These days the extramarital activities of John F. Kennedy are common knowledge to most, but back in the Sixties the president and his wife represented the perfect family. They were the American royal family in a way, an image that was further cemented by JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s careful preservation of his image. Images of President Kennedy playing with his children in the White House and stories about about him requesting extra bedtime stories to read to his children further inspired Americans to idolize the Kennedy brand.1 He even had Jackie put rubber ducks in his bathroom so he could play with his son John in the bath. Images and stories like this are what drew many Americans to JFK, Americans like Caitlin Flanagan who wrote in her article in The Independent “And it was right then—with the description of the rubber ducks, and the way they evoked the closeness of father and son, the intimacy of husband and wife, and the essential nature of married life—that I got back together with John Kennedy.”2
But for as intimate and loving as the Kennedy family outwardly appeared to Americans at the time, its not the “perfect American family.” Eventually the American public learned of JFK’s myriad affairs, be it from the deposition of Judith Exner, the recollections of former White House intern Mimi Alford, or the many other women who rendezvoused with the president. The shattering illusion caused anger among some former Kennedy fans and dismissal from others as they realized their trust in the image of JFK was being attacked. Kennedy’s betrayal is most shocking in his affair with Mimi Alford, a 19 year old intern with whom he had sex in Jackie’s bedroom and took baths in that same bathroom with the rubber ducks. Flanagan juxtaposes this affair with the Jackie Kennedy Historic Conversations tapes, stating “the details of this affair reveal that no matter what Jackie may have believed about the inviolability of her refuge—the “hermetically sealed” nature of the compartment John shared with her alone—not one inch of it was sacred to her husband. Not the bedrooms, not the bathrooms. Not even the rubber ducks.”3 This man that “evoked the intimacy of husband and wife” betrayed that intimacy by chasing after every woman that he could.
It is confusing then, that the women JFK slept with have received so much blame and abuse while the perpetrator has received mostly atta-boys. Mimi Alford was apparently hated by other women working in the White House, both because of her relationship with the President and the troubles that relationship brought to the White House staff.4 Meanwhile, Judith Exner was “pilloried by a public furious at learning that at least one wing of Camelot had more in common with the Playboy Club,” as Patt Morrison from the LA Times puts it.5 But the only person who should be blamed for wanton womanizing is the womanizer himself, not the women he took advantage of thanks to his position as President and a pop icon. Hopefully the carefully crafted image of the family man will gradually fade from the American public’s mind, and they will be able to see him as he was: the real President Kennedy.
1.Flanagan, Caitlin. “Jackie and the Girls.” The Atlantic. February 19, 2014. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/jackie-and-the-girls/309000/.
4. Sorkin, Amy Davidson. “Mimi and the President.” The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/mimi-and-the-president.
5. Morrison, Patt. “50 Years Later, JFK Girlfriend Judith Campbell Exner Deserves an Image Makeover.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2013. Accessed April 05, 2018. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/nov/21/news/la-ol-jfks-lover-50-years-on-20131121.