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Dale Banham

Student Question: JFK and Marilyn Monroe

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My Year 10 (aged 14-15) are now starting on a piece of coursework: 'Why is JFK remembered so positively?'. I have attached the questions they came up with in groups. Answers and different views from experts would be great for when we start back in September or for pupils to look at over the Summer.

Question: Did the press know about JFK’s affairs – especially with Marilyn Monroe? If so, why did they keep quiet about it? Why didn’t JFK’s private life create a scandal?

Edited by John Simkin

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My Year 10 (aged 14-15) are now starting on a piece of coursework: 'Why is JFK remembered so positively?'. I have attached the questions they came up with in groups. Answers and different views from experts would be great for when we start back in September or for pupils to look at over the Summer.

Question: Did the press know about JFK’s affairs – especially with Marilyn Monroe? If so, why did they keep quiet about it? Why didn’t JFK’s private life create a scandal?

It is not certain that JFK had an affair with Marilyn Monroe, though he may have. I suspect that some of the press knew something about the affairs he did have, but in those days, such things weren't reported--just as the affairs of Harding, FDR and Eisenhower hadn't been reported--and Nixon is also rumored to have had affairs. This disinclination to report affairs has only changed in recent years.

Martin Shackelford

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Yes, the press did know about JFK's affairs – or at least some of them and his relationship with Marilyn Monroe was known about. As to why they kept quiet about it and why it didn't create a scandal – the simplest answer is that the US press in the 1960's were disinclined to expose a sitting president. It's difficult to imagine in our current society that any presidential scandal would have been ignored – the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle being a good demonstration of how the press deal with scandal today.

You might like to read pgs 106-110 of Seymour Hersh's 'The Dark Side of Camelot'. These pages refer to a journalist, James Bacon, who had been told by Marilyn herself about her affair with JFK, yet he didn't file the story because 'reporters just didn't go into that sort of thing'. Page 106 onward refers also to an episode when a citizen by the name of Florence M Kater attempted numerous times, from 1959, to expose Kennedy's womanising.

In a nutshell, Kater had rented a room in her home to one Pamela Turnure, who worked as an aide in Kennedy's senate office. When she realised that (the then Senator) Kennedy was conducting an affair with Turnure she photographed him leaving the latter's apartment in the early hours. She wrote to numerous newspaper editors, and the link herewith http://www.thesmokinggun.com/jfk/debaucher1.html will take you to an FBI document from 1961 which refers to the picture. Kater even had the picture enlarged and mounted on a placard, then protested outside the White House, but all to no avail.

The story is in itself perhaps amusing, but it also demonstrates the reluctance that editors felt in exposing a sitting president, and moreover, one who was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in America at that time.

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I am not able to give you more than personal impressions. Personally, I assumed that he was promiscuous based on a great deal of informed gossip. I assume that journalists assigned to Washington must have know a lot more than I did about the matter since I was not much interested in knowing whom he slept with and tended to feel that this was a private matter. I don't think that I heard the name MM at the time but am not sure. I believe the press left this area alone for several reasons: they liked JFK; there was more respect for privacy in sex lives, if they were heterosexual, then than now; a journalist would not help his reputation by publishing dirt of this sort.

Let me add that a strong case can be made for saying that the sex life of JFK, when President, was a matter of legitimate public concern. (1) It was infra dig for him to bed the same woman as a key mafia boss and that exposed him and his office to blackmail. (2) According to published reports in respected media, he or his cronies orderered that women be admitted to his living quarters in the WH without identification or vetting by the Secret Service. What if some Soviet or Cosa Nostra agent had photographed him having sex with her and applied pressure? How could the Secret Service protect him from a female assassin? Had he lived to run for a 2nd term would the American people have been informed of his alleged affair with the sexy and promiscuous German woman who was an agent of the East German intelligence service? Finally, in a democracy if a majority of the voting public believes adultery to be a crime, shouldn't it be entitled to know whether a presidential candidate is unfaithful to his wife?

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