It’s nearly 50 years since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s extracurricular activities were a White House secret and following his untimely death stories of his numerous affairs crept out of the woodwork. One woman held onto her story for over 40 years until it was exposed by an American newspaper; that woman is Mimi Alford.
"Once Upon a Secret - My Hidden Affair with JFK", by Mimi Alford
Once Upon a Secret is an intensely private memoir from someone who has gone to great lengths to shield her past from her family, friends and the wider world. In many ways, it could be viewed as self-preservation.
Alford hails from a conservative background, her parents unwavering Republicans. She describes her formative years as a traditional American white picket fence lifestyle of private schools, debutant balls and an expectation to marry well. An opportunity to become a White House intern fitted like a fine silk glove, even though the incumbent President was a Democrat.
Alford’s introduction to the President was clearly orchestrated, as were their numerous trysts over the 18 months until his assassination. What is perhaps surprising is that she says they never once kissed throughout their entire affair. She never met Jackie Kennedy, which is less surprising as she was spending a larger amount of her time away from the White House in their final years together.
Alford was a naive 19 year old when she was introduced to the President, a naiveity that did not seem to wane when she met her first husband Tony Fahnestock. She confessed her affair with the President to him in the hours following the assassination and he made it a condition of their upcoming marriage that the affair was never to discussed or spoken of ever again. Alford duly submitted and did not share it with anyone until the eventual breakdown of her marriage to Fahnestock. She blamed the suppression of the secret on the failure of her marriage.
Alford has lived her life in a series of contradictions. A principled Democrat in thrall to the President in her White House intern days, she then went on to work for the Republicans. In later years she worked for a Presbyterian Church in Manhattan but was not a practising Christian. Then of course, she played the part of dutiful wife whilst harbouring her guilty secret.
She seemed almost disappointed when she eventually shared her secret witih her children and closest friends, none of them seemed desperately surprised and almost all asked her why she hadn’t mentioned it sooner.
A product of her time, it’s hard not to wonder if she would have felt any less burdened in modern times? In the case of Monica Lewinsky, that cat was out of the bag relatively quickly, her story was out and then she got on with her life.
Alford waited 40 years to unburden herself.
Once Upon a Secret is available now.