The Dark Side of Camelot Revealed

As invasive as Jackie found the tabloids, it was a respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who aired the dirty marital laundry Jackie had worked so hard to keep private during her life. In 1997, three years after Jackie's death, Seymour Hersh published The Dark Side of Camelot, a book he researched for five years. In it, Hersh documents, in painstaking detail, accounts of Jack's affairs and his alleged efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Light Dalliances

According to Hersh, the night before his inauguration, Jack had a rendezvous with a young woman he'd been seeing for four years — ever since she was a nineteen year-old Radcliffe college student — at the Georgetown house where Jackie and the children had been living. In the spring of 1960, Jack became involved with a call girl named Alicia Darr who later tried to extort money from the Kennedys by threatening to go public.

Hersh described how Secret Service agents were frustrated by the women Jack brought into the White House for one-night stands. For obvious reasons, none of them were screened before showing up, so the agents worried for the president's safety. When he was traveling, local officials often arranged for young women to visit the president — occasionally more than one at a time. Some were political groupies or would-be actresses or party girls; some were high-class call girls. When Jackie was away from the White House, Jack would indulge in lunchtime skinny-dipping with two staff aides, known around the White House as Fiddle and Faddle. When Jackie was in residence, Jack refrained from extramarital activities — but the majority of her time was spent away from Washington in Virginia. Whenever Jackie was preparing to return to the White House she called to announce her pending arrival to avoid any awkward confrontations.

Worrisome Affairs

While most of Jack's infidelities were one-time encounters, some developed into ongoing affairs. In 1960 Frank Sinatra introduced Jack to a beautiful twenty-five-year-old California socialite named Judith Campbell. Within the month they began an affair. According to Hersh, Jack later asked Campbell to take a satchel containing a quarter million dollars to Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, who Campbell also knew through Sinatra. The money was for Giancana's help in securing the Illinois vote for Jack. Throughout the presidential primaries Campbell continued to act as a go-between for Giancana and Kennedy. After Kennedy ended the affair, Campbell became Giancana's lover.


“[Bess Truman] brought a daughter to the White House at a most difficult age, and managed to keep her from being spoiled so that she has made a happy marriage with a lovely child of her own. Mrs. Truman kept her family together in spite of White House demands, and that is the hardest thing to do.”

Because of her association with Giancana, the FBI had Campbell under surveillance so her affair with Jack soon came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI's top man did not make the affair public, mostly because that would draw attention to his illegal bugging of citizens. Hoover did intervene when Jack started an affair with a German-born twenty-seven-year-old named Ellen Rometsch. She met the president during one of his pool parties and they began an affair. Like a couple of other party girls Jack had been intimately involved with prior to his election, Ellen was a former member of the communist party. When the FBI became aware of their relationship, Hoover ordered an investigation, suspecting Rometsch was a spy. Kennedy quickly paid for Ellen to leave the country and return to Germany.

Hersh makes the subtle case that Kennedy's promiscuity may have indirectly contributed to his death. Two months before the assassination, Jack tore a groin muscle during a poolside sexual encounter. Afterward, he was forced to wear a stiff shoulder-to-groin brace that held his body in a rigid upright position in addition to his usual back brace. When Kennedy was shot in the neck by Oswald's first bullet, the new brace made it impossible for Jack to reflexively bend forward. Instead, he remained sitting straight up, allowing the second bullet to hit him directly in the head.

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