JFK: The women in his life

JFK and his wife Jackie

THERE was glamorous Jackie, of course. And mother Rose, who nurtured his White House ambitions. And all the others: a movie star, a teenaged intern, a mistress with Mafia ties and more.

John F. Kennedy had a complicated relationship with women, many women.

Either he embraced them as pillars of strength on his journey to the US presidency, or he toyed with them to satisfy a unfathomable libido, in a “Mad Men” era when alpha males called the shots.

“It depended on the woman,” said Larry Sabato, author of the just-published bestseller The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.

“He could be gracious and respectful of those with power and influence,” said Sabato,director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“But JFK had a nearly insatiable sexual appetite — and in our terms today, he treated young and beautiful women as sexual objects.”

Central to the Kennedy narrative was Jackie, the former Jacqueline Bouvier, born into affluence in Jul 1929, who personified style, elegance and sophistication for millions around the world.

The couple married in 1953 when she was a 24-year-old journalist and he was a 36-year-old rookie US senator.

She encouraged him to write the Pulitzer-winning Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery, and she campaigned alongside him in his hard-fought presidential race against Richard Nixon.

In the White House, she championed the arts and culture, and presided over lavish state functions, while tending to the couple’s young children Caroline and his son, John Jr, also known as John-John.

In the hours after Kennedy was killed, Jackie — who was sitting next to him in the open-top presidential limousine in Dallas — famously refused to change out of the pink Chanel suit spattered with his blood. “I want them to see what they have done to Jack,” she said.

Jackie later married Greek shipping mogul Aristotle Onassis.

She died in 1994 at the age of 64, with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston remembering her as a selfless woman of duty.

“With a deep sense of devotion to her family and country, she dedicated herself to raising her children and to making the world a better place through art, literature, and a respect for history and public service,” reads her profile on its website.

But, while the Kennedys projected a public image of the quintessential modern American family, the president privately surrounded himself with paramours aplenty.

Best-known was Marilyn Monroe, the Hollywood sex goddess who got tongues wagging with her sultry rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ at a 1962 Democratic Party fundraising soirée.

JFK: The women in his life

Marilyn Monroe delighted the president with her famous rendition of Happy Birthday

The presidential birthday boy made no effort to conceal his delight.

Jackie not only knew of the liaison, but told Monroe she was welcome to have her man, according to journalist Christopher Andersen’s recent book These Precious Few Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie, published in August.

“And you’ll move into the White House and you’ll assume the responsibilities of first lady, and I’ll move out and you’ve have all the problems,” she reportedly told Monroe, who died of a drug overdose later in 1962.

Those “problems” might have included Judith Campbell Exner, whose claim of a steamy two-year affair with Kennedy — coinciding with a relationship with a Chicago underworld kingpin — is deemed credible by historians. She died in 1999 at the age of 65.

JFK: The women in his life

Judith Campbell, pictured here with her husband American actor William Campbell, is another woman to have claimed being involved in a relationship with Kennedy

Or Mimi Beardsley, a 19-year-old White House intern when Kennedy wooed her into an affair that lasted 18 months. She was a virgin, she said, when they first made love on Jackie’s bed; later the two would race rubber duckies in the presidential bath tub.

“I do not regret what I did. I was young and I was swept away, and I cannot change that fact,” said the future Mimi Alford in her 2012 memoir, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath.

JFK: The women in his life

Mimi Beardsley was wooed by Kennedy into an 18 month affair while she was a White House intern

No one knows how many prostitutes Kennedy hired, but there were enough for his bodyguards to worry that he might fall victim to espionage or blackmail, at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war.

“He had a tendency to surround himself with ladies sometimes who were a little worrisome,” said one Secret Service agent, Anthony Sherman, in an ABC television documentary in 1997.

“These women were of questionable character,” added another, William McIntyre.

“This was reckless to the extreme,” Sabato told AFP.

“JFK risked his presidency and family over and over... Almost certainly, foreign intelligence agencies had some knowledge of this pattern of behavior.”

No doubt his mother did. Rose Kennedy is credited with infusing a strong sense of history and public service into all her children. Fascinated by politics, she actively took part in JFK’s election campaigns, stumping the hustings, soliciting votes.

Like Jackie, she tolerated the promiscuous conduct of the family patriarch, business tycoon and ambassador Joseph Kennedy, whose three-year affair with screen idol Gloria Swanson in the 1920s presaged the Marilyn-JFK fling.

A devout Roman Catholic, Rose Kennedy died in 1995 at the age of 104.

America’s first family is living a Greek tragedy

By Guillaume Decamme

JFK: The women in his life
The front page of The Daily Mirror newspaper announces the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

“The Kennedy curse strikes again,” British newspaper, the Independent, declared when a daughter-in-law of Bobby Kennedy committed suicide last year.

It was a nod to the idea that the most closely-watched American family — akin to royalty — is starring in a Greek tragedy.

“It seems that virtually every time a Kennedy was on the verge of achieving a goal or ambition, he was doomed to pay a tragic price,” said Edward Klein, in his book The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years.

“One must go back to the ancient Greeks and the House of Atreus — to such legendary figures as Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes and Electra — to find a family that has been subjected to such a mind-boggling chain of calamities,” he wrote.

The litany of tragedy is on a par with the grandeur of the Kennedy family. Since President John F Kennedy’s assassination, 50 years ago, his brother, Bobby, has been assassinated, in 1968, Bobby’s son, David, has died of an overdose, in 1984, and another son, Michael, has died, in 1997. But it was the death of John F’s son, John Jr, in a small-plane crash, on Jul 16, 1999, that accentuated the notion of a curse.

The c-word had been mouthed 30 years earlier by Ted Kennedy, JFK’s bother and then a senator from Massachusetts.

In a televised act of contrition, the young Democratic star was recounting a car accident on a bridge on the island of Chappaquiddick, that killed his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. He mused over “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.” That speech was on Jul 25, 1969, a year after the assassination of Bobby.

Thomas Maier, author of The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, wrote: “Curse, I think it’s false and simple-minded language for either reckless behaviour by particular individuals within the family, or kind of this pseudo-secular religiosity that somehow uses words like ‘curse’ as if some mystical god would be avenging something that the Kennedys did. It’s preposterous and deeply offensive to their religious background,” Maier said.

With Joe Kennedy, a member of the House of Representatives, the country is in its fourth generation of public service. “Not every family has three senators, one president, two candidates,” for president, says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

“The reason people still believe in a curse is because we have focused so heavily on this family. We know each single member of the Kennedy family and we have connected the dots for them,” he said.

If the history of America’s favourite family fascinates people, it is because this is a case of “Hollywood meets Washington,” said Sabato.

Laurence Leamer, a journalist who knows the dynasty well, said “the Kennedy story is kind of an American immigrant story. It’s something we all aspire to. We all tell our children ‘you can become President of the United States’, even if somehow we don’t really believe that.”

But, for the Kennedys, it was different.

“They were brought up thinking they could be president of the US, knowing that they could be president of the US,” Leamer said.

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