JFK: A virgin and a White House affair

President John F. Kennedy (left), the 19-year-old college sophomore Mimi Alford (right) who lost her virginity to the president on the White House bed of Jackie Kennedy (bottom)

Illicit sexual activity did not arrive at the White House in Washington when Donald Trump became president.

He’s just the latest adulterer to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bill Clinton’s infidelities and sexual escapades are well-documented, including the oral sex that left a splatter of his semen on 19-year-old Monica Lewinsky’s dress.

He wasn’t the first president to bed a teenage intern in the White House.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy found a teenaged Wheaton College student he met so infatuating he arranged her to get an unasked-for internship at the White House during his presidency and took her virginity on the bed used by first lady Jackie.

Mimi Beardsley Alford detailed how Kennedy also pushed her to perform oral sex on a White House aide so he could watch and then suggested she do the same for younger brother Ted Kennedy because “he needed cheering up.”

Alford said she did go down on presidential aide Dave Powers as he watched but refused to do the same on Ted.

Kennedy moved fast on Alford.  Just a few days after she arrived at the White House as a 19-year-old intern, he invited the beautiful girl for a swim and then took her to the first lady’s bedroom.

“I wouldn’t describe what happened that night as making love, but I wouldn’t call it nonconsensual either,” she later wrote in her book: “Once Upon a Secret: My affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath.”

Their 18-month relationship ended when Kennedy died n 1963

“I’m not going to say he loved me, but I think he did like me a lot,” she recalls.

Revealing the relationship did not bring hasty denials but confirmations from others.

Robert Dallek’s acclaimed Kennedy Biography “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, describes “a tall, slender, beautiful nineteen-year-old college sophomore” who was often with him

Barbara Gamarekian, former press side to Kenndey, says Alford “has a sort of a special relationship with the president…the sort of thing that legitimate newspaper people don’t write about and don’t even make any implications about.:

Alford kept quiet about her relationship with Kennedy for 40 years but went public after reporters tracked her down in 2003. Dallek says Alford’s admissions about her affair with is “entirely credible” and calls the incident with Powers “disgusting” but believable.

He said he wrote about Alford in his book as a reference to the changing social mores of the country.  When Kennedy was president, reporters in Washington knew about his adultery and other sexual antics but never wrote about it.

Kennedy’s libido may have been unreported at the time, but it was the topic of much discussion at parties in Washington during his presidency.

His affair with Marilyn Monroe is now well known.  Lesser known was his on-again-off-again affair with an artist, Mary Pinchot Meyer, who later died from a gunshot attack in Georgetown in a crime that remains unsolved.

Kennedy also had the hots for Meyer’s sister, Antoinette “Tony” Meyer, then married to Newsweek Washington reporter Ben Bradlee, who would later become editor of the Washington Post.

On May 29, 1963, Kennedy had about two dozen guests aboard the presidential Yacht Sequoia for his 46th birthday and spent most of the evening “pursuing” Tony Bradlee.  The guests included actors David Niven and Peter Lawford, married to Kennedy’s sister Pat.

Tony Bradlee remembered that evening all too well.

“I was running and laughing as he chased me. He caught up with me in the ladies’ room and made a pass,” Tony Bradlee later recounted. “It was a pretty strenuous attack, not as if he pushed me down, but his hands wandered. I said, ‘That’s it, so long.’ I was running like mad.”

“I guess I was pretty surprised, but I was kind of flattered, and appalled, too.”

Appalling, perhaps, but not surprising.

Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

The day someone killed the President of the United States

President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in Dallas.
President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in Dallas.

On November 22, 1963, I worked on a story in a high school journalism class in Floyd, Virginia, when assistant principal William Davis came on the intercom to announce President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

At first, we didn’t know if the President survived the shooting.  We sat there in shock for a few minutes before my journalism teacher, Ruth Hallman, encouraged some us to fan out around the school to gather reaction from students and faculty.

I grabbed my camera — a 4×5 “Crown Graphic” press camera that the local newspaper editor, and Mrs. Hallman’s husband, had donated to the school and visited classrooms to capture photos of stunned students and teachers listening to the radio newscasts that were piped through the school’s intercom system.

At 15, I was a writer, columnist and photographer for the school paper and the school’s student photographer.  While shooting a photo in one classroom, a reporter on the radio broadcast announced the President was dead.  A few minutes later, the school day was cut short and students boarded buses for the trip home.

I didn’t go home.  Instead I headed to the town’s local newspaper for my after school job as a reporter and photographer.  For the rest of the day, I visited local restaurants and businesses, interviewed locals and photographed the reaction of the community.

Like most Americans, the day President Kennedy was assassinated is burned into my memory.  A serious head and brain injury from last year has left gaps in my memories but I have written about the day often over the past half-century and have those articles to review.

If I had any doubts before that day that I wanted to be newspaperman, they disappeared in the days and weeks that followed.  It was the day that defined what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

While it was a defining day for my life, it was — much more importantly — a defining time for America.  A President has not been assassinated in this nation for a long time.  The last publicized event was an attempt on the life of President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 which left him unharmed but killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.

To say Kennedy’s assassination changed America is an understatement.  Today, 50 years later, many people still question the “official” story of his death from the Warren Commission.  Some say questions about his death sparked the birth of “conspiracy theories” that continue question many things that happen in America, from the killing of JFK to the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001.

Two years later, I would graduate from high school in that Blue Ridge mountain town and — with help from weekly newspaper editor Pete Hallman — land a job with the daily Roanoke Times.

It was a time of racial turmoil in the city and strong emotions that defined the news.  In 1968, I would witness the shock of local residents reacting to more public assassinations:  The killing of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King and the death of Robert Kennedy at the hands of an assassin in Los Angeles while he was running for President.

Violent deaths of public people, sadly, became more common in American society.

America wasn’t the same after Nov. 22, 1963.  Neither were we.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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Remembering the day John F. Kennedy died

President John F. Kennedy arriving in Dallas in 1963.
President John F. Kennedy arriving in Dallas in 1963.

Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, thousands will mark the day with a solemn ceremony in Dealey Plaza, through which the president’s motorcade passed when shots rang out.

Friday’s event will feature brief remarks by the mayor, the tolling of church bells and readings from the president’s speeches by author David McCullough.

It’s a reverential approach that will be mirrored in Boston, where the JFK Library and Museum will open a small exhibit of never-before-displayed items from Kennedy’s state funeral and host a musical tribute that isn’t open to the public, and in Washington, where President Barack Obama will meet privately at the White House with leaders and volunteers from the Kennedy-established Peace Corps program.

The committee convened by current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to plan the city’s event wanted to focus “in a positive way more on the legacy of President Kennedy,” said Ron Kirk, a former mayor and member of the panel.

About 5,000 tickets were issued for the free ceremony in Dealey Plaza, which is flanked by the Texas School Book Depository building where sniper Lee Harvey Oswald perched on the sixth floor. The U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club will perform in a nod to Kennedy’s military service and there will be an Air Force flyover. A moment of silence will be held at 12:30 p.m., when the president was shot.

Numerous events were held around Dallas this year to mark the milestone anniversary, including panels with those who were there that day, special concerts and museum exhibits.

As press aide for Gov. John Connally, Julian Read was in a media bus several vehicles behind the presidential limousine. After the gunshots, he watched as the vehicle, carrying the mortally wounded Kennedy and injured governor, sped away. Read released a book this year recounting his experience and has attended several of the events, which he called cathartic.

“Even though there are all those melancholy thoughts, the way it’s shaping up … gives me more of a comfort than any time since 1963,” said Read, who will be at the official ceremony Friday.

The Coalition on Political Assassinations, a group that believes Kennedy’s death was part of a conspiracy, usually gathers on the plaza’s “grassy knoll” for a moment of silence each Nov. 22. Since it’ll be blocked off this year, executive director John Judge — who first came to Dealey Plaza for the fifth anniversary of JFK’s death in 1968 — says he’s reached a “livable” agreement with the city.

The group — which plans to wear specially made T-shirts with an image of Kennedy’s head with a bullet hole and blood and the slogan “50 years in denial is enough” — will gather a few blocks away and move to the plaza after the official ceremony ends.

Also Friday, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast at the hotel where he gave his last speech and spent the final night of his life.

In Boston, the private musical tribute will feature Paul Winter, whose jazz sextet performed for Kennedy at the White House, along with a U.S. Navy choir and James Taylor. Other notable guests include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is scheduled to read quotes from Kennedy’s speeches.


Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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The JFK legacy: Camelot and conspiracies

(Illustration: Matt Mahurin)
(Illustration: Matt Mahurin)

Within an hour after President John F. Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, Washington became a ghost town.

It was still early on a Friday afternoon but, except in hidden security centers, no one in this power-centric, workaholic town had any idea what to do. The phones overloaded and stopped working periodically. Almost all government stopped working, too.

I was a 26-year-old rookie reporter from Seattle. Two of the country’s most powerful senators came from my state, including Senator Henry M. Jackson, who had been Robert F. Kennedy’s choice over Lyndon B. Johnson to be his brother’s running mate in 1960.

So it was natural that I would be drawn to the Old Senate Office Building — the Old S.O.B, we called it, for the acronym and the pun but mainly because it housed the expansive empires of the senior senators of the day. Usually bustling with power-brokers, lobbyists and favor-seekers, the hallways were empty except for a cluster of staffers in front of Jackson’s office.

By the time I got to the Capitol, the Senate and House of Representatives had adjourned and most senators and congressmen had closed their offices and gone home. Jackson, however, remained. His wife, Helen, was out of town, and he dreaded going alone to their Washington apartment. So his staff stayed with him in the Old S.O.B., talking in clutches outside in the marble hallway. For me, two moments resonate as clearly today as they did in 1963.

After a few minutes Jackson emerged from his office and asked me, “Do you want to take a walk?” Of course I wanted to walk with Jackson. A Cold Warrior like Kennedy, a good friend if not a Hyannisport buddy, who had joined in his roughhouse Georgetown softball games when both were still among Washington’s most eligible bachelors, Jackson was as close to Kennedy as anyone I would find that day in the psychologically blitzed capital.

It turned out to be a peculiar walk — one that showed he was as discombobulated as the rest of us. We went to the Senate payroll office, where Jackson corrected a $6 error in his paycheck. Despite my efforts, he didn’t want to talk about the assassination or what might have been. Jackson was as spun out of his orbit as the rest of us and I was simply his foil to level life out for a few minutes.

The second moment occurred back at his office where, like everyone, Brian Corcoran, Jackson’s press secretary, tried to assess the day’s impact. “The real tragedy is that Kennedy will barely be remembered 50 years from now,” Corcoran said. “His presidency was cut too short and he didn’t have time to accomplish anything.”

To be sure, at the time of Kennedy’s death, most of his landmark New Frontier legislation, including the Civil Rights Act, was bogged down in a Congress dominated by Southerners — who did not look kindly on Kennedy or his program. He will never go down as one of America’s great presidents.

Yet his hold on America’s imagination remains as durable as it was the day he died. On the 50th anniversary of the assassination, publishing houses have flooded us with another deluge of books, with titles ranging from The Kennedy Half Century to Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House to Who Really Killed Kennedy? The New York Times, in a recent article ironically headlined: “Kennedy, the Elusive President,” put the tally of Kennedy books since his death at 40,000. Television, bolstered by 24/7 cable channels that didn’t exist during his life, is adding to the torrent with a slew of retrospectives in the run-up to Friday’s anniversary.

What made the Kennedy legacy such a powerful and lasting American obsession? Theodore H. White, who wrote the classic Making of the President 1960, argued that Kennedy believed that heroes made history — and cast himself in that role.

To my generation, he was undeniably a hero, albeit a flawed one. The youngest man ever elected president (at 43), he was a phenom — modern, handsome and princely, given to heroic words and gestures. Glamorous, he was doubly so alongside his wife, Jacqueline, who turned the White House into an American version of the court at Versailles for parties honoring the literati. He was a celebrity president made for television before television itself quite knew what it was made for.

The twin pillars that keep the Kennedy saga alive — Camelot and conspiracy — were embedded in Washington’s marble within days after JFK’s death. Together, they transformed the story into a Shakespearian tragedy: a young nobleman cut down at the apex of his and his empire’s power, with his slaying forever muddled by a cast of powerful and shady characters that prevents the facts of the crime from ever truly being resolved.

Almost immediately after his death, in a remarkable and manipulative effort, Jackie Kennedy planted the-young-prince-in-Camelot imagery so deep that it has held up for a half-century, despite the onslaught of contradictions about JFK, the flawed man, that emerged in later years.

Camelot, a hit Broadway musical about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, played through most of his presidency. But it never was attached to Kennedy’s name before he died — a lesson in how legends are made.

Jackie, trying to head off assessments of her man by what she called “bitter people,” made certain it became the romantic theme of their time in the White House. Seven days after her husband was shot, she called Theodore White, journalist, historian and — most important — a friend, to Hyannisport for an exclusive four-hour interview. There she wove the myth of Camelot into the “reality” of the Kennedy years, even hovering over White to edit his story back on to the Camelot track, as he phoned it to his editors at Life magazine.

On December 6, 1963, Life published the essay with its emphasis on the Camelot years and the lyrics that Jackie said her husband played on his old Victrola almost every night before going to sleep:

“Don’t let it be forgot,

That once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

It was a heroic, if somewhat childlike, view of a president who inspired a nation with his youth and vigor. (That too was a myth because he and his troupe hid his debilitating Addison’s disease and assorted other ailments.) At the time of the assassination, Kennedy’s approval rating was 70 percent, and it remains the highest in the history of presidential polling.

He was the first and still is the most compelling of the media presidents. He simply romanced the little black-and-white tube, arguably winning office by beating Richard M. Nixon in the first televised presidential debate and keeping his critics at bay with wit and charm in regular televised press conferences. Politicians, Democrat and Republican, have learned to use the medium since, but none more effectively. Americans took Kennedy into their homes — and liked him.

The Camelot image has suffered over the years since, as serious historians examined the downsides to his presidency — he essentially began our long Vietnam nightmare. Others looked at the anti-heroism of his compulsive, almost serial womanizing. Even White corrected the story he and Jackie had created in Hyannisport. By 1978, White said he had misread history somewhat.

“The magic Camelot of John F. Kennedy never existed,” White wrote in his book, In Search of History.

Yet there was something to the concoction — because “one brief shining moment” still stands as the metaphor for Kennedy’s brief presidency. Camelot represented optimism and possibility. Kennedy created the Peace Corps, he aspired to send a man to the moon. Government was not the enemy. Forever frozen in his prime, he harkens to a simpler time, before the events that complicated America’s place in the world after his death: the tumultuous ‘60s, the quagmire that Vietnam became, Watergate, terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq, and now the endless, deadlocked power struggle and destructiveness that has become de rigueur in Washington political life.

Kennedy gave Americans the idea that we could do better. That we could believe in something. Robert Dallek, the presidential historian and author of the new Kennedy biography, Camelot’s Court, summed it up succinctly in the New York Times: Americans admire presidents who give them hope.

The other timeless pillar of the legend — the conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s killing — may keep his presidency alive even longer than Camelot. Future generations are not more likely to find a satisfying answer, if one exists, than we have in these 50 years.

But that won’t stop them from trying. Americans are not good at handling randomness. They want answers that add up.

The conspiracy theories really took flight the moment Jack Ruby, a seedy, two-bit nightclub owner, killed the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, two days after Kennedy died. A lone shooter with a $12.78 mail-order rifle taking down the leader of the free world didn’t add up. But two random events, the second one closing off the most logical line of inquiry, were just too much for the public.

After Oswald’s death, there was no shutting the conspiracists down — no matter how far out they wandered. Mark Lane, a left-wing lawyer, began criticizing the work of the official assassination investigation, the Warren Commission, as soon as it was formed. He broadly attacked the commission’s final report in a best-selling 1966 book, Rush to Judgment. The theories cascaded downward from there, to the wild warps of Oliver Stone’s 1991 Hollywood blockbuster, JFK.

Today, two-thirds of Americans — most of them either too young to remember or born since the dire doings of November 22, 1963 — continue to believe the killing was a multi-person plot. Some of the most powerful leaders of that time were conspiracy believers. RFK believed. So did Johnson. Many actually thought Johnson was part of the plot. It was all wild speculation, born out of the multiple passions of the day.

It is impossible to disprove most conspiracy theories. Events have provided the Kennedy conspiracist with an especially compelling playbill of characters that makes the story epic when laid against the background of a fallen idol. Could the bard himself conjure up historical suspects as compelling as Fidel Castro, whom Kennedy tried to have poisoned; the mafia, with whom he shared a boss’s girlfriend; the Russians, with whom he was beginning the arms race that would spend them into bankruptcy; Lyndon Johnson, who had everything to gain and gained it; Cuban exiles, who felt betrayed by the Bay of Pigs; J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA?

Two months before Dallas, I made an 11-state cross-country trip with Kennedy. On September 24, 1963, we traveled by helicopter from Duluth, Minnesota, to Ashland, Wisconsin, crossing Lake Superior in a violent late-summer thunderstorm. It was a frightening trip. One of the convoy’s eight choppers was forced down onto an island in the lake. Tom Wicker, a seasoned New York Times reporter, sat across from me. He turned as ashen-faced as I was in the bucking press helicopter. “He’s a terrible risk-taker,” Wicker muttered unhappily.

Kennedy’s speaking platform in little Ashland was an outdoor stand surrounded by the crowd. As he prepared to speak, a young woman, maybe 22 or 23, rushed up the stairs and grabbed the president in an adulating bear hug. Kennedy grinned but flinched and the Secret Service quickly pulled the woman away.

Wicker and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Later, we thought it was like looking into the future. It was so easy to kill this first of our rock star presidents.

Perhaps that incident in Ashland is the reason I have less trouble than most in accepting the Oswald, single-shooter theory. He was no more random than the young woman in Ashland.

We live our own common lives touched at pivotal times by far more random events than conspiratorial ones.

William Prochnau is an award-winning journalist and author of six books, including “Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett — Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles.” He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and is now working on a new novel.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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JFK: Walking contradiction – partly truth, partly fiction

John F. Kennedy speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1960 Presidential election. (AP)
John F. Kennedy speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1960 Presidential election. (AP)
Democratic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy campaigns in New York with his wife, Jacqueline in October 1960. (AP)
Democratic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy campaigns in New York with his wife, Jacqueline in October 1960. (AP)

Four days a week, David O’Donnell leads a 90-minute “Kennedy Tour” around Boston that features stops at government buildings, museums, hotels and meeting halls.

Tour-goers from throughout the United States and abroad, who may see John F. Kennedy as inspiration, martyr or Cold War hero, hear stories of his ancestors and early campaigns, the rise of the Irish in state politics, the odd fact that Kennedy was the only president outlived by his grandmother.

Yet at some point along the tour, inevitably, questions from the crowd shift from politics to gossip.

“Someone will ask, ‘Did Jack Kennedy have an affair with Marilyn Monroe?’ With this woman? That woman?” explains O’Donnell, who has worked for a decade in the city’s visitors bureau. Those asking forgive the infidelities as reflecting another era, he says. “It’s something people, in an odd way, just accept.”

The Kennedy image, the “mystique” that attracts tourists and historians alike, did not begin with his presidency and is in no danger of ending 50 years after his death. Its journey has been uneven but resilient — a young and still-evolving politician whose name was sanctified by his assassination, upended by discoveries of womanizing, hidden health problems and political intrigue, and forgiven in numerous polls that place JFK among the most beloved of former presidents.

The last half century has demonstrated the transcendence of Kennedy’s appeal. It’s as if we needed to learn the worst before returning to the qualities that defined Kennedy at his best — the smile and the wavy hair, the energy and the confidence, the rhetoric and the promise.

Sen. John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Mass., with wife Jackqueline and daughter Caroline in July 1960. (AP)
Sen. John F. Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Mass., with wife Jackqueline and daughter Caroline in July 1960. (AP)

“He had a gift for rallying the country to its best, most humane and idealistic impulses,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert Caro, who cites such Kennedy achievements as the Peace Corps, the nuclear test ban treaty and the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“He’s become more and more of an iconic figure as the years have passed,” says presidential biographer Robert Dallek, whose “Camelot’s Court” is one of many Kennedy books out this fall.

“I think it’s partly, of course, because of the assassination. But that doesn’t really account for why he has this phenomenal hold on the public.” President William McKinley, he noted, was assassinated in 1901, “but 50 years after his death hardly anyone remembered who he was.”

Boston is the official home for Kennedy memories, starting at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and echoing at landmarks throughout the area — the small, shingled house in Brookline where he was born and the Kennedy park in Cambridge that extends along the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the statue on the grounds of the Massachusetts State House and the corner table at the nearby Omni Parker House Hotel, where Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier.

But thousands of Kennedy buildings, busts and plaques can be found around the country, from the grandeur of Washington’s Kennedy Center to the scale of New York City’s JFK Airport to the oddity of a Kennedy golf course in Aurora, Colo. (He publicly avoided predecessor Dwight Eisenhower’s beloved leisure sport but actually played it well).

“He stands out among all the modern presidents,” says historian Larry J. Sabato, whose book, “The Kennedy Half Century,” has just been published. “Franklin Roosevelt was more consequential, and Harry Truman may have been, too. But Kennedy overshadows them all. He’s the one president from the post-World War II era who could appear on the streets now and fit right in.”

Kennedy, born in 1917, was the second son, and one of nine children, of business tycoon Joseph P. Kennedy. No self-made man put greater pressure on his children than did the elder Kennedy. When first son Joseph Jr. was killed during World War II, Jack became the designated heir. Himself a Navy veteran and survivor of a collision with a Japanese destroyer, he would write to his friend Paul Fay that, once the war was over, “I’ll be back here with Dad trying to parlay a lost PT boat and a bad back into a political advantage.”

President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on January 18, 1962. (AP/Henry Burroughs)
President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on January 18, 1962. (AP/Henry Burroughs)

Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, at age 29, was a senator by age 35 and was soon being mentioned as a candidate for national office.

“From the time Jack first ran for Congress, his father had taught him everything from wearing a suit and the best way to cut his hair, how to appear youthful and wise and serious at the same time,” says David Nasaw, whose biography of Joseph P. Kennedy came out last year. Still, Nasaw described JFK’s relationship with his father as a “partnership,” in which he didn’t hesitate to differ from the elder Kennedy.

JFK was a public figure years before he ran for office. “Why England Slept,” released in 1940, was a book-length edition of a thesis he wrote at Harvard about the British in the years before World War II. An introduction was provided by one of the country’s foremost image makers, Time magazine publisher Henry R. Luce. “You would be surprised how a book that really makes the grade with high-class people stands you in good stead for years to come,” Joseph Kennedy had advised his sons.

The JFK narrative was well in place for his presidential run in 1960: a handsome, witty and athletic World War II hero and family man who vowed to revitalize the country, which for eight years had been presided over by the grandfatherly Eisenhower.

The multimedia story began in childhood with newsreels and newspaper coverage of the smiling Kennedy brood, and it continued with books, photographs, movies and finally television — notably the telegenic JFK’s presidential debates with Republican Richard Nixon.

Questions about the Kennedy image were also in place.

His Pulitzer Prize-winning tribute to political risk and bipartisan statesmanship, “Profiles in Courage,” was shadowed by reports that he didn’t write it, and the book’s authorship remains a subject of debate. Lyndon Johnson, eventually his vice president, spread rumors (later confirmed) that Kennedy suffered from a glandular disorder, Addison’s disease. An authorized campaign biography by James MacGregor Burns angered the family when the historian questioned whether JFK was independent of his father and of the memory of his older brother.

“I think you underestimate him,” Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Burns. “Jack is a strong and self-sufficient person. If we could just lay to rest those bromides about Dad and Brother Joe. Let me assure you that no matter how many older brothers and fathers my husband had had, he would have been what he is today, or the equivalent in another field.”

President John F. Kenendy in his snow-covered limousine at Andrews Air Force Base in 1961. (AP/Byron Rollins)
President John F. Kenendy in his snow-covered limousine at Andrews Air Force Base in 1961. (AP/Byron Rollins)

One of the last presidents to live during an age when private vices were kept private, he was at ease around such photographers as Jacques Lowe and around the crew of documentary maker Robert Drew, whose Kennedy projects included the landmark of cinema verite “Primary” and the film “Crisis,” about the 1963 standoff against Alabama’s segregationist governor, George Wallace. Award-winning filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who assisted Drew on the Kennedy documentaries, remembered spending hours in the Oval Office and once being offered a ride in the presidential car.

“I got in the front seat and filmed into the back seat,” Pennebaker said. “He was going over something that had happened at the United Nations and was using all these four-letter words, just using unbelievable language. Later on, someone said to me, ‘I can’t believe you can just film him like that.’ But there was no way I was ever going to use it. That was the kind of relationship we had.”

Andrew Ball, senior historian at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, noted that the first decade after Kennedy’s assassination was defined by the stately “Camelot school” of biography, including former JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Thousand Days.”

But starting in the 1970s, in the post-Watergate era, the Kennedy image was challenged by the findings of congressional committees, by a wave of gossipy best-sellers and by one of the great investigative reporters, Seymour Hersh. His “The Dark Side of Camelot” detailed Kennedy’s many sexual affairs, alleged connections to organized crime and attempts to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. When the book came out in 1997, New York Times reviewer Thomas Powers said Hersh’s “copious new detail often makes for painful reading,” which “can’t honestly be ignored.”

But during a recent interview, Hersh acknowledged that Kennedy’s reputation was intact and that if he’d known the president personally, he might have been charmed, too.

“We like him. He was a cool guy, no question about it,” Hersh said. “But he also had a dark side, a really dark side that many people knew about and didn’t want to talk about.”

Kennedy scandals often run through a cycle of revulsion, then acceptance, even rationalization. Last year, Kennedy was the subject of a best-selling memoir by former White House intern Mimi Alford, an explicit account of the president’s extramarital behavior.

Laurence Leamer, author of “The Kennedy Men” and “The Kennedy Women,” said Alford’s story “sickened” him and made him wonder: “How can you bring that into the picture and feel the same way about him?” Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court” is a sympathetic book that mentions the Alford affair.

“His frenetic need for conquests was not the behavior of a sexual athlete,” Dallek writes. “It was not the sex act that seemed to drive his pursuit of so many women, but the constant need for reaffirmation, or a desire for affection and approval, however transitory, from his casual trysts. It is easy to imagine that Jack was principally responding to feelings of childhood emptiness stemming from a detached mother and an absent father.”

Dallek has learned as much about Kennedy as any living historian. A decade ago, his “An Unfinished Life” was a landmark biography that revealed Kennedy’s health problems were far more extensive than what was reported in his lifetime. Drawing on medical records long kept sealed by the family, Dallek wrote that Kennedy, who had called himself “the healthiest candidate for president,” suffered from a wide variety of ailments and had been prescribed everything from antibiotics to painkillers to antidepressants.

“Schlesinger actually found my revelations interesting,” Dallek says, “because they showed Kennedy was a man who struggled mightily with these health problems and yet was so stoic and effective.”

Previous biographers had failed to receive permission from a three-man board that included former JFK speechwriter and longtime loyalist Theodore Sorensen, who died in 2010. Dallek’s reputation as a fair-minded historian made the difference.

“My argument was, ‘Look, it’s been 40 years and the health records are in the library vaults. What’s the point of keeping them closed forever?'” Dallek told The Associated Press. “They agreed, but Sorensen was resistant and so I went to New York and spent two hours with him in his apartment. Afterwards, he was frustrated because I said there was a cover-up and he said there was no cover-up. But there was a cover-up.”

Tom Putnam, director of the Kennedy presidential library, said the family had become much more willing to make materials available. He and Nasaw cite as a turning point the decision years ago by JFK siblings Sen. Edward Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver to allow the historian full access to their father’s papers. Publications in recent years include White House tapes, notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Jacqueline Kennedy’s memories of her husband’s administration, recorded in 1964.

Major additions to Kennedy’s story are unlikely, though Dallek says he is still trying to gain access to some tapes from the Kennedy White House and to boxes of Robert Kennedy’s papers. Putnam said the library was working “dutifully” to make all material available.

“Sometimes things are closed for personal privacy reasons or documents may have to be declassified. That’s standard in the archive community,” he said. “But we have opened everything we can. There is no secret room at the library where we keep this hidden trove of materials.”


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A connection in history

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson sits at his desk on Liberty Island in New York Harbor as he signs a new immigration bill. It was in 1965 that the U.S. government radically changed its immigration policy, and planted the seeds for America's current demographic explosion, a shift that historians say happened in part because of a hunger for change and equality created by the civil rights movement. (AP Photo)
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson sits at his desk on Liberty Island in New York Harbor as he signs a new immigration bill. It was in 1965 that the U.S. government radically changed its immigration policy, (AP Photo)

When 250,000 marchers converged on Washington in August 1963, the issues were jobs and freedom.

Now, as the crowds come together to mark the 50th anniversary of that seminal event in the civil rights movement, those issues have been joined by others, including one, immigration reform, that wasn’t nearly on the political radar then like it is today.

“They were fighting for equality, and that’s exactly what we’re fighting for,” said Mikhel Crichlow, 28, a native of Trinidad and Tobago now living in Brooklyn. Crichlow said he was going to Washington for the commemoration.

The push for comprehensive immigration reform was heard from the speakers’ podium on Saturday, when tens of thousands marched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and down the National Mall.

“It doesn’t make sense that millions of our people are living in the shadows,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was a speaker at the 1963 event. “Bring them out into the light and set them on the path to citizenship.”

Immigrant advocates came from near and far to be part of the commemoration. They included Casa de Maryland, founded by Central American immigrants in the D.C. area in 1985. The organization connected Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s famous “I Have A Dream” speech to the dreams of immigrants in the United States illegally who are looking for legal status.

“One of the big reasons immigrant groups wanted to participate was to show the connection,” said Shola Ajayi, the group’s advocacy director, who said Casa mobilized hundreds of people to attend.

The link between the civil rights activism and America’s immigration reality brings history full circle as the demographic change being seen across the United States owes some of its existence to the decades-ago movement.

It was with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that the federal government radically altered immigration policy, opening America’s doors to the world after decades of keeping them shut to entire geographic regions. That decision planted the seeds for the demographics explosion the country is living in now, a shift that historians say happened in part because of a hunger for change and equality created by the civil rights movement.

The movement “broke through the whole aura of political stagnation that was created by the McCarthy era and the Cold War, and allowed us to imagine another” world, said Mark Naison, professor of African-American studies and history at Fordham University in New York. “It was the civil rights movement … that broke through the logjam and allowed people to talk about real issues in our domestic lives.”

Immigration activist Renata Teodoro, who came here from Brazil as a child, studied the tactics of the civil rights movement and incorporated them into her own activism. The Boston resident has long been a proponent of granting legal status to immigrants who, like her, were brought to the U.S. as children.

The Civil Rights movement, she said, humanized the issues of the day, and by doing so, “that changed the culture, that’s what changed a lot of hearts and minds.”

While the United States has its roots in being a welcoming place for immigrants, that hasn’t always been the case. It is true that a wave of new arrivals flooded U.S. shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but a movement to restrict who was allowed into the country took hold as well.

In 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major federal law to put immigration limits in place and the only one in American history aimed at a specific nationality. It came into being in response to fears, primarily on the West Coast, that an influx of Chinese immigrants was weakening economic conditions and lowering wages. It was extended in 1902.

Other laws followed, like the Immigration Act of 1917, which created an “Asiatic Barred Zone” to restrict immigration from that part of the world, and the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which limited the number of immigrants from any country to 3 percent of those people from that country who had been living in the United States as of 1910.

The 1924 Immigration Act capped the number of immigrants from a particular country at 2 percent of the population of that country already living in the United States in 1890. That favored immigrants from northern and western European countries like Great Britain over immigrants from southern and eastern European countries like Italy.

It also prevented any immigrant ineligible for citizenship from coming to America. Since laws already on the books prohibited people of any Asian origin from becoming citizens, they were barred entry. The law was revised in 1952, but kept the quota system based on country of origin in the U.S. population and only allowed low quotas to Asian nations.

The American children of Italian and other European immigrants saw that law “as a slur against their own status” and fought for the system to be changed, said Mae Ngai, professor of history and Asian American studies at Columbia University. In fighting for change, they looked to the civil rights movement.

The political leaders who agreed with them saw it in the same terms, as a change needed for equality’s sake, as well as to be responsive to shifting relationships with nations around the world.

Speaking to the American Committee on Italian Migration in June 1963, President John F. Kennedy cited the “nearly intolerable” plight of those who had family members in other countries who wanted to come to the U.S. and could be useful citizens, but were being blocked by “the inequity and maldistribution of the quota numbers.”

Two years later, in signing into law a replacement system that established a uniform number of people allowed entry to the United States despite national origin, President Lyndon B. Johnson said it would correct “a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation.”

Stephen Klineberg, sociology professor at Rice University in Houston, said the civil rights movement “was the main force that made that viciously racist law come to be perceived as intolerable,” precisely because it raised questions about fairness and equality.


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For Obama, a second chance for a speech for the ages

This Jan. 20, 1961 black-and-white file photo shows President John F. Kennedy delivering his inaugural address after taking the oath of office, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sixteen presidents before Barack Obama got a second chance at giving an inaugural address for the ages. Most didn’t make much of it. Abraham Lincoln is the grand exception. (AP Photo, File)
This Jan. 20, 1961 black-and-white file photo shows President John F. Kennedy delivering his inaugural address after taking the oath of office, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sixteen presidents before Barack Obama got a second chance at giving an inaugural address for the ages. Most didn’t make much of it. Abraham Lincoln is the grand exception.
(AP Photo, File)

Sixteen presidents before Barack Obama got a second chance at giving an inaugural address for the ages. Most didn’t make much of it.

George Washington’s remarks the second time around were admirably succinct — only 135 words — but hardly qualify as an address.

Thomas Jefferson, who laid out a masterful brief on democracy at his first oath-taking, spent much of his second complaining that the press was telling lies about him. Ulysses S. Grant also began his second term by grousing that he’d been slandered, although it’s unlikely those who had heard his first inaugural were expecting much better.

Abraham Lincoln is the grand exception.

Just matching his first offering, with its lyric appeal to the “better angels of our nature,” would have been a feat. On his second try, Lincoln brought forth the most-acclaimed inaugural address ever, one of the great American speeches. Four years of civil war at last coming to a close, he summoned his countrymen to bind up the nation’s wounds, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Such poetic lightning is unlikely to strike again.

Indeed, expectations for inaugural eloquence are low these days, giving Obama some breathing room as he prepares for Monday.

“Most inaugural addresses are just pedestrian,” said Martin J. Medhurst, a professor of politics and rhetoric at Baylor University. Their function is ceremonial; they lack emotion and urgency.

After reading all 56 inaugural addresses to date, presidential historian Charles O. Jones found: “A lot of them, frankly, are highly forgettable.”

And second inaugurals? Even worse.

“Reality has set in,” Medhurst said. “You don’t have these grand visions for change you had when you were first coming into office.”

Lincoln’s brilliance aside, the phrasings that gleam brightest in American memory came from newly minted presidents: Franklin Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Ronald Reagan’s “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

After four years of familiarity in the White House, does Obama stand any chance of speaking inaugural words that will long endure?

There are a couple of factors in his favor.

His gifts as an orator, for one. Obama is renowned for his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote, his Philadelphia meditation on race, his victory speeches in the 2008 primaries, his Nobel Prize acceptance.

Nonetheless, his first inaugural address seemed overwhelmed by the historic impact of the moment — an event that drew nearly 2 million people to the National Mall and seemed to transcend political ideology. Perhaps the speech’s most powerful line was Obama’s noting that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

“The only thing anyone remembers about that one is that the first African-American president was inaugurated,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The soaring rhetoric so many Americans expect from Obama was missing that day. Jamieson said the speech lacked what an inaugural address needs to make history’s short list: a clearly communicated, overarching theme and a memorable line that encapsulates it.

His “new era of responsibility” didn’t grab the popular imagination.

Medhurst says that speech, though little remembered, was actually better than most inaugural efforts because it worked as a unified whole to lay out Obama’s vision. Yet he doesn’t have high hopes for Jan. 21.

“If his second inaugural ends up being a speech he’s remembered for I will be astounded, because that just almost never happens,” Medhurst said.

Lowered expectations and muted excitement may ease the pressure on the president and his speechwriters this time around.

Another break for them, ironically: Four years after the first swearing-in, the United States is still mired in serious troubles that need talking about.

Bad times make better speeches, said Jones, because they give a returning president something to say beyond “here I am, I got re-elected, let’s push on.”

He points to FDR’s second inaugural during the Great Depression (“I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished”) and Woodrow Wilson’s address preparing Americans to enter World War I (“There can be no turning back”).

Today’s worries — anxiety about joblessness, a sense of political disarray, fear that the nation is in chronic decline — are less dire than what Roosevelt and Wilson faced. Yet they could create a backdrop for resolve and yes-we-can inspiration.

“This is a moment in which the country is looking to the president to assure us that we remain a great nation, that our future is going to be better than our past, and here are the principles that will enable us to do this,” Jamieson said.

“You have the pieces on the table to deliver a great speech,” she said. “The question is will he do it?”

And if Obama does, the next question becomes: Can he live up to it? A great inaugural address is also measured by how well its promise is fulfilled.

No matter how eloquent the wording, there was no chance history would remember Richard Nixon for his second inaugural pledge: “to make these next four years the best four years in America’s history.”


Follow Connie Cass on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ConnieCass


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RFK children: Bobby didn’t believe Warren Commission report on JFK’s death

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., left, makes comments during the opening minutes of a interview with journalist Charlie Rose in front of a full audience at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Dallas, Texas. The Kennedys are in Dallas as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., left, makes comments during the opening minutes of a interview with journalist Charlie Rose in front of a full audience at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in Dallas, Texas. The Kennedys are in Dallas as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn’t solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a “shoddy piece of craftsmanship.”

Kennedy and his sister, Rory, spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The event comes as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of the president’s death.

Their uncle was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. Five years later, their father was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel while celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother’s death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others “trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing.”

He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a “shoddy piece of craftsmanship.” He said that he, too, questioned the report.

“The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman,” he said, but he didn’t say what he believed may have happened.

Rose asked if he believed his father, the U.S. attorney general at the time of his brother’s death, felt “some sense of guilt because he thought there might have been a link between his very aggressive efforts against organized crime.”

Kennedy replied: “I think that’s true. He talked about that. He publicly supported the Warren Commission report but privately he was dismissive of it.”

He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president’s assassination, “were like an inventory” of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.

He said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was “fairly convinced” that others were involved.

The attorney and well-known environmentalist also told the audience light-hearted stories Friday about memories of his uncle. As a young child with an interest in the environment, he said, he made an appointment with his uncle to speak with him in the Oval Office about pollution.

He’d even caught a salamander to present to the president, which unfortunately died before the meeting.

“He kept saying to me, ‘It doesn’t look well,'” he recalled.

Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker whose recent film “Ethel” looks at the life of her mother, also focused on the happier memories. She said she and her siblings grew up in a culture where it was important to give back.

“In all of the tragedy and challenge, when you try to make sense of it and understand it, it’s very difficult to fully make sense of it,” she said. “But I do feel that in everything that I’ve experienced that has been difficult and that has been hard and that has been loss, that I’ve gained something in it.”

“We were kind of lucky because we lost our members of our family when they were involved in a great endeavor,” her brother added. “And that endeavor is to make this country live up to her ideals.”


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