Once Upon A Secret: the insightfully fascinating book by a JFK intern/mistress

Late October. 1962. 
 
America is in a panic as the U.S. and the Soviet Union appear to be close to the brink of nuclear war. The early morning hours of October 28 would prove to be the final hours leading up to the peaceful conclusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But in the days and hours which led to that safe conclusion, there was tension. In our nation’s capital, some were readying fallout shelters, while others wanted to get as far away from Washington as possible in the actual event of war.  
 
But for a young woman named Mimi, she lay “sleeping like a baby, wrapped in soft linens, in a bedroom on the second floor of the White House.”

Sequestered with his closest advisors, the president had been in meetings which had taken him into the night. Mimi – who was a mistress of the president – had tired of waiting and went to bed. In Kennedy’s bed. A place where she had slept many nights before.

 
In the new book released today, Once upon a secret: my affair with President John F. Kennedy and its aftermath Mimi Alford discusses the affair that she had with the former president from June of 1962 until shortly before his death.
 
Her behind the scenes perspective on the most significant events of the Kennedy administration is a fascinating read.  This book isn’t a trashy romance novel. It is a piece of Americana. While an affair with a married man is morally unsavory, it is a story worth sharing.
 
Alford isn’t a politican, she’s not a Washington insider. This is the perspective from the average person, a woman who was swept off her feet by a charming, older man at the height of Camelot. While she was just a teenager during most of her relationship with Kennedy, the nearly 50 years that have passed have given her a greater sense of the significance of what happened between her and our 35th president.
 
What would possess a woman to right this book? Alford addresses that question in her opening chapter. She had kept it a secret from everyone, save for a few close confidants, for over 40 years. In 2003, historian Robert Dallak wrote a biography which cited spoken histories from the Kennedy library and talked of affairs to which the president had been a party. The recorded history had referenced a “tall, slender, beautiful nineteen-year-old college sophomore and White House intern.” 
 
This immediately piqued media interest in trying to determine who that young, blonde intern was. Reporters eventually tracked Alford down. When confronted with whether or not it had been her to whom the book was referring, she saw little point in lying. Alford said “for the first time in many years, I was feeling a measure of peace.”
 
From that beginning, Alford shares her story of how she became an intern in the White House during the summer of 1962. She also describes how what seemed like an innocent summer invitation by a Kennedy staffer to go for a midday swim in the White House swimming pool was soon interrupted by a surprise guest, president Kennedy. Later that day, Kennedy offered to take Alford on a tour on the family living quarters. Knowing what the presidents obvious intentions were, reading how he took advantage of the young woman feels similar to watching a small animal on a Discovery channel program, blissfully unaware that a predator lies in wait, ready to devour his prey. The end result of the charismatic president offering a personal tour was an 18 month affair.
 
In the memoir, she writes: “Friends never hesitate to ask if I was in love with President Kennedy. My guarded answer has always been “I don’t think so.” But the truth is, “Of course I was.” This was one part hero worship, one part schoolgirl crush, one part the thrill of being so close to power – and it was a potent, heady mix.”
 
As the story progresses, Alford meets a young man and falls in love. She eventually receieves a promotion where she is working more directly with the president. As her relationship with her boyfriend evolves into an engagement, the affair with Kennedy winds down as does her professional role in the White House. 
 
According to Alford, the last time that she saw the president, the two had a fascinating exchange:
 
He took me in his arms for a long embrace and said, “I wish you were coming with me to Texas.” And then he added, “I’ll call you when I get back.”
 
I was overcome with a sudden sadness. “Remember, Mr. President, I’m getting married,” I said.
 
“I know that,” he said, and shrugged. “But I’ll call you anyway.”
 
Then I said goodbye, hopped in a cab, and took the train home to New Jersey.
 
I was hoping that the President was coming around to the fact that our relationship was shifting to new terrain because of my marriage. I’d determined to tell him in Texas that this trip with him would be my last. On the other hand, I was a little disappointed that I’d been dropped from the roster. But I understood why: Mrs. Kennedy had decided to go to Dallas with her husband.
 

If that anecdote is true, for me, it proves why this was a book worth writing. The insight that she has with Kennedy is priceless. 

 
Keep in mind that it’s not as if Alford came out of the woodwork to write this book. She had already been outed as being one of the president’s mistresses almost a decade ago. 
 
I highly recommend Once Upon a Secret. The book is a fantastically written page turner that vividly captures the most defining moments of the early 1960s. It is well organized, and with each page, as Alford gets to tell her side of the story and share her experiences, it has a liberating affect.
 
Again, I certainly don’t condone the affair that her and the president had, but I also struggle to dwell too much on events that happened a half century ago.

 

jrb