As a naive 19-year-old intern, Mimi Alford lost her virginity to US President John F. Kennedy. Now, after 50 years, she tells all about life as the mistress of the world’s most powerful leader.
She was just 19, pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way, all bright eyes and innocence. Marion Beardsley, known as Mimi, was awestruck when offered the opportunity to work as an intern at the White House in the summer of 1962.
Within four days of her internship, Mimi Beardsley, now Mimi Alford, met President John F. Kennedy and became his lover.
The illicit affair continued until Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. Their liaison has remained in the main, a secret for 50 years.
Now, in a revealing book, Once Upon a Secret, My hidden affair with JFK, Alford recounts her dalliance.
On the surface Alford had much in common with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Both had privileged upbringing and attended the exclusive Miss Porter’s School for Girls in Connecticut.
Alford joined the press office in 1962 when, she claims, she began the “intimate, prolonged relationship”. Having kept the alleged affair a secret for almost 40 years, Alford was outed by historian Robert Dallek in his 2003 biography An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963.
In it, Dallek describes ‘a “tall, slender, beautiful” 19-year-old college sophomore and White House intern. (She “had no skills”, a member of the press staff recalled. “She couldn’t type.”)’.
Alford has now written a tell-all memoir. The book tells how, on her fourth day in the White House (and as someone who’s “greatest, and only, success in the boy department” had been one kiss in the eighth grade) Alford lost her virginity.
Recalling that encounter, Alford admits: “He was a man adept at – and accustomed to – getting his way… which makes me wonder if I could have resisted him. It’s a germane question, and my honest answer to it is “No”. When we were in the bedroom, he had manoeuvred me so swiftly and unexpectedly, and with such authority and strength, that short of screaming, I doubt if I could have done anything to thwart his intentions.”
From here the relationship developed into an 18-month affair, according to Alford: “I can’t say our relationship was romantic. It was sexual, it was intimate, it was passionate…” But it was a tender relationship, too. Alford was privy to a side of Kennedy rarely seen by others and she tells how they raced rubber ducks in the bath together, and how she’d often spend the night in Kennedy’s bedroom, sleeping in one of his blue cotton night shirts.
It was Alford who sat with JFK while he cried his way through condolence letters at the death of his son Patrick.
Even more amazing, it was this teenage girl, and not Kennedy’s wife, who waited in the second-floor bedroom of the White House on the night of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“There were some dark moments in those 18 months,” says Alford, “But overall my memories are good ones.”
So why wait until now to kiss and tell?
“In 1962 we didn’t talk about things like this. I didn’t talk to my mother; I didn’t talk to my sisters.” And despite the fact she was never instructed to keep the affair secret by the Kennedy Administration (nor by JFK himself), Alford says “I was also protecting the President, really.”
The 68-year-old has gone on record this month in an attempt to “take control of my own story and not leave it just as a paragraph in someone else’s book” and says she feels “absolutely liberated” now that it’s done.
Of course, the events described in the book took place half a century ago and many of the main players are long dead and so unable to corroborate Mimi Alford’s story.
This is not a moot point for the retired church administrator who defends her claims: “This is the truth, this is my story, and I can’t do anything other than tell the truth.”
But the issue of truth is a big one when you consider some of the accusations being levelled by Alford. Of the aforementioned “dark moments”, Alford’s memoir reveals she was coerced by the president to perform oral sex on White House special assistant Dave Powers while Kennedy himself looked on. (She was asked to do the same for Ted Kennedy a year later, but refused.) Alford recalls how the President forced her to inhale amyl nitrite or ‘poppers’ (said to enhance sexual performance) while at a party at Bing Crosby’s house.
Then there was the time the Kennedy machine offered to arrange an (illegal) abortion for Alford when she feared she was pregnant (she wasn’t).
But perhaps the cruellest aspect of the affair was President Kennedy’s neat ability to hold the teen at arm’s length throughout their relationship. In her book, she talks of the “layer of reserve” between them, demonstrated by the fact that they never once kissed. “…The President was able to compartmentalise his life and put people in different places so they didn’t overlap…” Alford says in our interview.
“That was his way of being able to operate and do everything he did, I guess. I was never part of his political world, for instance.”
So what did the college student and the leader of the free world have in common? “I felt that I reminded him of a younger time in his life, maybe,” she says. “And I think I was probably good company.”
When pressed further about the nature of the relationship, Alford admits it was “Definitely unequal. I was 19, he was 45. It’s not a place for a 19-year-old, to be in a relationship that’s so imbalanced and with someone so powerful.”
Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the fact Alford only ever addressed her lover as Mr President, even when they were in bed together. Even now, when interviewed, she uses the more formal “the President”, never “John”, and certainly never “Jack” as his wife reportedly did.
So does Alford feel guilty? “What I’ve come to understand is I need to accept the affair,” Alford says, “And that has been the struggle for me, to not make it black and white; to understand that it’s grey.”
“What I do feel guilty about – and I didn’t (at the time) – is that when I was 19 I didn’t think about Mrs Kennedy at all.”
But guilt is not regret, and on that point Mimi Alford is clear: “No, I don’t actually regret the affair.”
The Daily Telegraph, Inside Edition, February 2012