JFK tried to make me have an abortion: How President Kennedy forced a teenage intern to take drugs and feared he'd made her pregnant
As a 19-year-old intern in the Kennedy White House, I didn’t appreciate that it was unhealthy to be at the perpetual beck and call of a married man. I was having fun, living in the moment — and I was blinded by President Kennedy’s power and charisma.
Yet even at the height of our 18-month affair, I knew he wasn’t in love with me. Of course not: he was the leader of the free world. The married leader of the free world. And I wasn’t even old enough to vote.
Since the fourth day of my internship in the White House press office, when the president had tipped me on to his wife’s bed and taken my virginity, our relationship had been sexual, intimate and passionate.
Double life: Mimi was flown in for secret sex dates with President Kennedy
But there was always a layer of reserve between us, which may explain why we never once kissed. Not once — not even to say hello or goodbye.
I knew my role and played it well. It was to be young, full of energy and willing to play along with whatever he wanted. So we’d joke about members of the press office staff and who was saying what about whom in the press corps.
Indeed, the president adored gossip, the juicier the better, and he loved to laugh. One day, he surprised me by asking if I knew any school songs from my days at Miss Porter’s, the exclusive boarding school that his wife Jackie had also attended. It was an odd request, but I obliged.
As I began to sing one, he started chuckling with delight. I immediately understood why: he just couldn’t resist an upper-class girl.
Soon, he was asking me to travel with him — invitations that were usually delivered with the casual air of asking if I wanted to go the movies. Once, I flew in Airforce One, but usually I’d be in the back-up plane, along with other staff, and no one ever asked what a mere intern was doing there.
On our first trip — to Yosemite National Park — a pattern started. I came to think of it as the Waiting Game. ‘Stay put,’ JFK’s special assistant Dave Powers told me when we arrived. ‘I’ll call you when the President wants you.’
Luring: Mimi was blinded by President Kennedy's power and charisma
So that’s what I did. As daylight faded, I sat in a chair and just stared out of the window of my hotel room, waiting for the call.
‘I don’t recall feeling self-pity; I was thrilled to be part of the presidential entourage, and excited at the prospect of our first night together out of the White House.
I’d also been seduced by the sultanic style of Presidential travel, with its motorcades and special planes. But, unfortunately, my days as an intern were already numbered.
Having paid the fees in advance, my parents insisted that I return to Wheaton — an all-girls college in Massachusetts — to complete my second year. When I told the President, he promised to call me often, saying he’d use the pseudonym Michael Carter.
It felt as though I was abandoning him, he teased. Then he played me Nat King Cole’s version of Autumn Leaves, making me pay close attention to the line: ‘But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.’
Just before I left, I gave him another copy of that record, having first decorated the cover with leaves I’d collected in a park. ‘You’re trying to make me cry,’ he said.
‘I’m not trying to make you cry, Mr President,’ I said. ‘I’m trying to make sure you remember me.’
To my surprise, he did. Within a week of moving into a sophomore dormitory, I received my first phone call from Michael Carter.
He never used protection when we made love (either because of his Catholicism or
recklessness, I could never be sure)
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised: when we were together, he was always calling friends, family and members of Congress. He averaged 50 phone calls a day and said they were his lifeline to the everyday world.
At my dorm, the only phone was on the first floor. Amazingly, though, none of the girls who picked up the phone ever recognised his voice.
His survival instincts must have told him that no young woman would ever suspect that a man named Michael Carter on a dormitory phone could possibly be the President of the United States.
Then he’d pepper me with a million little questions, as if he had all the time in the world. What courses was I taking Were the teachers good What was I reading Were the girls interesting What did they talk about What did I have for dinner
In temperament, he was an inexhaustibly, relentlessly curious man — and, evidently, that insatiable curiosity extended to the sophomore class at Wheaton. But it may be that he enjoyed talking to me precisely because I was so young and nave.
‘When can you come to Washington’ the President would inevitably ask at the end of each conversation. I’d pull out my calendar and we’d make a date.
From there, Dave Powers would handle all the arrangements: a car to pick me up from the dorm, airline tickets and a black limo to the White House. On the way, I’d catch up on homework. On my second ‘date’ trip to Washington, in October 1962, I was greeted by a president who was not his usual ebullient self. He was tense, quiet and preoccupied, with dark bags under his eyes.
Only after I left did I discover that he was in the middle of what would become the most dramatic and tense episode of his presidency: the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point, U.S. spy planes had discovered that the Soviets were secretly building nuclear missile bases only 90 miles from the American mainland.
Ready to tell her story: Mimi Alford today, aged 69
Two weeks later, the U.S. was poised
to invade Cuba and the newspapers were running estimates of how many
would die in a nuclear exchange. That’s when Dave Powers summoned me
directly upstairs as usual. The President was closeted for a long time
with his closest advisers, and when he joined me he looked grave. At one
point, after leaving the room to take an urgent call, he came back
shaking his head and said to me: ‘I’d rather my children be red than
He’d just sent a
letter to the Soviet premier, promising not to invade Cuba if
Khrushchev removed the missiles. Now he was waiting, along with the rest
of the world, for Khrushchev’s reply.
I was present in the residence on that evening strikes me now as
surreal. God knows, I didn’t belong there. But it was intoxicating.
our get-togethers were always quite sexually charged, it wasn’t to be
on this occasion. The President unwound by watching the Audrey Hepburn
film Roman Holiday with Dave, and I went to sleep. An hour after I left
the next day, the Soviets capitulated.
my shame, I soon had a personal crisis of my own: my period was two
weeks late. The President took the news in his stride, but he could
hardly have been surprised. I knew nothing about birth control, and he
never used protection with me (either because of his Catholicism or
recklessness, I could never be sure).
hour later, Dave called the dorm and told me to call a woman who could
put me in touch with a doctor in New Jersey. The intermediary was a
necessary precaution, because abortion was illegal.
That was pure Dave Powers: he handled the problem immediately, and with brute practicality. There was no talk about what I wanted, or how I felt, or what the medical risks might be.
In the end, it was a false alarm. I never did contact the doctor — and neither Dave nor the President referred to the subject again.
My relationship with JFK maintained its intensity through the winter as he continued to beckon me to the White House and request my presence on Presidential trips. Not all of these were unqualified delights.
In early December, I joined him at Bing Crosby’s house in Palm Springs, where he planned to relax after a tour of 11 Western states.
The President broke a 'popper' under my nose. Panicking that I was about to have a heart attack, I ran crying from the room
A large festive crowd had gathered to greet him and he was, as always, the centre of attention. I was sitting next to him in the living room when someone offered round a handful of yellow capsules — most likely amyl nitrate, which stimulates the heart and apparently enhances sex.
When the President asked if I wanted to try one, I said no — but he went ahead and popped a capsule under my nose. Within minutes, my heart started racing and my hands began to tremble.
Panicking that I was about to have a heart attack, I ran crying from the room. Dave Powers took me to a quiet corner at the back of the house, where he sat with me for more than an hour until the effects of the drug wore off.
I didn’t spend that night with President Kennedy. He was staying in a suite, now known as the Kennedy Wing. Was he alone I don’t know. For the first and only time since I met him, I was relieved not to see him.
‘I’ve met someone,’ I told the President in the winter of 1962. Tony Fahnestock, a senior at Williams College in Massachusetts, came from a similarly wealthy background to mine and had bright prospects.
Although we weren’t having an intimate relationship — girls like me normally didn’t back then — I knew that at some point I’d have to make a decision about the President. But I wasn’t ready to do that yet.
Fortunately, Tony was never suspicious about my other life in Washington.
He not only accepted the lie that I continued to be needed occasionally by the White House press office, but he was also impressed by it.
Simply put, I was leading two lives and enjoying both of them.
A week before Christmas, I joined the President in the Bahamas, where he was meeting Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister. I had my own luxurious villa, and Dave would drive me to the President’s in the evenings.
World changing: President Kennedy delivers a speech at a rally in Texas a few hours before his assassination in 1963. For several hours after she found out about Kennedy's death, Mimi was numb with shock
In March, I stayed at a pink hotel near the Kennedy family estate in Palm Beach, and went sailing on the family yacht, the Honey Fitz, with the President and his ever-present aide. When Tony, who was now doing army reserve training, was told he was being transferred for six months to Louisiana, I went to see JFK in the Oval Office.
After I’d tearfully pleaded my case for a transfer to a nearer base, he said he’d have a word with his army military aide, Major General Chester Clifton.
A few days later, Tony was reassigned to Fort Meade in Maryland, just an hour from the White House.
Meanwhile, I was back in the press office for the summer and planning to drop out of my third year in college. As I’ve discovered since, from recently released files, my return caused resentment among my colleagues.
One of them, Barbara Gamarekian, said I had no skills. Yet, ‘Mimi, who obviously couldn’t perform any function at all, made all the trips,’ she said resentfully.
Nor did it increase my popularity when the President himself decreed I should replace her as overseer of photo sessions in the Oval Office. Because of my new duties, I saw him practically every day he was in the White House that summer.
But I didn’t sleep with him as often as before because he was spending more time with his wife, who was expecting another child.
On Wednesday, August 7, Jackie Kennedy went into labour and gave birth, five-and-a-half weeks prematurely, to a baby boy named Patrick.
He had respiratory distress syndrome and lived only for a day-and-a-half.
I’d never witnessed real grief until I saw the President when he returned from the hospital to the White House. Sitting on his private balcony, with a stack of condolence letters on the floor, he picked each one up and read it aloud to me.
Occasionally, he’d write something on one of the letters — probably notes for a reply. Mostly, he just read them and cried. I did, too.
Even so, when Tony proposed to me, I accepted with alacrity.
I was scheduled to take a trip to Dallas with the President — until Jackie decided that she wanted to go. 'I wish that you were coming to Dallas,' he said to me.
I’d just turned 20 and in marrying Tony I was opting for security, and probably grasping for an escape route from my crazy double life.
If the President had any misgivings about my engagement, he didn’t let on. He gave me an engagement present — two gold-and-diamond pins shaped like sunbursts that I hid away.
He also gave me a photograph of himself, writing on it: ‘To Mimi, with warmest regards and deep appreciation.’ He was smiling when he gave it to me. ‘Only you and I know what that really means,’ he said.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I didn’t need to finish with the President. In his sly and graceful way, he was finishing with me.
Although I joined him for a jaunt to Boston and a five-day trip out West, we were no longer sleeping together.
Whether this was because of his son’s death or my engagement, it’s clear to me that he was obeying some private code that trumped his reckless desire for sex — at least with me. But there was no change in our personal feelings for each other, or in his warmth.
If he’d lived longer, I might have been someone he regarded in a small but meaningful way as a friend. But perhaps I’m flattering myself.
In November, I was scheduled to take a trip to Dallas with the President — until Jackie decided that she wanted to go.
So the last time I saw him was in New York City at the Carlyle hotel on November 15, 1963. He reached into his pocket and handed me $300 — which was a fortune to me. ‘Go shopping and buy yourself something fantastic,’ he said. ‘Then come back and show me.’
I had a feeling he was a bit disappointed when I showed him the conservative grey wool suit I’d purchased with his wedding gift. But he simply took me in his arms and said, ‘I wish you were coming with me to Texas.’ Then he added: ‘I’ll call you when I get back.’
On November 22, Tony and I were on our way to his parents’ house when we stopped at a petrol station.
On my return from the ladies’ room, he gave me a terrible wide-eyed look and said: ‘President Kennedy’s been shot.’
For hours, I was numb with shock. But that evening, as we watched the endless coverage, I knew that I had to tell him.
‘Even after we were engaged’ Tony asked incredulously. I nodded. ‘How many times’ I said I didn’t know, but a lot.
After a few minutes’ silence, he went to bed. Later that night, Tony came into my room, yanked back the covers and initiated our first sexual encounter. I was so desperate to keep him, I didn’t resist. It was forceful and clumsy. Then he left the bedroom as abruptly as he’d entered it.
Children: John F Kennedy with his son John Jr who was born in 1960. Three years later Jackie Kennedy gave birth to a baby boy named Patrick who live only for a day-and-a-half
Life with Tony as I had known it just
24 hours earlier had been tossed away, and my fear was that he’d call
off our wedding that January and expose me to scandal, disgrace and
the end, it went ahead — on his terms. I had to promise that never
again would I tell a single soul about my relationship with the
‘Not your parents or your sisters or brothers or friends. Nobody. Ever,’ he insisted.
To avoid painful questions, I donated my grey suit to a charity shop and tore my photo of President Kennedy into 100 pieces.
My precious diamond pins went to a pawnbroker and I tossed the ticket away. And so I erased the President from my life.
But there were always reminders. Our first child, for instance, died the day after his birth of the same underdeveloped lung syndrome that had taken the life of Patrick Kennedy the year before. And once, after my daughter was born, I passed a salon that was selling the Frances Fox hair products JFK used to use. Overcome with emotion, I went in and picked up a bottle.
I didn’t want to buy it; I just wanted to luxuriate in the warm memory of President Kennedy, if only for a few minutes.
Breaking her silence: Mimi Alford kept the secret of her relationship with Kennedy a secret until it was exposed in 2003. She has now decided to tell all about their time together
Still, my marriage was happy enough for some years. The cloud, however, still hovered. Whenever something important needed to be discussed, we’d avoid it.
I also felt a creeping sense of unease, as if Tony were constantly scrutinising me and finding me wanting.
We divorced in 1990. Thirteen years later, my secret was finally exposed by the New York Daily News, while I was working as a church administrator in New York.
One of the many letters I received as a result was from a man named Dick Alford, who admired the fact that I’d turned down all offers of cash for interviews and a $1 million offer for the film rights to my story. Two years later, at the age of 63, I married him.
Not long ago, we visited JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. As I contemplated his flat headstone, which rests next to Jackie’s, I felt like an intruder.
The Kennedy legacy had hovered over my life in a silent, pernicious way for a long time, but I’d never really been part of the story. If anything, I felt, I was a footnote to a footnote.
Just before leaving, however, I silently mouthed the words ‘Thank you’.
Without my secret, the source of so much pain, and its public revelation, I would never have met Dick or found the life I have today.
Extracted from Once Upon A Secret by Mimi Alford, published by Hutchinson @ 16.99. 2012 Mimi Alford. To order a copy for 13.99 (including p&p), call 0843 382 0000.