The President and the Pin Up
The Truth About Marilyn Monroe and JFK
When the name Marilyn Monroe is mentioned, two images are likely to come to mind; the skirt blowing scene of Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch (1955), or the infamously breathy rendition of 'Happy Birthday' sung to John F Kennedy by Monroe in 1961. Both pop culture moments capture the image often associated with Marilyn; that of a beautiful, flirtatious woman who oozes sex appeal and knows how to use it. This image, though indicative of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the bombshells who thrived in it, is only a small part of the complex character Monroe was, and has largely damaged her reputation.
A rumour long fuelled by this sexy star persona is the myth-oft-viewed-as-fact that Marilyn Monroe had a love affair with the 35th president of the United States of America, John F Kennedy. Some tales go further than this, pinning Marilyn's death on the President (or his goons) after pillow talk turned political and Marilyn 'knew too much'.
Though JFK only became President and did not meet Marilyn until 1961, the catalyst of this urban myth dates all the way back to 1952. A star on the edge of her shining career, Marilyn was in Canada shooting Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953) when a young book critic named Robert Saltzer visited the set on a press visit. Having seen Marilyn in one of her first featured roles as Angela in The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950), Slatzer spent all his time on the Niagara set hounding Marilyn with questions. Evidently enamoured by her, Slatzer asked for her autograph, pictures with her and ignored her co-stars who suggested she "...tell him to take a canoe down the falls."
After a few days of visiting the set as press, Robert Slatzer left Canada and Marilyn continued her journey to being the brightest star in Hollywood. She likely didn't give a second thought to the over-friendly book critic from 1952 - that was until May 1957, when Confidential Magazine published a tabloid article featuring Slatzer, Marilyn, and the on-set photographs. Accompanying these pictures was an article written by Tom Wallace and directly citing Saltzer, making some remarkably outlandish claims.
Marilyn's love life had been no stranger to the press, most recently her very public marriage to and subsequent divorce from baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio just the year before, and her very recent marriage to playwright Arthur Miller. So it came as a shock to everyone when Robert Slatzer claimed in Confidential Magazine to have been having an illicit affair with Marilyn behind DiMaggio's back. Claiming they first slept together in her dressing room during Niagara, Slatzer went on to claim that he and Monroe had continued their affair for years, with details of how he would visit her house when Joe would be away playing baseball. Slatzer brazenly shared details of his "torrid kisses" with Marilyn's "sensuous lips", and even dubbed her his "Miss Swivel-hips", building a highly sexualized and promiscuous image of Marilyn.
The article in Confidential Magazine garnered some attention, but was soon forgotten as another sensationalised tabloid, and Marilyn continued to enjoy her new marriage to Miller, her time in England and the final days of her career. Slatzer once again was forgotten.
Then, 11 years after Marilyn's death, a book emerged entitled The Life And Curious Death Of Marilyn Monroe. It was written by Robert Saltzer, and quickly became one of 1973's bestsellers. The book was filled with more stories of Saltzer and Monroe's relationship, but Saltzer was no longer claiming that it was simply an affair. He was now claiming that he had known Marilyn since 1949, and was in fact Marilyn's secret second husband.
Slatzer's story claimed that, after their time together on the Niagara set, he and Marilyn had driven down to Mexico, where they had married in October 1952. However, once Darryl Zanuck (20th Century Pictures studio head and therefore executor of Marilyn's every move) found out about this marriage, Slatzer claims that they were forced by the studio to return to Mexico and immediately seek an annulment. Slatzer claims that, despite this, Marilyn's remained her close confidant and lover throughout the rest of her life.
Slatzer once again shared the images of himself with Marilyn on the set of Niagara by way of 'evidence' for this relationship, but it is obvious that these are nothing more than pictures of a far-too-polite Monroe with an overly-familiar Slatzer. All the images are taken on the same day, as evidenced by their clothing, and Slatzer has never produced any other pictures of them together, despite claiming their love relationship to span decades.
There is also little to support Robert's supposed wedding date of the 4th of October 1952. Marilyn was present at a Photoplay party in California on the evening of the 4th. Her colleagues and the press both vouch for her being there, and there are photos to prove she certainly was not in Mexico that night, instantly quashing Slatzer's account of their supposed wedding day. The marriage witness presented by Slatzer, boxer Noble "Kid" Chissell, also later confessed that he had lied for Slatzer in exchange for $100.
However, this scandalous claim was not the primary selling point of Slatzer's book. Slatzer claimed that his ongoing relationship with Marilyn had allowed him insight into her life unlike that allowed to anyone else, and that this armed him with a number of high profile secrets, the most shocking of all being that Marilyn was murdered by The Kennedy's; that she and JFK had been having an affair during her final days, and that she was a victim of 'knowing too much'.
This is the first recorded claim of what is now often accepted as a fact: that Marilyn Monroe and JFK were, in some capacity, a couple, and that this allowed Marilyn an insider knowledge of classified information known only to the President.
In The Life And Curious Death Of Marilyn Monroe, Slatzer states that Marilyn kept a log of all information given to her by Kennedy in her now infamous Red Diary, and that, when JFK ended his liaisons with Marilyn, she threatened to reveal all he told her to the press. No record of this Red Diary has ever been found, and none of Marilyn's closest confidants recall her owning such a diary.
Once any investigation into this supposed affair moves away from hearsay and rumour started by Slatzer's book, there is very little evidence to support any relationship between Marilyn and JFK, let alone a full blown affair. The two were arguably the most famous people in the world in the late 50's/early 60's, and in an age of paparazzi, press and public appearances, we are able to document all possible times the two could have met.
The first such time was in 1957, at The April In Paris Ball, held at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Both were on the guest list, and both were photographed at the event. The night was covered by Life Magazine, who photographed guests throughout the evening, and yet Monroe and Kennedy were not photographed together once. However, both were photographed separately with their respective spouses.
The second time the two are suspected to have met was on the 22nd of September 1961, at a party at Hyannis Port hosted by Kennedy to thank Frank Sinatra for his support during the presidential election. Though it's true that Marilyn was friends with Sinatra and was invited to this event, it is impossible that she attended, as there is proof she could not have been in Massachusetts on that date. Marilyn had been on a plane heading to New York that had experienced engine trouble and had to return to Los Angeles on the 22nd of September. Confirmed by a telegram sent on the 22nd of September to her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn told Joe that she would be arriving at 1pm. Considering the time difference between states and the fact that this journey in the 60's would take 12 hours, we know this to mean 1pm on the 23rd of September, meaning she could not have been at the party in Hyannis Port, and therefore could not have met JFK that night.
There is also the possibility that the pair may have met through their mutual connection to Peter Lawford. Marilyn was friends with Lawford through the Hollywood scene, and Kennedy was Lawford's brother-in-law through his marriage to Patricia Kennedy. The Lawfords held a party at their beach house on the 19th of November 1961, and again both Marilyn and JFK were invited. However, on this occasion there is evidence to support that Marilyn did not attend due to a previous (and documented) appointment with Douglas Kirkland to approve proofs from their shoot together earlier that month. Again, they could not have met on this occasion.
The most plausible meeting documented between the pair occurred on the 24th of March 1962 at Bing Crosby's home in Palm Springs. Again, both Marilyn and Kennedy had been invited as mutual friends of Crosby. As this was a private event, there is no press evidence to support nor deny the attendance of both parties, and we must rely on verbatim to paint a picture of that weekend. Marilyn's masseuse Ralph Roberts told of a phone call to Marilyn from the house, during which he heard Kennedy's voice in the background. He claims this then prompted Marilyn to confess a romantic encounter between her and the president that night - the only such instance of a claim of direct confession from Marilyn regarding this relationship. However, when Secret Service Agent Floyd Boring - Kennedy's personal security at the time - was later asked about this supposed tryst, he said
"...absolutely untrue. ...the place was completely under...you couldn't even get in the road. The average citizen wasn't permitted on the highway leading to this little compound [Crosby's house] where [Kennedy] was. It was absolutely impossible for [Marilyn]...to climb up to where the house was situated."
This conflict of evidence confuses the timeline, and judgement on this meeting - or lack thereof - can go either way, dependant on if you are more inclined to believe a confidant of Marilyn, or a Secret Service Agent.
The final event that brought the pair together was at Kennedy's birthday gala, held at Madison Square Garden on the 19th of May 1962. Here, Marilyn performed her now infamous rendition of Happy Birthday. Many have cited this performance as 'evidence' of an affair, calling attention to Monroe's breathy voice, flirty mannerisms and figure-hugging dress as markers of the relationship. However, anyone familiar with Monroe's star persona will recognise these characteristics as typical Monroe features, all of which were played on time and time again throughout her onscreen career as the blonde bombshell. This ditzy star persona was even made fun of that very night, with Marilyn's (planned) delayed arrival to the stage, and her introduction as "The late Marilyn Monroe".
At the gala's after party - held at Arthur Krim's home - the President met all the night's performers, and thanked Marilyn for her recital. There is picture evidence of this interaction, but there is also picture evidence of Marilyn with her date for the evening - her former father-in-law Isadore Miller, who escorted her all night and whom she left with.
This was again a public party, documented by press and attended by dozens of others. The chance for the pair to sneak off unnoticed was near impossible.
Because of Robert Slatzer and his desperate need to gain fame through fiction, the myth of the actress and the President has escalated out of control, and has been repeated so often that the general public just accepts it as fact even though it is simply completely false. As Donald Spoto stated,
"No serious biographer can maintain the existence of an affair between Marilyn and the Kennedys."
Marilyn's star persona of the flirty, sexy bombshell is often taken at face value as her true self, and sadly only works to perpetuate damaging rumours such as this by Slatzer. Many find it easy to write her off as a damaged, promiscuous woman, when in reality she was so much more than that. It is truly sad how easy it was for Slatzer's vicious lies to ingrain themselves into the public's collective consciousness, and aid to paint a picture of Marilyn that is far from the truth.
Marilyn lived a brave, beautiful life, and it is for this she should be remembered. The scandalous story about her and JFK is that there simply was no scandal. Just a sad man and a slanderous book.