John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a “player”. I’m not talking of the former, most popular president of the United States, wielding a willow. Allow me a digression, a colossal one, from my favourite sport. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks devouring history — both Indian and American — through a couple of captivating books. The first is The Sceptical Patriot written by Sidin Vadukut.
The book’s central theme isn’t history, but it is an inevitable path the author takes as he mesmerizingly debunks few of the many “India facts”. The book nudges the reader to look at information available, and freely circulating, on the social media from a sceptical point of view. It doesn’t suggest you be cynical about every “dripping-with-patriotism fact”, but encourages you to question, brood over and reach a logical conclusion of your own instead. At one juncture in the book, the author adeptly talks about the history of Europe, where he also currently resides, which persuaded me to look at how much I knew of the past of the country I presently do nothing in — United States.
I drove to the nearest library and flipped through a number of books, notably on the two World Wars, and a plethora of them on Abraham Lincoln (No. He wasn’t a vampire hunter like some godforsaken recent movie suggests). After twenty minutes of indecisiveness, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, that lay at the bookend of the huge rack caught my attention, and I knew this was the Chosen One riding home with me, chiefly for two reasons: The fact that John F Kennedy was America’s most popular president I was aware of; and his assassination continues to remain a topic of intrigue to this date.
A few days prior to borrowing this book from the library, I embarked on my nightly ritual of surfing random videos to kill time, and just before the clock struck midnight, I stumbled upon an appealingly titled link on YouTube: “JFK Assassination in Colour (HD) Slow Motion and Frame by Frame”. One video led to another, as it so often does, and my next destination was “JFK assassination: Cronkite informs a shocked nation” A television show (named As the World Turns) being interrupted on a lazy afternoon for Walter Cronkite — one of the best newscasters of his time — to sedately inform a nation that its president has been shot, and to “stay tuned”, was somehow gripping. There weren’t 247-something news channels back in the day (thankfully), but the show resumed until the next interruption occurred soon after. (Links to both videos are at the end of this post).
This propped my interest in Kennedy’s assassination, and the fact that there was a multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the event made me reach out for the copy the moment I set my eyes on it. O’Reilly’s “you-are-here” style of writing was enthralling, and I flitted through the book. Much of the topics covered I’d heard of at some point in my life, but a couple of chapters fascinated (and involuntarily evoked a few unchristian-like words from) me. Blame O’Reilly, or Kennedy’s insatiable sex drive, for that.
Kennedy’s rendezvous with women, within the confines of the White House, seldom filtered through its walls, but privy to it were many — ranging from long-time household staff to the Secret Service to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Jackie) herself. None of them divulged this ‘open secret’ for reasons of their own, foremost being a president’s personal life is not of their concern.
But how did Jackie not tame the bull by its horns (no pun intended)? O’Reilly writes as follows: “Jackie Kennedy is not stupid. She has known about JFK’s affairs since he was in the Senate. Her feelings are deeply hurt, but she sets the president’s indiscretions aside for the sake of appearances, for the prestige of being First Lady, and most of all because she loves her husband — and believes that he loves her. The First Lady has a fascination with the European aristocracy and knows that it is common, perhaps even natural, for powerful men in Europe to have affairs.” Kennedy, however, had the courtesy (if you can call it that) not to ‘mess around’ in his wife’s presence.
Kennedy’s “trophies” included chief for Newsweek Ben Bradlee’s sister-in-law, the First Lady’s secretary and the staff’s assistants. It also featured, as the FBI revealed in a ‘We-know-everything-about-you’ kind of letter, American mobster Sam Giancana’s consort. It gave the Secret Service a headache, for there was every possible threat that came with such tie-ups, but apparently, when Kennedy went a few days without extramarital sex, it not only caused him a headache (literally) but he became cantankerous. As one Secret Service member later revealed, “There were women everywhere. Very often, depending on what shift you were on, you’d either see them going up, or you’d see them coming out in the morning.”
O’Reilly best sums up this aspect of Kennedy’s life, stating, “Sex is John Kennedy’s Achilles’ heel. Why in the world [did] he do this to Jackie? And what [did he do] to the nation in the process?”
I will leave you with the below excerpt. You can buy/rent the book here.
“For instance, the president is quite fond of the occasional afternoon swim with the two twentysomething secretaries Priscilla Wear and Jill Cowen — nicknamed Fiddle and Faddle by the Secret Service. A Secret Service agent is always positioned outside the door to make sure no one enters.
But one day the First Lady appeared at the pool door, eager to go for a swim. This has never before happened. The panic-stricken agent barred the door and tried to explain to Jackie that she was not allowed to use the pool of the very White House she was so lovingly restoring.
Inside, JFK heard the commotion, quickly pulled on his robe, and fled the pool just before he could be caught. Agents would later recall that his large wet footprints and the smaller prints of his female swim partners left a very clear trail, which Jackie did not see, having left in a huff.”
Link to videos – JFK Assassination in Colour (HD) Slow Motion and Frame by Frame