Movie Philomena True Story: If you were a homosexual guy in Washington working in politics in the early to mid-1980s, there’s a good chance you landed yourself on L Street near Capitol Hill, at a pub called Lost & Found. A lot of Hill staffers frequented the slightly run-down-looking bar, which featured occasional drag shows and a crowded dance floor. Its distinctive architectural feature was that it had no windows facing the street, providing patrons with a level of protection from unwary passers-by, and it was also a popular hangout for Hill staffers after hours. People may drink and gaze at the stars in the outside area, but even it was kept hidden from public view by a wall.
It was here that you could run across Michael Hess, a former lawyer for the Republican National Committee during the Reagan and Bush administrations who was somewhat of a fixture on the scene (at least during his early days in Washington). As a DJ, you may have seen him about town, spinning records in clubs and on the radio station of the George Washington University, where he was well-known for his diverse taste in music, which ranged from Grace Jones to the Grateful Dead, among other things.
In 1951, after getting pregnant out of wedlock in Ireland, a young Lee was abandoned by her father and forced to live and work in a convent with other unmarried mothers, where she remained until her death in 2005. She put her son Anthony up for adoption when he was three years old, in return for a large gift from the convent’s sisters. The nuns informed the adoptive parents that Anthony was an orphan, and they accepted the offer. Unbeknownst to Lee, she watched from an upstairs window as strangers drove away with her kid in their car.
For the following 50 years, Lee kept Anthony’s identity a secret from everyone. She reasoned that this was just the way things worked for sinners in the Catholic Church.
But one day, she confessed her secret to her daughter, Jane Libberton, who immediately set out to find Lee’s long-lost son, who had been presumed dead. Lee’s journey was not without difficulties: Irish law makes it very difficult for adopted children to discover about their biological parents and birth certificates, and the nuns at the convent where she resided refused to provide her with any information she requested. The following is how Libberton eventually put out Anthony’s identity: His American parents had given him the middle name of Michael Hess, and he had grown up to be a senior attorney for the Republican National Committee.
Having grown up in the Midwest, Mr. Hess was reared in a Catholic household and went on to get degrees from both Notre Dame and the George Washington University law school. As he grew older, he gradually came to terms with his sexuality, dated a number of different guys until settling into a long-term relationship with Steve Dahllof, who worked in public relations for the Food Marketing Institute, then the National Restaurant Association. During the week, the couple resided in an apartment at Wyoming, a magnificent old prewar building on Columbia Road that was built in the 1920s. On weekends, they would go to their farmhouse in West Virginia, which was supplied with three dogs that they had adopted from the Humane Society of the Mountain States.