Monday, November 18, 2013

"One Last Hour of Serenity"

Unsurprisingly, JFK was a member of the Mile-High Club.  Also unsurprisingly, it appears very likely that he and Jackie exercised their membership during his ill-starred flight to Dallas.

So, yes, John Kennedy had sex on a plane the day before he died.

We're not quite sure why, amidst all the reflection which accompanies the fiftieth anniversary of the president's assassination, this particular fact has garnered so much attention.  Perhaps because the biographer William Manchester felt a need to report it through a gauze lens in his 1967 book The Death of a President, because you didn't talk about those things back then the way we do now.

Except, of course, that you did:  it was 1967, for pity's sake.  The Summer of Love, and "Love" is a euphemism here.  LSD, Janis Joplin and Allan Ginsburg at the Avalon Ballroom, Loving v. Virginia.  The National Organization for Women was a year old.  If you weren't talking about drugs or Viet Nam that year, you were talking about sex.

Plus, we've seen Mad Men.  So we know what it was really like.

The real reason that Manchester soft-pedaled this, as well as various other tidbits about Kennedy's sex life, is that Jackie had sued him before the book was published.  She sat for ten hours of interviews, revealing inter alia what Manchester would obliquely call "one last hour of serenity" onboard Air Force One, and then cried foul.  Manchester was ordered by the court to throw a fig leaf over his research, which cannot be removed legally until 2067.  We only know about this little incident because Manchester, now dead, spilled the beans to another biographer, Philip Nobile -- who chose this month to publish it in an appropriate venue, the New York Post.

To be honest, we aren't trying to criticize Jacqueline Kennedy for clutching at any last bit of privacy, but whatever means were available to her.  Nor do we judge Manchester, either for trying to include the racy tidbit or for passing it on to somebody else.  Anybody who has ever done serious research knows how natural it is to fall in love with your own facts, and how eager you are to show them off.

We just think it's a weird reflection both on the lasting Kennedy mystique and on American society's love-hate relationship with sex.  Is it, after all, in any way surprising that a young married couple had intimate relations?  Or that they did it on a plane, when they had the chance?  Of course not.  It would have been surprising if they hadn't.  The only surprise is that, fifty years later, there is still a hint of scandal attached to the fact.

1 comment:

George Waite said...

The only thing that surprises most people is that they had any "hours of serenity" with each other; they standard story is that by 1963 it was pretty much a marriage of convenience.
If the story was he'd had "hours of serenity" with secretaries and stewardesses, then nobody would blink an eye.
And at least he didn't leave them behind to drown or flog himself in his diary about it afterwards like his two brothers.