For Kennedy assassination obsessives, today is a sort of mixture between Christmas and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The release of a final batch of secret documents from the National Archives and Records Administration relating to the killing and cover up will allow students of the event access to a last tranche of “known unknows”.
It is considered unlikely that the fresh paperwork will clarify the murk significantly, (Saint Peacock’s dollars are on the CIA with a second shooter – possibly Bernard “Macho” Barker – and mafia support, see this book and this article), but expect a short period of quiet while the theorists consume the intel, followed by several years of fierce squabbling as to what it all means.
In advance of the experts throwing shade at each other then, let’s remind ourselves of John Kennedy’s understanding of what the corridors of power were really for – to enable a person to reach the bedroom.
The critic Kenneth Tynan recorded this extraordinary story in his diary, of how his friend the great film star Marlene Dietrich, then 61 and a friend of the terrifying Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P, was “summoned to the White House” by JFK for 6pm on a Saturday evening in autumn 1962.
Dietrich accepted, but had another appointment at 7pm at a Washington hotel, where she was to be honoured for her work with Jewish refugees.
She arrives at six, is shown in to “the President’s sanctum” and is given a glass of wine. JFK enters at 6.15, takes her out on the balcony and says “I hope you aren’t in a hurry.”
“Dietrich explained that, alas, 2,000 Jews were waiting to give her a plaque at 7 pm and it was now 6.30… ”
“‘That doesn’t give us much time, does it’ said JFK.”
“So she looked straight back and said, ‘No Jack, I guess it doesn’t’.”
At that point he led the great actress – via the corridor – into the presidential bedroom, and began undressing, “unwinding rolls of bandage from around his middle,” a consequence of the notorious Kennedy back problems, and which made Miss Dietrich say to herself “I’d like to sleep with the President, sure, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to be on top!”
Fortunately arrangements were satisfactory to both parties, and Tynan reports it was “all over very sweetly and very soon.”
Dietrich then said, according to the diary, “And then he went to sleep. I looked at my watch and it was 6.50. I got dressed and shook him – because I didn’t know my way around the place and I couldn’t just call for a cab.”
Kennedy wraps a towel around himself, walks her to the elevator and tells the elevator man to get her a car “without any embarrassment, as if it were just an everyday event – which in his life it probably was,” Tynan reports her saying.
“Just as I was getting in the elevator, he said: ‘There’s just one thing I’d like to know.’
People often know exactly which questions they’d like to ask prominent people if they ever get the chance, but for JFK the missing piece of information was this: “Did you ever make it with my father?”
More celebrity drama in 45 minutes than most people get to experience in a lifetime.
Enjoy the papers – and get yourself a corridor of power!