She is a church administrator and a grandmother of four. But Marion Fahnestock is a woman with a most astonishing past. She was an intern in the White House of John F Kennedy. And, like Monica Lewinsky so many years later, she learnt more about pleasing a president than taking dictation.
Yesterday morning, Ms Fahnestock, who is now 60, stood before reporters and coyly acknowledged the truth of a scoop blazoned across the pages of the Daily News tabloid newspaper in New York. Over two summers, in 1962 and 1963, she was an intern serving JFK. Moreover, they had a sexual relationship.
"I think the world knows what he was like," she said with a hint of embarrassment.
The revelation has thrown the mind of every American forward almost four decades to the scandal that enveloped President Bill Clinton when his sexual liaisons – including tales of stains on a dress – were exposed to a shocked country in 1998. He was impeached, but later acquitted by the Senate, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his affair with Ms Lewinsky when she was an intern.
Breaking the JFK story in several instalments this week, the Daily News initially drew the information from a new biography of the late president by the highly regarded historian Robert Dallek. His bookAn Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, 1917-1963 went on sale in bookshops in the United States on Tuesday.
A tome of 700 pages, the biography devotes only a few lines to the affair with the intern and does not identify her. But in an exclusive report yesterday, the New York Daily News unveiled Ms Fahnestock – who was then Mimi Beardsley.
An administrator at Manhattan's 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church, she freely told the newspaper that she was indeed the former intern. "The gift for me is that this allowed me to tell my two married daughters a secret that I've been holding for 41 years," she said. "It's a huge relief. It's all true. I was 19 years old. It was 1962, '63, and it's the truth."
What she admits to is certainly startling. Ms Fahnestock apparently attended pool parties at the White House with groups of other young women. She was flown on Air Force jets secretly to join the President at resorts and at summit meetings around the globe.
"Apparently her only real skill was to provide sexual release for JFK on these trips, and maybe at the White House," Mr Dallek noted this week.
On one occasion, aides found the young woman crouching on the floor of JFK's official limousine during a state visit to The Bahamas, just after the President had alighted.
Ms Fahnestock worked at the White House until 1963 before returning to university, a few weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November of that year.
The scholarly Mr Dallek appears embarrassed by the sudden furore. Most of his book details JFK's serial health problems, including Addison's disease. He writes how aides trailed him during his campaign for election with a doctor's bag carrying enough medicine to kill a man if ingested all at once.
He found out about Ms Fahnestock after researching an interview given by a former White House press aide, Barbara Gamarekian, in 1964 for an oral history of JFK's presidency for the Kennedy Library. She had asked at the time that the 17 pages alluding to the affair with Ms Fahnestock be sealed. She agreed, however, to a request from Mr Dallek that they be unsealed for the purposes of his book.
Ironically, it was through a link to Jacqueline Kennedy that she first found her way to the White House in 1960. At the time she was studying at an élite girls' boarding school in Connecticut – Miss Porter's School – that the first lady had also attended. As the editor of her school newspaper, she was invited to Washington to interview Mrs Kennedy. She never met the first lady but evidently caught her husband's eye. She returned the following two summers to work as an intern.
"Obviously, she did have sort of a special relationship with the President," Ms Gamarekian said of Ms Fahnestock. "She couldn't type ... She could answer the phone and she could handle messages and things, but she was not really a great asset to us."
Ms Gamarekian, now 77, voiced surprise this week at the fuss. "It amazes me that there continues to be such fascination with all things Kennedy," she said.
Ms Fahnestock emerged from her Upper East Side apartment yesterday to face reporters and own up to a secret she had kept to herself – even from her closest family – until this week.
She also made an almost certainly doomed appeal for privacy from further inquiries. "From June 1962 to November 1963, I was involved in a sexual relationship with President Kennedy," the statement began. "For the last 41 years, it is a subject that I have not discussed. In view of the recent media coverage, I have now discussed the relationship with my children and my family, and they are completely supportive. I will have no further comment on this subject."
It may be harder for Ms Fahnestock to fade back into obscurity than she would like. She need only look at the trajectory of Ms Lewinsky, who still remains a staple of New York's gossip pages and has successfully traded on her notoriety, first designing handbags and this week making her debut as co-host of a new television talk show called Mr Personality.
Mr Dallek, meanwhile, tried to downplay the significance of the affair. "There were lots of women," he told the Daily News. Among those rumoured to have had affairs with JFK was Marilyn Monroe. "The real question is: did it distract him from his job as president? I think it really didn't."
In his book, Mr Dallek similarly concludes that the medication taken by JFK is unlikely to have impaired his leadership ability.Reuse content