In Showtime’s historical series ‘Fellow Travelers,’ Timothy “Tim” Laughlin is a Fordham University graduate who ends up in the State of Washington to be a part of Republican campaigns and find a job. His life takes a turn when he meets and gets acquainted with Hawkins “Hawk” Fuller, who offers him a position to serve Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Tim soon gets into a relationship with Hawk and learns that the latter wants him to work as a spy who keeps an eye on McCarthy’s actions and intentions. Since Tim is placed among several infamous real-life figures, one can’t help but wonder whether he is based on a real person.
Tim Laughlin and Thomas Mallon
The character of Tim Laughlin was conceived by Thomas Mallon for ‘Fellow Travelers,’ his 2007 novel which serves as the source material of the series. Mallon initially intended to write a non-fiction book about the 1950s, focusing on the McCarthyism that defined the period. Soon, he changed his plans and decided to explore the same using two fictional characters as protagonists, which led to the creation of Tim. Although Mallon and his character lived two lives, the author admitted to having a personal connection with the latter.
“When I started to make notes on him [Tim], the first thing I put down was ‘Date of birth: November 2, 1931’ – exactly twenty years earlier than mine. I realized that in some ways I was going to be writing about what my own life might have been like had I been born two decades earlier,” Mallon said about conceiving Tim. As someone who lived and worked in Washington, D.C., the author was already familiar with the milieu of Tim’s life, which helped him create the character authentically.
Several of Mallon’s personal experiences were integrated into Tim. “I am closer to Tim than to Hawk – I grew up in Tim’s world and in Tim’s parish. But then I became a scholarship student at Brown University and met people with background and pedigrees,” the author told Boston Lyric Opera. In the same interview, he also revealed that Tim’s “grandmother is a hideous caricature of a member of my own family.” Although these parallels exist between Mallon and Tim, the latter has even more significant similarities with the gay men who lived in the 1950s.
The Conservative Gay
Tim is a devoted Catholic, which makes him conflicted about accepting his sexual orientation. Since Catholic beliefs don’t approve of being gay, he ponders whether he is committing a sin just by being himself and true to his emotions. This dilemma as a Catholic is something experienced by several queer individuals of the same period, which makes the character true to life. “Tim Laughlin’s being both gay and conservative: there is no inherent paradox or contradiction to such an identity. Being gay and Catholic? A trickier proposition, but I think God would laugh at the idea of its being a dealbreaker,” Mallon told National Review about the same.
Tim is also a conservative Republican who harbors strong anti-Communist values. However, his fellow Republicans end up threatening his identity as happened in the 1950s, which is described as the Lavender Scare. As the series depicts, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 paved the way for the investigation and removal of gay and lesbian individuals from the federal government. The policies associated with the same deemed same-sex relationships as “sexual perversion.” Thousands of people suffered due to the Lavender Scare and the victims of the same were not just federal employees who lost their jobs but also every queer person whose existence was questioned.
Tim represents this group of people who had to withdraw themselves from society due to the government’s unfounded fear that gay men and lesbians “posed a threat to national security because they were vulnerable to blackmail and were considered to have weak moral characters,” as per historian David K. Johnson.