Mimi Alford tells of her secret affair with JFK

Now 68, the former intern describes her tumultuous relationship with
President John F Kennedy.

By Melissa Whitworth

During the 18 months that Mimi Alford was President John F Kennedy’s
lover, he never kissed her on the lips. Hand-picked by Kennedy while
she was a 19-year-old intern in the White House press office in 1962,
Alford lost her virginity to him on her fourth day at work. From then
on, she was flown across the country on the back-up plane that
accompanied Air Force One on the president’s official trips, alongside
the luggage. The logistics of their relationship were handled
meticulously by Kennedy’s special assistant, Dave Powers, who was
unofficially known as the “First Friend”. She kept their affair secret
for more than 40 years.

Last week, her memoir, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with John F
Kennedy and Its Aftermath, was published in the United States. For the
first time, Alford has revealed every detail of her experiences as
Kennedy’s mistress. Some of the events she describes have shocked the
American public by revealing a dark, sexually twisted side to the
president.

“It’s not easy for people to read this book, I know,” says Alford,
sitting at a desk in her publishers’ offices in New York for this, her
first print interview. Now 68, she has the poise of an East Coast
debutante. She had a privileged upbringing, in a house in New Jersey
with numerous bedrooms, seven fireplaces and a ballroom. She attended
Miss Porter’s boarding school in Massachusetts, Jackie Kennedy’s alma
mater. Life revolved around country clubs, Ivy League schools and
blue-blooded connections. Today, her hair is worn in a precise
silver-grey bob. She’s wearing tortoiseshell reading glasses, and
pearls in her ears. “If you look at the pictures back then, I am not
gorgeous. I was a tall, skinny girl,” she says. “There was an
innocence there. I think that’s why the president liked me. Maybe it
made him feel younger.”

The most lewd details of Alford’s book have made tabloid front pages
across the world. JFK dared Alford to perform oral sex on Powers while
the president watched, a dare she accepted. At a party at Bing
Crosby’s Palm Springs house, he forced her to take amyl nitrate, a
sex-enhancing drug. Months later, Kennedy asked her to perform oral
sex on his younger brother, Ted (though this time she refused).

“I don’t know what pushes somebody to do something like that. It’s
very troublesome to people because they have their set image [of the
president]. I didn’t write the book to change people’s perception of
Kennedy: if anything, those incidents show me in a terrible light.
It’s hard to say that it felt really good to be considered special,
but it did. I was 19 years old. He was just magnetic.”

In her first week as an intern in the press office, Powers asked
Alford if she would like to join a group of staff members for a swim
in the White House pool. The pool – long since built over – was kept
at 90 degrees, so the president could take daily swims to ease the
chronic back pain that plagued his adult life. To her surprise, the
president himself joined them in the pool.

Later that afternoon, she was invited to after-work drinks upstairs.
At the impromptu cocktail party, Kennedy offered to take her on a tour
of the White House. That night, after she had been plied with alcohol,
they made love for the first time in Jackie Kennedy’s powder-blue
bedroom. Alford’s account has raised questions about whether she was
raped.

“I have never felt that it was rape,” she says. “I was willing. Even
though I was surprised and it was not something I had planned, I was
clueless. I thought I was going on a tour of the residence, and I’d
had two daiquiris. Now I can look back and see that I was being
orchestrated into that [situation], but I still don’t see it as rape.”

Alford’s story could have remained secret forever had the historian
Robert Dallek not requested, while researching his biography, JFK: An
Unfinished Life, that certain documents be unclassified in 2002 –
namely an interview with a White House press aide that mentioned
Alford by name. This transcript was then leaked, and Alford was
exposed in 2003. On May 13, a New York Daily News headline ran: “Fun
and Games with Mimi in the White House”.

“It was a shock at first; it took me back to when I used to feel like
I needed to hide,” she says. “But there was no point in denying it and
saying ‘it wasn’t me’.” She told her daughters, released a short
statement admitting that she’d had a “sexual relationship with
President Kennedy”, and promptly disappeared from the spotlight. She
stayed at home under what she calls house arrest for a week, but
started writing down her memories. It was her younger daughter who
eventually encouraged her to publish her memoirs.

Despite the sometimes lurid details revealed in Once Upon a Secret,
Alford has remained dignified. Last week, she sat upright and calm in
an interview on an American chat show, The View, which sees five women
pitted against one interviewee. When Barbara Walters harangued her for
making money from the Kennedy name and legacy, she repeatedly replied
that it was her story to tell.

“In all my memories, except for those few dark ones, he was mostly
boyish with me and sometimes shy,” she says. “It was not like a
romantic love affair, or what I would imagine now as romance. It was
like a play date.” Indeed, she and the president took baths together,
and played with his collection of rubber ducks. He was vain, Alford
says, and she would apply oils to his hair before he would appear on
camera. Throughout their relationship, Alford never once called him
“Jack”; he was always “Mr President”.

She was with him the night Kennedy offered Nikita Khrushchev, leader
of the Soviet Union, a truce that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis in
1962. She was spotted hiding on the floor of his limousine during the
president’s summit on nuclear missiles with Harold Macmillan in the
Bahamas. And she was meant to accompany him on his fateful trip to
Dallas in November 1963. At the last minute, Jackie Kennedy decided to
go with her husband, and Alford was dismissed.

Did she feel she was little more than the president’s call-girl? “I
didn’t believe that then, no. I didn’t even know what a call-girl was.
Was I taken advantage of? Looking back I can see that it was not a
place for a 19-year-old to be. I don’t like to use the word abuse, but
the experience had a traumatic effect on me. I have now come to
unburden myself with it. It took a long time.”

On the night of Kennedy’s assassination, Alford was with her fiancé,
Anthony Fahnestock, at his parents’ house in Connecticut. Their
wedding was just weeks away. JFK, whom she had continued to see in
spite of her engagement, had given her $300 as a wedding gift (with
which she bought a grey, wool suit). Distraught over the death of the
president, Alford came clean to Fahnestock about their affair. Her
future husband – then only 23 – told her that, if they were to go
through with the marriage, she must never mention the Kennedy name
again. She was to remove her time at the White House from her CV. She
dutifully agreed. “Young women are so different today,” she says of
her decision. “I think they are stronger, and they have been brought
up to say: ‘No, I don’t want to do this’. They make their own
choices.”

Alford and Fahnestock were married for 26 years, 13 of them happy, she
admits, until in 1989 Alford asked for a divorce. “Something froze at
that point [in 1963], and Tony and I were never able to evolve. There
was a connection between the effect that keeping silent had on me and
our marriage.”

And so it was only after her secret was exposed in 2003 that Alford
felt able to grieve for her former lover. She went to New York’s
Museum of Television and Radio and watched the graphic images of JFK’s
assassination. “I sat there by myself just watching it,” says Alford.
She pauses, takes a breath and composes herself. “It drew me in.”

A year later, Alford had her first dream about JFK. In it, he is still
45 and handsome, but she is 65. The two of them are standing in a
corridor full of doors. “Those who analyse dreams love doors,” she
says. “But this dream is very simple. I am standing with my hands on
my hips, looking at him, almost smiling, and I say, ‘Mr President, you
don’t have to hide me any more’.”

‘Once Upon a Secret’ by Mimi Alford (Hutchinson, £18.99) is available
from Telegraph Books at £16.99 + £1.25 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or
visit books.telegraph.co.uk