Posted by: philipfontana | February 25, 2012

Sex Sells

Sex Sells…

in Once Upon A Secret, by Mimi Alford


…But Heroes Live Forever

in Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews


 The Class of 1964

Paramus High School, Paramus, New Jersey

   Excuse us for living, but those of us who turned 65 last year spent our four years of high school during the presidency, the assassination, and shattered dreams of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, thirty-fifth President of the United States. –That day of our senior year of high school, November 22, 1963, roughly a thousand days into his administration, hearing over the public address system that the President was shot, was dead, and then fellow students crying & collapsing in the hallways as we passed to our next class. And like so many people of all ages that lived through those years, but especially for us, the images, the ideals, and the hopes embedded within us a lasting impression that we all will take to our graves.

   Any memories you have for “Comment” below?

   That is why there are such competing emotions that are triggered by the most recent books published on JFK (and there is a third book that just hit the NY Times Best Seller list). Mimi Alford’s book, Once Upon A Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and It’s Aftermath, published this February 2012, is # 7 this Sunday, Feb 26, on the New York Times Hardcover Best Sellers list, Nonfiction, and # 1 on the E-Book Best Nonfiction list. Sex sells! So no doubt you already know the book’s content. Mimi tells of her affair with President Kennedy beginning at 19 years old as an intern at the White House. The relationship lasts, granted with lessening intensity, until the very end of his life, even as he departs for Dallas, Texas, that November 1963. Mimi Alford not only presents the events and details of her liaisons with the President, but offers up with delicacy her feelings and emotions really too personal to share. And while some have querried her motivations for writing such a book so many years later, Mimi Alford’s eloquence and openness come across as trustworthy/creditable. As uncomfortable as the subject is, perhaps the affair will be examined further in the near future in our quest for the truth about our nation’s leaders.

There is another book with a more traditional approach to the life of JFK, traditional but hardly conventional, as you will see. It’s a book akin to that Beach Boys’ hit, Be True To Your School. (You can tell I’ve been listening to “the best of” recently. It entered the Billboards singles chart Nov. 2, 1963 and peaked at # 16!) And the book’s author, Chris Matthews, is certainly true to his hero, JFK. His book, Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero, was published back in November 2011. The book spent 10 weeks on the New York Times Hardcover Best Sellers list, Nonfiction, from # 3, November 20, 2011, holding its own at various spots, ending its run at # 14, January 22, 2012. I commend the book to you for its unconventional approach as it moves through JFK’s life from his boyhood school days at Choate until the end in Dallas with everything in between, leaving no period of his life and career neglected. I say unconventional because Chris Matthews fleshes out the real Kennedy and his inner thoughts and feelings through his own words and those around him. In doing so, the book makes a scholarly contribution to the body of research on JFK, moving our understanding of that time, that history, forward. Chris Matthews accomplishes this by the sources he utilizes for his narrative: books containing quotations and interviews, taped interviews, as well as new interviews, all from those people surrounding him from school day chums to intimate friends, personal and political advisors, politicians, and family members. –Billy Sutton, Dave Powers, Mark Dalton, Paul “Red” Fay, George Smathers, Tip O’Neill, Charlie Bartlett, Ben Bradlee, Ted Sorensen, Kenny O’Donnell, Pierre, Salinger, Arthur Schlesinger, John Glenn, Rachel Mellon, Jean Kennedy Smith, and, of course, Bobby Kennedy, and others, The oral histories were invaluable to the research, especially those at the John F. Kennedy Library. Curiously, Matthews always quotes Kennedy’s words as reported by another person from oral histories and shows no evidence of listening to JFK on tape. To these he added, among others, original sources such as the notes taken by Theodore White of his historic interview with Jackie Kennedy from November 29, 1963, just a week after the assassination. And lastly, Chris Matthews makes use of the collection of great books written about JFK.

Tie this together. Sex sells. In Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero, Chris Matthews articulates Kennedy’s incessant pursuit of women, documenting this by quoting words and observations of those around him. This obsession is the backdrop of JFK’s life and all that filled it. Yet, Matthews is careful to elaborate on Kennedy’s extraordinary traits: his uncanny ability to always see things objectively and unemotionally, “cutting to the chase,” compartmentalizing, single mindedness, always striving to accomplish his objectives. These traits are as present when JFK leads his club, the Muckers, at Choate to pile manure on the dance floor in the dinning hall as they are when he confronts the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 14-26, 1962. And so we see John F. Kennedy for what he really was, his strengths and his flaws.

But heroes live forever.


  1. Tumultuous. No other word needed for those years. The ultimate shocker for me was driving through Baltimore the Sunday night after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed: a National Guard checkpoint at every cross street. Even though I was in the army at the time, that was still sobering. Again Phil, a wonderful post!

    • Chip, you are really on top of these things! Thanks for the immediate response, comments, & compliment. Wow, Baltimore the night after MLK assassination, National Guard at every cross street! We were seniors at Rutgers at that time in 1968. And then in June 1968 while on RU Glee Club tour in Luxemburg, RFK was assassinated. Our concert tour was temporarily put on hold in respect to RFK by the US Ambassador in Luxemburg who had the entire Club visit his office in Luxembourg City for a sit down talk with him! He previewed a speech of his for us by reading it. Once the tour resumed days later, he attended our outdoor concert in a Square in Luxembourg City. Tumultuous is right! Phil

  2. Thanks, Phil. Brings back memories. I was in an English 101 class in Scott Hall when the JFK shooting was announced. Our TA, a young woman barely older than we, was trying to remain professional. While everyone else was calling off classes, she tried to keep us in our seats, concentrating on the text, which I think was a short story by Faulkner. Funny how you remember the little details when momentous events break.

    • Bob, great hearing from you especially. You had a lasting affect on me in our RUGC years by your quiet example of intelligence, dignity, & modesty which has served me well in my career as an educator. That’s a great JFK memory you have frozen in time that we can all identify with: English 101, Scott Hall, & the TA & Faulkner while classes are being cancelled! Glad you took the time to comment!

  3. Hi Phil-
    I was in 10th grade and remember the nun announcing over the PA that Kennedy had been shot. We all got down on our knees and prayed for his recovery-that was never to come. Terrible-terrible day-I remember it like it was yesterday-

    Another good book about the Kennedy wives was Jackie, Ethel & Joan. This was from the wives perspective all that they went thru.

    Kennedy watched his father who was a philander, so maybe that is where he modeled his life long habit of skirt chasing…who knows? I think back then it was more “acceptable” and if the affairs did happen; the press kept their mouths shut. Certainly NOT like today.

    But I digress….

    • Margaret,
      Wow, now that’s quite a story of yours about JFK, the PA, the nuns, & praying together! You get the prize of the day for Comments!
      I am aware of the book about the Kennedy wives but never read it or any reviews. Must check when it was published. I’ll Google it!
      Besides John’s father Joseph as a philandering model, I DO think it was in their genes, really! In the book I reviewed, JFK refers to his on-going conduct with women as “girling”!!!!! And you’re right. It was more accepted back then & prior (FDR!) & the press felt that was territory unreportable (personal life).
      You are so nice to comment. Thanks so much. Phil

      • The day of JFK’s funeral, we all had off of school. My dad did accounting work for my aunt who owned a Tavern just over the Detroit border in Canada. So that day i went along with my dad and i remember watching that funeral on my grama’s TV….in Canada! (All my relatives lived in this small Canadian town over the border-bet you didn’t know I was born in Canada—fact O’ the day for you phil!…lol…)
        You could be right on with the gene business….why do some men cheat-and others don’t? I think having power has a lot to do with it also…

  4. Great column!! It really brought back memories!! And you were right on with your comments about all of it! Have been enjoying all of your writings!!

  5. Chris, So glad I included you in my e-mails & Geri said “do it!” Thank you for your generous comments. Memories of that moment in time are so special for each of us. Thanks again for taking the time. Phil

  6. Thank YOU Mr.Phil for Your wonderful column … i am learning so very much ! I was in 3rd grade in 1963 … confused and inquisitive and also suspicious … of an adult world we had no clue why we were ‘involved’ with all our parents at one neighborhood home all week just crying in front of the TV … we stayed outdoors as much as possible that week … in our own 3rd rade world ❤ i guess that says alot about my generation and our defense mechanisms … love from beverly …

    • Beverly! Thanks so much for your kind words. I read with interest YOUR recollections of that day Nov 22, 1963. Most other people commenting were more my generation with similar stories. YOURS as a 3rd grader gives an entirely different perspective. It opens up a whole new dimension to the story!–This adult “cloud” brought down upon the little ones trying to make sense out of it all, struggling to comprehend it. More people of your age should speak up & share their stories instead of deferring to us older folks on these things! START YOUR OWN BLOG! But while it’s fun, it is work, depending on how often you post, the topic length, & promoting it! –That last one is harder than the writing! Thanks!!! Phil

  7. Not only does sex sell, but apparently so does celebrity endorsement. Neither have ever done much for me. I buy what I need when I need it.

    My sister’s birthday is November 22, so I’ve always been able to remember it. My brother-in-law, however, typical macho New Orleans man that he is, never could remember it until I taught him how. JFK’s assassination anniversary makes the news every year, so just pretend that all the news if about your wife’s birthday. That did the trick!

    P.S. My books have “Be True To Your School” spending 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart but peaking at #6 rather than #16.

    • Russel, I’m with you re advertisements…I too just buy what I need.
      Good memory device for brother er Mom’s birthday!
      And you are CORRECT! That great Beach Boys song WAS #6 as YOU said!!!

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