The tragedies and triumphs of the Kennedy family have captivated people around the world for decades. They were America’s closest thing to a royal family, their high point being the Camelot years of the JFK Presidency. Indeed, the Kennedy story is full of endless drama: murder, tragic accidents, affairs and immense power, and it has spawned countless biographies, films, and mini-series. In the below list, we take a look at 20 of the not-so-known bits of Kennedy lore, such as Jackie O’s purported promiscuity, JFK’s truly wild White House, and the dark family secrets of Rose and Joe Kennedy.
20. Jackie O’s father led a scandalous life
Jackie O became the ultimate symbol of elegance, but her father was much more high roller than high society. John Bouvier III, a.k.a “Black Jack,” was both a gambler and alcoholic. According to the authors of the 2014 biography Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams, he was also promiscuous, with both men and women.
19. Jackie was allegedly bribed to stay married
According to the same salacious biography, Jackie didn’t exactly enjoy being married to JFK. The bio alleges that Jackie even wanted a divorce. However, the then President-to-be’s father, Joe, offered her $1 million to hold the marriage together.
18. Rumor has it Jackie was far from the virgin bride
While Jackie claimed JFK was her first lover, there have been rumors that contradict this. One story claims she had a passionate tryst in an elevator with writer John P. Marquand Jr. Indeed, in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams, Marquand himself is quoted as saying, “She was so hot to trot she couldn’t wait until I got inside my apartment.”
17. Jackie and Bobby were more than just friends
It’s known that Jackie and Robert Kennedy, a.k.a “Bobby,” her brother-in-law, leaned on each other for support after JFK’s assassination. However, some suspected there was more to their friendship. In fact, secret FBI files revealed that their relationship had, in fact, turned romantic, the pair becoming lovers.
16. Rosemary Kennedy suffered a horrific and unnecessary medical procedure
Rosemary was the eldest Kennedy child. Due to a low IQ her parents believed her to be severely retarded. Rumors claim Joe Kennedy was worried she’d tarnish the family name, so he had her undergo a lobotomy that left her severely disabled for the rest of her life.
15. JFK wasn’t the only one having affairs
It’s common knowledge that JFK was a philanderer, and supposedly had a fiery affair with Marilyn Monroe. But what many don’t know is that Jackie had an affinity for movie stars, too. She reportedly had flings with Paul Newman, Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty.
14. JFK had a secret cigar supply
JFK famously put in place the 1962 trade embargo against Cuba. But, before doing so, he wanted to make sure he had access to the country’s renowned smokes. Apparently, he secured himself a pretty solid stockpile of over 1,000 of his preferred Cuban cigars.
13. Kennedys couldn’t cry
While the Kennedy family suffered a great deal of tragedy, they were instructed by their mother Rose not to express their sadness. Growing up, it was a household rule that “Kennedys don’t cry.” Rose didn’t want the family to focus on their personal sorrows, as she found it “selfish.”
12. JFK was married before
Stories have long swirled that before JFK married Jackie, he drunkenly eloped with Durie Malcolm, a blonde bombshell, back in 1947. While it was never proven to be true, there are FBI records that hint that the marriage was quietly annulled. Apparently, Joe Kennedy had the subsequent paperwork destroyed.
11. JFK splashed about with his secretaries
Rumor has it that JFK used to invite two of the White House secretaries to join swimming sessions in the building’s pool. Permissible, perhaps, apart from that they were all naked. The women, nicknamed “Fiddle and Faddle” gamely joined the President, then returned to their desks with wet hair.
10. JFK had his own Monica Lewinsky
It seems Bill Clinton wasn’t the only U.S. leader with a fondness for young interns. In Mimi Alford’s memoir, she states that as a 19-year-old White House intern, she was seduced by JFK and had a months-long affair with him. She even addressed him as “Mr President” throughout their entire romance.
9. The Kennedys shunned one of their own
Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was one of Joe and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. She was ignored by her ultra Catholic family after marrying the Protestant William Cavendish. Tragically, she was later killed in a 1948 plane crash aged just 28. And, even then, her father was the only member of the Kennedy clan to go to the funeral.
8. JFK Jr.’s marriage to Carolyn Bessette was far from a fairy tale
While they made a beautiful couple and graced many a magazine cover, JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette had a very troubled marriage. Indeed, she reportedly had a cocaine problem that would send her into rages. In fact, things sometimes turned violent between the two, with Bessette once badly injuring Kennedy’s wrist during an argument.
7. Jackie was no fan of the Material Girl
JFK Jr. was also romantically linked to Madonna, apparently having a year-long relationship with her, much to the chagrin of his mother. According to Christopher Anderson’s biography The Good Son: JFK Jr. and the Mother He Loved, Jackie glimpsed Madonna on the front of LIFE magazine. However, it reminded her of another famous blonde: Marilyn Monroe.
6. Jackie had a premonition of John Jr.’s death
According to Christopher Anderson, Jackie’s children meant the world to her, and when she began having nightmares that John Jr. would die in a plane crash, she made him swear he wouldn’t get a pilot’s license. Indeed, he waited until his mother passed until he did just that. Chillingly, just as Jackie foretold, he later died in an aviation accident.
5. JFK Jr. was blackmailed into attending his cousin’s rape trial
When JFK Jr.’s cousin William Kennedy Smith was tried for rape, he twice appeared in court as a show of support. But, according to the book Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream, John Jr. only did it to save his own skin. He was told if he didn’t show, he’d have compromising information leaked to the press.
4. JFK and his father both slept with the same woman
The sultry actress Marlene Dietrich carried on a long affair with the Kennedy patriarch, Joe. But it seems she appealed to Kennedys both young and old, as JFK apparently once seduced her in a White House bedroom. She was 60 at the time, a good 20 years older than the president, but the commander in chief didn’t seem to care.
3. Bobby Kennedy feared the mafia would blind his children
In 1956 Bobby Kennedy began a probe into organized crime’s involvement with labor unions. Around this time, the Mafia threw acid into the face of a male journalist, blinding him. According to Bobby’s widow, Ethel, the family lived in fear that the Mafia would seek revenge on Bobby for his investigation, and try to throw acid in his kids’ faces.
2. Ethel Kennedy was once charged with horse theft
Bobby’s wife Ethel was a big, feisty personality, known for throwing wild, raucous parties. But she was also known as a horse thief: she once rescued a neighbor’s abused nag, and, while she meant well, in Virginia horse theft was punishable by hanging. She was later acquitted, of course.
1. Nixon thought Teddy was a sleaze
In the 2014 book The Nixon Tapes, journalists transcribed hours of President Nixon’s audiotapes. In some of the juicier segments, Nixon openly discussed his dislike of Teddy Kennedy, referencing his alcohol problem and sexual harassment of women. He also repeatedly referred to him as “goddamn Teddy”.