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Book Review: Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath by Mimi Alford

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A bestseller but not tell all has been added to the Kennedy collection of nouveau books. This time it is Mimi Alford’s turn to crank out a bestseller about an unzipped 35thMr. President.

Yet there are no steamy secrets here. In just under 200 pages the author shows up with a polished voice telling a credible story you can take to the bank. Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath is her book.

What makes her book compelling and unsatisfactory at the same time is that Mimi, despite telling of her affair with Jack Kennedy, does not spill the proverbial beans. There is little salacious detail of their love affair. She does recount how it happened in the first place with a simple trip to the White House to interview a fellow Miss Porter socialite and graduate ala Jackie Kennedy (they never met) and her press secretary. It was on this visit that she was invited to apply for a White House internship.

Mimi Beardsley came from a middle class family who sent her to the local Country Day school, Miss Porters, and then to Wheaton College. She went into the world with the proper pedigree along with tall, slim girlish looks that were conferred by her family. However, it was the pretty, perfect WASP Miss Mimi who got herself into the White House and Jack’s bedroom.

In the first few chapters Alford discloses how she hid her face from her coworkers. Not exactly out of shame or remorse, but because she did not want to raise their jealousy or call attention to herself because she had jumped ahead of the line!

On page 45 she writes: “This special access would hardly have endeared me to my office mates. It was the rare employee inside the White House who did not gauge her status by how much contact she had with the President — or even if the President knew her name…So I kept my head down and my mouth shut and went about my work as if nothing had happened.”

Mrs. Alford got that and more than she applied for. I think she was most surprised at how casually the events of her long affair with Jack unfolded and maintained itself. He even called her at Wheaton College using the pseudonym “Michael Carter.” Jack took her on many of his official visits when Jackie did not accompany him.

The most surprising thing, if there are any surprises here, is that she often slept in the same bed with the president and that travel was arranged by Dave Powers from commercial flights to Air Force One flights.

What makes this mini memoir more believable is that Mimi contends that Jack never kissed her on the lips for any reason at any time and never told her that he loved her. There are no photographs in the book of him or her. He gave her presents of vacations, money and a gold pin. In his way Jack made it known that he cared for her, about her and enjoyed her company. And in case you’re wondering what ended their 18-month affair — she fell in love and got engaged.

Every woman needs a husband was more than a cliché with Miss Porter-trained young ladies in the 1960s. They invented the debutante cum future bride on display. It was destiny to find a suitable man, introduce him to the family and then go shopping for the engagement ring.

Mimi was no different. If Jack was crushed at the news he didn’t show it. Instead he began slowly pulling away that only in hindsight did Mimi Beardsley recognize what had happened.

Mimi married Tony after a whirlwind affair and dating cycle that nearly ended when she told him, upon JFK’s assassination, that she had conducted a secret affair with him. It was a sexual affair she explains but really hopes that outsiders believe it was also an affair of the heart. It was an affair of the heart in that a prolonged sexual affair with a married man can create lust and unbidden expectancy and dependence on sex with that particular person. In fact you might say that such an affair is not personal, not really. This affair was about Jack and his ability to pluck from the tree of life the woman of his type and dreams.

If Mimi had not become engaged, the affair along with maybe five others Jack was conducting would have continued, I believe, until his death in Dallas.

The man who made it all possible was a Kennedy insider: Dave Powers. As Mrs. Alford in her television interview stated she held this secret for 50 years and needed to unburden herself. One of the most difficult items on her tell-all list was her consent to perform oral sex on Dave Powers in the White House pool (now press room) – the same Dave Powers who acted as the go-between for Mimi and many others.

Mimi had an affair with Jack; married Tony but it ended in divorce; at age 63 married Richard Alford who read her story and her secret in the Daily News and wrote her a letter. She had just turned 60. She filed the letter away and instead enlisted a high-profile dating service. When that didn’t pan out on a whim she responded to Dick Alford’s letter. He wrote back and they made a date upon his return from a two-week trip. They are happily married now.

Like most women Mimi got it right finally and learned many lessons along the way. Especially the one that is often brushed off as too simplistic—there are no mistakes in life.

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