Even before the couple married, Jackie knew her beloved was a ladies man... but "such heartbreak would be worth the pain."
John F. Kennedy's key decisions as a president are not the only things etched in the minds of the Americans. The romance between him and the country's beloved First Lady, Jacqueline B. Kennedy, has stood the test of time to remain one of the favorite historic love stories. Much like fairytale romances, the couple met by chance and felt the sparks fly almost instantly between them.
At the time, John was a young, ambitious American Congressman while Jackie, as she was fondly called, wrote for the Washington Times-Herald. They were introduced to each other at a dinner party in 1952, which was hosted by Charles Bartlett. "My brother really was smitten with her right from the very beginning when he first met her at dinner," JFK's brother Ted Kennedy was quoted saying in the book, America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford. A few months later, the two struck up a courtship, and by the summer of 1953, they were engaged, according to Honey Nine.
On September 12, 1953, the couple got married in Newport, Rhode Island. As they set foot in the White House after John became the 35th President of the United States, they sought to infuse the new term with youth and exuberance. Jackie was especially excited to restore art and highlight the beauty of American history, culture, and achievement. These two highly educated and intelligent people seemed like the perfect couple to the world. However, what happened behind closed doors seems to be a heartbreaking story.
Though it wasn't brought to the attention of the media much at the time, JKF was rumored and believed to have engaged in multiple affairs during his 10-year marriage to Jackie. "If I don’t have sex every day, I get a headache," he would tell anyone and everyone, according to New York Post. In Seymour Hersh's book on the assassinated POTUS, The Dark Side of Camelot, JKF was dubbed a womanizer who used his Secret Service agent to sneak women into the White House for rendezvous. It seems that he had turned the People's House into a Playboy Mansion where even photographs of his private affairs were kept.
"Over a number of years, we framed a number of photographs of people — naked and often lying on beds — in the Lincoln Room," said Sidney Mickelson, who used to run an art gallery in DC, to Hersh in an interview. And the women were always gorgeous. Though he revealed that it was Secret Service agents who identified JKF as the masked man in those photos, it was never confirmed. From actress Marilyn Monroe, who considered herself the Second First Lady, to Judith Campbell Exner, who later began dating mobster Sam Giancana, to 19-year-old intern Mimi Beardsley, who worked in the White House, the 35th POTUS was certainly leaving his mark around town.
Throughout all of this, Jackie knew exactly what her husband was doing. “It was a marriage of its time,” a close family friend told People. “At the end of the day, Jack came back to Jackie — and that was it. They loved each other. It was kinetic between them. She wasn’t trying to change him.” Author Pamela Keogh, who penned Jackie Style, said that the First Lady's father, John Bouvier, had set the example for her with his own indiscretions. “She came from a world where that is what men did, and it was accepted,” said Keogh. However, it was something more than all this that drew her to him. Jackie had known about him being a ladies man long before their marriage and that his wild streak might cause her much pain, yet she believed "such heartbreak would be worth the pain."
New York City gossip columnist, Liz Smith—who was on JFK's affair beat and wrote quite a lot about Judith Exner—said of the iconic First Lady, “[Her friends] Truman Capote and Gore Vidal told me she knew all about Judith Exner and everybody else, and that she read [my stories] on Judith with high interest.” However, while JFK wasn't exactly discreet about his extra-curricular activities, privacy was sacred to his wife. She saw a reason to be with him despite his shortcomings.
In a late 1950s letter that Jackie addressed to her "atypical" husband, she wrote, "I know everyone says married couples should never separate — as you get off the same wavelength, but I think it is usually good when we go away from each other as we both realize so much. You are an atypical husband — increasingly so in one way or another every year since we've been married — so you mustn't be surprised to have an atypical wife. Each of us would have been so lonely with the normal kind." The letter, placed for auction in 2018, also shared Jackie's love for him despite the bizarre marriage: "I can't write down what I feel for you, but I will show you when I am with you — and I think you must know. All my love, Jackie."
Who can forget the heartbreaking image of Jackie, refusing to change her blood-stained pinksuit, after her husband was shot during a presidential motorcade in 1963. Her words revealed a loyalty that went beyond the iding in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza.: "Let everyone see what they have done to him."
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photo by National Archives