Obituary: Eva Ban, the bikini woman in photo with John F. Kennedy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 10:11pm


Today, the image would have gone viral - the president of the United States, dripping wet in trunks, laughing with a pretty woman in a polka-dot bikini.

But well before the internet, the 1962 photo of president John F. Kennedy at the beach in Santa Monica, California, made quite a splash. And for a Los Angeles woman named Eva Ban, its effect lasted a lifetime.

Ban was the woman in the two-piece swimsuit, which was modest by today's standards.

A few days after the photo ran in newspapers and on television broadcasts around the world, Ban revealed what she and Kennedy were laughing about.

It was a woman in the crowd clustering around the tanned, bare-chested, 45-year-old president. "Mabel," the woman yelled to a friend, "I touched him!"

Ban, who was raised in Hungary and studied classical dance, died on March 8 at a care facility in Oakland. She was 94 and had Alzheimer's disease, her daughter Agi Ban said.

For several years, Ban had been in nursing homes and hospitals - and the photo had gone along with her, displayed as prominently in her room as it had been in her home. "People treated her differently because they knew who she was," Agi Ban said.

Born Eva Charlotte Boross in Long Branch, New Jersey, Ban - the daughter of a Hungarian mother and an American father - grew up in Budapest. Fleeing the Nazis, she moved first to London and then the US.

In mid-August 1962, Kennedy was relaxing by the pool at the beachside home of his brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford. Late in the afternoon, Kennedy strode across the sand and plunged into the surf.

Back ashore, Ban was looking for her 13-year-old son, Peter, who had jumped into the surf to see if he could shake the president's hand. The boy didn't succeed, but his mother wound up in an image that would be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize,

Ban declined offers in the wake of her sudden fame. Her husband, architect Alexander Ban, wasn't pleased when Dick Cavett asked her to appear on his TV show in her bikini. "Fine. If you are in your bathing suit, then Dick Cavett must be in his," Agi Ban recalled her father saying.