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Interview details alleged JFK affair

John F. Kennedy

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In an oral history for the Kennedy Library, Barbara Gamarekian, who was deputy to press secretary Pierre Salinger in the John F. Kennedy administration, provides details of an alleged affair between President Kennedy and a 19-year-old intern. Gamarekian suggests there were other "cute, young, attractive" interns who also had a "special relationship" with the president.

The revelations about Kennedy's alleged affair with an intern were first reported in a new John F. Kennedy biography, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, written by historian Robert Dallek. The alleged affair takes up just a few lines in the 700-plus page book. Dallek said he obtained the information from Gamarekian, who provided him with the 17 pages of the oral history. CNN has obtained copies of the pages:

Gamarekian: ... had gotten him terribly upset.

Another time I know when he was upset enough to the point where he was ready to fire someone was when we were on our trip to Europe this last summer, oh, a year ago this summer. It was the last trip he made to Europe when he went to Ireland and to Germany, to Berlin and to Italy.

We had a young girl in the office who was working for us for the summer. She was a college student. She was left back in Washington along with an older woman in the office who had been left in charge of the office with one other girl and the rest of the press office staff were on the trip. I was at the Irish Embassy when Dave Powers came up to Pierre and told him the President was just furious! He (the President) had gotten a phone call from Mimi, the little girl who had been left back in the United States who was in tears and very upset because the older woman in our office, Helen Gans, had not permitted her to leave that Friday off and that if the President were back in Washington, Dave said, Helen Gans would be fired this very instant. Dave was very upset about it and conveying all kinds of excitement to Pierre about it.

I thought it was utterly asinine to think that he would get upset about a little girl in the office who wasn't able to get Friday off, that he was ready to fire someone.

Q: How was Mimi able to get through to the President?

Gamarekian: Well, obviously she did have sort of a special relationship with the President. I don't know quite what it was. To be able to place a call through the White House switchboard to Ireland from the United States and to get through directly to the President to make her complaint was a little unusual. It isn't that easy, normally to get the President on the phone.

There were some cute, young, attractive girls who worked with us in the White House and who went swimming with Dave Powers and the President and went on trips, and Mimi turned the following year when she was back in school on a trip to Nassau when the President met Macmillan and she also showed up in Palm Springs. Obviously she was flown out on one of the Air Force planes.

I don't know what the relationship was. It was one of these areas where I'm not anxious to know and I hadn't many opportunities to inquire. Most of these stories were told to me all second hand, and I think there are people who are no doubt going to be interviewed who can be a good deal more candid about this area of the President's life than I could be.

It is enough to say that the White House press corps and the people working in the White House were very much aware that there were lots of games going on. I often liked to think that as far as the President was concerned, he indulged in this all sort of vicariously and it was fun to watch his staff sort of make fools of themselves, but I don't really know.

Q: But there were other Mimis, there were more than just one?

Gamarekian: Yes, there were a couple of the girls who worked on the White House staff who had also worked on the campaign and who had a pretty close relationship with the President, with other staff members.

Q: Wasn't there resentment when some of the girls went to swimming parties and others not? I mean it sounds like rather -

Gamarekian:: Resentment on the part of the other girls, you mean?

Q: Yes

Gamarekian:: Well, of course most of the other girls who knew about it and would talk about it - their rationale was that even if they were asked, they wouldn't indulge in this sort of thing. But of course you never know how people will react to an invitation of that kind.

The thing that amazed me was that these girls were very clubby. I say young girls; that in itself makes it sound like sour grapes. They were - well Mimi was about 18 or 19, I guess. And -

Q: In college?

Gamarekian:: In college. When she came to use the first year she was a freshman. She had just completed her freshman year and she loved the summer job so she didn't want to go back to school. I guess here family told her she had to go back for another year, and she came and worked for us the following summer as well.

The thing that amazed me so was that these two or three girls were great friends and bosom buddies and gathered in corners and whispered and giggled, and there seemed to be no jealousy between them, and this was all one great big happy party and they didn't seemed to resent any interest that the President or any other men might have in any of the girls. It was a marvelous example of sharing, which I found very difficult to understand as a woman! I just think that I would have found it difficult to enter into this kind of relationship if I had been at all emotionally involved without having some very normal feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. But apparently this didn't enter into the relationship. They were the best of friends, and they all seemed to share the same - the same -

Q: World outlook!

Gamarekian: Yes. Apparently.

Q: How was it said that Mimi had met the President originally?

Gamarekian: Well, she had graduated from - oh, dear, what is the school that Mrs. Kennedy graduated from? The preparatory school? I can't think of the name of it. Mrs. Chapin's school?

Q: Chapin

Gamarekian: She was editor of her school newspaper, and following the campaign she thought it would be interesting to do an article on Mrs. Kennedy, since Mrs. Kennedy was now in the White House and an alumna of the school, and had written Mrs. Kennedy about the possibility of coming and seeing her and Tish Baldrige had apparently arranged for Mimi to come down and spend some time in Washington, but Mrs. Kennedy's schedule was such that she was not able to see her personally.

I don't know if Tish was a graduate of Mrs. Chapin's but at any rate, Tish saw a good deal of Mimi and gave her a lot of background, enough material to do an article on Mrs. Kennedy, but apparently the President did meet her on this visit. He had more time than Mrs. Kennedy (chuckles). Barely.

And she was brought over and met the President. I don't know how much she saw of him but at any rate, while she was there she also met Priscilla who worked in the President's office and who was one of the younger girls. And I think she may have stayed with Priscilla while she was down here for the weekend, but I don't know how the job came about. Mimi's story was that she had a note from Priscilla asking her if she would like to come and work in the White House that summer and I don't know who suggested it or how she ended up there, but that was how she made the original contact.

Q: The other thin that does strike one as being rather extraordinary is why, of all places, to be in the Press Office which would presumably be the most conspicuous place to --

Gamarekian: I suppose --

Q: -- be. Inside, the White House photographer --

Gamarekian: Yes and you know a girl wasn't in the office very long before the press began to ask why she was there and what she was doing because Mimi had no skills. She couldn't type. She couldn't -- She was a bright girl. She could answer the phone and she could handle messages and things but she was not really a great asset to us.

But there was great mobility in the Press Office. Whenever the President travelled, members of the press staff travelled as well. You always have a press secretary and a couple of girls travelling as well as a large contingent of newspaper people and it was, I think, easier. One of the other girls worked in our office and had been working there from the very beginning. She made almost all of the interesting trips and the trips are normally rotated among the girls. We all went on trips one time or another, but Mimi who obviously couldn't perform any function at all made all the trips!

So it made it very easy for them to move around, although even if they worked in another office, they still would have been able to go on trips. I don't know I just think that there was always one more desk that you could find in the Press Office, and it was a busy office. You could almost always use another person. If you were going to use a girl who didn't type or didn't have any skills, probably the Press Office was as good as any place because our phones are insane. All six lines ring at the same time and if nothing else, you can use someone just to take phone calls and look up things in the files, and cut the ticker and that sort of thing.

And this is what Mimi did. And in another office where you would have a lot more substantive work I just don't know what she would have ended up doing.

Q: Well, just one more obvious question that probably ought to go in the record and maybe you have answered it already. Was the President himself aware of the rumors in the White House press corps?

Gamarekian: I don't know how he could help but be. He wasn't, obviously he wasn't, a stupid man and I'm sure he must have realized that this all didn't go unnoticed because although for instance when -- I wasn't in Nassau but Pierre and Chris Camp, and a couple of the other girls were, and the only reason they knew that Mimi was in Nassau, and this was that following January, was because as the entourage of cars pulled up in front of the house to pick up the President and take him to the plane and go on to Palm Beach where he was going to spend the holidays, in the two cars immediately following the President they saw the top of a little head over the door and they thought there was a little child sitting in the front seat of the car! And Chris said to Pierre, "Who could that child be?" And they walked over and looked in the car and here seated on the floor was Mimi! Now it's just so stupid to - The whole thing doesn't make sense. Here she was sitting on the floor of a car so she wouldn't be seen by anyone. She'd been there, apparently, for several days.

They took one look and sort of backed away and didn't say anything. But of course the press corps - I don't think saw Mimi in Nassau, but they certainly did in Palm Springs because it was a member of the press who told me she was out there and again she must have gone in on the "back-up" plane. I don't know who arranged for it. It could have been another staff member. It could have been one of the special assistants who was interested in Mimi and flew her down to Nassau. I don't know. That's why I think I'm reluctant to -

Q: That's why I was asking you the question about President Kennedy because it seems to me with all the world pitched to the Christine Keeler case, it does seem quite extraordinary that with his own sense of public relations, he would take such a chance.

Gamarekian: A lot of the press corps thought that this was going to blow up eventually. This is the sort of thing that legitimate newspaper people don't write about or don't even make any implications about. It was kind of a big joke. Everyone knew about it and there were a lot of sly remarks made. And everyone knew. People talked on two levels all the time. You knew what they were referring to, but of course, I think they jumped to a lot of conclusions on the basis of just putting these things together, but I --

Q: Well, that's really, I guess, mu question. Since the situation was an ambiguous one, was President Kennedy at all aware of trying to make it less ambiguous. Maybe he himself wasn't implicated in it. Who knows? But just on the face of what you say about the general knowledge --

Gamarekian: It think that, to begin with, he must have felt that his position was pretty secure and that there was no possibility that this would ever hit print. I would think that when all this business happened in Great Britain that they would all being to rethink a little bit about: "It is possible that all this may someday emerge in a black headline" -- but I couldn't see that there was any great change in the way things were done following the headlines in Great Britain.

He may have thought that the press corps was not as aware of these things as they were. I don't really know how much thought he gave to it but I --

Q: What happened to her?

Gamarekian: She's married. Mimi's now married. She married a boy who graduated from Williams College.

I understand that people do not want these interviews to be candid and to discuss all aspects of the presidency and his life and, although I don't know that much about this aspect, it certainly is something I couldn't help but be aware of working in the White House. And --

Q: And that, undoubtedly, is important.

Gamarekian: And certainly it is something that I never discussed because if you are working for the Administration, you feel a loyalty to it. It is the sort of thing you don't discuss, something you profess complete ignorance of when you attend the inevitable cocktail parties where this is the subject for discussion. But I was told by a reporter who worked for Paris Match who was also a friend of Mrs. Kennedy's and who was here in Washington and was taken on a tour around the White House by Mrs. Kennedy. She walked into Mrs. Lincoln's office and said hello to Mrs. Lincoln, and Priscilla was sitting there. Mrs. Kennedy turned to him and said, "This is the girl who supposedly is sleeping with my husband." In French; and he was utterly taken back by this. And who would have thought a Frenchman would be surprised at this sort of statement! And I've always wondered why Mrs. Kennedy said this. Whether she thought since she was talking to a Frenchman, this was something he would understand and accept or whether she was trying to shock him or whether she was bitter enough so that this just came out.

At any rate, this was told me by this French correspondent who said, "What is going on here?" You know. And --

Q: What was his reaction? Was she bitter? Was her tone bitter or was it underplayed?

Gamarekian: Well, he --

Q: Was it a line thrown away?

Gamarekian: I think he thought she said it somewhat facetiously and sort of threw it away. And of course my reaction too was, "No matter how little French you know," and I knew Priscilla knew some, "I certainly would recognize a few words like "sleep" and "girl" and "my husband!" I'm sure Priscilla must have realized what Mrs. Kennedy said.

So this sort of thing would happen and you would hear about it. I don't know. It is probably the kind of thing that people will speculate on for a good many years.

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