Sex, drugs and JFK: memoir of a White House intern

The publisher of a new book promised an intimate portrait of the President – how right he was
  • @guyadams

When a retired church administrator called Mimi Alford decided to write a memoir of her teenage love affair with President John F Kennedy, her publisher was quick to deny that she intended to cash in with titillatory revelations about the Camelot-era White House. "I've seen enough to know what an extraordinary heart and soul exists in this book," Random House's executive editor, Susan Mercandett, told The New York Times, after paying "close to" $1m (£630,000) for the story. "It's about a loss of innocence. I was just struck by how simple, yet how profound it was." The book's author, he added, was "just not that type of person, where she's going to spill her guts about intimate stuff for the whole country to see".

That was in 2009. Fast-forward almost three years and, well, we can all guess what has happened. Alford's book Once Upon A Secret is released tomorrow, and yesterday it was filling acres of newsprint with graphic accounts of the 35th President's stupendous appetite for sexual misadventure.

The God-fearing author, a 19-year-old White House intern when she met JFK, devotes 208 pages to their liaisons. She describes, in splendid detail, a succession of their extramarital encounters, some of which, she claims, were fuelled by narcotics, and all of which were covered up by White House aides.

In one chapter, Ms Alford, who at 69 is now a grandmother known by her married name of Marion Fahnestock, recalls being instructed by Kennedy to perform oral sex on his assistant, David Powers. "I don't think the President thought I'd do it, but I'm ashamed to say that I did," she claims. JFK, for his part, "silently watched".

In another, she recalls joining him for a drug-fuelled Hollywood party at Bing Crosby's home. "I was sitting next to him in the living room when a handful of yellow capsules – most likely amyl nitrate, commonly known as poppers – was offered up by one of the guests," Alford writes.

"The President asked me if I wanted to try the drug, which stimulated the heart but also purportedly enhanced sex. I said no, but he just went ahead and popped the capsule and held it under my nose."

Ms Alford's memoir became public yesterday by way of the New York Post, which alleges that it obtained a copy from a Manhattan book shop. Its publication will only fuel the still vibrant market in tittle-tattle about the private life of America's most glamourous political dynasty.

Only last week, the US national archives published transcripts of tapes that were recorded on the flight that took the recently-murdered Kennedy's body from Dallas to Washington in November 1963. They shed light on the harrowing journey experienced by passengers, including JFK's wife, Jackie, and his successor, Lyndon Johnson.

There has never, it's safe to say, been a shortage of witnesses to JFK's personal failings. His sexual conquests are rumoured to have ranged from Marilyn Monroe to Zsa Zsa Gabor, with plenty in between.

Indeed, when Ms Alford's existence was first revealed by the historian Robert Dallek in 2003, Time magazine carried an item by the Kennedy-era White House journalist Hugh Sidney confirming that "there was a Mimi" on the President's romantic CV. But he added: "there was also a Pam, a Priscilla, a Jill (actually, two of them), a Janet, a Kim, a Mary and a Diana I can think of offhand."

Alford's book begins by detailing how he first seduced her, during a personal tour of the White House which ended-up in in Mrs Kennedy's bedroom: "Slowly, he unbuttoned the top of my shirtdress and touched my breasts... Then he reached up between my legs and started to pull off my underwear."

The book goes on to discuss their "varied and fun" liaisons. At one point, when she feared she was pregnant, he arranged for her to see an abortion doctor, even though the procedure was then illegal in the US.

JFK only rarely gave Alford a deeper insight into what made him tick. She recalls him once breaking down in tears following the death of his infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. On another occasion, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he confided: "I would rather my children were red than dead."

The book finishes on a sombre note. Alford recalls that she last met Kennedy at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, a week before the ill-fated trip to Dallas on which he was shot.

"He took me in his arms for a long embrace, and said: 'I wish you were coming with me to Texas!" Alford responded by informing him that she had recently become engaged to a college sweetheart. "'I know that,' he said, and shrugged. 'But I'll call you anyway.'"

JFK's lovers

Marilyn Monroe

Hollywood's most infamous star never spoke publicly about her relationship with JFK. But according to the biography The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe by J Randy Taraborrelli, she became "fixated on the President" after they met in February 1962. The book claims JFK invited Ms Monroe to Palm Springs the next month but dumped her after the trip.


Judith Exner

The socialite claimed she was introduced to JFK by her previous beau, Frank Sinatra. Their affair began on the eve of the New Hampshire primary in March 1960. "When you talked to him, you felt you were the only person on the planet...," Exner wrote in her 1976 memoir. It later emerged that she was used to pass classified CIA plans for the assassination of Fidel Castro to Chicago mafia boss Sam Giancana.


Marlene Dietrich

The German-American actress was 20 years JFK's senior when they allegedly shared a brief encounter at the White House in 1962. "It was all over sweetly and very soon... and then he went to sleep," a reporter from The New Yorker magazine quoted Ms Dietrich as saying.


Gunilla von Post

In her 1997 memoir, Love, Jack, the Swedish socialite described meeting the charming 36-year-old senator in 1953, a month before his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier. She claimed his marriage vows did not stop him from sending her love letters soon after, and visiting her for a week of passion in 1955. Ms von Post claimed the affair fizzled out when she declared she would only move to New York if she was his new wife. She says she bore him no hard feelings: "I borrowed him for a week, a beautiful week that no one can take away from me," she wrote. ENJOLI LISTON