|14 Jul 2009 @ 05:44|
On the evening of November 25, 1963, the widowed Jackie Kennedy walked through Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC, with her brother-in-law Bobby. At the grave of Jackie's husband John, who had been assassinated three days previously, the pair dropped to their knees and prayed.
Afterwards, Jackie placed lilies of the valley on the earth. Then, holding hands, the widow and younger brother of John Fitzgerald Kennedy returned to their car.
They were joined in grief, but soon their relationship went beyond shared sorrow - becoming a clandestine affair that ended only when Bobby decided to run for President in 1968.
The romance was always doomed, punctuated by flings on both sides. And all the time waiting on the sidelines was the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, plotting to possess Jackie and destroy Bobby.
I first heard whispers of a romantic involvement between Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy while researching and conducting interviews for A Woman Named Jackie, my 1989 biography of the former First Lady. Because Jackie was still alive, my interviewees were reluctant to discuss the romance in detail.
Following Jackie's death in 1994 - and after I had begun work on RFK, my biography of Robert Kennedy - interview subjects, old and new, were more eager to explore the topic.
After the publication of RFK in 1998, I continued to probe the subject, collecting more material. I was aided in part by the release in 2007 of a set of previously unavailable reports and briefs prepared by the Secret Service and the FBI, released to me under the American Freedom of Information Act.
Covering the years 1964 to 1968, when the liaison took place, these documents confirmed what I had already ascertained in hundreds of hours of personal interviews - there had indeed been an affair.
I don't doubt that some will remain sceptical that Bobby and Jackie were romantically involved. In the course of writing four books on the Kennedys and another on Washington's female power brokers, I met individuals who still deny the rampant womanising of JFK. Indeed, it took The New York Times 30 years to admit that JFK had affairs outside his marriage.
Moreover, if Bobby and Jackie had an affair, how did they manage to keep it out of the public eye? The answer is that in the Sixties the private lives of public figures were simply not covered by the media - certainly not to the extent they are today. It was also easier to suppress newspaper stories 40 years ago.
Yet Bobby had always been the Kennedy relative Jackie felt most comfortable with. In fact, it was Bobby who convinced his elder brother John to marry Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. Bobby saw Jackie as a potentially invaluable political weapon, with her finishing-school polish and academic prowess.
Bobby had wed Ethel Skakel, daughter of a coal magnate, in 1950: by the time of JFK's murder, the couple already had eight children.
Despite his family commitments, Bobby was close to Jackie. Writer Truman Capote, a great friend of Jackie's, said Bobby served a crucial role for her: 'As First Lady, she constantly turned to RFK for advice and support.'
This continued after John's death, as Jackie began to burnish her unfaithful husband's image for posterity. The former First Lady's education had given her a fine sense of history. It was she who came up with the notion of Camelot, likening her husband's presidency to King Arthur's court, with its high morals and ideals.
But if JFK had been Arthur, then Bobby was increasingly playing Lancelot to Jackie's Guinevere, especially when it came to helping raise her offspring. Bobby was soon spending more time with Jackie, and her children, Caroline and John Jr, than he did with his own large family.
He'd show up at Jackie's Washington home early in the morning and sit with the children while they had breakfast. He played games with them, read bedtime stories to them and spoke to them about their father, constantly reminding them what a great man he had been.
The ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, Jackie's guest at her Washington home in January 1964, confirmed that Bobby was often around.
'They seemed uncommonly close,' she told me in an interview before her death, 'no doubt drawn to one another by their shared loss'.
Another visitor to Jackie's house in that period was Aristotle Onassis, who had resumed his romance with Jackie's younger sister, Lee Radziwill. To Bobby's annoyance, the tycoon provided Jackie, then 34, with financial assistance.
However, things were moving fast between 38-year-old Bobby and Jackie. Over Easter 1964, Ethel took Jackie's children and her own on a ski trip, while Bobby, Jackie, Lee and JFK's friend Chuck Spalding went to Antigua.
It didn't take much to see Bobby and Jackie were developing something more than friendship. They held hands, touched, whispered into each other's ears. Every morning they took a long walk together along the shore.
At night they huddled on a veranda and gazed at the starlit sky. 'There was definitely something between them,' said Spalding. 'You had to be dumb, deaf and blind not to sense it.'
Despite Bobby Kennedy's often rough, tough, hard-nosed veneer, Jackie had always felt compassion and tenderness for him. Ken O'Donnell, one of JFK's closest aides, recalled how the former First Lady had expressed her affection for her brother-in-law.
'I wish you were an amoeba, so you could multiply and there would be two or more of you,' she once told Bobby.
At first though, their relationship was furtive. Two months after returning from Antigua, Bobby took Jackie and Ethel on a dinner cruise around the Potomac River on the presidential yacht.
At one point, Bobby and his sister-in-law disappeared below deck alone.
'I have no idea what transpired between them,' JFK's speechwriter Arthur Schlesinger, a fellow guest, told me. 'But when they returned, they looked as chummy and relaxed as a pair of Cheshire cats.'
Inevitably, Ethel Kennedy began to resent the gradually increasing chatter among family, friends and gossip columnists that her husband was spending too much time in the company of his brother's widow.
It reached the point where she confronted David Ormsby-Gore, British ambassador to the United States during the Kennedy administration, and asked what, if anything, he knew about the relationship.
She posed the same question to Hervé Alphand, the former French ambassador. Neither of the men proved helpful in providing Ethel with the information she sought.
In August 1964 Bobby announced he would move to New York to run for the Senate. Jackie, too, made plans to relocate to Manhattan. Meanwhile, Ethel stayed with her children at the Kennedy home in Hickory Hill, Virginia.
Once in Manhattan, the records show the romance intensified. It was often turbulent, with both Bobby and Jackie seeking revenge for the other's indiscretions.
When Bobby became involved with the daughter of a New York socialite, the former First Lady initiated an affair with a San Francisco architect. She jettisoned him after less than a month and went back to Bobby, supporting his New York senatorial campaign.
By now, Jackie was one of the most recognisable women in the world and was more than happy to lend her fame to Bobby's bid for political office, even allowing her children to participate.
Indeed, it was Jackie who enlisted the help of Lyndon B. Johnson, who took over as President after JFK's assassination - no mean feat given the hostility that existed between Bobby and the President.
So deep was that resentment that Johnson ordered the FBI to spy on Bobby during the 1964 Democratic Convention, fearing the younger Kennedy would attempt to wrest the presidential nomination from him. But Bobby appeared to have other things on his mind.
In a restricted file that I have been shown, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover reported: 'The subject seems to spend all his free time with Mrs John F. Kennedy. Although it can't be confirmed at this time, they appear to be sharing the same hotel suite.'
Similar intimacies existed in New York: Bobby's official driver would drop his boss in front of Jackie's Fifth Avenue apartment building around midnight, retrieving him the next morning.
'He'd stride out of the building with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye,' said the driver
It was hard for the couple to hide their mutual affection. A friend recalled a weekend during Bobby's campaign when he visited Ethel at Hickory Hill.
'There was this great snapshot of Jackie and I commented on it. Ethel looked at it, but didn't utter a word. Bobby took a look. "She is beautiful, isn't she?" he commented.
'"She's an attractive woman," Ethel conceded. "Thank you for saying so," replied Bobby. You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. After another minute or two, Ethel rose and left the room.'
In autumn of 1964, Jackie told officials she did not need Secret Service protection at her apartment overnight. Former White House Press secretary Pierre Salinger suggested another, more obvious motive: it meant Bobby could come and go without having to log in with Secret Service personnel.
Many Secret Service files on Jackie from this period have mysteriously disappeared. But one, from October 1964, reveals that Bobby and Jackie shared a bedroom on at least one occasion at a relative's New York apartment. Another says they stayed in a hotel suite together.
By now their affair was one of New York's worst-kept secrets. Franklin Roosevelt Jr, son of the former President, told me he was amazed Bobby and Jackie's romance had remained under wraps.
'The two of them carried on like a pair of lovesick teenagers,' said Roosevelt. 'I suspect Bobby would've liked to dump Ethel and marry Jackie, but of course that wasn't possible.'
During Christmas 1964, after Bobby won his Senate seat, Mary Harrington, a former lover, was staying in a house overlooking the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
One morning she saw Jackie sunbathing topless on the grass. Bobby walked out and knelt by Jackie's side and started kissing and fondling her.
'After a minute or so, she walked toward the house. Bobby followed. I was shocked. It was clear Bobby was sleeping with his sister-in-law,' said Harrington.
Being a single woman once again, Jackie represented a tremendous threat to all the married women in her social circle. With her fame, beauty and fashion sense, she had only to enter a room for the conversation to come to a halt.
Men would rush over to speak to her, while those who didn't approach were intrigued but also intimidated. She intimidated men and made women jealous.
It therefore took a certain kind of man to become romantically involved with somebody as famous as Jacqueline Kennedy. One such man was Aristotle Onassis, whose audacity, tenacity and wealth finally won Jackie over - up to a point.
She and JFK first met Onassis in 1960, when they attended a banquet aboard his yacht. Three years later, Onassis and Lee Radziwill began their highly publicised affair.
Bobby Kennedy could barely disguise his hatred of Onassis, who was 25 years his senior.
'I've known that b*****d for years,' Bobby once told a friend. 'He was a snake then and he's still a snake. Other than his bankroll, I don't understand what Jackie sees in him.'
On another occasion Bobby said: 'If it were up to me, I'd sink his f****** yacht - and the goddamn Greek with it.'
The former First Lady joined Onassis aboard that yacht on a five-day cruise to Nassau in February 1965. Although she had no intention of embarrassing Bobby politically by becoming involved with Onassis, Jackie realised that if she didn't accede to Onassis's sexual demands, she risked losing his patronage.
A friend of Onassis said Jackie was the most money-hungry woman she had ever met. 'She lusted after money and craved the kind of lifestyle only he could provide. Whenever Ari saw her he handed her an envelope full of cash. He was used to paying for sex.'
John Meyer, an Onassis aide who I interviewed, told me his boss had boasted: 'You'll be happy to know I finally bagged the queen.'
'Bobby,' he went on, 'just sees me as the rich p**** moving in on his brother's widow. Sooner or later, it'll come to a test of wills.'
Onassis was indeed a threat to Bobby's ambitions. The tycoon boasted he could 'bring down' the senator by revealing his affair with his sister-in-law.
'I could bury that sucker,' said Onassis, 'although I'd lose Jackie in the process. But can't you just see the headlines?'
Jackie carried on juggling both affairs at the same time.
On one occasion she returned from a trip abroad to find two imposing bouquets waiting for her. They were accompanied by identically worded cards saying 'welcome home'. The first was from Bobby, the second Onassis. She was expert at playing one lover off against the other.
When Jackie heard that one of Bobby's office workers had 'fallen in love' with the senator, she retaliated by turning to Onassis again, visiting him at his townhouse in Avenue Foch, Paris.
Opera diva Maria Callas, Onassis's 'official' companion, appeared unannounced and a row ensued. Onassis told an aide: 'The two of them nearly came to blows. I had to separate them.' Before Maria left, she called Jackie a 'geisha girl'.
Despite such hiccups, Jackie's affair with Onassis continued. After her children began the new school year in autumn 1967, Jackie spent five days on Skorpios, Onassis's private Greek island. According to an aide, Onassis proposed to her during the visit, but she put him off.
Bobby understood that Jackie would marry another man but he couldn't bear the thought of it being his arch-enemy. When Pierre Salinger brought up the subject, Bobby said: 'She'll marry that man over my dead body.'
Of course, Onassis, then 61, wanted to wed Jackie immediately, but he understood it wouldn't happen until after the 1968 presidential election. 'She's worth the wait,' he told an associate. 'There's something mystifying about her. She possesses a carnal soul.'
In March 1968, Bobby announced he would be seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
'Won't it be wonderful when we're back in the White House?' Jackie asked at a family gathering. Ethel replied: 'What do you mean "we"? You're not running. This is our moment in the sun.'
Although inured by this time to Ethel's bluntness, Jackie knew that if Bobby were to become President, Ethel would indeed be made First Lady. Jackie had to come to terms with reality and accept that her future lay outside Washington politics.
For all the love that had flowed between them, Bobby and Jackie's four-year affair finally came to an end.
Jackie, though, still had an important role in the presidential campaign.
As an American heroine, she could make or break the Kennedy clan's efforts to secure Bobby's victory. For that reason Jackie assured Bobby that she would not announce her marriage to Onassis until after the election in November, if she married him at all.
In March 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson shocked the nation by announcing he would not seek his party's nomination for another term in office.
By dropping out, Johnson appeared to have paved the way for Bobby's victory.
Jackie should have been thrilled by the news but suddenly she began to question Bobby's presidential quest.
'Do you know what I think will happen to Bobby?' she asked Arthur Schlesinger. 'The same thing that happened to Jack. There is so much hatred in this country and more people hate Bobby than hated Jack. That's why I don't want him to be President.'
Her words were to prove appallingly prescient.
She was determined to seduce Brando
Marlon Brando was another visitor to Jackie's home after her husband's death in 1963. The star included several pages on Jackie in the first draft of his 1994 autobiography, but they were removed before publication. A close friend of Brando's showed me the first draft.
In February 1964, Jackie, then 34, and her sister had dinner with Brando and his business manager. After dinner, the two sisters were joined at Jackie's house by their dinner companions.
Jackie and Brando danced and drank together. While dancing, Jackie, who was deeply attracted to Brando, 'pressed her thighs' suggestively into his. They sat down and began to 'make out'.
In Brando's words: 'From all I'd read and heard about her, Jacqueline Kennedy seemed coquettish and sensual but not particularly sexual.
'If anything, I pictured her as more voyeur than player. But that wasn't the case. She kept waiting for me to try to get her into bed.
'When I failed to make a move, she took matters into her own hands and popped the magic question, "Would you like to spend the night?" And I said, "I thought you'd never ask."'
A week later, Jackie again saw Brando. Commenting on Jackie's 'boyish hips' and 'muscular frame', the actor said: 'I'm not sure she knew what she was doing sexually, but she did it well.'
After that second meeting, Jackie pursued Brando no further.
© C. David Heymann.
• Bobby And Jackie by C. David Heymann will