Thus far, published references to Henry Cowell's imprisonment consistently obscure the facts of his case and overlook virtually all of the essential primary sources, including court documents, correspondence, psychological evaluations, and even Cowell's own writings on the subject. Although Cowell acceded to a charge that he had engaged in homosexual activities with a minor, the charge was distorted by newspapers and both exaggerated and minimized by his friends. The extraordinary prison sentence Cowell received resulted largely from a misleading letter by a juvenile probation officer, written amid a political climate of severe antipathy toward sex offenders. During Cowell's incarceration, several leading psychologists evaluated the composer according to then-prevalent theories of homosexuality. These psychologists, along with several officers of the court, expressed faith in the composer's "rehabilitation" and their recommendations helped secure the composer a parole. Political changes in California and the entry of the United States into World War II paved the way for a pardon, which was granted primarily so that Cowell could work on a government project known as "cultural defense." Despite his impressive accomplishments in prison and the positive resolution of his case, Cowell never fully recovered from the experience. Scholarly repression of the facts ensued and led to fragmented, inaccurate accounts of the prison years. Hence, this part of Cowell's life provides a useful test case on some persistent issues in musical biography.

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