The pursuit of pleasure

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A family outing. Photo: JH.

Diary, June 8, 2021. Another beautiful June day yesterday in New York with the temps in the mid-70s, a mainly bright Sun.

Yesterday’s Diary included Augustus Mayhew’s history of Palm Beach in the first half of the 20th century that prospered through World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and the beginning of Tech running our lives. Focusing on the Joseph P. Kennedy family’s relationship with the town of Palm Beach and what went on there is ultimately family-type gossip — the kind that once upon a time was spilled over the telephone or in private letters (which in many ways was the entire method of communication for eons).

The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, September 1931. Photograph by Richard Sears in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Growing up in Massachusetts the Kennedy name was already prominent to ordinary working people in the 1950s because of Jack’s Senate seat and Joe’s enormous self-made fortune. We never heard any “gossip” about their lives unless  you knew people from the same social and/or political strata. They were also “religious” which was a token of amusement when the WASPs talked about the Catholic Kennedys. Of course there was just as much action in WASPs and other communities when it came to sex and liaisons for its personal enjoyment.

And so, it begins … In Chapters 15 and 16, Swanson shares with readers her relationship and “romance” with Joe Kennedy. [© Gloria’s Way, Inc., Swanson on Swanson, an autobiography]

So it was a pleasure to be reminded of more of it particularly because it seems so almost-innocent and simple in terms of the pursuits of pleasure, compared to nowadays when not only anything goes but in many instances, has gone. In the history books it is called Change, and change it has. Mayhew’s work here on the NYSD has assimilated a lot of those earlier times both architecturally, culturally and socially.

By opening this particular segment of his Palm Beach archive, focusing on the Kennedys, namely Joe and Rose and Jack, we get to see how the changes and attitudes have changed. Back in those days, the Kennedys, being Roman Catholic, were considered “not our kind” — a reflection of the early decades of the Irish immigrants to this country. Joe Kennedy not only overcame that attitude but provided a new world for his family and of course for the third and fourth generations.

The following is a message sent to Mr. Mayhew and cc’d to me, written by someone we both know who happens to be a longtime observer of in’s and out’s and up’s and down’s of the world among the High Life of the last century.

“I enjoyed all the stuff about the relationship between Joe Kennedy and Gloria Swanson. Your opening photo of Joe and JFK followed the summer at Cap d’Antibes, where the Kennedys rented a villa. Marlene Dietrich, and “husband,” and daughter Maria were spending the summer next door at Hotel du Cap. Rosemary Kennedy and Maria became summer pals.

Joseph P. Kennedy and his son John F. “Jack” Kennedy, December 18, 1938.

“It was also the summer of the torrid sexual relationship between Joe and Marlene, and the start of a lifelong friendship. They were both in it only for the sex, and Joe respected Marlene’s independence. He became a lifelong advisor and protector to her. In 1939, while Joe was still at (the Court of ) St. James, he telegrammed Marlene that she and Maria should leave France immediately; that they were in imminent danger of being captured by the Nazis.

“Part II of your Kennedy’s in PB story might be the resumption of the affair between JFK and Flo Pritchett Smith. The Smith villa was next door to La Querida. In the late 1950’s, when JFK was a US Senator, and Earl Smith was US Ambo to Cuba. JFK would frequently make trips to Havana for his trysts with Flo — and to “mix it up”, he began an affair with the Italian Ambo’s wife. The affair between JFK and Flo continued after he became President, and the Smiths returned to PB.

“There were 3 women Jackie was insanely jealous of from Jack’s single days: Flo, Grace Kelly and the Duchess d’Alba; the rest Jackie saw as not a threat. After JFK was assassinated, and laying in State at the WH the night before the funeral, Robin Duke snuck Flo in to pay her last respects. Unbeknownst to all, except Flo and Robin, she snuck her tears-soaked linen handkerchief into JFK’s coffin. All the while, Angier (Biddle Duke) stood guard by the elevator to ensure that Jackie did not inadvertently come down. I got all this from Robin before she passed away here in Charleston.”

Meanwhile, last night, among the social activities in the calendar, our friend and contributor Paige Peterson hosted a cocktail party/book party for Louis Nelson, the distinguished Industrial Designer and Artist and his new book MOSAIC: War Monument Mystery, an Historical Memoir (“historical and inspirational, informative and insightful, moving and lyrical, passionate …”). It was published two weeks ago and already has a five star rating on Amazon.

We will have Paige’s report and photos on the occasion tomorrow, but in the meantime Gigi Benson, who with husband Harry, was a guest at the book party, found a photograph that Harry took of Mr. Nelson’s wife, the singer Judy Collins, on the same day in June in 1982. Harry surprised her with it last night.

Harry Benson presenting Judy Collins with a photograph he took of her 40 years ago yesterday.

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