Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on March 5, 2013
Much has been made of President Kennedy's private failings as a man when we should be focusing on his public career - the accomplishments he made during his short tenure as Commander-in-Chief, i.e. how he kept us from nuclear war with Russia, established the Peace Corps, NASA, championed civil rights, you know ... insignificant things.
And yet, all we seem to care about is trash. When did we as a society go so far off the rails that we need to hear absolutely everything and no longer care about truth? God knows almost every President in our history has had a skeleton or two (or more) in their closet dating back to George Washington. Why Kennedy so particularly? More books and articles have been written about this man's sex life than a porn star's. It's absolutely meaningless, not to mention effortless, to accuse someone who has been in their grave for half a century. The only ones profiting are the authors and publishers.
I'll begin by saying that there may be a few kernels of truth to Once Upon a Secret but somehow they've grown to forty acres of corn. My overall assessment is that this book is useless. It's frivolous... Alford obviously feels that (and I'm quoting from NYT) `her once terrible secret somehow became a great blessing that became a miraculous redeeming force, a gift that now demands public celebration!' Pardon me while I reach for the barf bag. With every turn of the page I kept wondering how this privileged, well educated, two time debutante from a good family turned into such a spineless, spiritless twit.
My first thought ... WHY NOW; it's been fifty years! Alford cites her primary motivation as being identified in Dallek's book, An Unfinished Life, back in 2003. However, she's scarcely a puff of smoke in it, a `blip' on the radar - her name isn't even mentioned. But she waited another 9 years before feeling compelled to write a book? Pardon me, but something definitely stinks. Given the amount of `gossip' already out there, this barely rates noticing.
Something else that occurred to me early on is that JFK was not a physically well man. He hid his many physical ailments - Addison's Disease, Colitis, allergies, chronic urinary tract infections, and of course, his back injuries - from the public. He was in severe pain most of the time. There were times the man couldn't put a sock on his left foot without help and yet Alford would have us believe that he was Flash Gordon, Superman, Captain America, Apollo and Zeus all rolled into one human being!
Let me be clear - I'm not defending him. If he was a dog, then so be it. But this is a review of Mimi Alford's book, not a thesis on the roles of men and women in the early 1960s.
So, IF (and that's a big if) everything is gospel, where was her self respect? Alford's describes her reasoning for performing a certain act is because it was a dare. How absurd! When I was nine, some creepy man approached me and began touching the hem of the coat I was wearing. I immediately knew it was wrong and turned around to ask what he was doing. He seemed surprised that a small child should question his actions. This was not easy for me as I was a shy child! My confronting him was effective - he muttered something and slinked away. So, don't tell me a 19-year-old is powerless to stop something they recognize as inappropriate.
Alford also never considered that she was having an `affair' ... she was `just keeping the President company.' She never saw Mrs. Kennedy or even gave her a second thought. How could you not? Only at the gravesite of the President and First Lady forty some odd years later did she feel like an intruder. Now she has a conscience?
The chapters post-assassination and her wedding to husband number one, I can only describe as bizarre, depressing, and ultimately uninteresting. And let me add this to everyone who wants to lay the blame solely at the feet of the President - remember the old saying that it takes two to tango? Mimi was no saint; she herself was an adulterer by her own admission - having cheated on her husband. First was when he was her fiancé (and apparently doesn't understand his reaction when she `comes clean') and again later in their marriage. The pot doesn't get to call the kettle black.
Clearly, the `five star' readers bought this drivel hook, line, and sinker. "Best book they ever read" ... "she's totally believable" say some reviewers (who've never met her).
Let me say this to those basing their reviews solely on the author's looks and some words on paper: Ted Bundy `looked' like a nice guy. Jeffrey Dahmer `looked' harmless. Well, that's what people `thought;' the truth, however, is rarely what it seems.
What boggles the mind is that this is all believed on its face ... NO one asks any questions - who cares about a little thing like corroboration? Everyone involved, save Alford, is dead. Doesn't it bother anyone that there's not a single shred of tangible proof to support her claims? (The dress and pin she claims he gave her don't count ... there was nothing to tie them to him and he gave away thousands of signed photos). Not a letter, a postcard, in short ... she has nothing. (At least Monica had the dress.) My point is, every philanderer makes a mistake and leaves something behind.
And while we're on the subject of evidence, let us not forget that the FBI had files full of White House `goings-on' at the insistence of J. Edgar Hoover - who hated JFK, in addition to being obsessed with the sex lives of others - so, how is it that they managed to miss eighteen months of Mimi Alford and these secret trysts?
Sorry guys, I looked below the surface, beyond the good posture and boarding school charms, the soft voice whispering you must believe me because I'm sweet, and bake apple crumb cake. It's painfully clear that this person has no moral compass - she's a selfish ninny who didn't give a second thought to who she might be hurting, including herself. And honesty - something she indicated was a "defining aspect of her personality, a core value" - flew out the window as she became quite an excellent liar and reveled in it.
Oh, I absolutely believe `something' occurred - the details of which are highly suspect. Her "revelations" are more akin to shouting `fire' in a crowded movie theater just to get your fifteen minutes.
There's a BIG gap between fact and fiction here. My advice is don't be fooled.