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'Bobby and Jackie': Oh, Brother!

In his new book, "Bobby and Jackie," author C. David Heymann details what he says was a four-year affair between the widowed Jackie Kennedy and her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy. (AP Photo/Mark Shaw; Wally McNamee/The Washington Post)

The problem with history? It's full of dead people.

Which is precisely the dilemma with C. David Heymann's much-publicized new bio, "Bobby and Jackie," which claims that Jackie Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy had a steamy romance from 1964 to 1968. The author has written a number of unauthorized biographies filled with sensational details that may or may not be true, depending on whom you believe. This book brings together two decades of gossip, historical fact and circumstantial evidence -- catnip for tabloids still fascinated by America's doomed Camelot.

The close friendship between the former first lady and her brother-in-law has been well documented, but Heymann says it became intimate about a year after JFK's assassination and continued until Bobby ran for president. Jackie was the world's most glamorous widow, Bobby her favorite Kennedy, and their affair stayed hidden from public view because sex was considered off-limits by the media in the 1960s. Those closest to Jackie or the Kennedys wouldn't talk, Heymann told us, for fear of alienating the family or tarnishing their legacy. But his book includes plenty of on-the-record interviews:

  • Historian Arthur Schlesinger: "I knew they'd vacationed in Antigua and that Ethel hadn't gone along ... What I didn't know is there was apparently more to their relationship than I originally thought."
  • Kennedy family friend Coates Redmon: "I'm ninety-nine percent sure they were involved and I'm sure Ethel had caught on at some point."
  • Morton Downey Jr., a childhood friend of Bobby's: "His relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy, however, wasn't solely based on sex. Unlike most women in his life, he had deep feelings for Jackie."
  • Author Truman Capote, who said he heard about the affair from Jackie's sister: "It was passionate, but it was fraught with incalculable difficulties: his career, her renown, his marriage, her affairs with other men, including [Aristotle] Onassis. There was something sad about it."

    Here's the rub: They're all dead -- although Heymann says many of his interviews were taped and are available in the Special Collections of the library at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A woman described as a friend of Bobby's, Mary Harrington, is quoted saying she saw him touch Jackie's bare breast while sunbathing -- but we couldn't locate her to verify the account, and Heymann would not disclose her whereabouts. The author Gore Vidal is quoted in the book as saying, "I suspect that the one person Jackie ever loved ... was Bobby Kennedy" -- but his rep says Vidal "does not remember saying that."

    What to believe? Sexual affairs are almost impossible to verify unless there are pictures, and a close friendship can be mistaken for a romance. Then again, JFK's reckless sexual exploits didn't become public until long after his death, although plenty of insiders knew exactly what was going on. Historian Robert Dallek, an authority on American presidents, told us, "I have no information on this and am curious as to what evidence the book brings forward to support such an assertion. I'm inclined to dismiss it as unfounded."

  • By The Reliable Source  |  July 8, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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    Posted by: jezebel3 | July 8, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

    I've known David Heymann a number of years. He's a remarkably conscientious researcher - and does a great number of interviews for his books. I've also known Robert Dallek for a number of years. He's a remarkably conscientious researcher - but he does very few interviews, and they are not, I think he'd agree, particularly good, while his archival research is impeccable. They are two different approaches to contemporary history and biography. According to my own interviews for "JFK: Reckless Youth," Bobby K. DID have an affair with Jackie - but as I was writing about JFK's (early) life, not Bobby's, I didn't pursue the story. Forty years later, does it hurt to tell the truth? I found it touching, when I was told by one of JFK's closest friends - not only in view of Jackie's griefstricken state of mind, but because until then she had really had a very un-intimate relationship with the K. family. You could argue that it helped Bobby grow out of his rather armor-plated focus. nigel hamilton, Boston

    Posted by: nigelhamilton | July 8, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

    ahhhh, sniffsniffsniff.... what the wapo excels at.

    Posted by: mycomment | July 8, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

    The Washington Post Salon Episode – A Public Relations Disaster If Ever There Was One – Indicates Just How Far Newspapers Are Trying To Bring In Revenue By Unorthodox Methods

    Philip M. Stone July 8, 2009 Follow on Twitter
    None of the big-shots at the Washington Post have fallen yet on their swords following the outing of proposed sponsored dinner parties at the publisher’s house mixing lobbyists, government officials and newspaper editorial brass and beat reporters in off-the-record get togethers. The newspaper offered two sponsorships for the first evening at $25,000 each with higher prices to come for other dinners.

    Posted by: Phil6 | July 8, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

    One key here is to look at C. David Heymann's thoroughly discredited biography of RFK from 1998. I read it -- hey I was young -- but have removed it from my shelf lest somebody think I agree with this lazy trash. To my memory, it included all manner of utterly outrageous charges about RFK's behavior, that go WAY beyond having an affair with Jackie. Evan Thomas or Thurston Clarke or Jules Witcover or any other grown-up out there who has written responsibly about RFK over the years should speak out. Heymann is not credible. He's just gross.

    Posted by: Craig_Colgan | July 8, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

    I don't know whether this is true or not, and probably we'll never really know the truth since the protagonists are all dead and anybody else most likely has some degree of self-interest in giving their opinion.

    What is undeniable, though, is that back in the 60's -- and before, and for a while after -- the media stayed away from digging into rumors and innuendos about sexual misconduct. Now, of course, since Bill Clinton -- well, actually before that, with Gary Hart and a few others, but certainly since then -- and the never ending parade of public figures who've been featured in the news explaining away their sexual peccadillos, there's an obsession in the media with reporting on this stuff. While I'm totally disgusted with the mostly right-wing "family values' types who constantly put themselves on the record calling for the ultimate punishment for those who stray and then make every kind of excuse when they get caught themselves, I think I prefer the good old days when a person's behavior behind closed doors was considered none of anybody's business.

    Posted by: sally1860 | July 8, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

    I think "Camelot" was long ago exposed as just a myth cooked up by Jackie Kennedy. Since JFK and RFK both had affairs with Marilyn Monroe and are held accountable by some for her early death, why should this story surprise anyone? I have read numerous times that Jackie and her sister were notorious for going after other women's husbands.

    Posted by: somberjules | July 9, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

    If this is true, which many of you question, I hope that Jackie found a moment in her life when she shared a gratifying sexual experience with a Kennedy (it is understood the Jack was lacking in that area). He may have been a playboy but not a lover. Then we have to consider Ethel - how sad!!!

    Posted by: magigal42 | July 11, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

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