Context is everything.
Documentation, even better.
It may be devastating to the American people to suggest that a romanticized story they have long cherished and held dear 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 with a kernel of truth or as 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 indisputably established, however, is that people want to believe it and to give the people what they want documentaries, mini-series, books, and articles will always appear, often with some newly-crafted tidbit to further stir the public desire.
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. The large correspondence between Harding and his Ohio neighbor Carrie Phillips provides indisputable proof of their affair.
In contrast, Harding’s reputed affair with, and allegedly illegitimate child by Nan Britton, was widely believed after her 1927 book The President’s Daughter, but disavowed seventy years later by a very mad professor intent on altering Harding’s standing as a bad president, a cause angrily continued by 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 that add some credence to her claim. Yes.
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. That was a case of somebody never witness to the alleged affair writing a book for somebody else who was never witness to any affair, based on what they claimed was the revealed secrets of it all by someone who was already dead.
When it seemed like genuine documents that would once and for all prove that the President and the Actress maintained a long-term love affair had finally been discovered in 1997, the cache proved to consist of nothing but 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, sometime before 1960, or even as a Congressman prior to 1953, John F, Kennedy joined Marilyn 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.
Yes, there was a record of White House intern Mimi Alford visiting the President alone in the family quarters, giving evidence to her claim of their assignation.
There is no such record of Marilyn Monroe visiting.
In fact, just about the only documentation which seems to fuel the fable of the legendary affair is based on a photograph. It shows President Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy talking to Monroe against a wall of books in the private home of Democratic Party fundraiser Arthur Krim, where he and his wife hosted a party after the Madison Square Garden birthday celebration for the President.
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, it 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.
It is clear that Stoughton had withheld from releasing to the media for a period of time the picture. It has, however, always technically been public property and a public domain image. There was no dark secret of an affair being covered up by this image being held from release by the Kennedy Library audio-visual archives.
In fact, pictures of Kennedy talking to Jack Benny, Dianne Carroll and Maria Callas who also performed alongside Monroe at the May 1962 event were also withheld at the time.
This is often done by the White House Photographers Office during an President’s incumbency with images of them in private life, with family, friends, or those which show them in unflattering moments. The image of the Kennedy brothers and Monroe talking was, in fact, first published during the life of the President’s re-married widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Still, always, the national media is only too gleeful to eagerly feed the Kennedy-Monroe fable.
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 more than a half century of non-documentation has passed.
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.
In her role as a publishing editor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis didn’t blink or display anger or fear or any other remarkable reaction when she encountered book proposals on Monroe. In fact, she insisted upon including an image of Marilyn Monroe in one of the photo books she edited.
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 President’s birthday 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 was likely 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.
Along with the many pictures taken at that night’s after-party serving as evidence that JFK focused his attention on other people is a recording, almost never played in its full context, of his remarks thanking all of the performers at the gala. Kenned mentions Marilyn Monroe in a scripted sentence as merely one of many others. She is not the sole focus of his observations. Those pictures and an transcript of the President’s recorded remarks 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)