I have a confession to make. Last week I got a request from Joanna Schroeder, our awesome Editor-at-Large, to write a blog post about Mimi Beardsley. I resisted mightily. I had caught a glimpse of her on the morning chat shows while getting my kids dressed for school. “Give me a break,” I muttered to myself. Haven’t we heard enough about JFK screwing every women within a 50 mile radius of the White House (or Hollywood for that matter)?
I’ve seen first hand the ravaging of a human life at the hands of priest who raped a small boy (“The First To Come Forward“), I’ve gone and interviewed the treatment team for teenage prostitutes as well as a Homeland Security Agent trying to bust the men behind sex trafficking.
I finally emailed Joanna back declining the story as off topic for GMP. “Why would a woman write a book about an affair some 50 years after the fact with a long dead President other than to make money? She’s this old lady talking about what happened when she was a teenager. Scottie, beam me up!”
Then I read Liesl Schillinger’s piece in the New York Times.
FRESH out of Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn., a well-brought-up young woman named Mimi Beardsley (now Alford) went to work, in 1962, as an intern in President Kennedy’s press office.
Thanks to Ms. Alford’s memoir — which was released last week and well publicized — everyone now knows that, on the fourth day of her internship, after a trusted aide and go-between, David Powers, plied the 19-year-old intern with daiquiris, the president gave her a private tour of the White House residence and then took her virginity on the first lady’s bed. (Mrs. Kennedy, conveniently, was away.) They embarked on an affair that lasted 18 months, until Nov. 15, 1963, when she met the president at the Carlyle in Manhattan, two months before her marriage. He gave her a gift she used to buy a tasteful gray suit from Bloomingdale’s as a wedding present. The following Friday, he was assassinated in Dallas. Ms. Alford never made her full story public until last week, when her book came out.
“God, I love ‘Mad Men,’ ” Ms. Alford told me. “All of it is exactly what was going on.” When she arrived at the White House as a teenager, she said, she “wanted to be Peggy” — an ambitious “Mad Men” character. But the part she ended up playing was closer the frustrated wife of the lead character, Don Draper. “I think I probably relate most to Betty Draper,” she admits.
Keeping a secret like that, she explained, “silences a piece of you inside.” For decades, she said, she felt disconnected not only from other people, but from herself. Leaning forward in her tailored dark dress and ladylike pearl earrings, Ms. Alford told me she applauded the societal changes that have given young women more sexual freedom.
In November 1963, during the weekend of Kennedy’s death, Ms. Alford was with her fiancé planning their January wedding. Overcome with grief, she confessed to him the affair she had hidden throughout their courtship. He ordered her never to speak of Kennedy again. To keep the peace, she pawned the diamond pins the dead president had given her; gave away her gray suit and ripped up the photo he had signed for her into hundreds of tiny pieces, depositing handfuls of the shreds in different corner trash cans, to disperse the evidence.
And yet, she says she does not regret the affair.
And yet, she says she does not regret the affair.
Speechless quite frankly.
So WTF are we talking about then? The most powerful man in the world took advantage of an innocent teenage girl. She suffered for nearly half a century under the shroud of silence only to finally come clean and tell us all the graphic details of being pushed down onto the first lady’s bed.
But she doesn’t regret the affair? I am completely confused. If the argument here is abuse, of wrong-doing, of a man using his power to exploit, I am very willing to listen and even see the value of discussing what on the surface sounded to me like a woman looking to make a buck off her brush with fame. But if she is saying that despite all that she really enjoyed having her virginity taken by the adulterous President, that it was in fact one hell of a good time, and sexy the way Mad Men is superficially sexy, well I just have nothing more to say.
Sometimes when it comes to these gender conversations it does seem to me we get to the critical juncture and there is a profound double standard (I hate Don Draper for what he does to women but god is he sexy!).
Ms. Alford reminds me of several women I know–beautiful, smart, funny women–who married much older and very wealthy men who told them up front that they were willing to have kids but at their age they wouldn’t be able to get down on the floor and wrestle with them. Fast forward ten years and these moms complain, from the comfort of their massive homes, how their husbands refuse to take any responsibility for raising the kids. You married the guy for his money and he told you he was too old to raise kids. He’s now pushing 70 what the hell did you expect? I want to scream. But I hold my tongue. Male power and money are a great aphrodisiac which women love to hate, but for some women the much older man of significance in the world is apparently attractive no matter what the consequence to them and others.