Chapter 5: Marilyn and Jack

Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy

Chapter 5


By July 1960, Marilyn had finished that atrocious movie and had returned to New York with Arthur. Marilyn’s studio Fox, was demanding she return to Los Angeles to finish last minute dubbing on the movie. The Democratic National Convention was held in LA that month and the week of the convention saw Marilyn traveling across the country several times. Unfortunately in mid-week when JFK decided to make an impromptu speech, Marilyn was not there when he brought her friend Pat onto the stage. When Pat told her she would miss history if she wasn’t there for Jack’s final speech, Marilyn made it to the convention in time to hear the details of the “New Frontier.” It is sometimes insinuated that she “snuck” into LA to carry on her affair with the president. Actually, her low key visit was because she had made an issue with her studio about returning to do work she felt could be done in NY. She just didn’t want it broadcast to her studio that she was in town. After the convention, Pat invited her to the Lawfords party to celebrate Jack’s nomination.

Marilyn and Frank Sinatra would often go to great lengths to avoid the publicity of being seen in public together. In the past it had been primarily to keep the depth their relationship from Joe DiMaggio and Frank’s wife Ava Gardner. Now they had a special friendship they kept private from almost everyone. Sinatra would often arrange for an escort to bring Marilyn to events he would be at. On this night Marilyn arrived at the Lawfords on the arm of Sammy Davis Jr, Frank’s friend and fellow Rat Packer. It appears everyone had a grand time as this is reported to have been some party. Contrary to rumor, Marilyn and JFK were not intimate that evening, nor did they skinny dip in the pool. That’s patently ridiculous. Did the party get wild? Well it was no Garden of Allah, but near the end of the evening, did a few female guests get thrown in the pool? Did they take off their clothes and briefly frolic naked in the water? If so, it’s not exactly scandalous, especially by Hollywood standards. But Marilyn and JFK? No. Marilyn was really just getting to know the future president and she was there as a guest of her friend Pat. Finally, this may be one night JFK wasn’t chasing skirts as he was busy basking in congratulatory adulation and couldn’t free himself from the hundreds of glad-handers looking for face time with the man who had a good chance at being the next president.

Marilyn wouldn’t see Jack again for over a year. Let’s take a fast-forward approach to that time and just look at the major moments in each of their lives. JFK was busy for the next several months on the campaign trail. After the convention, Marilyn would fly to the Nevada desert to film her literary husband’s debut screenplay, The Misfits. Filming this movie made Marilyn miserable. By November, the film was done as was her marriage. Adding to her despair, her childhood idol and fellow co-star, Clark Gable died that month. Marilyn felt deeply guilty that she may have contributed to his death by having him wait so often during the filming of The Misfits. That he left a widow who was pregnant made things infinitely worse.

Meanwhile, JFK had won the election. Frank Sinatra had played an integral part in the campaign ever since early in 1960, when JFK made a few stops at “The Summit,” the Rat Pack, renamed Jack Pack, bacchanalia party/filming of Ocean’s 11 in Las Vegas. Frank had even recorded the campaign’s theme song and was now tapped by Joe Kennedy to produce the inaugural gala.

On the day of the inauguration, Marilyn would fly to Mexico to finalize her divorce from Miller. Shortly thereafter she was so despondent and potentially suicidal that her psychiatrist thought it best to have her committed for her own protection. To show how unlikely a romance with JFK is at this time, contrast Marilyn’s life with that of a newly elected president busy with his first 100 days. A time period that would culminate with a national and political disaster in Cuba. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco both the president and his attorney general brother had their hands full, and it wasn’t with Marilyn.

Meanwhile, Marilyn was busy thanking ex-husband Joe DiMaggio for extracting her from confinement and finding a place she could recuperate in peace. The two would spend a lot of time together that spring in Florida as Marilyn would work up the courage to finally tell Joe about Frank. While she was in the hospital, Frank had come to visit Marilyn. They stayed in touch often, with Frank even gifting her a small dog for companionship. He also made it clear that she was welcome to move into his place anytime she wanted. There had always been obstacles to a romance in the past but now they decided to give it a go. She moved into his home. Frank traveled a lot, and could never be faithful to just one women for long periods of time, so Marilyn did eventually get her own apartment in LA. She also kept her NY place. It was hard to pin Frank down, but their time together in the spring and summer of 1961 went well enough for Marilyn to hope that a marriage proposal would soon be coming. Sooner or later Frank would want to settle down. Marilyn planned to make it sooner.

The next time Marilyn would see JFK was when she was traveling with Frank and they were very much a couple. In early fall, Peter Lawford was filming the movie Advise and Consent in Washington, DC. Frank was invited to appear in a cameo. Frank invited Marilyn along. If you’ve ever heard the story where Marilyn traveled up and down the Potomac in a motorboat with JFK, Hubert Humphrey and a few of their aides, it’s true and happened during this visit in the fall of 1961.

While in DC, JFK let Sinatra know that because of all the hard work that Frank had done on the gala, Joe Kennedy was inviting Frank to his house for a special dinner in his honor. Earlier in the summer Papa Joe had extended an invitation to Frank to join the Lawfords when they visited him and his wife in the Riviera. That invitation had been rescinded and this was a way to smooth things over with Frank.

During the fall of 1961, Rose Kennedy, Joe’s wife and Pat’s mother, had decided to stay in Europe and visit Paris while Joe returned to Hyannis Port. JFK wanted his father to have a good time and knew Frank would bring the party to the compound. Aboard JFK’s private plane, a disguised Marilyn joined the Lawfords, Frank, the rest of his entourage, a dozen bottles of champagne, cases of wine and other party fixings and flew to a small airport near Hyannis Port. Marilyn got to personally gift Joe Kennedy the Italian bread that Frank brought. JFK’s wife Jackie got angry at the goings on and this weekend would prove to be the beginning of the end of Frank’s cozy relationship with the Kennedy clan.

Many people will deny that Marilyn had anything to do with these events and offer bogus proof she was elsewhere. (All they really prove is the lengths Marilyn would go to avoid revealing information about her outings with Frank, to DiMaggio.) It doesn’t matter. The point of the story is there was nothing sexual going on with Marilyn and JFK. Marilyn and Frank are definitely a couple at this time, plus she is traveling with her friend Pat. The next time she would cross paths with the president occurred shortly thereafter and it would be as a guest of Pat in her Santa Monica beach home.

The moments JFK had spent with Marilyn in DC, and then at his parents house, sparked an intense interest in him for Marilyn. He soon began to look for ways to meet up again with her, preferably with neither Frank nor Jackie around. The president would take a trip that fall to Santa Monica and attend an informal dinner given by his sister in her and Peter’s beach home. Marilyn would be in attendance that evening. (This is the same JFK visit where he is “spotted with Marilyn” during a formal fundraiser “at a Beverly Hills hotel.” Often in the retelling, the formal, and very public, fundraising part is left out.) The informal event at the Lawford home is important because it will become the genesis of every JFK/Marilyn affair story in the future. Bits and pieces of what happened that night will themselves fragment and show up in a variety of stories set in different times and places. To permanently cement this meeting in the lore of every conspiracy theory is the fact that Marilyn and the president’s escapades that evening were taped.

By the fall of 1961, everyone from J. Edgar Hoover to Jimmy Hoffa had heard of the wild goings on at the Lawford beach house, more commonly known as the “Western White House.” Whoever was eavesdropping on that particular day hit the jackpot when the president hustled Marilyn into an empty room that happened to have a live bug. With no time to spare, because someone could come into the room at anytime, Jack tried to make every second of alone time with Marilyn count. As for JFK’s moves… he was direct, quick moving, up close and extremely personal. He slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her so close that he seemed beside her and in front of her at the same time. She felt a whirl of hands all over her body until one hand rested on the small of her back. As they locked eyes inches apart he never stopped talking. In that charming accent, his words were so smooth and creamy they seemed to drip with anticipation.

Marilyn, surprised yet flattered by the attention, at first could only get out his name as a question. Jack? Jaack? Finally in mock protest, she said in a way only she could, a very breathy, “Mr. President.” It was all the encouragement he needed as he slipped the hand on her lower back under the elastic waistband of her capris. He cupped her behind and told her she had the nicest ass in Hollywood. With pouted face and that Marilynesque mixture of sensuality and vulnerability she whispered, “Just Hollywood?” As they laughed he leaned in even closer and kissed her neck as his hand went even lower. He firmly pressed against her and leaned in so close his face was almost in her bosom. She was sure if he leaned any further they would both topple onto the floor. Just then fate intervened and it was suddenly over. Pat knocked on the door, then slowly opened it looking for Jack. JFK laughed and told his sister he was just getting to know Miss Monroe a little better. Pat muttered a quiet, “Uh huh” as she escorted Marilyn out of the room.

In the retelling of this encounter, the tale usually morphs into a dinner party with Marilyn seated next to JFK. In some reports it occurred at Puccini’s during the week of the convention. It usually goes something like this: JFK’s wandering hand travels up Marilyn’s thigh, when suddenly, the president realizes she isn’t wearing panties as his fingers enter the promised land. Afterward, Marilyn tells some reporter or close friend that she found the president “very democratic” and/or “very penetrating.” Sometimes one of those lines is used but in a different context, with Marilyn describing a totally different kind of sexual encounter with JFK. Like all Monroe/Kennedy stories they get a little crazier with each retelling.

Later, back in reality, the audio recording of this night would be spliced together with an actual sex tape of JFK (most likely with his mistress Judith Campbell Exner) to make it seem as if things progressed way further than they actually had. This recording would prove to be a huge aggravation for Joe DiMaggio, and would end up costing someone a large amount of money for it to disappear. Because many people heard the tape before it disappeared, their first hand evidence would be used as proof of a JFK/Marilyn affair. But that one encounter, more of a flirtation than anything else, would actually be the extent of the “sex” John Kennedy had with Marilyn Monroe. After that evening JFK would attempt to spend a night with Marilyn but would never consummate his plans. Well, probably never. They would meet only three more, well documented times.

The next meeting would be at social event in New York, a party at socialite Fifi Fells Manhattan home in February 1962. Some reports mistakenly have this party a few months later. Another confuses this party with a different Fell/JFK party the previous year. Peter Lawford’s business partner, Milt Ebbins was there with Marilyn, so his account is the most reliable. Before the party Marilyn assured Pat nothing would happen. Did she keep her word?

Before we arrive at the Fell party lets take a moment to reminisce. Let’s go back to the night JFK ushers Marilyn into a quiet, empty room. When Pat had asked Marilyn what had happened that evening in her home, Marilyn had told her it was just Jack flirting. When asked what she did, Marilyn exclaimed, “I flirted back.” She assured her friend it meant nothing. But other guests that evening knew of Marilyn’s alone time with the president and it caused a bit of concern as the rumors spread. Marilyn convinced Pat the whole thing was just silly. But when Marilyn added with a grin, “unless he really means it,” Pat grew concerned all over again. She knew what that meant.

Back in September, around the time of the party in Hyannis Port, both Marilyn and Pat thought Frank was on the verge of popping the question. He had given Marilyn an expensive set of earrings that both women thought was a prelude to a ring. It hadn’t happened, although Marilyn was still hopeful. Pat knew that if Marilyn thought Jack would someday marry her, she would be terribly disappointed, so she warned her about how her brother could be with woman. Marilyn assured her she knew exactly how to handle Jack.

If Marilyn were looking to start a new sexual adventure this would be the time. Marilyn was having man troubles. Miller was gone, Frank was absent, and DiMaggio was… well… complicated. Arthur Miller, her ex-husband of just one year had moved on. When Marilyn came back to New York in early February 1962, she learned Miller was soon to be married to a photographer he had met while filming their movie, The Misfits. The fact that the woman was already pregnant was like adding salt to an open wound.

Meanwhile, Frank seemed to be pulling away. Sinatra was a busy man. He traveled around a lot. He appeared regularly in Vegas and in late fall of the previous year he went on a world tour through Asia. He was often reported in the press to be romantically involved with someone new. And of course Marilyn heard the rumors of other women, but she had a special bond with Sinatra, and still thought marriage was possible. But as 1961 was about to end, she found her self alone. Pat was with the Kennedy family back east and Frank was nowhere to be found.

During Christmas of 1961, Joe DiMaggio made a repeat appearance in Marilyn’s life, as he had the Christmas before. He knew how depressed Marilyn could get around the holidays and didn’t want her to be alone. Joe and Marilyn had a unique relationship. He could be good for Marilyn, especially during rough times. He was like a buoy she could hold on to during the times she felt most like drowning. His friendship and companionship meant a lot to Marilyn but both of them knew they could never be married to each other again. A relationship like theirs just didn’t work. He would never be okay with her career, and she could never be okay without it.

When Marilyn met JFK at the Fell dinner party in New York she may have felt like she was single. She had heard the rumors about Frank and Juliet Prowse throughout the previous year, but in January 1962, the press was reporting the two were to be married. It came as a complete surprise to Marilyn and she did not take the news well. She really felt that if anyone was to be the future and final Mrs. Sinatra, it would be her. She confronted Sinatra with how hurtful it was finding out this way but he downplayed the whole thing as a publicity stunt. He said he was “just helping the kid out.” Marilyn wanted to believe him but she had a fabulous B.S. detector and she just wasn’t sure.

One thing she knew about Sinatra was that he would never apologize, especially about another woman, but he would try to make it up to her. In this case that would turn out to be a trip to Mexico he arranged for Marilyn where she could shop for furniture for her new home on his dime. For some time now, Sinatra and Monroe had been talking about future film projects they could do together. During her stay in Mexico, Sinatra was going to arrange for Marilyn to meet Albert Maltz, a screenwriter he wanted her to consider. Back in early 1960, during the time Sinatra was involved in JFK’s campaign, he had hired Maltz to write a screenplay. It caused quite a stir. Maltz was a victim of early Hollywood blacklisting because of communist ties and he lived in Mexico in a small community of artists branded by the U.S. as “Commies.” John Kennedy had been alright with Sinatra’s business dealings with Maltz as long as Frank held off on the announcement until after a crucial primary. But it was not alright with Kennedy’s father. Papa Joe had given Sinatra an ultimatum, “It’s Maltz or us.” But that was during the election. Frank thought now it might not be an issue. When Sinatra told Marilyn that Maltz lived in a community that included Frederick Vanderbilt Field, America’s exiled silver spoon communist, he told her she might want to run it by the president just to make sure he would be okay with it.

So that was one thing on Marilyn’s mind when she met JFK at the Fifi Fell party. Another was a discussion she had with the presidents brother Bobby, just the week before. So while Marilyn did have a few things to discuss with the president, she wasn’t naive. She knew that Jack was interested in more than talk. Peter Lawford, JFK’s brother-in-law/Hollywood connection, had for some months now been telling Marilyn how special the president though she was. Even indicating that he might want to spend the night with her. Marilyn was intrigued and wondered just how special he thought she was. But she had also told Pat that nothing would happen. She decided to meet Kennedy that night and make it clear that she wasn’t interested in being a conquest. She was playing for keeps now and if something were to happen, she wanted that something to have a future.

There are reporters who swear that JFK and Marilyn snuck out of the party, then used secret tunnels to rendezvous in Kennedy’s room. Who can say for sure. Marilyn assured Pat nothing happened and perhaps, we too, should take her at her word. After this dinner party Marilyn would meet up with JFK two more times.

The next meeting would be when Marilyn and JFK were both guests at Bing Crosby’s home near Palm Springs at the end of March, and the last would be the night she sang Happy Birthday to the president in May.