of St. Louis society, the Dooleys were not members of the Saint Louis Country Club, nor were they invited to join the Bogey Club, founded by, among others, W. K. Bixby (on land adjacent to the estate Thomas A. Dooley Jr. would purchase in 1940). The elder Dooley was content with an offer of membership from the perfectly respectable Glen Echo Club. His grandson, Thomas A. Dooley III, would grow up close to the sources of St. Louis privilege and employ his social graces to great effect later in life, but he also betrayed the resentment of one who experienced a vague yet persistent sense of exclusion from the inner circles where he knew he belonged. A brilliant stage Irishman, Dooley would flamboyantly transgress the same bounds of decorum his grandfather reverentially observed.

    Thomas A. Dooley Sr. died in 1934, leaving a sizable fortune to his namesake (and sole surviving son) and to his grandsons in trust. Thomas A. Dooley Jr. attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana and the Jesuit Saint Louis University before going to work as an assistant manager at American Car and Foundry in 1911. On the last day of 1925, shortly after his fortieth birthday, he married a thirty-year-old widow, Agnes Wise Manzelman. From a distinguished family with deep roots in Pennsylvania, she was a Daughter of the American Revolution whose grandfather, Capt. William W. Wise, had died for the Union cause in the battle of Murfreesboro. When Agnes was thirteen her family moved to St. Louis and there, in 1917, she married Earle Henry Manzelman in an Episcopalian ceremony. Manzelman was a flight instructor in the "Cracker Box" Air Force who was soon posted to Hickam Field in the Territory of Hawaii. The couple's first child, a girl named Betty Jane, died for lack of proper medical care at the age of six months. Mrs. Dooley soon became pregnant again and returned to St. Louis to await the birth of her second child. On October 14, 1922, Earle died in a training accident; his son, Earle Henry Manzelman Jr., was born the following February.

    Agnes Manzelman became a Roman Catholic in order to marry the devout Mr. Dooley; her parents were so impressed by her newfound faith they joined the Church as well. The couple's first child, Thomas Anthony Dooley III, was born at St. Ann's Hospital on January 17, 1927, weighing in at a hefty twelve pounds. The Dooleys lived on Pershing Avenue in the West End of St. Louis, not far from the imposing residence of Thomas A. Dooley Sr. Shortly after the death of the elder Dooley in 1934, the family (which by then included Tom Dooley's two younger brothers, Malcolm and Edward, and Earle, whom Mr. Dooley had adopted) moved to his home at 6314 Waterman. In 1940 they completed their westward journey through the prestigious suburbs of St. Louis by settling into an estate at Fair Oaks in Ladue, situated amid pastoral elegance in St. Louis County.

    Thomas A. Dooley Jr. suffered the dilemma common to sons of self-made men, particularly those who pursue the same line of work as their fathers. Though determined to cement the family legacy in the annals of St. Louis industry, he was not as dynamic as his father and fell into a career at American Car and Foundry, where he ultimately assumed his father's old position as general manager; for years the two men lunched together each day in the firm's executive dining room. Beholden to inherited wealth, he failed to command the authority of his own father but insisted on maintaining the outward trappings of genteel manners. The Dooley boys were required to dress in jacket and tie for dinner, served promptly at 6:30. The family employed a cook, a maid, and a chauffeur-houseman named Norvell Simpson who tended to their dinner table in a starched white jacket.

    Mr. Dooley was caught in a snare of history, lodged between the imposing image of his own father, the quintessential industrialist, proud exemplar of what the historian Warren Susman called the "culture of `character,'" and his flamboyant, extroverted elder son, who became a virtuoso performer and Catholic pioneer of an age exalting the power of "personality." By the early 1940s the Dooleys found it increasingly difficult to maintain upper-class appearances, however: family finances were possibly mismanaged; Mr. and Mrs. Dooley drank heavily from behind their shuttered windows; visitors to the darkened home grew rare. Years later in Redbook Mrs. Dooley presented a composite view of the family's various homes which characteristically centered their emotional life around her talented if unpredictable son: "We lived in a large, pleasant house which stood on an acre of ground with many splendid trees, and except for the winds of Tom's volatile temperament, ours was a calm and orderly household."


Before moving to exclusive Ladue in 1940 (St. Louis historian Ernest Kirschten called it the "swankiest of the dormitory satellites") the Dooleys lived in the Parkview section of the West End, near Washington University. Parkview was among the most attractive of St Louis's famed "private places" (the section of Parkview in which the Dooleys resided was located in University City, a community adjoining the western border of the city). The neighborhood was an enclave of affluent professionals including a fair share of Irish Americans, with physicians and attorneys predominating over industrialists like Thomas A. Dooley Jr. In St. Louis—as in most northern and midwestern cities—Catholics were known by the parish to which they belonged. Tommy Dooley attended St. Roch's parochial school until 1936, when he was enrolled in the fourth grade at the more prestigious Barat Hall, a private school operated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart at City House, a convent located behind the "new Cathedral," as St. Louisans still refer to the Romanesque edifice on Lindell Boulevard that was actually completed before World War I.

    The boys of St. Roch's admired Dooley's older half-brother, Earle, for his athletic prowess, but Tommy remained aloof from their ballgames and forays through the neighborhood. A speech problem heightened his isolation from the boys of Parkview; he preferred instead to play at "curing" sickly dolls with a girl from the neighborhood. At Barat Hall, located several miles east of Parkview, the schoolday lasted from 8:30 until 5:30. In accordance with the civilizing mission of the Sacred Heart nuns, Tommy Dooley studied French and received instruction in the fine arts. By one account he was sent to Barat Hall because "Mr. Dooley was having labor troubles at his car and foundry plant, and kidnap threats had been made. The boys were driven by the family chauffeur to school, where a watchman was in attendance throughout the day."

    Since Thomas A. Dooley Sr. had made provisions in his will for the education of his grandsons, Barat Hall may have reflected the family's more comfortable circumstances as much as fear for the children's safety. But the alleged threats evoke a pattern of discourse connected with the Dooley family—perpetuated later by Tom's admirers—in which hints of dark chaos always threaten that image of a buoyantly devout clan they worked so hard to promote. Tommy Dooley's nonconformity emerged as well in his early years at Barat Hall: "Sometimes," conceded a hagiographer, "he received less than perfect conduct marks with comments like: `he talks too much.'"

    The Dooleys summered at Lawsonia, a former estate on Green Lake in Wisconsin. Tom's brother Malcolm recalled: "In those quiet summers just before World War Two, the Dooley boys had their world with vanilla icing on it." Home movies from 1936 and 1937 provide the first recorded evidence of Tom Dooley's performing self: while his parents and brothers respond bashfully to the camera, Tommy always occupies the center of the frame, blowing kisses in grand gestures to the sky, dangling a big fish from the dock, or beaming from atop a fine-looking horse. He appears as remote from members of his family as he is intimate with the camera. Dooley also spent several summers at a camp operated by Benedictine monks at Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City, Colorado, a popular destination among the St. Louis Catholic elite. The camp's former director recalled that Mrs. Dooley often personally accompanied her sons to Colorado in a limousine driven by the family's chauffeur; she was impressed by the range of activities available to the boys for what seemed to her such low cost. Her sons learned some Native American folklore and horsemanship while encamped at the monks' lodge, overlooking their base camp from an elevation of 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.

    In 1940 Tom Dooley entered Saint Louis University High School, the oldest school west of the Mississippi. Founded in 1818 as Saint Louis Academy by Bishop William du Bourg, it was transferred to the custody of the Jesuits in 1827. With an enrollment of 650 students, the "U High" played a central role in training the Catholic elite of St. Louis. For decades St. Louisans have routinely determined the social position of strangers by inquiring, "Where did you go to high school?" Contemporaries of Dooley who attended one of the numerous St. Louis schools that were conducted by other religious orders, or by the archdiocese, often recalled several decades later the special sense of privilege associated with students at Saint Louis University High. In 1941 the official archdiocesan newspaper proclaimed of the school's mission: "It is the humble endeavor of an all-Jesuit faculty, assisted by five highly qualified laymen, to produce real Catholic men who will take their place as future leaders in St. Louis." Yet while some observers and Dooley's classmates recalled him as being quiet and pleasant, and others remembered a cocky showoff, all agreed that he remained aloof from the conventional groupings that comprised the student body. Tom Dooley was unathletic and uninterested in politics or intellectual issues, and while he performed well enough in some of his classes, he failed to make a lasting impression on either his teachers or his peers.

    Dooley focused his energies instead on the highly elaborate milieu of St. Louis Catholic society, becoming the male equivalent of a debutante. Between 1920 and 1940, American Catholic leaders had dramatically intensified their efforts to organize the laity through the creation of a wide range of institutions which, while often mirroring secular organizations, featured clerical supervision. A renewed conviction of the Church's mission in serving the Mystical Body of Christ energized the corporatist ideology promoted by a variety of zealots and reformers, from the social theorist Msgr. John A. Ryan (dubbed "the Right Reverend New Dealer" for his affinity with Democratic legislative efforts in the 1930s) to the immensely popular "radio priest," Father Charles Coughlin.

    Coughlin's increasingly divisive message won him his share of adherents in Depression-era St. Louis, but the local Catholic scene featured a relatively self-confident outlook, especially compared with that found in the major dioceses to the north and east. Tom Dooley blithely traveled in the same social circles as such prominent debutantes as Ann Farrar Desloges, a member of a highly prominent French Catholic family; in 1946 she was crowned "Queen of the Veiled Prophet" at the climax of a vaguely "pagan" annual event that marked the high point of the social calendar for prosperous St. Louisans of many persuasions.

    A prominent St. Louis Jesuit and Dooley family friend, Daniel Lord, was national director of a devotional fraternity for young people, the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin. By the time Tom Dooley joined in the early 1940s, the Sodality had enrolled over two million members nationwide. Lord "revitalized the Sodality both through the force of his own personality and by linking the organization to the newly emergent concept of Catholic Action." Pope Pius XI (1922-39) encouraged lay involvement in promoting the Church's "corporatist interests." But in heavily Catholic cities like St. Louis (as early as 1842 Charles Dickens could write, following his visit there, that "the Roman Catholic religion ... prevails extensively"), the Church's organizing principle extended well beyond conventional devotional activities. Daniel Lord helped found the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, which annually chose the Best Ten books by authors "in communion with the Universal Catholic Church." He also launched the Catholic Theater Conference in 1937, and with his encouragement parish dramatic clubs flourished in St. Louis in the 1930s and 1940s.

    While Tom Dooley dutifully participated in devotional groups like the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, he could also derive rich yet fully legitimate pleasures from the dances of the Fleur de Lis Catholic Cotillion, which held monthly formals under Church auspices in order for young people to acquire social graces and meet a variety of appropriate members of the opposite sex. They were directed to proper non-Catholic sources of recreation as well: Dooley joined the Civic Music League and frequented symphonic and operatic performances at Kiel Auditorium. After demonstrating a precocious aptitude for music, he was sent at a young age to the Leo Miller Studio for instruction in piano but, according to his mother, "Mr. Miller told us he lacked just some special thing, perhaps a bit of Latin blood or perhaps a bit of Jewish blood, that would keep him ever from becoming a pianist of any magnitude."

    Yet even as he cultivated his secular interests, Tom Dooley was continually reminded of the claims of the spirit. Father Daniel Lord wrote to Tom in February 1944 to apologize in advance for missing his upcoming piano recital: "I shall be in retreat at the time," he explained. Spiritual retreats were gaining prominence among affluent, devout Catholic youths in the late 1930s; the boys from Saint Louis University High made theirs at the Jesuits' white House, a secluded facility located along the banks of the Mississippi River. Dooley's notes meticulously preserved the tone of a retreat he experienced in 1943. "Every little thing must die," the retreat master had intoned. "Death is ever with us. The way we live is the way we die."

    The Jesuits expected their charges to integrate the spiritual insights nurtured on retreat into each facet of their lives. In what he called "a preposterous coincidence," the renowned democratic socialist visionary Michael Harrington was Dooley's classmate at Saint Louis University High: Tom "arranged my first date and we and the young ladies went to the movies in his family's chauffeur-driven limousine." In his autobiographical Fragments of the Century (1973), Harrington explained that at Saint Louis University High School, "something of the spirit of being shock troops of Christ on the perimeters of the Faith still persisted." As a budding intellectual Harrington was more impressed than Dooley by the Ratio Studiorum ("the traditional Jesuit theory of education formulated in 1559"), with its emphasis on Latin, Greek, and classical literature. Yet according to Harrington, the Jesuit principle came alive as well when a young scholastic spent an entire class period "discussing a popular song, `Wrong, would it be wrong to kiss, seeing we feel like this?' It was, he argued, a typical example of the rampant relativism and hedonism of the culture." The Jesuit system, for Harrington, represented "the philosophical analogue of the daily experience of a closed, Catholic world." A nonintellectual like Tom Dooley had greater difficulty than Harrington in recognizing the boundaries of that world, but his old classmate knowingly argued that "each of us was motivated ... by the Jesuit inspiration of our adolescence that insisted so strenuously that a man must live his philosophy."

    As a "pious apostate" from Catholicism, Michael Harrington could depict the "ghetto Catholicism" of his upbringing with a cool detachment Tom Dooley never affected. Harrington enjoyed an only slightly less privileged boyhood than Dooley's. "And yet," he wrote, "even that happy, secure and relatively unresentful world was a ghetto ... we did not know British imperialists, Yankee bosses, or Protestant princes first hand, yet they haunted our every waking moment. Above all, our ghettoization had been institutionalized by a Roman Catholic Church which had been engaged in a defensive struggle against the modern world for four hundred years or more."

    Catholic leaders in St. Louis thus reinforced their authority among young elites by offering a separate experience, spiritual as well as social, and by promoting an appreciation of secular high culture when they could not provide a surrogate of their own. Tom Dooley was shielded from the popular culture of the many rural Southern whites who had migrated to St. Louis, and remained a stranger to the extensive African American milieu of the city. Dooley surely missed the opportunity to hear his contemporary Miles Davis, son of a dentist from East St. Louis, apprenticing with trumpeter Clark Terry and other local musicians at places like the Riviera Club (The Riviera, located at Delmar and Taylor, just a few crucial blocks north of Dooley's grammar school, occupies a large space in jazz folklore because it was there Miles Davis first heard bebop pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; Davis left for New York in 1944 and later condemned St. Louis as "racist to the bone.") Less than a mile to the northeast of the Riviera, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born at 2520 Goode Avenue in October 1926, just three months prior to the arrival of Thomas A. Dooley III. Chuck Berry would invest his knowledge of all the musical cultures of St. Louis—from white country to pop to rhythm and blues—into the new music he helped invent, rock and roll.

    Tommy Dooley's musical innovations were less ambitious, but he still managed to earn his reputation as a nonconformist while serving as the organist at the elegant Annunziata Church in Ladue: during Mass he enriched the sacred music with licks drawn from such pop tunes as "Largo" and "Sleepy Lagoon." Dooley was also notorious, in his role as an altar boy, for whacking his friends under the chin with a paten designed to prevent the consecrated Eucharist from falling to the ground during the offering of Communion. Annunziata was a new parish reflecting the migration of Catholics toward the wealthy suburbs of St. Louis County, although there was still but one other Catholic family in Fair Oaks when the Dooleys moved to that "private place" in 1940. A member of that other family, Maryanne Sell, was Tom's age and quickly befriended him; she kept a diary that poignantly captured the sense of youthful gaiety shattered by events suddenly intruding on their teenage idyll.

    On the gray afternoon of December 7, 1941, Tom and Maryanne traipsed through the woods behind her house to feed the ducks at the Bogey Golf Club, before returning to hear the news that permanently altered the course of their lives. Soon Dooley's older brother Earle, a graduate (like his adoptive father) of Culver Military Academy, departed from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service to enlist in the army. Yet on the surface, life proceeded with a minimum of disruption for the young Catholic socialites; war rationing and shortages interfered only slightly with their affairs. In 1943 the patronesses of the Cotillion decided that, in light of "existing conditions, particularly with regard to the new shoe regulations ... while they prefer dinner coats or formal dress, dark suits with matching trousers and black or brown shoes will be acceptable."

    Maryanne and Tom continued to skate on Bogey's pond, attend the concerts of the Civic Music League (where Dooley specialized in cadging backstage autographs of touring musical dignitaries), and party in the basement "rathskellers" at the homes of their many friends. Tommy Dooley was quite a romantic. The night that he "played beautifully" on a radio broadcast, he brought Maryanne "a dark red rose that had won a blue ribbon in the flower show." On April 25, 1943, the sixteen-year-olds had lunch at the Statler Hotel, attended a touring production of Macbeth with Judith Anderson and Maurice Evans, took in an evening movie, and joined three carloads of friends at Crossroads, a drive-in restaurant in suburban Clayton favored by night people and adolescents with automobiles. Maryanne was a student at Villa Duchesne, an exclusive high school for Catholic girls run by the same Sacred Heart nuns who operated Barat Hall. Once, while she was on retreat on the school grounds, Tommy telephoned the convent for no apparent reason, causing her much fear and embarrassment. Not long afterward, Dooley suddenly grew emotionally distant, and Maryanne discerned a puzzling, inexplicable change in his temperament during his last year in high school that resulted in the end of their friendship.

    Dooley had always been the center of attention at parties and routinely walked into the homes of his friends "like he owned the joint," but now he often acted surly and distant. To many of his acquaintances he represented an odd mixture of extrovert and loner, capable of swaggering into a party to immediately commandeer the piano (once he even played from the back of a pickup truck moving down Grand Avenue) and just as suddenly disappear. At his senior prom, held at the exclusive Missouri Athletic Club, Dooley convinced some male friends to ditch their dates and join him for a dip in the club's pool. Despite such antics Tommy Dooley was generally viewed as an affable, if unpredictable, fellow who chose to reserve a large private space between himself and his friends, especially where any discussion of the Dooley family was concerned.

     He began spending time with a girl suffering from degenerative rheumatoid arthritis; they would bake cookies while spraying flour all over themselves and around the kitchen. Some of his friends believed this relationship provided an early glimpse of a compassionate spirit that belied the frivolity of most of his youthful activities; many acquaintances later recalled a "serious side" beyond his frantic showmanship. In 1943 Dooley began the extensive traveling that dominated the remainder of his life. He toured Mexico in July, then spent several weeks that summer with his family at the elegant Monmouth Hotel along the "Irish Riviera" in Spring Lake, New Jersey (a girl he met there said that for the Irish Americans, vacationing at Spring Lake "was like you had died and gone to heaven"). From there it was on to New York for the symphony and Broadway shows, lunches at the Oasis Room of the Waldorf Astoria (he would bivouac exclusively at the Waldorf during visits to New York in the years to come), and Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

    Travel may be broadening, but Dooley's cultural baggage was highly portable. Along the road he consorted almost exclusively with fellow well-to-do Irish Catholics who shared most of the assumptions of his St. Louis friends—"swell fish" like Bill Burke, the young tennis pro at the Monmouth Hotel. A girl he dated at Spring Lake sent him the prayer to St. Jude that he might pass his college entrance examinations. Another girl wrote to confirm her spiritual legitimacy lest Dooley resist her charms: "I promise that I will not bicker with you, But, BUT, I would like you to know that I am a very good Catholic and with a grandmother by the name of Fitzsimmons, Irish ... I want to set you on the right track."

    In November 1943 the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America responded to his inquiry by inviting Tom Dooley to visit their St. Louis office regarding "the important matter of your vocation." Dooley also contacted the army's Aviation Cadet Training program and took the qualifying test for the navy's wartime college program. His brother Earle was fighting in Europe, and Tom Dooley—who graduated from high school just as he turned seventeen in January 1944—felt he too should serve, but his parents insisted that he begin college instead. Making a choice among schools was not difficult. Tom had received adequate high school grades; the University of Notre Dame not only was the most prestigious Catholic college in America, but also offered extensive opportunities to combine military training and service with the pursuit of a higher education. Dooley was accepted for admission and enrolled for the 1944 winter semester. "I am very pleased to hear that you are going to Notre Dame;" wrote a Brooklyn Irish girl he had met at the Jersey shore. "That is my favorite college and Boy! what a team they have."

Tom Dooley was not a fan of collegiate football, but he became Notre Dame's most celebrated product despite spending only five erratic semesters and one summer in South Bend. He left without his degree in 1948 after being admitted to the medical school of Saint Louis University; premedical students of that era were often admitted after three years and Dooley's wealth of St. Louis connections may have compensated for an indifferent undergraduate record. He later forged a public relationship with Notre Dame that provided an archetypal model for all of his mythmaking; he came to symbolize the Notre Dame mystique even as he reshaped it in his own image, while remaining personally aloof from the communal ethos that suffused the institution. The paradox of Dooley's character is rehearsed as well in the memories of his classmates, who recall a cocky, loquacious boy who was at the same time a "bitter," "rebellious" loner.

    The war years dramatically affected the college experience everywhere, but at few institutions were the changes more evident than at Notre Dame, which housed the largest navy officer training program "of any Catholic school, and one of the largest in the country." In 1943 nine hundred officer candidates in the navy's V-12 program joined the twelve hundred men enrolled in the midshipmen's school established at Notre Dame the previous year; by the time Tom Dooley matriculated only seven hundred civilian students remained on campus. After deciding that he wanted to become a physician, Tom obtained his parents' grudging permission to enlist as a U.S. Navy medical corpsman with only two semesters of college work completed. He was in training at the Great Lakes Naval Station when word arrived that his half-brother Earle had been killed in Germany on November 18, 1944, at the battle of Hurtgen Forest. Earle had written an impassioned if illogical letter to his family to be read in the event of his death; he charged them to "see to it that any attempt to begin this slaughter anew is crushed at once, by force of arms if necessary!"

    After being trained as a pharmacist's mate at Great Lakes, Tom Dooley began his medical career tending to the broken bodies of servicemen returned from combat to the naval hospital at St. Albans, in Queens, New York, and later the Marine Hospital at San Diego. Since he "received patients in battle dress" at San Diego, presumably combat casualties, he could later claim to have served in "the Pacific theater of war." Shortly before the war ended Dooley was transferred to the U.S. Marines Medical Corps, but following additional training at Quantico, Virginia, he was shipped to Puerto Rico as part of a detail responsible for detonating surplus ammunition.

    Returning to Notre Dame in 1946 Dooley, like many veterans, sported a distinctly worldly air along with his U.S. Navy pea coat and combat boots; he enjoyed boasting about the many circumcision procedures he had performed as a pharmacist's mate. Notre Dame's legendary disciplinary code rivaled that of the service in its austere rigor and added a dose of muscular Catholicism for good measure: students were required to attend at least three weekly Masses in the chapels housed in each residence hall (Notre Dame's few non-Catholic students conducted check-ins for their fellows). Complaining about the system, then revering it in maturity, was a Notre Dame art form that Dooley celebrated in his legendary 1960 deathbed letter to the University's president, the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.: "Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it? I know I never did. Spent most of my time being angry at the clergy at school: 10 P.M. bed check, absurd for a 19-year old veteran, etc. etc. etc."

    Before Tom Dooley's time at Notre Dame, to "skive" meant "to absent oneself from a hall, without permission, after hours, at night, for private reasons ... skivers caught were compelled immediately to pack their trunks and forever go." An accomplished skiver, Dooley enjoyed a rare knack for ignoring rules without paying consequences, a source of much of his rakish mystique. Resident Notre Dame students were not allowed to keep cars on campus, yet several classmates recall the Cadillac convertible in which Dooley once tooled up alongside Cavanaugh Hall, accompanied by the attractive young female whose wealthy father owned the vehicle. Dooley never failed to attract a crowd when the time was right; classmates remembered him as a wisecracking, 1940s-style "character" who told bawdy jokes: "I was driving with my girlfriend and she said `please use two hands,'" began one such effort. "I'm sorry," said Tom, "I need one to drive with." On another occasion a hallmate stopped by his room to accompany Dooley to Sunday Mass only to be informed by Tom that, in the absence of a confessor on duty, he could not take Communion because on the previous evening he had visited a South Bend tavern and wound up examining firsthand a bluebird tattoo imprinted on the breast of a woman he had met there.

    Notre Dame students were not permitted to leave the campus overnight without letters of permission from their parents, yet Dooley frequently spent weekends with his sophisticated friends along the midwestern horse show and fox hunt circuit. He also spent a great deal of time at neighboring Saint Mary's College, a women's school where he played the piano and became a favorite of the college's poet-president, Sister M. Madeleva Wolff. He even made an appearance during 1944 in the chorus line at the fabled Empire Room of Chicago's Palmer House Hotel, where impresario Merriel Abbott booked the nation's most glamorous entertainers. The enormously popular chanteuse Hildegarde was rehearsing one afternoon for a performance when she saw a young man wheeling a piano across the stage of the Empire Room, histrionically wiping feigned perspiration from his brow. She introduced herself to the young collegian and on learning he was a Notre Dame student invited him to accompany her to the 2:00 A.M. "swinger's Mass" at St. Mary's Church in Chicago.

    Dooley was able to appear in Hildegarde's chorus line because, while still in his teens, he had become a highly spirited participant in the homosexual subcultures of the American armed forces, the Catholic Church, the hunt circuit, and various urban centers including New York and Chicago. Hildegarde was herself a devout Catholic with a large gay following: her campy nightclub act was rife with allusions to "Kinsey's whimseys" (after 1948) and other euphemisms for homosexuals in currency among entertainers of the period. Allan Berube, the chronicler of gay life in World War II, noted that "although nightclub entertainment was never publicly identified as gay, such performers as Hildegarde and Tallulah Bankhead attracted a devoted gay following, sometimes dropping veiled hints or singing lyrics with double meanings directed at their admirers."

    From the time that Dooley's homosexuality was first discussed publicly in 1989, it has been widely assumed that he must have suffered terribly for his sexuality. This view is not wholly unfounded, but it is equally true that from his adolescence onward, Tom Dooley made little effort to conceal his sexuality. He made frequent passes at male acquaintances; according to his classmate Michael Harrington, Tom had a sexual relationship with a young cleric that was anything but secretive, at least so far as Harrington was concerned. A gay friend who served with Dooley as a marine corpsman recalled that far from being confused or tormented by his sexuality, Tom confidently exploited his appeal to gay officers in order to receive choice assignments.

    In fact Dooley's precocious talent for trumping military authority and protocol—often a function of his gay connections—may have caused him later to overestimate dangerously his own prowess. In Promises to Keep, Agnes Dooley proudly described Tom's coup in arranging for an impromptu visit by Hildegarde to the U.S. Navy Hospital at St. Alban's, where he was stationed in 1945: "Hildegarde had arrived on schedule, all right, but she refused to budge unless Corpsman Dooley personally escorted her through the hospital. Followed by all the Navy brass—`It was the first time in my life I preceded anyone of rank,' Tom wrote—Hildegarde took Tom's arm, went into Tom's ward, entertained Tom's patients, and then toured the entire hospital."

    Long before his sexuality became an issue, Dooley was known for his compulsive if often charming nonconformity. The Notre Dame dean responsible for premedical students recalled "there were times when he was a student here that I could have wrung his neck with pleasure; certainly he had a brashness that must have irked the braid of the high brass in the Navy." Yet when he was not acting out his flamboyant public roles Dooley appeared genuinely touched by the pervasive spirituality of Notre Dame. He regularly served Mass for an Irish priest, Father Lawrence Broughal, a philosophy teacher and a popular confessor who spoke often of the responsibility of Catholics to apply the Church's teachings to public affairs. Notre Dame banned social fraternities in favor of a more inclusive vision of brotherhood. Dooley later recalled the urgency of religion professor Father Paul Doherty's pronouncements on the "oneness of mankind" when he asserted: "My years in Asia have proved to me that the brotherhood of man exists as certainly as does the fatherhood of God." Dooley was among the few Anglo members of Notre Dame's Inter-American club, dedicated to promoting hemispheric cooperation (Jose Napoleon Duarte, the future president of El Salvador, was also a member of the club; he and his brother had decided to attend Notre Dame after viewing the film Knute Rockne, All American, starring Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan).

    Dooley's public religiosity was often dismissed by his later critics as mere showmanship: his December 1960 letter to Reverend Hesburgh featured a tone suitable for the framing it later received. Yet while the letter demonstrated a mastery of the often sentimental piety of Notre Dame, it also hinted at Dooley's struggle with the limits of the genre, a central issue in his writing as in his life. His was the spiritual journey of a complex individual who persisted in the effort to reconcile wildly conflicting impulses, for the sake of his audience as well as for himself. He wrote to Hesburgh that despite his illness, "nothing human or earthly can touch me. A milder storm of peace gathers in my heart. What seems unpossessable, I can possess. What seems unfathomable, I fathom. What is unutterable, I can utter. Because I can pray. I can communicate. How do people endure anything on earth if they cannot have God?"

    Dooley understood that he owed something to the millions of American Catholics who partook of the mystical dimension of Notre Dame. Shortly after his death an engraved copy of his letter to Hesburgh was placed in the Grotto of Our Lady, a lovely replica of the shrine at Lourdes and the focal point of personal spirituality at Notre Dame, as well as an immensely popular attraction for campus visitors. In 1986 a statue depicting Dooley with adoring Lao children was placed nearby; his is the dominant human presence at the Grotto. In 1960 Tom traveled to the original Lourdes shrine, despite his own reservations about the shrine's healing powers or his own worthiness to receive them. The derivative language of his message to Hesburgh barely conceals a similar desire for the sentiments to acquire an authentic life of their own, as if in vindication of their author:

But just now, and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto, Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass.... If I could go to the Grotto now, then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion. This is soggy sentimentalism, I know.... So, Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame is ... always in my heart. That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored.

    Of Notre Dame the novelist Richard Sullivan wrote simply, "The story is a mystery story ... this place, this present, living fact of Notre Dame, is unfathomable." Remembered by one classmate above all for his haunted laughter, Dooley glimpsed at Notre Dame the source of some of that mystery; gifted with a peculiar genius, he went on to extend his presence in the Mystical Body to an audience who—without surrendering their fealty to the Fighting Irish—yearned for the bolder spiritual adventures embraced by the jungle doctor of Laos.

In June 1948 Tom Dooley sailed for Paris aboard the SS Marine Marlin as a reward from his parents for gaining admission to medical school. He wrote almost daily to his family, a habit that greatly facilitated the composition of his first book. These letters are the earliest extant samples of Dooley's writing and reveal—aside from his jealousy of the "Princeton men" heading for a regatta in England (an early indication of the status worries that helped fuel his ambition)—the dutiful son he would remain through many hundreds of missives addressed from Southeast Asia to his mother. Yet puzzling hints of disorder occasionally disrupted the charmed tone of this abundantly blessed young man. Tom had planned to travel with a Notre Dame friend, but "then something came up which was not very nice" and he wound up living alone in a Paris pension but frequently hosting "numerous other fellows" he had met along the way.

     Through his old girlfriend Maryanne Sell, whose father was in the foreign service, Dooley was introduced to a distinguished Parisian family. Agnes Dooley's account of this meeting offers a representative sampling of Dooley mythology, with a focus on his spontaneity and effortless grace:

The Haizet family ... invited him to tea at their elegant apartment "right on the Seine near the Tour Eiffel." While Tom was there, some Chopin scores were delivered to Madame Haizet. "She asked me," wrote Tom, "whether I could play what she had and, by sheer accident, I could. Nor could I have had a better setting for Chopin. I just let myself go and played Chopin for nearly an hour. They are leaving Paris and going to their summer villa in Brittany. I have been invited to spend a few days there in August."

    Dooley desultorily attended a few lectures at the Sorbonne, but mostly he traveled; in his highly convincing guise as suave young American socialite, he cased American Express offices for well-heeled fellow countrywomen. He cadged elegant dates to the racetrack at Longchamps and the opera from a woman who, he confided to a St. Louis traveling companion, had to be worth at least $6 million. The friend noticed a trait Dooley later refined to perfection: an astounding ability to travel in first-class splendor on virtually no money. Nearing the end of the European holiday, he wrote from Brussels: "My heart is a little heavy in leaving Sorbonne days, Paris nights, Geneva fetes, Lucerne music festivals, Matterhorn heights, Brittany hospitality and all, but I shall be so glad, so very glad to see that Lady of Liberty and all she stands for." Within a decade Tom Dooley would be celebrated as one of the world's greatest and most self-sacrificing humanitarians, but for now he anxiously upgraded his return passage on a luxury liner to avoid the "many D.P.'s" (displaced persons) fleeing those parts of Europe not on the itinerary of indomitable young Americans.


If Notre Dame planted the seed of Christian service in Tom Dooley's soul, his disastrous, humiliating years at Saint Louis University School of Medicine provided the incentive that drove him to seek worldly acclaim as a physician-savior. The precise reason why Dooley was forced to repeat his final year—a well-tended secret at the medical school—spawned an array of theories that meshed neatly with the broader outlines of Dooley folklore. Mrs. Dooley blamed a vindictive faculty member, a theme that would recur whenever Tom clashed with authority figures. Others cited Dooley's frequent appearances in the society pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and his habit of turning up late for class still clad in riding attire. Variants on this theme place Dooley at either the Kentucky Derby during final exams in 1952 or perched atop the celebrated jumper "Miss Budweiser" in a horse show at Madison Square Garden. Even his mother admitted that he "thought nothing of cutting an exam for more engaging activities like a fox hunt." Tom was also alleged to have spent more time lining up wealthy female St. Louisans as future patients for his practice as a "society obstetrician" than in fulfilling his clinical duties. He was reported to have telephoned a professor on the eve of a final examination asking that he be excused. Once he had talked his way out of taking the test, Dooley reportedly exulted: "It's a good thing, since I'm calling from Paris."

    Just as he had at Notre Dame, Dooley became in medical school a highly conspicuous figure and an object of fascination, envy, and disdain while remaining totally remote from the daily life of the institution. A 1950 clipping from the society page of an Indianapolis newspaper provides a hint of the life Dooley pursued with much greater vigor than he lent his medical studies: "Last Saturday night at Woodstock Jeanne Robinson and Tom Dooley of St. Louis, Dave Moxley's week-end house guest, were having a wonderful time waltzing away amid the hearts and flowers setting of the Valentine's dance. They thought the floor surprisingly deserted, only two other couples were enjoying with them the Viennese waltzes. Then they found out why! They were participating in a waltz contest!"

    David Moxley was a member of the Yale class of 1943 who as an army officer in World War II socialized with the horsemen of the Philadelphia Troop, a famed corps of gentlemen officers whose organization dated to the Revolutionary era. Moxley, who had met Tom Dooley on the midwestern hunt circuit, found him to be an aggressively charming young man whom he was pleased to introduce to distinguished friends at the Trader's Point Club in Indianapolis. He recalled that Dooley "was not of the Methodist persuasion" when it came to accepting a cocktail; his companions never feared a dull moment or lull in the conversation so long as the young St. Louis horseman was in the room. Dooley was one of the few riders to whom Moxley would gladly loan a horse and "give a leg up"; it was Tom's "surgeon's hands," he recalled, that separated him from the common herd of riders.

    Dooley commuted to medical school in his yellow convertible from the comparatively modest West End home where the family had moved during the war. His father had supervised the production of more than fifteen thousand army tanks at American Car and Foundry, but neighbors believed that reversals in Mr. Dooley's personal finances plagued the family. In November 1948, while his wife was "knitting argyll socks" and his sons Tom and Eddie Mike were visiting their brother Malcolm at Notre Dame, Mr. Dooley was stricken by a fatal heart attack outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Forsyth Boulevard in University City. Thomas A. Dooley Sr.'s death had been front-page news in St. Louis, but although his son had succeeded him as district manager of ACF, Dooley Jr. was relegated to a modest notice on the obituary page, the photograph revealing a rather haunted-looking sixty-three-year-old man. Several years earlier he had written to his eldest surviving son on ACF letterhead as Tom prepared to leave for Notre Dame; no adjustment for the rigid proprieties of the era can ameliorate the pained distance evident between these men or the father's faltering efforts to establish a bond between them, in signing the letter "always your pal."

    Although Tom Dooley and his father had never been close, the latter's death removed a source of authority that moderated the more frenetic aspects of Tom's nature. Agnes Dooley later claimed that despite his father's death, her son "went right on with his kind of double life—the one face buoyant, gay, garrulous and the other high-minded, compassionate and reflective." Yet few others in St. Louis observed the latter attributes, recalling instead the day Tom put his new horse on the elevator at St. Mary's Hospital to impress a patient on his internship rounds, or the time he impulsively dragged a friend into Archbishop Glennon's residence for an unannounced visit (years later, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York told Dooley that he had heard of the incident from Glennon himself). He established a tremendous rapport with younger patients and routinely skipped classes and missed tests to take children to the circus or for rides in his convertible, often stopping for ice cream at Frank Monaco's drugstore on the South Side. Tom was especially fond of young "delinquents." "They looked like thugs," his mother recalled, "but they were Tom's friends." Dooley often brought these youths to the family home, and "after they left," according to his brother Malcolm, "mom would count the silverware."

    The faculty at the medical school were enraged by Dooley's irresponsibility, but his family's prominence (an otherwise modest Jesuit at the university surprised one of Dooley's friends by boasting that he socialized with Tom's parents) placed them in an awkward position. Although Saint Louis University and the city had come a long way since nativists trashed the fledgling medical school in 1849 (the sight of parts of a cadaver on the grounds inflamed Know-Nothing hysteria over Catholic "abuses, cruelties, and profanations perpetrated in hospitals"), Dooley's antics threatened to rekindle the disrepute Catholic educators had struggled so hard to overcome. In fact many Catholic universities had adopted a disciplinary model akin to that at Notre Dame precisely to bolster the image of their schools as rigorous, highly respectable institutions. The year before Dooley entered the medical school its longtime dean, Alphonse M. Schwitalla, S.J., resigned due to failing health. Schwitalla had been a leading proponent of rigorous standards for Catholic higher education but he lacked medical training; his departure signaled an opportunity for a "medical man" to elevate the school's reputation.

    Melvin A. Casberg, a peripatetic medical educator and a Protestant with a great interest in missionary work, was appointed dean in 1949, only to clash immediately with the school's Jesuit regent, Edward T. Foote. Casberg was highly sympathetic with Tom Dooley's impulsive worldliness and his resistance to authority; he became a key patron who bailed Dooley out of more than one self-created predicament. But Casberg was forced out of his position in 1952 by the rather dour Father Foote, who, with the encouragement of several prominent faculty members, promptly declared open season on Dooley and other miscreants among the student body. One of Dooley's few friends at the medical school was a young Hawaiian of Chinese descent (Tom was also close to the only female student in his class) who ultimately failed to graduate and who later insisted that Father Foote did indeed have a personal vendetta against Dooley; even if this is true, however, Tom had supplied more than ample grounds for his own expulsion. Dooley was repeatedly warned to reform his ways, but feeling immune from threats of expulsion or disgrace, he persisted in his carousings and received the shock of his life when the administration finally called his bluff, shortly before the class of 1952 graduated. Informed that he must repeat his entire senior year, a chastened Dooley told a Notre Dame friend that he would sell his convertible as well as Jim Hawkins, his horse.

    The convertible may have been relinquished but the horsemanship was too precious for Dooley to give up for long. His new social headquarters in St. Louis was the Bridlespur Hunt Club, founded by August A. Busch Jr. in the mid-1920s after he was apparently blackballed by the Saint Louis Country Club. Dooley regularly cooled his heels at the club while evading the scrutiny of his adversaries at the medical school, who were generally content to travel by foot, public conveyance, or automobile. Reporting on Bridlespur's first annual horse show in 1928, the S t. Louis Post-Dispatch had noted that "the competitors were the club's charter members, and the spectators ranged from those noted in the Social Register to those lucky to be found in the telephone book." According to Stephen Birmingham, chronicler of America's would-be aristocracy, "some sports purists claim that fox hunting is not properly a sport at all ... it is, they argue, merely an equine fashion show at which the hunters display their custom-made pink coats, their skin-fitting white breeches, and their three-thousand dollar boots; a pastime for social climbers."

    Tom Dooley was so proud of his pink jacket that he sometimes wore it to class at the medical school. Although his "innocent arrogance" later proved no match for the East Coast patricians and intelligence operatives who tended the aura that flickered around him, Bridlespur rewarded a bravado that confirmed Dooley as not just another wisecracking urban Irishman on the make. Even if after more than a half-century the Dooleys are still retrospectively denied a place within what an acquaintance called "the cream of St. Louis society," Tom certainly acted the part and could scarcely have imagined the price he would later pay for lacking a genuine mastery of the world's harsher workings.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Prologue: The Man in the Song 1
1: What Tommy Knew 12
2: The Storyteller on Ice in Haiphong 34
3: Deliver Us from Dooley 66
4: The Vietnam Lobby 90
5: A Madison Avenue Schweitzer 116
6: Jungle Doctor for a New Age 149
7: The Handsome American 174
8: This Is Your Life 202
9: Where Are the Serpents? 225
10: "And miles to go...." 252
Notes 265
Index 295
Illustrations follow................................pages 114 and 210
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