Did you know that JFK was the first American President to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey? He was. The tradition is often said to originate with George Bush (#41) but that was just the first Official Pardon. When JFK was presented with a turkey wearing a bib emblazoned, “Good eating, Mr. President”,  he apparently turned to Jackie and declared, “Why don’t we just keep it?”

I think about that anecdote a lot when I consider JFK, because otherwise I just judge him as that jerk who really dicked over Marilyn Monroe.

Well that . . . and Civil Rights. Those two things.

JFK’s relationship with Marilyn was famously awful – you doubtless already know the basics, so I’ll attempt to keep the story brief – but, suffice to say, Marilyn Monroe wasn’t a happy woman. After her marriage to Arthur Miller ended disastrously, Arthur wrote a bunch of terrible letters discussing how he wished he had never married her, which Marilyn read, because Marilyn Monroe was Marilyn Monroe, so, of course she did.

In them, he said that he was embarrassed by her in public, and disappointed to show her off to his friends.

How could this Woody Allen lookalike be ashamed to show her to his friends?

Marilyn Monroe wrote about her sadness and dismay at this time in her diary. One poem runs:

on the screen of pitch blackness
comes/reappears the shapes of monsters
my most steadfast companions . . .

and the world is sleeping
ah peace I need you—even a
peaceful monster.

Marilyn Monroe was pretty much never happy. Ever. And she continued to love Arthur Miller even after he ceased to care for her. Want more sad diary entries? Here’s one!

Starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that’s all I really have and as I see it now have ever had . . . I’ve tried to imagine spring all winter—it’s here and I still feel hopeless. I think I hate it here because there is no love here anymore . . .

In every spring the green [of the ancient maples] is too sharp—though the delicacy in their form is sweet and uncertain—it puts up a good struggle in the wind—trembling all the while . . . I think I am very lonely—my mind jumps. I see myself in the mirror now, brow furrowed—if I lean close I’ll see—what I don’t want to know—tension, sadness, disappointment, my [“blue” is crossed out] eyes dulled, cheeks flushed with capillaries that look like rivers on maps—hair lying like snakes. The mouth makes me the sadd[est], next to my dead eyes . . .

When one wants to stay alone as my love (Arthur) indicates the other must stay apart.

So – this sad, tortured woman began her affair with JFK in 1961, after her divorce from Arthur.

Help help
I feel life coming closer
when all I want
Is to die.

If you are suicidal, beginning an affair with JFK is such a bad idea.

You often hear that relations between JFK and Marilyn weren’t carnally satisfying. You heard correctly! Marilyn remarked that Kennedy was a surprisingly (I find it surprising because I am easily tricked by a strong jaw line) bad lover. Angie Dickinson agreed and claimed her time with Kennedy constituted “the fifteen most memorable seconds of my life.” Marilyn said that he made love “like a rooster in a hen house. Bam! Bam! Bam! I was constantly reminding him to zip up.”

But, satisfying or not, it wasn’t surprising that the two slept together. By this point JFK had made his way through scores of female celebrities, like Gene Tierney

gene tierney


Lee Remick


and Jayne Mansfield (who was once advertised as “Marilyn Monroe King Sized”).


Personally, I think the President was trying to compete with his father, Joe Kennedy, who had a very public affair with Gloria Swanson, the most famous movie star of his day.


Jack Kennedy’s affair with Marilyn followed his typical pattern, which is to say she was disguised as as a secretary and smuggled into the White House. Aides were told, “You’ll see things, but you won’t see them.”

The unusual aspect of the affair was that, unlike most of his perhaps more sophisticated and knowing conquests, Marilyn really thought she was going to be First Lady. This is clearly not correct because anyone who has watched Legally Blonde knows that men in politics “want to marry a Jackie not a Marilyn.”

Marilyn Monroe was pre-Legally Blonde in a lot of ways.

She began making incessant phone calls to the President. She told everyone that Jack Kennedy was going to leave Jackie and marry her. Maybe he said something about this possibility, probably not. I mean, it seems very unlikely, and most of his other conquests seem to agree that, when Jack talked about his marriage, he was unhappy that it was not fully satisfying, but never suggested that he was going to leave.

Their affair finally came to an end a few days after Jack’s 45th birthday and Marilyn’s epic performance of “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Some say she styled her hair to look just like Jackie’s for that evening, which, you know, is a little Single White Female even if you think Marilyn Monroe is pretty much the best thing ever (which I certainly do). You haven’t seen the performance? Let’s watch it together.


Yeah, no one thinks of Jackie Kennedy when they see that. Jack appeared to enjoy the show, telling the press “I can now retire, after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” Jackie herself couldn’t bear to watch and excused herself from the party.

And then JFK changed his phone number and never spoke to Marilyn again. Members of the White House went so far as to tell her that she was “just another one of Jack’s fucks.” Marilyn retaliated by calling the White House over and over, leaving at least one message saying that she was going to hold a press conference and tell everyone about her affair with Jack. She also supposedly took (too many) sleeping pills.

Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist but if you are, “the Kennedys killed Marilyn Monroe” is a decent plot to consider. Basically, if you believe the moon landing was a hoax, you might want to back this horse as well.

So – in summary! At the advice of associates JFK unceremoniously dumps Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn in some way ends up dead. This is very sad on its own, but the most tragic aspect might be that Marilyn wasn’t even JFK’s favorite mistress at the time. That would have been the mob moll Judy Campbell.

Judy Campbell was said to look like a slimmer version of Elizabeth Taylor, which may have been why Eddie Fisher (the man who held a gun to Elizabeth Taylor’s head!) took up with her shortly after his break up with Liz.

This was Judy. She looks pretty stylish, but I doubt she had the gene mutation that resulted in a double row of eyelashes the way Liz did.

judy campbell

In some ways, Judy reminds me more of Edie Sedgwick than Liz Taylor. I mean, whatever Lindsay Lohan leads you to believe, Elizabeth Taylor was deeply talented, and she had been a star essentially since birth. Judy was just a girl from a wealthy family who, after taking some extension courses at UCLA, moved to New York in 1952. She had no particular career aspirations and proceeded to have a whee of a time spending her family’s money. During that period she took up with figures like Frank Sinatra whom she dated for a while.

Let’s take a moment for a story about Frank Sinatra!

Once, Frank was – I just typed “courting a lady” but it seems to fit neither the time nor the person. Once, Frank Sinatra was banging some broad, and at a party she disagreed with him about politics. He acted like it wasn’t a big deal, she retired early, and then he sent his valet to her room with a plate of spare ribs. The valet informed the woman, who was wearing a nightgown, anticipating Ol’ Blue Eyes’ arrival, that Frank wanted her to have spare ribs for dinner. He then smashed the plate into her face.

That was the kind of action that Frank Sinatra took. Though presumably not to Judy! Hopefully? I bet she agreed with him about politics. It was through Sinatra that Judy met the Kennedys in early 1960, though Ted, not Jack, Kennedy was the first to pursue her. Judy dismissed him saying that he was “the baby brother walking in his older brother’s shadow.”

She may not have been interested in the family, but Jack Kennedy was intrigued with her. His younger brother’s pursuit caused him to take a second look at Judy; he claimed, early in their romance, that Ted would “eat his heart out” if he could see them in bed together.

I don’t know how much heart eating you can do in fifteen seconds, but some, I suppose. That guy in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom knows how.

ted kennedy

Ted Kennedy, pretty much.

Judy later said that Ted was the only Kennedy Jack ever spoke negatively of, which, well, does this make you reassess your opinion of Ted Kennedy in any way? No, probably not.

In any event, Jack called Judy daily, and sent her numerous bouquets of red roses, which sounds nice! She became equally entranced with him, and read Profiles in Courage as well as Why England Slept. Judy liked the fact that Kennedy never seemed “to worry about anything but how his clothes looked.” However, she wasn’t so entranced with him as to be uninterested when Frank Sinatra introduced her to a man he called Sam Flood.

Sam Flood was not his real name. It’s not anyone’s real name, probably.

Sam Flood’s real name was Sam Giancana and he was at the top echelons of the Mafia, and, when he met Judy, he was also 26 years older than her. Here he is:

Judy was convinced that Sam wanted a relationship with her mainly because she was close to JFK, but that didn’t stop the flirting. Sam sent her yellow roses on a regular basis. She didn’t break up with Kennedy though, so there must have been days when she received both yellow and red roses. This makes me wonder a lot about the shade of her wallpaper. Was it blue? I think it would have been great if it was blue because then – all of the primary colors. I assure you I am the only one considering this.

If anything, her affair with Jack was only heightened; he claimed that if he didn’t win the Presidential nomination, he wanted to take a month off and go away with her.

Of course, he did win the Presidential nomination, so that didn’t work out. When he won the Presidency, Sam told Judy, “If it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t even be in the White House.”

Jack invited Judy to the inaugural dinner, but Judy declined. She felt increasingly uncomfortable about the fact that Jack was married, and had to continually remind herself that “his marriage was an unhappy one.” She also wasn’t that impressed with Jackie’s interior decorating, which, again, makes me want to know what the inside of her own house looked like.

The affair began to fade.

Jack continually tried to get Judy to swim naked with him in the White House pool, which was a courting activity he did with a number of starlets during his White House years. I guess if I were a philandering President, I would think that was pretty great, too. Judy declined because she didn’t want to mess up her hair.

He also tried to get her to participate in a menage a trois, which she refused saying, “I would think you’d have enough on your mind without cooking up something like this.”

Later, he asked her if she’d told anyone about their affair, and, of course she had, to friends. It was then that she realized that the FBI had bugged her phone.

If someone bugs your phone, it’s a good reason to break up with them. But Jack was extremely apologetic, claiming that he wanted to give her a piece of “conscience medicine” in the form of a diamond and ruby brooch. He then told her that he rarely gave jewelry, and she should be grateful.

Dude, he bugged her phone.

Meanwhile, he became more demanding, and, if she said something he didn’t like on the phone, he would just hang up on her. Judy said that the affair more or less petered out and that she’d “fallen out of love with him.”

That may not be the whole story, though.

It has been said that a few days after Jack’s 45th birthday – the one where Marilyn performed her famous rendition of Happy Birthday – JFK received a call from FBI head J. Edgar Hoover who demanded that Kennedy stop seeing Judy Campbell and Marilyn Monroe.

As we have established, JFK cut off Marilyn abruptly. He just never spoke to her again. But he was tender with Judy; the two had a conversation discussing their affair and, seemingly, parted on good terms.

Later, however, Judy found out she was pregnant with Jack’s child. She went to Sam, who helped her arrange an abortion, though you have to wonder how the Catholic Jack Kennedy would have felt about that. She didn’t reveal this event until 1999, claiming that, until then, “I was afraid for my life.”

In the intervening years, Judy succumbed to alcoholism and an addiction to prescription pills (which, come to think of it, really was very Elizabeth Taylor of her). Sam Giancana was murdered in 1971, and, in 1975, Judy married a golf pro named Dan Exner.

Which might have offered her some measure of peace, except that when the Senate Committee was investigating CIA assassination attempts under Kennedy, they mentioned in their report that a “close friend” of Kennedy’s had also been friendly with Sam Giancana. The Washington Post uncovered her identity shortly thereafter. Judy called a press conference that month and denied any knowledge of Mafia involvement with Kennedy.

She published her tell- all book My Story in 1977, though she said that she had to sanitize certain parts of it because she feared retaliation from the Mafia. She shared more details in later interviews, one to People in 1988 and another one with Vanity Fair shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1999. Though she separated from Dan in 1988, she took up painting, and seemingly lived out the end of her life in peace.

Her story was adapted into a made-for-TV movie called Power and Beauty which featured a tagline reading, “In love with the president. In Bed with the mob.” I’m not sure why they capitalized that “bed” but I guess it was a very significant, White House kind of bed.

It’s interesting that Judy, who never really wanted to “out” Kennedy in any way, who, in fact (aside from the phone-bugging) seemed to have a very harmonious relationship with him, was the one who ended up revealing his indiscretions to the world. Marilyn doubtless would have been jealous. But if Marilyn had revealed his secrets, well, they would never have been taken seriously. If Marilyn had called a press conference as she threatened to, people would likely have dismissed her stories as the rantings of a very distraught woman.

It took someone as strangely level-headed as Judy – the kind of woman who, when confronted with a threesome, suggested to her lover that he might have better things to do – to reveal some of the more corrupt, mob-focused aspects of Jack Kennedy’s Camelot. And while she might not have been able to accomplish that herself, I can’t help but believe that Marilyn would have been pleased.

Picture via Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mr. Quarter, Palzoo, Find a Grave, Marty Gervais, Smithsonian Magazine,Wikipedia

Additional Reading:

History of Mistresses by Elizabeth Abbott

“Marilyn and Her Monsters”, Vanity Fair

New York Times Obituary, Judy Campbell

My Story by Judith Exner