Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.
Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the definer of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny.
How can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?
BEFORE THE END of her life, Mary Pinchot Meyer would be the muse and lover of two of the most influential and important men of her generation: Cord Meyer and Jack Kennedy—ironically, the top two postwar public figures highlighted in Glamour’s 1947 feature “Young Men Who Care.” The two would cross paths in their career orbits repeatedly. At the center was Mary. At first, Cord had seemed the more promising. Poised for a meteoric rise with a stellar political future, he had access to those who would further stimulate his vision and position him for national recognition. His ascent and fall, however, would become Faustian, despite Mary’s steadfast love and support,
As their marriage unraveled in 1955, so did that of their next-door neighbors at Hickory Hill. Jack and Jackie Kennedy had moved into the six-acre compound that had once been the headquarters of Civil War Army general George McClellan. The view from the Meyer terrace drew the eye straight across two small ridges to the new Kennedy compound where “Lord and Lady” Kennedy reigned, but their life together was becoming strained. Early miscarriages and a stillborn birth, further complicated by Jack’s compulsive philandering, would have been overwhelming to any young marriage. Author Truman Capote, a frequent guest at the Kennedys’ New York dinner parties early on, recalled of Jackie, “She was sweet, eager, intelligent, not quite sure of herself, and hurt—hurt because she knew Jack was banging all those other broads.”1 In fact, Jackie would eventually follow her husband’s lead where infidelity was concerned. During a trip to California in January 1956, where Jack was working on a short film about the history of the Democratic Party for the August opening of the national convention in Chicago later that year, Jackie and actor William Holden had a tryst. According to Jackie’s stepbrother and sometime confidante Gore Vidal, “She had had her share of affairs with the famous, among them the actor William Holden. But I always suspected that some of these couplings were motivated by revenge on Jack, not to mention just plain stamp collecting.”2
Or was Jackie trying to be the woman she thought her husband would find more exciting? She told Jack about the fling with Holden, claimed author Peter Evans, just a few days after it happened. Her hope was to stimulate his affection, because women who slept with powerful men were a turn-on for Jack. The plan backfired. When Jackie discovered not long after that she was pregnant, Jack became resentful, allegedly not believing the child was his. Eight months into the pregnancy in August 1956, Jackie accompanied Jack to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention, where he vied, unsuccessfully, for the vice presidential nomination.3
After the convention, still seething over his wife’s infidelity, Jack dumped Jackie at her family’s estate in Newport, Rhode Island, and flew to Europe with Senator George Smathers of Florida. The two men chartered a yacht and cruised the Mediterranean. Indulging their shared predilection for promiscuity—the yacht became a floating senatorial bordello—word reached Jack by the ship’s radio that Jackie had delivered a near-full-term stillborn girl who she had already named Arabella. Jack was said to be indifferent to the news. Newspapers had picked up the story that he was “traveling” in Europe and was unable to be reached. It reportedly took Smathers another three days—and an ultimatum—to convince the Massachusetts senator to return. “If you want to run for President, you better get your ass back to your wife’s bedside, or else every wife in the country will be against you.” In fact, Smathers flew back with Jack, but only after the patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., “convinced” his son to make the trip.4
It was, by that point, no secret Jackie wanted out of the marriage. After recovering from the stillbirth, she took off for London to play with her sister, Lee Radziwill, who had several affairs going at once with British royalty. When Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson got wind of all the “fun” Jackie was having sans Jack, the patriarch again took matters into his own hands. Upon Jackie’s return, the elder Kennedy took her to lunch in New York at the swank Le Pavillon. He knew the marriage was on the skids, but there were more important things on the horizon: like the presidency for his son.
Jackie and Joe Sr., had always gotten along, and so rather than intimidate his daughter-in-law, the elder Kennedy struck a deal. Jackie had laid out her demands: She wanted out of the Hickory Hill estate in McLean; she didn’t want to have dinner every night with the entire family when she came to Hyannis Port or Palm Beach; she didn’t want to play the role of political wife, campaigning endlessly for her husband. In a word, she wanted freedom. In exchange, she agreed to keep up appearances for the sake of Jack’s future political career.
That left the question of children. Without them, Jack’s political future might quickly dead-end; with them, any political height was scalable. According to author Edward Klein, Kennedy put it this way: “It’s up to a wife to keep a marriage together. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that children are the secret of any marriage. I’m going to set up a trust for your children. You will have control of it when you have children.”
“And what if I can’t have children?” Jackie asked.
“If you don’t have any children within the next ten years,” said the patriarch, “the trust fund will revert to you. The money will be yours to do with as you wish.”5
That fall, the Kennedys left Hickory Hill for Georgetown.
By 1957, Mary Meyer had also made Georgetown her home, just a few blocks away from the new Kennedy home. In spite of his failed bid for the vice presidential nomination the year before, Jack still had his sights set on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The fact that his marriage was widely understood to be window dressing didn’t deter him. Mary, for her part, was adjusting to life without Cord, and without her son Michael. While her path and the future president’s surely crossed, her more pressing concerns took precedence. One of her priorities was finalizing her divorce as quickly as possible. She went to Nevada, a state that expedited the process, and waited out the six-week residency requirement at a no-frills “divorce ranch” run by artist and nature photographer Gus Bundy and his wife, Jeanne.6 There were many such places in Nevada, some offering luxury living with fine food and other perks. The Bundy divorce ranch, however, was far from luxurious and offered only four residential apartments. For Mary, it would serve her purpose splendidly, allowing her to come and go as she pleased.
Before Mary left on one of her trips to Nevada in 1958, her neighbor Jack had asked for a favor. Would she allow “a friend” to stay at her Georgetown house while she was away? The sylphlike, elegant dark-haired Pamela Turnure had been a receptionist in Kennedy’s Senate office. She would eventually join his presidential campaign and become Jackie’s press secretary, all while maintaining an intermittent sexual relationship with Jack. Pam had been renting an apartment in the Georgetown home of Leonard and Florence Kater. One spring night, the Katers were awakened by the sound of pebbles against their tenant’s window at 1:00 A.M. They looked out their window and saw Senator Kennedy begging Pam to let him in. She did. Enraged—as “good Catholics” would be in such a situation—the Katers set out to expose Jack and destroy his chances for the presidency. They placed two tape recorders in an air vent that led to Pam’s bedroom and recorded Jack and Pam’s conversations, as well as their sexual activity. After that, they revoked Pam’s lease.
“I was so enraged,” Florence Kater told author Michael O’Brien, “that this Irish Catholic senator, who pretended to be such a good family man, might run for President that I decided to do something about it. I was very innocent and naive in those days and had no idea of the power I was up against. I knew no one would believe my story unless we had actual proof, so it addition to the tape recorders, we decided to get a photograph.”7
Mary had to have known that Jack was involved with Pam Turnure, although it is unlikely she knew what the Katers were up to when she allowed Pam to house-sit for several weeks. One evening in July 1958, while Mary was in Nevada, the Katers staked out Mary’s house and caught the senator leaving in the wee hours of the morning. “Hey, Senator!” Leonard Kater yelled. As Jack turned toward him, Kater snapped a picture. “How dare you take my picture!” Jack shouted indignantly. Florence Kater reportedly jumped out of the car and loudly proclaimed, “How dare you run for President under the guise of a good Christian!” She added, “I have a recording of your whoring. You are unfit to be the Catholic standard bearer for the presidency of this country!”8
Unaware of the Kater stakeout, her divorce finalized in August,9 Mary returned from Nevada in September to find her house under the couple’s surveillance. “Mary found herself drawn into a web of intrigue,” an anonymous friend of hers told Leo Damore in 1990. “Pam was living with her and seeing JFK on the sly. Mary knew about the relationship. She thought Jack stupid and reckless if he seriously had his sights set on the presidency. Half-amused though, the episode left a bit of a bad taste, not only for the violation of her house—and her trust—but to be identified in gossip with one of his betterknown sexual peccadilloes offended her sensibility.”10 As Mary’s long-term former boyfriend Bob Schwartz had made clear, “Mary wasn’t flamboyant. She was a private person in terms of protecting who she was. Her privacy was a way of being herself.”11
Florence Kater, however, was undeterred. She took her obsession with Kennedy’s philandering to the streets, attending political rallies with signs that displayed the image of Jack taken outside Mary’s house. She picketed former president Harry Truman’s house in Missouri while Kennedy was visiting, and she marched in front of the White House. Kater allegedly contacted more than thirty newspapers and magazines with her proof of the presidential aspirant’s wayward habits. As late as April 1963, she contacted FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, but he refused to meet with her, though he likely seized on her revelations to add to Kennedy’s already growing file. For a time, the Washington Star pursued the Kater story before abruptly dropping it, threatened by a Kennedy family lawsuit. After five years, Florence Kater finally gave up her crusade. “I had told the truth but no one would listen to me,” she said. “The press wanted Kennedy to be President and that was that.”12
In spite of the travails of divorcing Cord, Mary set her sights on the future.
She longed to move forward in her new life; and brooding would play no part. She adjusted gracefully to life without Cord, who saw his sons on weekends and part of school vacations. As agreed in the divorce settlement, he would assume full charge of their education.
Still mired in grief over Michael’s death, she embarked on a period of deep exploration. Artist Ken Noland became Mary’s lover during this time; for the next two years, he was a significant presence. Noland later recalled that Michael’s death had been a “deep, dramatic event for her,” one that had “affected her balance—I think this one [her son Michael] was her favorite.”13 Her introspection during this time was as much artistic as it was personal. “Every real artist has to further themselves,” said her former lover Bob Schwartz, recalling Mary’s sense of commitment to herself. “She wasn’t interested in trivia, at any level or any sort. She never did anything that didn’t have a sense of totality about it.”14
Even in grief, that disposition seemed to pervade her entire being. During her time in Nevada, Mary visited with Anne and Jim Truitt at their home in San Francisco, where they had moved for Jim’s Newsweek posting. (The Truitts also visited Mary at Gus Bundy’s Divorce Ranch.)15 In 1958, Jim and Anne Truitt would name their second daughter Mary, in honor of their beloved friend. According to Jim Truitt, who had a keen interest in psychedelics and Eastern mystical traditions that embraced altered states of consciousness, it was during a visit in California that Mary had her first psychedelic experience. (It wasn’t known which hallucinogen she had been introduced to, but it was likely either LSD or psilocybin). “The depths of the colors would intrigue Mary,” Truitt later recalled, “because of her interest in that as an artist.”16 Just south of San Francisco, the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute was exploring the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens such as LSD and the peyote derivative psilocybin. The Beat Generation, an emerging cultural phenomenon in California’s Bay Area that counted Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and Allen Ginsberg among its members, was at the vanguard of this mind-altering wonder.
LSD and other hallucinogens had been in use as psychiatric aids among the fashionable in Hollywood since the mid- to late 1950s. A number of actors, writers, musicians, and directors—people like André Previn, Aldous Huxley, Anaïs Nin, Esther Williams, Betsy Drake, Sidney Lumet, and playwright Clare Booth Luce, among them—explored the regions of their consciousness, encouraging others to partake. Luce, for her part, convinced her husband, Time publisher Henry Luce, to experiment with her, as well as very possibly one other notables who will be discussed later. Actor Cary Grant was so convinced of the positive impact of LSD in his life that Look magazine published an article about it in 1959.17
If Jim Truitt was correct that Mary first experimented with psychedelics in California in 1958, then it very well could have been the legendary captain Alfred M. Hubbard who first introduced her to such exploration. A former World War II OS agent who later built a fortune as a uranium entrepreneur,
Hubbard was often referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed of LSD.” Hubbard himself first used the drug in 1951. He would later claim to have witnessed his own conception, saying, “It was the deepest mystical experience I’ve ever seen.” Hubbard befriended people like psychedelic pioneer Aldous Huxley long before Timothy Leary came upon the scene. It was Hubbard who first asserted that LSD could be enormously therapeutic, given its propensity for the inducement of transcendental mystical experiences. On his own, Hubbard administered the drug to a number of alcoholics, many of whom reportedly emerged from the experience to successfully claim a life of sobriety, at least for a while. Hubbard’s early success with LSD’s therapeutic possibilities moved him to set up three treatment centers in Canada in 1958, one of which reportedly attempted to treat Ethel Kennedy, wife of Robert F. Kennedy, for incipient alcoholism. She was allegedly a patient of Dr. Ross MacLean, a close associate of Hubbard’s.18
Hubbard’s vast network of business contacts, as well as his personal wealth, enabled him to procure a huge supply of LSD and to distribute it at his own expense. (He would find out years later that the CIA was monitoring him.) Hubbard wanted nothing in return; his motivation appears to have been to give humanity a new point of view. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Hubbard traveled across Europe and the United States dispensing LSD to anyone who wanted to try it. According to one account, he “turned on thousands of people from all walks of life—policemen, statesmen, captains of industry, church figures, scientists.”19
Mary might also have associated with Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who began conducting psychedelic sessions with prominent literary and artistic avant-garde figures in the mid-1950s. Janiger, also a devotee of Captain Hubbard’s, had experienced his own personal transformation with psychedelics, which had, in turn, fueled his professional interest in using them in his clinical practice. Of Hubbard’s visits, Janiger once memorably remarked, “We waited for him like the little old lady on the prairie waiting for a copy of the Sears Roebuck catalogue.”20
Allen Dulles and his CIA coterie had tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Captain Al Hubbard in the early 1950s. Hubbard wanted no part. “They [the CIA] lied so much, cheated so much. I don’t like ‘em,” Hubbard told Janiger in 1978. He was furious about how the CIA had exploited LSD. He told Janiger, “The CIA work stinks. They were misusing it. I tried to tell them how to use it, but even when they were killing people, you couldn’t tell them a goddamn thing.”21 In addition to the CIA, the U.S Army, and Britain’s MI6 all had a keen interest in using LSD and other hallucinogens for chemical warfare, in what they hoped would be “mind control.”
In point of fact, the CIA’s top secret Special Operations Division at the Army’s Fort Detrick, Maryland, facility had, in one experiment, used a cropduster airplane in 1951 to douse the entire town of Pont-Saint-Esprit in southern France with an aerosol of highly potent LSD. That event had caused mass hysteria, affecting close to seven hundred people for several days. With hundreds of people gripped by terror in acute psychosis, wildly hallucinating, the town became a veritable insane asylum. Four people committed suicide before the trauma subsided.22
One CIA chemical warfare expert who was responsible, Frank Olson, realized he had made “a terrible mistake.” He was so disturbed by the project, he blundered further by sharing his consternation with several colleagues. Olson soon realized that the Agency had surreptitiously dosed him with LSD as well, ostensibly to see how much greater a security risk he might become. Days later, Olson started to unravel. Agency personnel attempted to move him out of his hotel room at the Statler Hotel in New York late one night so they could secretly, under the cover of darkness, transport him for commitment to the CIA-affiliated sanitarium Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Maryland. Frank Olson became unruly and uncooperative, and was finally thrown out of his tenth-floor hotel window, in what would for years be disguised as a suicide.23
According to one source, Captain Al Hubbard was immediately convinced the CIA had used LSD to destabilize Olson in 1953. He also suspected there had been a murder, not a suicide. Fifty-six years later, in his 2009 book A Terrible Mistake, journalist Hank Albarelli confirmed Hubbard’s suspicions about this event, masterfully exposing the CIA’s murder of Frank Olson—along with a myriad of details about the CIA’s vast, illegal drug experiments.24
When the CIA found that they couldn’t recruit Hubbard, they started keeping tabs on him. Hubbard’s legendary purchases of LSD from Sandoz, a global pharmaceutical company in Switzerland, were being monitored. The CIA had “an agreement” whereby Sandoz would keep the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) apprised of all purchases.25
On his own, and long before Timothy Leary’s ascent at Harvard in the early 1960s, Captain Al Hubbard was instrumental in paving the “psychedelic highway” for those who sought out the experience. Exactly what impact he may have had on Mary Meyer isn’t known. Anne Chamberlin, who had been in a position to shed light on Mary’s exploration with psychedelics up until the end of 2011 when she [Chamberlin] died, vehemently declined to be interviewed.
Robert Budd, another painter who was part of the Washington Color School to which Mary belonged, recalled seeing her in the company of artist Ken Noland between 1958 and 1959. “She was a beautiful, beautiful [Budd’s emphasis] woman,” Budd remembered. “We were all part of a group that used to hang out at Charlie Byrd’s Showboat Lounge on Eighteenth Street and Columbia Road. We’d meet upstairs and talk about art and music. The jazz musicians would join us between sets. Marijuana had also arrived on the scene.”26 Budd recalled that a number of artists in the Washington Color School were intensely committed to self-exploration. In the late 1950s, a group of them—including Budd himself, Mary Meyer, and Ken Noland—took weekly train trips to Philadelphia to have therapeutic bodywork sessions with Dr. Charles I. Oller, a highly respected practitioner of orgonomy—a therapeutic technique developed in the 1940s by Viennese psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, a former protégé of Sigmund Freud. In the 1920s, Reich had been part of Freud’s inner circle—some called him “Freud’s pet”—but he eventually broke with Freud. Like any paradigm challenger, Reich was both acclaimed and ostracized.
Orgonomy, sometimes referred to as “orgone therapy,” attempted to break down what Reich termed “character armor,” those unique configurations in the human psychic structure and body that blocked the free-flowing movement of what he termed “orgone energy,” what Chinese Oriental medicine called “chi.” Charged with living energy, the sexual orgasm was the mechanism for the release of this “orgonotic charge,” which, after discharge, built up again in an ongoing cycle of “charge-tension-discharge-release.” If life’s traumatic events precipitated the development of character armor, there would be, Reich believed, an inadequate release in the orgasm function, thereby leading to rigidities in character and muscular tensions in the body, which eventually created maladaptive character states, such as becoming masochistic, sadistic, reactionary, submissive, or hateful. Orgonomic therapy sought to restore the free flow of orgone energy, not only resulting in a more complete, deeply satisfying sexual orgasm, but also yielding a more fully integrated, healthy, and happy individual.
Orgonomy represented a radical departure from conventional psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy. Patients started a session by lying face up on a platform-like bed in their underwear. There, they were encouraged to deepen and to slow their breath and to allow whatever emotional expression was in their awareness to come into their being without talking about it. In the safety of the therapist’s office, patients gradually surrendered to the experience of feeling their bodily and emotional awareness. Those with traumatic memories might be eventually encouraged to express themselves with fits of kicking and pounding, giving voice to screaming rage, as well as intense terror and deep sadness. The result was often not only catharsis, but, also, over a period of time, the diminution of the fear of feeling itself, thereby restoring the capacity for living more deeply. Mary Meyer’s foray into orgonomy lasted only a few months, but it demonstrated once again her pioneering spirit and commitment to self-examination and personal evolution. It also evidenced the deep pain she continued to experience at the death of her son.
In the opinion of Dr. Morton Herskowitz, a close colleague of Dr. Charles Oller’s, if Mary had gone to Oller for help with her grief over Michael’s death, Oller “could have helped her a great deal in three months of work, because she was amenable to it.” Upon viewing a picture of Mary Meyer taken in 1963, Dr. Herskowitz was impressed by “the energy and light in her eyes.” He knew his colleague Oller to be an exceptional, intuitive clinician. “Oller would have validated her feelings immediately,” continued Herskowitz. “With a woman of that caliber, I can imagine he would have accomplished a lot, even in a short period. Even though she was a free spirit already, to have gotten to the depths of her grief could have made a significant change in her. He would have worked on her breathing and softening of the eyes, it would have precipitated the deepest crying and expression of her grief. She would have felt very safe to feel almost anything with his guidance.”27
Ken Noland championed Reichian therapy and believed it “profoundly affected his art during the late 1950s.”28 However, Reichian therapists in general, and orgonomists in particular, were strongly opposed to the use of any recreational drugs. According to Robert Budd, Dr. Oller abruptly terminated working with Noland as a patient. Budd suspected that it was “because Noland was using LSD and recommending others do it as well. I always had a feeling that Noland had crossed the line, but I have no proof.”29Noland himself initially denied that LSD had been a part of his life at that time, then several months later mentioned to Nina Burleigh that he had used LSD with Mary. Noland also vaguely recalled something about Mary visiting Timothy Leary at Harvard in the early 1960s.30 Eventually, Mary did undertake a more conventional course of psychotherapy during which, according to one friend, she “really started to work on herself,” though her experience with orgonomy had left an indelible impression.31
While Mary’s post-divorce activities focused on deepening self-exploration and healing, Jack Kennedy’s attention was on getting to the White House, albeit while mired in marital infidelity and personal unhappiness. Jack had long been attracted to Mary, but she wasn’t interested. “Mary had been aware of Jack’s womanizing since college,” a confidential source familiar with both of them told author Leo Damore in 1991. “She wasn’t interested in becoming another notch on Jack’s gun. She was a serious person of quality, not frivolity. He had always been enamored by her, but she saw through his superficiality with women, and he knew it, though she always admitted to some remote attraction to him.”32 According to author Sally Bedell Smith, Cicely Angleton once witnessed a conversation between them.
“What does Kenneth Noland have that I don’t have?” Jack had asked Mary.
“Mystery,” she retorted.
“The President was duly taken aback,” Cicely remembered.33 The response may have made Mary all the more alluring.
Before Jack arrived at the White House, Mary had rebuffed all his pleas for her attention, save one. Sometime during the spring of 1959, Kenneth Noland recalled attending a cocktail party with Mary at the Bradlee house in Georgetown. Jack was there, apparently letting it be known that he would formally announce his candidacy for the presidency at the beginning of 1960.34 Noland remembered “a stirring” between the two at the party. “She was coming alive in a way Noland remembered from the early days of their own affair,” wrote Nina Burleigh. That summer, Mary rented a small cabin for two weeks in Provincetown, Massachusetts, before joining Noland and his children on Long Island. Noland always suspected that she and Jack got together during that time, since the Hyannis Kennedy compound was less than an hour away.35 According to a confidential source who spoke to author Leo Damore, they did.
“Jack was distraught over his marriage to Jackie,” that source told Damore. “He was miserable. He wanted out in the worst way but he knew it would be political suicide. He visited with Mary because he knew he could talk with her. He trusted her. She was one of the few women he really respected, maybe the only one. Her independence always impressed him—she didn’t need or want anything from him.”36
“Mary didn’t mince words with him that day,” the source continued. “She told him he was crazy to be womanizing, that it would wreck his run for the presidency unless he got control. Jack admitted his problem but felt powerless to do anything about it. His physical health, medical difficulties were complicating things, too. At one point, Mary said he was almost in tears. He was so unhappy, and alone, she told me. Mary wasn’t about to get involved with him then, though she told me she held him tenderly that day.”37
Six years earlier, just after his marriage to Jackie, Jack said something revealing to his Senate staffer Priscilla McMillan: “I only got married because I was 37 years old. If I wasn’t married, people would think I was queer.”38 The remark revealed more about Jack’s concern for his political image than anything else. His father once remarked to Jack’s sister Eunice, who confided doubts about Jack’s political future, that “it’s not what you are that counts. It’s what people think you are.”39 Jack needed a glamorous, beautiful wife for his image. Shortly before marrying Jackie, he reportedly said to a Senate colleague who was trying to fix him up with a date, “Look, you might as well know, I talked to my dad and he told me now is the time to get married.” He then added that his father considered Jackie to be the best choice “for a lot of reasons. I mean, she’s the perfect hostess; she’s got the background; and she’s Catholic.”40
Not long after his visit with Mary in Provincetown, Jack had another revealing exchange with Priscilla McMillan, herself an attractive and articulate woman who resisted his advances. “I was one of the few he could really talk to,” McMillan told author David Horowitz. “Like Freud, he wanted to know what women really wanted, that sort of thing; but he also wanted to know the more mundane details—what gave a woman pleasure, what women hoped for in marriage, how they liked to be courted. During one of these conversations I once asked him why he was doing it—why was he acting like his father, why was he avoiding real relationships, why was he taking a chance on getting caught in a scandal at the same time he was trying to make his career take off. He took a while trying to formulate an answer. Finally he shrugged and said, ‘I don’t know really. I guess I just can’t help it.’ He had this sad expression on his face. He looked like a little boy about to cry.”41 McMillan, who went on to become a well-known author, later reflected on Jack’s compulsion for skirt-chasing: “The whole thing with him was pursuit. I think he was secretly disappointed when a woman gave in. It meant that the low esteem in which he held women was once again validated. It meant also that he’d have to start chasing someone else.”42
Indeed, “skirt-chasing” had become a Kennedy family heritage, what one perspicacious woman later referred to as “the wandering penis disease.” It had passed from father to son. In fact, Joe Kennedy Sr., himself afflicted, once told J. Edgar Hoover that he should have gelded Jack when he was a small boy.43 A number of prominent Kennedy biographers over the years have given credence to the fact that Jack led a kind of “double life,” a life of dysfunctional compartmentalization when it came to his sexuality and relationships with women. “Yet with Jack, something different was at work than [just] a liking for women,” noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “So driven was the pace of his sex life, and so discardable his conquests, that they suggest a deep difficulty with intimacy.”44 Presidential historian Robert Dallek underscored the idea that “Jack was a narcissist whose sexual escapades combated feelings of emptiness bred by a cold, detached mother and a self-absorbed, largely absent father.”45 Even while married to Jackie, Jack’s unabashed philandering never abated; indeed, being married only seemed to exacerbate his compulsion.
From the very beginning, soon after she met Jack in the spring of 1951, Jackie had been warned about what life with Jack would inevitably entail. His Choate schoolmate Lem Billings told her in no uncertain terms before their marriage what she could expect with a man twelve years her senior who was, as he put it, “set in his ways.” Even more presciently, Jack’s close friend Chuck Spaulding observed, “Jackie wasn’t sexually attracted to men unless they were dangerous like [her father] old Black Jack [John V. Bouvier III]. It was one of those terribly obvious Freudian situations. We all talked about it—even Jack, who didn’t particularly go for Freud but said that Jackie had a ‘father crush.’ What was surprising was that Jackie, who was so intelligent in other things, didn’t seem to have a clue about this one.”46 Marital fidelity wasn’t ever a part of this equation. Jackie valiantly tried to bury her head in the sand, but the toll it took undoubtedly aggravated the possibility of further miscarriages.
The antecedents of Jack’s long-standing problem of intimacy with women had a more dynamic dimension than just the imprinting of his childhood. Author Nigel Hamilton’s analysis of Jack’s mother Rose Kennedy as “a cold, unmotherly, and distant woman whose main contribution to Jack’s character was his strangely split psyche, leaving him emotionally crippled in his relations with women,” was only one part of this equation.47 Unlike Mary Meyer, he seemed to have had little interest in any sober self-examination, reflection, or understanding. No doubt his experience of abandonment as a child, sustained by the lack of little direct maternal care, aroused a projected vengeful disposition toward the opposite sex: Women were to be used, then discarded at his whim. Failing any deeper internal investigation, conquering his emptiness—and keeping it at bay—required an infusion of one sexual triumph after another, however momentary the relief. He had to have known he had a problem.
Nonetheless, the power of love beckoned him to romance during the same time that Mary Pinchot was in love with Bob Schwartz. During his stint as a Navy ensign in the Foreign Intelligence Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Washington, Jack began a serious affair with a beautiful blonde, blueeyed Danish woman who had become a close friend of his sister Kathleen’s. Still married but estranged from her second husband, Inga Arvad was a classic stunning bombshell. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, who had helped procure her a job as a reporter at the Times Herald, once described Inga as “a perfect example of Nordic beauty.” Slightly older than Jack, she exuded sexuality. The two had no illusion that their relationship would be anything but a passing affair. It also had to be kept secret, so that Jack’s parents wouldn’t find out. Jack and Inga camouflaged their connection, using Kathleen and her boyfriend, John White, making it look like just a convenient foursome. Little did Jack know, however, that his father’s spy network was aware of the relationship right after their first date.
By all accounts, Jack became smitten with Inga, as did she with him, in spite of her making it clear that she “wouldn’t trust him as long term companion.” During World War II, many dating relationships were imbued with an ethos of “living in the present,” given the reality of an unknown, uncertain future during wartime. “Inga Binga,” as Jack affectionately called her, had tremendous self-assurance; her life purpose was not about just getting married and settling down. Though there are no in-depth accounts of their relationship, this was probably the deepest emotional, intimate attachment to a woman that Jack had ever made in his life up until that time. Yet, she was not the sort of woman for Jack to take home to mother and father, and he knew it.
In addition, Inga’s past soon rose to create problems from another direction. Years before, as an aspiring journalist, Inga had manipulated her way into being given access to the Nazi elite, including Adolph Hitler. Attending the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, sitting in the same box as the Führer, Inga had had her picture taken. After the United States entered the war against Germany, the FBI, already aware of Inga, began watching her when she was a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. It was feared she might be a spy. Because Jack was now a Navy officer with security clearances for his work at the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, unbeknownst to Jack, opened a file on their relationship.
Unexpectedly, in January 1942, nationally syndicated columnist Walter Winchell revealed in the New York Mirror that Jack and Inga were “an item.” The story was so explosive that it had the potential to relieve Jack of his commission in the Navy, given the ONI’s paranoia. Instead, two days after the Winchell column, Jack found himself transferred to the Charleston Naval Shipyard. He told one reporter, “They shagged my ass down to South Carolina because I was going around with a Scandinavian blonde and they thought she was a spy!”48
Jack and Inga spent several months exchanging love letters and talking on the phone constantly, with Inga visiting Charleston on weekends. The relationship, however, grew stormy. Among other things, Inga feared she might be pregnant. Jack knew he would never be allowed to marry her. His “fight for love” could not withstand the Kennedy family pressure, nor what would undoubtedly have been a epic confrontation with his father. He was still shackled by the expectations of paternal authority, unwilling to assert his full separation and independence. The epitaph of Jack and Inga, and the love they had shared, was being written.
For his part, patriarch Joe Sr. knew exactly what a toll his son’s struggles were taking. There were FBI wiretaps on Jack’s phone calls with Inga, as well as wiretaps in her hotel room when she came to visit him in Charleston. No doubt the elder Kennedy’s connections arranged them. Not wanting to incur any ill will from a tempestuous Jack, or spur any rebellion, the cunning father never indicated the slightest disapproval of his son’s relationship with Inga. But, according to several biographers, Winchell’s column was probably engineered by Joe Kennedy himself. When Jack, with Inga’s acceptance, finally ended the relationship several months later, according to these same biographers, Inga had been paid off by his father to finally leave.49 Heartbroken, Jack now turned his attention to preventing his unpredictable, precarious health issues from sidelining him to a desk for the duration of the war. More than ever, he wanted to break away from his father and the chains of the Kennedy family that enslaved him.
Jack’s closest platonic friendship with a woman was with his sister Kathleen, affectionately known as “Kick.” She was perhaps the only woman contemporary in his early adult life with whom he was able to sustain an ongoing emotional connection. Just three years younger than Jack, Kick had been born fourth in the family—after Joe Jr., Jack, and Rose Marie (“Rosemary”). Because Rosemary’s mental retardation relegated her to an institution, Kick was the eldest daughter in the Kennedy clan, and she and Jack forged an important bond. Both were rebellious, having contested the shackles of the Catholic Church and a mother chained to its religious dogma. Jack admired his sister’s spunk, her ability to speak her mind and create a life of her own choosing. He defended her when she courageously broke with her parents’ wishes by marrying non-Catholic Billy Cavendish, the young Marquess of Hartington. Unfortunately, young Cavendish was killed in the war in 1944, less than a month after their brother, Joe Jr. Devastated by these deaths, Kick and Jack, understanding more completely the frailty of life, shared an even deeper bond.
As a Massachusetts congressman in the summer of 1947, Jack visited Kick in Ireland. He was overjoyed to find her now in love with wealthy English aristocrat Peter Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam, however, was not only Protestant, but also still married, although the plan was that he would soon be divorced and marry Kick. Despite both Joe Sr. and mother Rose’s eventual warning that they would disown her if she went ahead with this plan, Kick was undeterred. Seeing how happy she was, Jack again admired and supported his sister’s boldness and independence. Moved by and envious of Kathleen’s joy at being in love, he told his friend Lem Billings that in all of his relationships with women, except possibly for a short while with Inga, he had never lost himself, or fallen in love as his sister Kathleen had.50
Less than a year later, in May 1948, Kick and her husband-to-be died in a plane crash en route to the south of France. Her death threw Jack into deep despair, provoking a spiritual crisis about the meaning of life itself. Losing his brother Joe to the war effort could be understood and eventually accepted, but Kick’s death utterly confounded Jack in a way nothing in his entire life ever had. Unwilling to tolerate his mother’s glib explanation that this had been God’s way of saving her daughter Kathleen from a “sacrilegious marriage,” Jack had no one within his family to turn to for comfort. Not only had Kick been his best friend, she was also the only woman at the time who had provided a bridge to his confused and broken emotional life. Kick had been “the one in the family with whom he could confide his deepest thoughts,” said his close friend Lem Billings.51
Kathleen’s death left Jack emotionally barren. Resignation gripped him. “Kathleen’s death depressed Jack and made him even more conscious than ever of his own mortality,” noted presidential historian Robert Dallek. “He told the columnist Joe Alsop that he didn’t expect to live more than another ten years, or beyond the age of forty-five.”52 Scaling the White House didn’t eradicate his emptiness, nor did it ameliorate any of his physical infirmities, which sometimes intermittently became acute. Jack’s rampant promiscuity grew into a bona fide sexual addiction. His reckless daring was the kind of obsessive pursuit that was not only dangerous from a national security perspective, but ultimately personally destructive. Recurrent bouts of venereal disease, originally contracted when he was a student at Harvard from sex with prostitutes, plagued him during his years in the White House.
The other ingredient in this equation was drugs, to which Jack was introduced by Max Jacobson, MD, a New York physician known as “Dr. Feel Good,” who had a colorful reputation in the early 1960s for assisting fast-lane, high-society New Yorkers with their “moods.” He had been introduced to Jack by his close friend Chuck Spaulding during the 1960 presidential campaign. Spaulding himself was a patient of Jacobson’s, whose elixirs by injection contained any number of amphetamine derivatives. “Miracle Max,” as he was also sometimes called, made more than thirty visits to the White House during the Kennedy presidency, not counting his trips to Palm Beach and Hyannis Port. So indispensable had Dr. Feel Good become that he even accompanied the president to Paris and Vienna in 1961. He also supplied Jack with vials of specially prepared concoctions, as well as the hypodermic needles to inject them on his own.53
One former patient of Jacobson’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, worked in the doctor’s lab at night as a way to defray the costs of his services. “I would mix up some of the cocktails given to JFK,” said this source. “They were labeled ‘Beaker A, B, and C.’ Nobody knew what was in them except Jacobson. He [Jacobson] would code label the directions as to how to mix the cocktails. There were things in those cocktails that exacerbated his [JFK’s] sex drive, I’ll tell you that right now!”54 Jack became so dependent on these drugs, he had no intention of stopping them. “I don’t care if it’s horse piss,” he told his brother Bobby, who thought he should have Jacobson’s elixirs analyzed by the FDA. “It’s the only thing that works.”55
Yet whatever infirmities Jack battled—including a rampant sexual addiction—however fragmented and impaired his capacity for genuine intimacy, something kept driving him toward Mary Meyer. Something kept driving him toward Mary Meyer. Had it been the memory of some young, pristine romantic force that was first awakened that Saturday evening at Choate in February 1936? Had the intensity of his wartime romance with Inga Arvad engendered some distant hope of absolution in love? Or was it the possibility of redemption, one last chance to bridge the gulf between himself and another—in love—so as to heal himself in such a way that he might become more whole?
With all his charm, good looks, wealth, and presidential aura, Jack could have attracted almost any woman, and often did. Certainly, there were many documented contenders—Helen Chavchavadze, Diana de Vegh, Mimi Beardsley (Alford), Judith Exner, and Marilyn Monroe among them—but none who became important to him in the way that Mary Meyer did. Her allure for Jack wasn’t that of an imagined, superficial sexual escapade—though her eroticism, firmly imbedded in her femininity, was known to have brought many a man to his knees.
Mary’s primary attraction for Jack may have ultimately been trust—in the end, love’s most powerful aphrodisiac. She was independent and self-contained, free of any need for any kind of entrapment or manipulation. Jack respected her as an equal. With Mary, the spark of redemption was likely ignited in the wounded darkness of his shadow. After all, real love was the foundation for the approach of healing, the process of which for Jack would have required a lifelong “work-in-progress” commitment to self-examination and recovery. Yet even in the midst of an uncontrollable, compulsive sexual addiction, the question remained. Had a shared bridge of hope with Mary helped him further define the unique track of his presidency—a trajectory that finally during the last six months of his life would embrace the pursuit of world peace initiatives, away from the Cold War?