Black Cat · memoir · Monday · non-fiction · Uncategorized

Monday, not really a book review…

A Black Cat Book Review

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Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford

In 1962 nineteen year old Marion “Mimi” Beardsley was a summer intern in the press office of the White House.  That summer the affair with President John F. Kennedy began; it ended in 1963 when he was assassinated.  This book is her memoir of those eighteen months and how they affected the rest of her life.

To say that what Alford has written disturbed me is an understatement.  My reactions while reading her story were many and varied and sometimes contradictory.  Shock, anger, sadness, amusement, disbelief, were some of my reactions and feelings about this affair.  When you read “affair” if you think of romance, candle-lit dinners, music, how the movies and novels usually portray affairs…think again.  This was a sexual affair and nothing more.

Alford describes the affair as “WAIT”.  She would be told where to be and there she would be, waiting, until JFK showed up.  She occasionally travelled with the White House entourage.  She would wait in hotel rooms until the President wanted her then she would be escorted to his room.  JFK was a very busy man.  He was the President, after all!  So she was available when he “wanted” her.

Although, many in the White House, staff, JFK’s valet, the residence cook, some of his friends, and the Secret Service, knew of the affair and often facilitated their meetings, Alford kept it secret.  She told the man she was engaged to the day of the assassination and later her sister and two friends but she told no one else.  These four people kept her secret safe.  It was not until 2003 with the publication of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek that she spoke publicly about her affair with the President.

I cannot really objectively review this book and I am not going to try.  Alford seems to be honest in her telling of what happened.  She does not make excuses for herself and relates some of their encounters quite candidly.  Some would say she let herself be used and at first that is what I thought.  But with further reflection I realize that she was very young and naïve.  She had a sheltered and protected up-bringing and was inexperienced.  She was totally unprepared for some of the egos and self-entitlements in the powerful world of politics and politicians. 

Mimi Alford has moved on as they say; married, had children, divorced, remarried, has grandchildren, come to terms with the past, and written this book.  I can, almost, understand her as her nineteen year old self but I do not understand her as her seventy year old self.

I think what disturbs me the most is how Alford is still enamored of Kennedy and defends the man and his actions. The man treated her despicably!  As I said I  cannot review this book. I think what I have done is to try and give you my impression of the two people involved. 

21 thoughts on “Monday, not really a book review…

  1. I just read Judith’s rant. Not sure how I missed this post, Patricia.

    Anyway . . . sounds like she just wanted everyone to know that she slept with JFK. Her last hurrah (claim to fame), perhaps?

    It’s amazing the things people do in order to feed their ego’s need to be noticed.

    1. Nancy, the whole thing from beginning to now just upsets/angers/frustrates me. It is so wrong on so many levels. And why talk about it publicly after all this time? Money? Who knows!

  2. i haven’t read the book or seen the interview so I am relying on your review and the comments that follow it.
    I too wonder how as a 70 year old (a few years younger than me) that she can think it acceptable to be treated the way in which she was. Would she think this acceptable if it happened today to her daughter or granddaughter? And if it hadn’t been the President of the US would she have gone along with this? Was the fact that he was all powerful so attractive to her that she lost her self will? Oh so many questions arise from your review. I thought I might get it and read it but on second thoughts, as I am getting het up and cross sitting here just reading the review I know that I shan’t.
    Thanks for the review and bringing this to the fore. While from the other side of the world we thought/knew he was a philanderer it is shocking to be faced with the truth – or at least her version of the truth.
    I shall stop here otherwise I wont know how to or when to.

    1. I know just what you are saying and feeling, Judith. I don’t understand the book or author on so many levels. It would be interesting to talk to her to get some more insight.

  3. Wow Patricia, I love your honesty. Sounds like this is a book I would want to miss. I’d get all judgmental and upset.

    I’d always heard that he was having an affair with Ms. Munro. You have to wonder how he had the time to juggle all those women.

    Great review 🙂

    1. It was a hard book to review–so I didn’t really. It is hard not to be judgmental and I did try to be open-minded but it made me so angry and frustrated on so many levels. I think I should stay away from this type of book!

  4. Maybe, writing about this made her face her demons; try to understand what happened to her? What if it took her all these years to come to terms with how awe-struck she was of JFK. What if this was her first sexual experience and with such an important man. Doesn’t that overwhelm? Also, she was not only with an OLDER man but with the charismatic JFK, who was the PRESIDENT of the United States.

    Maybe I’m on the wrong track. I never saw the interview nor read the book (yet).

    There’s nothing wrong with telling it like it is. As you have here. I like to hear a point of view when someone (you) feels strongly about a particular book. Bravo.

    1. Tess, I do think she has tried to come to terms with what happened but she is not telling herself the truth, she is believing what is easiest to live with, I think. And this was her first experience, with any man, she was a virgin. Her account of their first encounter is heart-breaking. She is still awe-struck!

      I think you are on the right track and I only feel sadness for the young woman who lived this charade. The woman today–well, I sort want to knock some sense into her. What would she think if this was happening to her daughter? At some point we all must face facts and grow up–and that can hurt big time.

      If you read the book please let me know what you think–send me an email if you want.

  5. It was a different time and staff protected “important” people. Today this would explode over the news in an inkling. I expect the whole thing made her feel special at the time but I could see how she could be conflicted now. Not sure I would have written the book unless I needed money. (It’s amazing what people do for money!) I think you did a good job on a tough book.

    1. Thanks Kate. Maybe it was for money.

      I must say this book made me angry and the more I think about it the angrier I get. I am angrier regarding JFK’s actions and at her defense of him today but I have no anger for the girl she was then.

      I don’t see how she can be conflicted now unless she is in complete denial of the facts and the fairy tale is easier to live with than the truth.

  6. The first word that comes to mind, or feeling, is sadness. There is something else that this makes me think of. In my thinking, she was in a way abused. Maybe even more than physically, mentally . . .emotionally. It does something to you and may explain the confusion that we have over her now. Thank you Patricia . . .I love your honesty!

    1. That’s a very interesting point! I feel mean saying this, but that interview gave me the impression that she is a weak-minded person. In no way do I mean that she invited or brought any of that abuse onto herself, but just that she may have been a very easy target. And abusers look for easy targets.

      I’ve known stronger people who were victims of emotional abuse, who took longer than you would think to pull themselves together and get out. Maybe she never really “got out”. It would explain her apparent defense of his actions now; in some way she still relates to and is under the spell of her abuser. (sorry to butt in, Patricia!)

      1. Hey Michelle, butt in whenever you want. I think this is a very interesting subject and like hearing other’s views. I agree that she seem to be a weak-willed person for whatever reason. And I do think she was an easy target.

        It boggles my mind that she still thinks what he did to her is acceptable. In my mind I think, and others have told her, that their first encounter was rape. She doesn’t see it as rape even today because she did not scream or protest. She was definitely under the man’s spell.

        Oh, I feel myself getting angry all over again!

        1. You’re so wonderful, Patricia! I would get angry too, and that is why I have to stay away from that book. Some people just won’t get it, and it makes you too crazy inside to keep thinking about how they don’t get it, and wishing you could run their lives for them.

          Here’s another thing: we’re taking her word for it. For all we know, she doesn’t feel like it was rape because it wasn’t. If she did this for the money, and if she doesn’t think that adultery is wrong, then who knows what else is going through her head (or her morals, which seem very loose). Not having read the book (to gauge her sincerity), I could be off track, but I have to wonder if maybe she’s just leaving out the fact that she was a willing participant from the beginning. Of course, that’s just a thought I had.

          1. Yes, I do sometimes want to run people’s lives. But only because i am always right 🙂

            It is true we have only her side of events. Perhaps over time the story has become embellished. I guess we would have to define rape and what makes one act rape and another consensual. I think she was a willing participant of a very powerful, experienced, manipulative man who knew how to get what he wanted. I think emotionally she was even younger than her 19 years and was not at all equipped to deal with all that was happening.

            I would like to talk with Alford to perhaps get some understanding of what she was/is thinking and feeling about the whole affair. My mind is open or (at least ajar) to having my opinions changed.

    2. I felt sadness too, Debbie. And I do think she was abused and used. Like I said I can understand a 19 year old accepting this as ok and being in awe of this man–but it seems she has the same feelings now.

      She shows no remorse for the adultery and seems to think neither of them were doing anything wrong. This is where my sadness is–there is no forgiveness where there is no repentance.

  7. I saw her in an interview and it was quite bewildering; I couldn’t figure out what her motivations were. Why did she write about it – reveal this big secret- now, if she feels no differently about it or him than she did when she was 19? She seemed to condemn him in one breath, and defend him in the next. Or maybe she was simply stating facts, bluntly and almost carelessly, and it was I who condemned him for it and then was taken aback to find that she did not feel the same way about it as I do.

    1. What she wrote made me think she thought he could do no wrong–and though she did not make excuses for herself it didn’t sound like she feels that she did anything wrong either.

      I also, wonder why she wrote the book. Perhaps for money?

      1. Maybe that’s why it feels so odd. The interview (I think it was on the Today show) was approached as though the book was meant to be a “letting the dirty secret out” kind of thing. And when you (or at least I) hear about a topic like that, I feel some shock and dismay, and even sadness, and perhaps betrayal. My thoughts and feelings about a historical figure are being overthrown. It was jarring fpr her to throw this stuff out at you and then say, in effect, “but, you know, no biggie”. The interviewer seemed to be confused, as well. She kept pursuing what seemed to be a logical line of questioning, only to be mildly fluffed off at every turn.

        Thanks for doing the review. I won’t read the book, because I think it would only upset and unsettle me. I got that impression from the interview, obviously, but I always love your book reviews.

        1. I am sort of sorry I read it! It didn’t change my thoughts on Kennedy. I think he was a fine statesman/politician but a sorry excuse for a man.

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