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Marilyn Monroe was one of the most glamorous and sought-after stars of her time. John F. Kennedy was, well, the president of the United States. After Marilyn performed a steamy rendition of “Happy Birthday” at the commander-in-chief’s 45th birthday party in May 1962, rumors of an affair were propelled — and those rumors have persisted throughout history, even though details of an ongoing relationship between the two are actually pretty scarce.
The first time Marilyn and JFK were confirmed to have been at the same place at the same time was at the April in Paris Ball on April 11, 1957, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC; Marilyn was there with her then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller, while John attended with his wife, Jackie, and his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Both of them were photographed extensively throughout the night, but no meeting between them took place at that event. It’s more likely that John and Marilyn first met at a dinner party hosted by actor Peter Lawford in 1961. Peter was married to John’s sister Patricia, whom Marilyn became friends with while filming Let’s Make Love. They also had a mutual friend in Frank Sinatra, who was a member of the Rat Pack with Peter and who briefly dated Marilyn after her divorce from Arthur Miller.
Multiple Marilyn historians, including respected biographer Donald Spoto, who wrote the 1993 book Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, allege that the most plausible time that Marilyn and JFK could have had a sexual encounter was during a party at Bing Crosby’s home in Palm Springs, CA, on March 24, 1962. Marilyn’s masseur and close friend Ralph Roberts told Spoto that he received a call from the actress asking him for massage techniques for muscles of the back, and that he “heard a distinctive Boston accent in the background” before Marilyn handed the phone to President Kennedy. Ralph Roberts added, “Marilyn told me that this night in March was the only time of her ‘affair’ with JFK. A great many people thought, after that weekend, that there was more to it. But Marilyn gave me the impression that it was not a major event for either of them: it happened once, that weekend, and that was that.”
“Marilyn loved the secrecy and the drama of it, but Kennedy was not the kind of man she wanted to spend her life with, and she made that very clear.”
Donald Spoto also wrote, “No serious biographer can maintain the existence of an affair between Marilyn and the Kennedys. All we can say for sure is that the actress and the President have met four times, between October 1961 and August 1962, and it was during one of those meetings, that they called to a friendly relation of Marilyn from a bedroom. Shortly after, Marilyn confided this sexual relation to her close relatives, insisting about the fact that their affair ended there.” The late actress Susan Strasberg, whose father Lee was Marilyn’s acting coach and who considered Marilyn to be “a surrogate sister,” wrote in an unfinished memoir that Marilyn did spend that night with the president, but denied any sort of ongoing affair. “It was OK to sleep with a charismatic president,” Strasberg said, adding that “Marilyn loved the secrecy and the drama of it, but Kennedy was not the kind of man she wanted to spend her life with, and she made that very clear.” It was reportedly that night at Crosby’s home that John asked Marilyn to perform at his upcoming birthday party at Madison Square Garden.
Image Source: Getty / Cecil Stoughton / The LIFE Images Collection
On May 19, 1962, Marilyn, clad in a curve-hugging sequined dress, sang a breathy rendition of the song for JFK (on his request, mind you). While rumors of an affair ran rampant after the event — and pictures have been doctored over time to show them together — the only photographic evidence of them that exists is a shot of Marilyn, John, and Bobby Kennedy having a conversation during a party at the home of movie executive Arthur Krim after she performed.
Less than three months after the famous performance, Marilyn would be dead from an accidental overdose of barbiturates, leaving behind a lifetime of unconfirmed rumors of a relationship between her and the president (not to mention his possible involvement in her death). Despite the fact that JFK’s philandering ways were well known, it’s most likely that his connection with Marilyn was just a dalliance and nothing more than a one-night stand. Was it salacious? Yes. But was it the torrid, persisting affair that we’ve been told it was? All signs point to “nah.”