Jack and Lem Continued

 Jack and Lem continued

by Blase DiStefano
Palm Beach, Christmas 1940. (l–r) Harry Dixon, Kick Kennedy, John Coleman, Charlotte McDonnell, Jack, and Lem.

Do you think Jack used Lem as a gofer? It seemed like Lem allowed it, so it wasn’t one-sided.
Doing the research for the book and talking to some people, I found conflicting evidence on that. Gore Vidal said he was the gofer. I think the phrase he used was, “Lem was the guy who carried the bags for Jack.” And he called him “Jack’s slave” at one point. But other people discounted that. Jack’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said that the friendship was very equal. And I did find evidence in the letters when they were both at college—Lem was at Princeton and Jack was at Harvard—I did find evidence when they got together in New York on weekends, it was as much Jack who was suggesting their getting together as it was Lem. So it wasn’t always Lem asking for the time. The friendship seems to have been quite mutual. And in one of the interviews with Gore Vidal [Pitts had three interviews with him], he seems to concede that the friendship was a bit more than carrying the bags.

Lem was very useful in Kennedy’s political campaigns.
Exactly. He wasn’t very good [both laugh], but the important point that was made was that no matter how inexperienced Lem was politically, no matter how much he messed things up sometimes, Jack wanted him involved, which is another indication of the strength of the friendship, because the president didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t that efficient at times in the political sense.

Note Jack and Lem's matching bathing suits.

It does seem like the friendship was serious, because Kennedy could have dropped him easily, especially considering that Kennedy may have been concerned about people finding out that Lem was gay.
That’s one of the most amazing things. Of course, when it started in 1933 and Jack was at school, you can certainly argue that for the first 10 or 15 years, there was no political threat, but once he started on the road to the White House after World War II, this friendship posed a political threat, and if the Russians would have gotten hold of this information, it could have been problematic.

Lem was considered part of the Kennedy family, wasn’t he?
He certainly was. All the evidence I’ve found was that every single member of the Kennedy family just adored him. It wasn’t just Jack Kennedy. He became close to Robert Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ethel Kennedy, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The only person who is a little circumspect in her affections was Jackie Kennedy, for maybe obvious reasons.

After Jack married Jackie, what was the relationship like between Jack and Lem?
From all accounts, it stayed the same.

Jackie did like Lem, didn’t she?
All the evidence seems to indicate she liked him quite a lot. In actuality, she had more things in common with Lem than she did with Jack. Jack was a political animal, and her main interest was in the arts, which was Lem’s main interest. So they had much in common. The other point that seemed to be very salient was the fact that in the early years of her marriage when she was having some difficulties with Jack Kennedy, Lem was a kind of humorous intermediary who helped break the tension. But he was always there, and on many occasions she wanted him there, but on other occasions she didn’t.

What about Lem’s relationship with Caroline and John Jr.?
With Caroline and John Jr., it seems to have been affectionate and close. After the assassination, Jackie was in New York for roughly five years before she married Aristotle Onassis in 1968. That’s when both Caroline and John were quite young, so Jackie Kennedy was keen to have them spend time with Lem so they could learn all about the president in his younger days, pre-dating the time she knew him.

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Blase DiStefano

Blase DiStefano is the Creative Director/Entertainment Editor for OutSmart Magazine.

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