Timothy Hobson, the son of Priscilla Hiss and her first husband
Thayer Hobson, was born in 1926 and was raised by the Hisses
(who married in 1929). In the 1950s, Hobson put himself through
medical school in Switzerland and was later chief surgical
resident at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco. Dr. Hobson
is now retired and living in the Bay Area. This interview
was conducted in April 2001.
Hobson in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s.
How old were you when you moved to Washington with your mother
I was three when Alger and Pros married. We were living in
New York then. We moved to Washington when he joined the government
in 1933, so I was around seven.
During the 1930s, do you recall political discussions around
the dinner table between your parents or with guests?
They were very liberal Democrats. I don't recall any discussions
where they took a communist point of view. Prossy may have
been inclined toward socialism a little bit, but they were
both rabid Democrats. New Dealers.
It's been said that your parents began using the Quaker "thee"
and "thy" under the influence of Noel Field, who
was also accused of being a spy. Do you remember when that
Prossy was a Swarthmore graduate, and it probably went back
to those days. It made her a little bit distinctive. She was
not a practicing Quaker at the time.
Do you recall Field visiting the house?
No, he is only a name to me.
When the FBI asked you in 1949 about Whittaker Chambers, you
had no memory of his being in the house.
I have no recollection at all of ever seeing that man. I'm
sure that I did see him, because I do recollect his
wife and child staying at our house on P Street [the
Hisses lived there from the spring of 1935 to June 1936],
and if he was around at the time, I would have seen him,
but I don't recall it now, and I didn't then. Certainly,
if he had been around every two weeks and having dinner
with us and being such a close family friend, I would
What do you recall of his wife and daughter?
Nothing very much, except Mrs. Chambers painted a picture
of me there at the P Street house.
Didn't you undergo a "truth serum" test, receiving
sodium amytal, a variant of sodium pentothal, to see if you
had memories of Chambers' visits? When was it done, and what
Yes, it was done by the defense lawyers in 1950 or 1951 just
prior to my leaving the country to go to Europe to medical
school. The session took over two hours as I recall and was
carefully administered by an anesthesiologist in the lawyer's
offices downtown. It did not reveal any recollection of my
ever knowing or remembering Whittaker Chambers despite his
alleged closeness to the Hiss family. That fact didn't surprise
me as I never could recall him consciously at all either and
I knew his story to be untrue. A transcript of the interview
is on tape and a typed summary exists in the files.
Tell me about your accident where you broke your leg.
We were living on 30th Street at the time [the accident was
in February 1937; the Hisses had moved to 30th Street in June
1936]. I went down on a hill on a bicycle. I had installed
a siren on it, and I thought everybody would stop for me,
but when I went through a stop sign a car hit me. It was a
bad accident, and my hospitalization was complicated by the
fact that I had a severe reaction to the tetanus shot, and
I got lockjaw. I was in a cast four months at least, maybe
That was the period Chambers said he was a regular visitor
at the house picking up documents to be sent to Russia. But
when he was asked by members of HUAC to provide details about
Alger and Priscilla's lives at the time, he made no mention
whatsoever about you being in a cast.
I was in a cast in the front bedroom. I was immobilized for
well over a month. If he was in the house, he would have known
about it, and I would have known he was there.
And you recall other family friends who were in and out of
At the trial, your next door neighbor, Geoffrey May, testified
that if there had been a lot of typing going on in the house,
he would have heard it, and he didn't.
That's right, because there were very thin walls. I have no
specific recollection of hearing the neighbors but have a
vague memory that we were asked not to play music at odd hours
or too loud, and this would have applied to the piano which
I think I recall being there in the living room, [Chambers
failed to mention it when he was asked if the Hisses had a
piano; see Chambers' August 7, 1948
HUAC testimony] and I certainly don't recall my mother
doing any typing that would correspond to all those damned
documents, and I don't think she was even qualified to do
Was she a touch typist?
[Laughs] I would say a feel typist, not a touch typist.
Chambers claimed you were placed in a succession of schools,
and that each was less expensive than the previous one. He
said Alger and Priscilla were taking the difference in tuition
that was being given to them by your father and handing it
over to the Communist Party. Was it true?
That was false. The schools were more expensive, and Alger
had to dip into his pocket to pay the difference because my
father did not pay it.
In 1948, when you first heard about Whittaker Chambers' charges
against your stepfather, did you connect them to the man who
had stayed in your apartment years before?
No, because I had no idea who Chambers was.
What was your reaction when you first heard about the charges?
That the whole thing was ridiculous. That wasn't Alger.
Did you volunteer to testify?
I always did from beginning, long before the FBI began their
shenanigans on me.
What did they do?
Let me go back a bit. I volunteered for the Navy at age 17
and went into a program called the V-12 Officer Training Program.
They saw fit to put me into an engineering college program.
During that time, my homosexual inclinations and activities,
which had begun in high school, continued. I had a strong
internal conflict between who I was and what I was doing and
what was expected of me as a Naval officer. I didn't know
who to talk to about it, so I went and talked to the Navy
doctor up in Union College in Schenectady. He didn't know
what to do. He looked it up in the book, and then he threw
the book at me, and I received an undesirable discharge in
was working in a nightclub in New York when I found out from
friends that the FBI had come around to see them. Then they
interviewed me. That was in early 1949. I think they were
talking to my friends so they could demonstrate to me and
the family that they knew all about my activities. But when
they spoke to me, they didn't threaten me.
But afterward didn't Alger feel they would try to hurt you
if you testified?
I don't think Alger was homophobic, but he had an old-fashioned
Baltimore morality, and I don't think he had any concept of
how many people around him were homosexual and what that life
was like. When he decided not to have me testify, I think
he was legitimately saying he didn't want "Timmy"
to be hurt, but I think the lawyers were saying, they didn't
want Alger to be hurt. I suspect it would have hurt Alger
to have it brought in front of the jury that he had a homosexual
the other hand, I have never quite forgiven [Lloyd Paul] Stryker
[Hiss's attorney in the first trial] for not once turning
to Chambers and saying, "Are you now or have you ever
been a homosexual?" because that would have blown the
whole case out of the water. It would have opened up a whole
bag of worms for the prosecution. I think Chambers would
have had to have hedged because he had already given sworn
testimony about it to the FBI.
But the defense didn't know about that, although they had
They did, but they didn't follow through. They didn't have
the guts to do it. But I don't think they would have lost
anything. They had the names of one or two people that
he had contact with years before. There was a fellow named
"Bub" who was the little boy that he was living
with out on Long Island.
Do you think your testimony would have still helped Alger
if they had brought out your own background?
I think it would have helped Alger to have me say, "I
was there at the time, and Chambers wasn't." And I think
it might have backfired on Murphy if he started to smear me.
Were there ever any arguments about your testifying?
No. I offered, but I was told that the lawyers didn't want
me to. Claude Cross
[Hiss's attorney in the second trial] was a very uptight lawyer,
but I was surprised Stryker didn't get going on it.
Do you believe Chambers' homosexuality supplies the motive
in this case?
I certainly think there are some psycho-sexual aspects to
the case which have not been adequately brought out. The only
real explanation that I have for why Chambers did what he
did was out of frustration that Alger never responded to him.
There was the story that he kept a piece of cloth he had taken
from your house; that he kept it and washed it and rewashed
it over the years.
There was all of that memorabilia that [Meyer] Zeligs
heard about and saw when he went out to the farm. I think
Zeligs really got it right. He gave an in-depth and understanding
summary of both Alger and Chambers. It's a shame that nobody
has really followed his approach to the case. I think it was
because he got too close to the truth, and the powerful figures
in publishing and the Buckleys and the rest of them are not
going to permit that sort of thing to be said. Instead, they
make a national monument out of the man.
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