the sex lives of dead people: bobby kennedy/marilyn monroe edition

surely you are aware by now that there is nothing trippier than attempting to unpack the rumors surrounding the sex lives of dead people. right? you are with me? if not, go here to the Finding Jackie Compendium of The Sex Lives of Dead People and then come back to me…

oh, hello! welcome back. today:


so rfk is having A Week. if featuring as the header photo on a goop newsletter:


and REVELATIONS in the daily mail:


are any indicator.

i’mma let the inexplicable goop header go and focus on the daily mail.

so what have we here? helpfully, in its daily mail way, the daily mail spills the beans at the outset.

note the distance between the certainty of the headline that they “DID” have an affair and that rfk’s sister said they were an “item” as opposed to the gentling of that claim in the subheadings. the shift from “DID” to words like “suggests” and “describing.”

also the tenuousness of the last two bulleted points.

seriously. elizabeth taylor and rfk were pictured together at a dinner!


they seemed to enjoy the company of one another!


on multiple occasions!


omg, he gave her a light!


how has it never been proposed that they slept together? #storieswecanconstructsolelyfrompeoplehavingbeenpicturedtogether@functionsinthe60s

that is not a joke. i am legit curious. why do certain people’s sex lives get posthumously stuck together while other’s don’t? or is it simply too soon… five years from now will everyone be all about ET and RFK? have i, in writing that, actually just laid the groundwork for that rumor??


anyhoo. back to marilyn + bobby = ♥♥♥♥s 4ever.

this letter, proving they “DID have an affair,” what do it say?

ok, two things.

firstly: does that read as a serious statement to you? like, are we supposed to take seriously that jean kennedy smith is writing to monroe suggesting that she move back to new york and take up like with rfk? or is she- gasp!- making a joke to a friend?

the seriousness with which this letter is treated seems not to allow for the possibility of joking in letters to one’s friends. which, as a biographer and a human being, strikes me as a problem.

“leo was gorgeous. it wore me out,” my 16 year old self wrote after viewing titanic.


is this a statement that some future biographer of mine will take out of context and use to suggest that leo and i had sex when i was 16?

will the fact that i have repeatedly referred to adrien brody as my boyfriend on the internet some day be read as evidence of something real between us?

extreme examples but nonetheless pointing to the nuttiness of this suggestion that jean kennedy smith’s identification of her brother and monroe as “an item” in a letter to monroe and within two sentences ending in exclamation points is something we can only take seriously. for, within this article, there is no suggestion that it might have been a joke.


i would like to direct your attention to five incredibly amazingly fabulously important words:

ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. you get why that is hilarifyingly important, non? because this is PERHAPS THE CLEAREST INDICATION… this letter where jean kennedy smith makes a joke that we are now taking seriously. THAT is “the clearest indication yet.”

to me, that statement is the clearest indication yet that this article (and also this rumor) is standing on no legs.

i don’t know if they had an affair or not, but let’s not pretend that this letter is proving that they “DID.”

so why is all this coming up now? from whence did this ultra incriminating letter come?

it is being sold in an auction! you can own it yoself!

let’s parse the exec director’s words. because what he is saying isn’t that this letter reveals all. it has, in fact, always been a fact that there was a relationship between rfk and monroe. that is not contestable. they met on multiple occasions. monroe was friends with rfk’s other sister, pat lawford, and his brother-in-law, peter (of the AMAZE-BALLS mink coat and the rumors about everyone’s sex lives). ethel wanted to meet monroe and the lawfords arranged a dinner when the rfks were on the west coast. at that dinner, monroe spent a lot of time asking rfk questions. presumably this is the scenario to which jean kennedy smith is referring in her letter here.

so that happened. we haven’t spent the last fifty years wondering if they ever met or had any sort of relationship. the question is whether it was romantic. that rfk’s sister wrote monroe a letter joking that they were an “item” because they got on well at a dinner is hardly compelling evidence that they were. and, that this is “the clearest indication yet” betrays how little evidence there is.

speaking of evidence, lookit the other bit the daily mail gives us here:

having written about all of these people without ever having heard of this lou harris person, you can imagine my intrigue.

in the mail‘s account, this is buried in the sixth paragraph, which may not necessarily sound like burial, but it’s coming after the bombastic headline, the bulleted list, the paragraph on what jean kennedy smith actually wrote and two giant photographs. this is the part at which even i- someone obviously invested in this story- found myself checking out as a reader.

but it’s not an inconsequential detail, because if we cast our eyes upon the gossip horizon, it moves to the fore in radar’s account of this same story:

you see what they did there? how the “SECRET LETTER” moves that much closer to the “New claims” about monroe pinning rfk against a wall?

the story has migrated from the mail and the mail‘s role in its origins is made clear:

aaaaaaaand, because i research as i write, this would be the point that i realized the story i read in the mail actually originated in the telegraph. (a detail the mail failed to mention.)

i’m not sure that this changes anything beyond revealing that the people at the telegraph also have no sense of humor and they also find this compelling evidence.

“perhaps the clearest indication yet” looks a little restrained now, non, in light of “the most convincing evidence yet”?


so what we have here is the frankensteining of a story. but the one thing missing from the telegraph‘s account is the lou harris quote, which features in the daily mail‘s and then rises to the headline in radar’s.

where did that come from?


i swear, explicating the daily mail is like entering the matrix. there’s actually a logic to its organization but fathoming it requires daily mail-think. so i was actually not all that surprised that the quotation being used to legitimize this shaky 2016 story would have originated in a shaky 2015 story all its own.

in this article, i literally had to search the word “author” to figure out who had written this book from which the claims presented here were drawn. the name james neff was buried that deep (paragraph 9).

full disclosure: i’ve not read neff’s book. but as someone with more than a passing familiarity with all of the people involved in the story being presented here for which a quote from his book is providing evidence, i’d say the lou harris quote is not particularly convincing. it’s certainly not convincing enough to provide the support it is being used to provide here.

because it is being used here as legit evidence. a sizable chunk of legit evidence to support an extremely tenuous story. and it’s relocation to the top of the story on radar would suggest the effectiveness of that use.

it’s a good story. she pushed him against the wall. she went after him. his sister called them an item. so simple!

too simple.

if there’s one thing i’ve learned in writing a biography, it’s that things are always waaaaaaaaaaaaay more complicated that the stories we tell about them. in particular, the stories we are most eager to believe, whether because they’re especially good stories or because they make sense of something of which we are uncertain.

because we do so want to be certain of something. and, in the end, the thing all the stories about the sex lives of all these people seem to reveal again and again is that there are many many things we can never know.


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