I heard many “s” words this past week that characterize what I’m calling the “Alford Affair,” the bombshell revelation of President John F. Kennedy’s 18-month-long sexual liaison, some 50 years ago, with a 19-year-old White House intern, Mimi Alford (born Marion Beardsley). According to Alford, Kennedy took dips with her in the White House swimming pool, then first seduced her in Jackie Kennedy’s bedroom.
Sex; secret; sensational; self-absorbed; self-esteem; superficial; seamy; sad; sordid; shocking; selfish…the list goes on.
These words combined reveal the sexual immaturity of our society and shine a bright light on many of our deep sexual fault lines, which never seem to go away: politicians behaving badly, teenagers being swept away, age imbalance in relationships, failure to understand the elements of healthy relationships, breaking marriage vows, unwillingness to use protection, the inability to talk sensibly about sexuality, the celebrity/sex connection, using sex to sell everything, and the media’s insatiable appetite for stories about sex (the steamier, the better).
Yet I didn’t hear the word “sympathy” much at all during the media’s hurricane-strength coverage of the affair, which included a giant photo in Times Square of Mimi as she looked 50 years ago. I admit it is hard to apply sympathy to the Alford Affair, because when compared with the real, pressing issues of the day, it seems trivial and pointless.
I have little sympathy for historian Robert Dallek—the original public source of this miserable, tell-all drama—because he revealed Kennedy’s relationship with Alford. In An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, he wrote about Kennedy’s affair with a beautiful teenage “intern”—a revelation that was based on an oral memoir by Barbara Gamarekian, released in 2003 by the JFK Library and Museum.
Why, I wonder, did he need to reveal the affair? Did he feel that history would suffer if he did not, or did he hope the sensational tidbit of gossip would help sell books?
I have little sympathy for both Kennedy and Ms. Alford, and I wonder what drove him to take the huge risk of having an affair in the White House, beginning it in his wife’s bedroom. It is unimaginable to me that the president of the United States would possibly compromise his marriage and his status in the world with such a dalliance. But according to Ms. Alford in her new memoir, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath, that is exactly what he did.