More to history than an intern's tale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am


New revelations by a former intern in the John F. Kennedy White House make the cigar antics of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton look tame. Excerpts from Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath, an account by Mimi Alford of her teenage years at the heart of the administration, read like something from a bad erotic novel.

'Slowly, he unbuttoned the top of my shirtdress... I finished unbuttoning my shirtdress and let it fall off my shoulders.' Here is one too many presidential detail we can do without.

The New York Post obtained an advance copy and published the juiciest bits before anyone else. No doubt they will provoke much salacious interest. Still, Alford's account of her 18-month-long affair - ended only by Kennedy's assassination - shows how much our attitudes have changed towards power, sex and office harassment. What Kennedy did with Alford and many other women would have brought down a presidency today faster than he could repeat their names.

It's been said a valet's view of a great man may be factually accurate but historically false. Here is the perspective of an ingenue. Will it add to what we already know about Kennedy? Was he a great man or a sex fiend?

Kennedy's top aides stayed loyal to his memory long after he was gone, and it was not because he knew how 'to take care of them', to use Alford's euphemism. A recent memoir by Ted Sorensen, who crafted Kennedy's most famous speeches, probably says most of what the public needs to know about Kennedy the man. A Thousand Days, by the historian Arthur Schlesinger, another top aide, is still indispensible to understanding the Kennedy years.

Today, many such aides would have rushed out of the White House gates to spill the beans in hope of getting a multimillion-dollar book contract. But that men of such high calibre stayed true to a dead boss says something about Kennedy.