Once Upon a Secret
My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath
By Mimi Alford
Read by Susan Denaker Random House Audio, 2012
An Unabridged Audio Recording on 5 CDs
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - April 12, 2012
Mimi Beardsley (her married name is Alford) claims that she had an affair with President John F. Kennedy, beginning in the summer of 1962 and lasting about eighteen months. There is no reason to doubt her claim. The historical evidence tends to corroborate her allegations.
I saw Alford on a talk show where she said that she had intended to keep her affair a secret but that she was outed in An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek's 2003 biography of Kennedy. Because of this she wanted to tell her side of the story, although she was never mentioned by name in the biography, merely that Kennedy had an affair with a "tall, slender, beautiful" nineteen-year-old college sophomore and White House intern, who worked in the press office during two summers." So how, technically, was she outed? And why did Alford suddenly decide to 'tell' her story years after the Kennedy biography was published? While these questions are not satisfactorily answered in Alford's tell-all, Once Upon a Secret, she does provide an intriguing glimpse of the seedier side of Camelot and helps to tarnish Kennedy's golden boy image that has always been nothing more than a thin veneer held on by wishful thinking and very good PR.
Alford was nineteen-years-old when her affair with Kennedy began. Her excuse was that she was young and naive and he was charismatic, skilled at the art of seduction, and he was the president. She was also, in the realm of explanation, a product of her age. I'm not so sure about that, for if she was a product of her time, what was the excuse of all the women since who have engaged in intimate encounters with other presidents? Clinton, a cigar, and one young woman who was born well after the 60's happens to come to mind. Women, from time immemorial, and women much older and who should have known better than Alford, have allowed themselves to be used by men of power. Perhaps it is just that they like being around powerful men, perhaps they hope to gain something from the relationship, or perhaps they are just so awed by these men that they never even consider saying no to them.
As Alford candidly explains in this book, not only was she Kennedy's paramour, but she also allowed him to 'lend' her to a friend who was feeling 'tense'. She 'provided' him with some oral stimulation to help him relax - while the President watched. Personally, outed or not, I would have kept such a secret, a secret, and let any tabloid speculation remain just that, speculation. Yet Alford chose to tell it all - the good, the bad, and the decidedly untasteful aspects of her affair, and the effect that it has had on the rest of her life. Perhaps by telling her story, Alford will help prevent other young women from being seduced as she was. Or, for those cynical types, she has written a juicy tale that is likely to make her a lot of money. You will need to read or listen to the book and make up your own mind about her motives and the impact of the book. No matter what side you find yourself on when you finish this tale, it will make you question your attitude toward the Kennedy mystique. It will also make you wonder as to the reasons why so many young women seem to be drawn to powerful men. Also, it will make you question what it means for our country that so many men in power, or who are 'adored' for their prowess on a sports field, seem to expect women to simply throw themselves at them and that taking advantage of these women is simply one of the perks of their position. In short, Once Upon a Secret is a thought provoking and cautionary tale that answers just as many questions as it leaves unanswered.