Context is everything.
Documentation, even better.
It may be devastating to the American people in 2012 to suggest that a romanticized story they have long cherished about a beloved President might be, in fact, utterly false or at least exaggerated to the point where it has become mythologized.
This might prove so damaging to the national psyche that many political and entertainment editors and producers might mount a systematic propaganda campaign to protect the former President’s now-popularized reputation, so long held sacred by those who idolize him.
Yet, on this 50th anniversary of their most famous and public of meetings, it is time to face a certain truth.
There are dozens of books and websites devoted to Monroe with all sorts of quotes of people from every walk of life offering eyewitness accounts with impeccable memory for every imaginable detail. One can go to all those sources and search to one’s heart’s content.
There are badly doctored fake pictures showing them together as well as artistic renderings of their purported meetings.
The story was expanded to include the Attorney-General and the Mafia and phone calls to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and dark claims of blackmail and murder. There are essays, plays and, last year, insanely ridiculous scenes in The Kennedys mini-series which the public takes as proof, failing to remember drama’s first priority is drama.
Even were documentation to emerge which proved the Kennedy-Monroe story to be entirely untrue, the idea has so permanently lodged in the public imagination, it would likely lead to a dozen new forensic conspiracy theory websites alleging a Kennedy family cover-up. There are those who’ve studied all the claims and stories closely and can speak precisely to all this. This author cannot do so with any such level of detail – or interest.
The persistent presidential myth, however, is not an uncommon phenomena. Whatever embarrassing or far-too-humanizing anecdote which may have begun as a kernel of truth or merely a sharp assessment of a situation by an imaginative observer will – if it captures the public’s imagination – eventually solidify as fact.
The story of becoming stuck in a bathtub is untrue.
What is factually established, however, is that people want to believe it and documentaries, mini-series, books, articles stirring the public desire will always appear.
Sometimes evidence does pop up decades later.
Some of the many stories about Warren G. Harding’s alleged affairs and others of President Kennedy seem likely to be true, based on substantive yet circumstantial evidence. For example, Harding’s reputed affair with, and allegedly illegitimate child by Nan Britton was widely believed after her 1927 book The President’s Daughter, only to be disavowed by a very mad professor some seventy years later, (and then his proteges). According to some in the field, this professor summarily determined that memoirs written by women (not just those by an alleged mistresses) which made the claims about Harding should be dismissed as “gossip,” while holding sacred the memoirs of a White House mailroom clerk who claimed the Britton affair was untrue. Yet only recently there has come to light an August 22, 1921 letter which President Harding wrote while running the country, to the Collector of the Port of New York, trying to get Nan Britton a federal government job and making clear his close tie to her. It was not a letter even Nan Britton knew about or used in her memoirs.
Does it unequivocally prove Harding fathered Britton’s daughter? No.
Does it prove Nan Britton was honest about how close she really was to Harding and how deeply concerned he was for her well-being? Absolutely.
Does it mean they had a love affair? Inconclusive.
The point? People love a great story about a President, whether true, false or exaggerated. And, as Hillary Clinton once said, “What I symbolize as a persona is ultimately more important to people than who I really am as a person.”
To date, no original documentation has ever credibly proven a Kennedy-Monroe affair. In fact, the first mention of “Kennedy” being involved with Monroe emerged in her 1974 biography by the famous writer Norman Mailer – a claim he later admitted to be entirely imaginary.
The idea was out of the gate, however, and soon insisted upon as truth by former gossip columnist Earl Wilson in his book Show Business Laid Bare, which suggested the link between the two was actor Peter Lawford.
Two years later another reputed mistress of the President, Judith Exner, made the claim in her book.
The story was further entrenched by the 1988 book, The Peter Lawford Story ghostwritten for Lawford’s fourth wife and widow after his 1985 death. When it seemed like documents had finally been discovered in 1997, the cache proved to consist of forgeries.
Of course what is absolutely true is that Lawford, and then his wife Patricia, JFK’s sister, were close friends with Monroe, and Monroe did visit their home along the beach in Santa Monica during the Jet Age era of JFK.
And it is also true that President Kennedy visited his sister and brother-in-law there as well.
There is also a fairly reliable claim that the President and the Actress were among some twenty dinner guests there during the days of the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, California.
Other less clear accounts claim that, as a U.S. Senator – or even as a Congressman prior to 1953, that Kennedy joined Monroe and several others, including his youngest brother Edward Kennedy at a dinner in Las Vegas.
A further claim that they met during a winter weekend he took in 1962 at the Palm Springs home of Bing Crosby has been dismissed as ridiculous by a former Secret Service agent two years ago, as has been the wilder claims by an ex-White House electrician Traphes Bryant, that Monroe was smuggled into the White House in a costume to meet the President. Even in the early 1960s the Secret Service kept logs of non-employees with access to the residence.
On June 1, 2010, ABC News put out a news story with a blaring headline about the “previously unseen” and “only known” image of the President and actress together being put on sale for the first time.
What was far more shocking was how ABC was easily hoodwinked (along with other national news organizations) in proclaiming it was an historic find.
The picture had been published in numerous books previously.
In fact, the image has always been owned by all of the American people.
The White House photographer who took it, Cecil Stoughton, was a federal government employee and all his White House photographs are considered public domain, paid for by taxpayers, and the property of the National Archives.
Whether he withheld what was technically public property was never asked but certainly the image was initially published during the life of the President’s re-married widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Still, even the national media (especially the national media) is always only too gleeful to eagerly feed the Kennedy-Monroe story.
Which is not to say they did not have some sort of “relationship,” be it flirtatious or physical. It’s just that it is still ultimately a matter of speculation, even after fifty years of non-documentation.
Judging by the recent story of one of his colleagues that, in his capacity as editor of George magazine John Kennedy mused about having Madonna pose similarly to Monroe at the birthday gala, the family didn’t take the story seriously.
Last fall, with the release of her mother’s taped oral history, when ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer gently asked Caroline Kennedy about stories of her father’s infidelities, the daughter honestly, plainly responded that whatever did or did not happen was “between them.” It was no evasion, no apology – just the rational truth.
Jackie Kennedy didn’t avoid the gala, as many suggest, because she was jealous of Monroe. She did so, as is most recently affirmed in the new book Mrs. Kennedy and Me, by her former Secret Service agent Clint Hill, because she always hated massive political fundraisers – a fact borne out by her reluctance to attend such events during her husband’s senatorial and presidential years.
Yes, the most shocking truth about JFK and Marilyn Monroe is that there’s a chance there was no affair.
In fact, there is even a second photograph of Kennedy and Monroe at the May 19, 1962 event, a scandalous image of him watching her sing – along with several thousand other people also watching her sing. And there are many other pictures taken that night at the same party – of the many other people who were the focus of the President’s attention. Shocking even more, this is substantiated in an audio recording that is almost never played in its full context – with Monroe being mentioned in a scripted speech text in one line – among hundreds of other lines about many other people.
Those pictures and that audio recording of the President will follow in the second part of this story, tomorrow.
- Jackie’s Husband & the Onassis Mistress: When John F. Kennedy and Maria Callas Got Together (and Marilyn Monroe) (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Jack and Jackie Kennedy Home Movies & Pictures of their Presidential Easters (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Mary Kennedy’s family blasts stories on her death – CNN (edition.cnn.com)