“THE ONE charm about marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties,” said Oscar Wilde.
* * *
I DECIDED recently that sometimes people with a real story wait too long to tell it. It may lose impact and forcefulness — principals die and escape immediate opprobrium. Pop history kind of passes it all by.
Still, I was mildly intrigued when Mimi Alford came out with her story of being a 19-year-old intern who had an affair with President John F. Kennedy in 1962. For a lot of people, this is a big “so what else is new?’ story. Others continue to be mildly titillated by the foibles of the famous, no matter how long some of them are dead.
Mimi, now an attractive older woman, tells her tale a little late in the book Once Upon a Secret. (Mimi’s relationship with Kennedy was actually uncovered back in 2003, in another book about JFK. No big deal was made of it at the time.)
She recited her feelings openly to TV legend Meredith Vieira. The latter conducted the interview while frowning in feigned, or perhaps actual, disapproval at the straightforward recitation of youthful infidelity. But Mimi seems to present her minor — and not unique! — place in history as a philosopher. She offers JFK’s powerful position as a ragingly attractive man who also happened to be the most powerful chief executive in the world. She refuses to apologize for her behavior in the past.
* * *
I WAS thinking that this story of Mimi and JFK has plenty of other associations that weren’t all that free of heartbreak and public disdain and dismay. I wrote for years about Kennedy’s love affair with Judith Exner, and that seems to have been a different kettle of fish.
Judith slept with a gun under her pillow ever after. (She claimed J. Edgar Hoover’s men spied on her for years and she was afraid they might kill her.) She was desperately in love with JFK and thought he was with her. She told me of breaking with the President and not wanting to. “I was 25 and in love. Was I supposed to have more sense than the President of the United States?” (I always admired this quote.)
Judith confessed to me many years after I met her that she became pregnant by the President and had an abortion arranged by mob boss Sam Giancana. She said she became an innocent go-between carrying pay-off money between the White House and Chicago. (And Judith Exner never spoke publicly about any of this until forced to by a Congressional committee. So I more or less believed most of what she confessed to me.)
* * *
MIMI is in a different category. She tries to come off as playful; as she says she and the President were “playful.” They took baths together with yellow rubber duckies, she asserts. He was sometimes downright “silly.”
Except for the feelings of Jacqueline Kennedy, about which Mimi remains buttoned up. Her attitude attempts to strike an “Oh, it was completely harmless” vibe. But was it really? JFK pushing drugs on her … expecting her to perform sex on other men while he watched … never showing her real tenderness. They never kissed, she recalls. JFK might have been a potentially great president, but he was a flawed human being. And she was still a teenager! That she would say the sex was consensual — adding, “I wouldn’t call it rape” — is in itself disturbing. Who was calling it rape? Maybe even at this late date she herself wonders?
There is no longer anything shocking about adultery. Nor can the myth of “Camelot” be any more tarnished than it has been. There is no one left alive to verify the more salacious aspects of Mimi’s tale. Or the rubber duckies. Still, based on what we know from other sources, Mimi’s confessions sound like JFK’s behavior with all his women, except for Jackie, whom he alternately revered and disrespected.
With changing times, and a much less protective media, we suffered through the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, which led to impeachment and a rather ruined life for Miss Lewinsky. Monica wrote a book to pay off her enormous legal fees and attempt to rehabilitate herself in the eyes of all. (In Europe, the entire incident was considered laughable. We would impeach a president for his infidelities?!)
I don’t know why Mimi wrote her book. If, as she says, it was all so casual, playful and consensual, why bother? It doesn’t help JFK’s reputation, and unless she wanted to paint herself as a victim of a powerful, insistent man, the parade has passed by on Kennedy mistresses.
* * *
AND NOW comes another book which I can’t wait to read. In April we’ll get Mrs. Kennedy and Me from Clint Hill, the secret service man who was the watchdog for the then First Lady and climbed on the back of the limo to protect her when JFK was shot.
After fifty years, Clint who has been supremely quiet and always tasteful, will tell his story of four years with Jackie for the very first time. After the assassination, Clint rose in the Secret Service to the very pinnacle. But he remained enthralled by Jackie — “swept up in the whirlwind of her beauty, her grace, her intelligence, her coy humor, her magnificent composure, and her extraordinary spirit.”
His book is being published by Gallery Books of Simon & Schuster, and will also be available on Amazon Kindle. Maybe Clint Hill will still impress us with candor and feeling. I’m betting he will; he has always been a heroic figure to me.