According to Robert P. Watson, a historian who has researched the sexual indiscretions of U.S. Presidents, at least seven of them—ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Bill Clinton—have had affairs both before and during their terms of office. But John F. Kennedy, whose dalliances with scores of women, including movie goddess Marilyn Monroe, have become the stuff of legend.
Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek describes JFK as a "compulsive womanizer" whose insatiable urge for sexual conquests was fueled by a complex array of personal traumas—his own father's conspicuous adultery, a difficult relationship with his mother, anxiety about his own health problems and his brush with death during World War II, and the deaths at a young age of his siblings Joe Jr. and Kathleen. "Kennedy himself, who could not explain his need for sex with so many women, probably rationalized his behavior as a diversion comparable with what British aristocrats did, or with the golf, sailing and fishing presidents traditionally used to ease tensions," Dallek wrote.
"Jack liked girls," his friend, Florida Sen. George Smathers, told Dallek. "...He was a great chaser."
Kennedy's amorous proclivities began long before he reached the Oval Office. According to Kennedy biographers Michael Meagher and Larry D. Gragg, the future president was sexually promiscuous dating back to his high school days at Choate, and during World War II, had an affair with Inga Arvad, a woman that the FBI had under surveillance because they believed she might be a German spy.
As a still-single Massachusetts Congressman in the 1940s and early 1950s, he indulged himself with what his friend, New Jersey Congressman Frank Thompson, Jr., called a "smorgasbord of women." According to biographers Meagher and Gragg, Kennedy's lovers were prominent, accomplished women, as well as strippers, airline stewardesses, and secretaries. As a lover, Kennedy reportedly was more interested in quantity than anything else. According to Dallek, one woman described him as "nice—considerate in his own way, witty and fun. But he gave off light instead of heat. Sex was something to have done, not to be doing. He wasn't in it for the cuddling."
But even after Kennedy married the strikingly beautiful, elegant Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, the same year he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he continued to pursue extramarital relationships—despite the risk of scandal that might have crippled his Presidency.
In the years since his death, rumors of numerous JFK affairs have bubbled to the surface. Here are three of the most attention-getting.
Marilyn Monroe: By Monroe biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli's account, the glamorous actress first caught Kennedy's eye when she made a spectacular entrance at a dinner party held in his honor at a hotel in New York in February 1962. Actress Arlen Dahl, who was at the event, recalled that "The President turned around and you could see that he was immediately attracted to her. 'Finally! You're here,' he said, with a big smile." The two supposedly rendezvoused in Palm Springs in late March. JFK friend Smathers believed that Monroe regarded her relationship with Kennedy as much more serious that it actually was. "It wasn't a big thing as far as he was concerned," Smathers explained, according to Monroe biographer Barbara Leaming. To JFK, Monroe was "like a lot of the pretty girls who had fallen very much in love with the Kennedys, just by being around with him a little bit." Monroe's famously sexy rendition of "Happy Birthday" to the President at a May 1962 fundraising event in Madison Square Garden, which triggered gossip about the two having an affair, prompted Kennedy to back away from Monroe, according to Leaming. The movie star wouldn't take no for an answer, though, and reportedly called the White House numerous times in an effort to rekindle their affair, until the President finally sent a friend to dissuade her.
Mimi Alford: In the summer of 1962, Alford, then 19 and a student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, was just a few days into a college internship at the White House when, by her account in a 2012 interview with NBC News, she and two other female staffers—nicknamed "Fiddle and Faddle" by coworkers—went for a lunchtime swim in the White House pool. To her surprise, the President joined them. A few hours later, she said, she received an invitation to the White House residence, where, according to Alford JFK guided her into Jackie Kennedy’s bedroom and deflowered her. Other trysts supposedly followed, both at the White House and in hotels when the President traveled. Even after returning to college in the fall, she occasionally returned to Washington to see Kennedy, and waited up for JFK the tense night before the Cuban missile crisis was resolved.
Judith Campbell Exner: The Los Angeles socialite, who had previously dated Frank Sinatra, began her affair with Kennedy during his 1960 Presidential campaign, according to her 1999 Los Angeles Times obituary. Exner and Kennedy continued their relationship during his term of office. During that time Campbell Exner claimed to have served as a courier for the President, taking mysterious envelopes to mobsters Sam Giancana—with whom she later also had an affair—and Johnny Rosselli. In 1963, at her final encounter with Kennedy, she became pregnant and later had an abortion, by her account. In 1975, her relationship with Kennedy became public when she was called to testify by a Senate committee investigating alleged CIA plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.