Authors: Nora Ephron
JFK intern admits all
John F. Kennedy’s intern admitted to the Daily News yesterday: “I am the Mimi.”
Marion (Mimi) Fahnestock, now 60, called it a huge weight off her shoulders to finally reveal her affair with the dashing young president four decades ago. “The gift for me is that this allowed me to tell my two married daughters a secret that I’ve been holding for 41 years,” she said. “It’s a huge relief. And now I will have no further comment on this subject. I request that the media respect my privacy and that of my family.”
I was an intern in the JFK White House. I was. This is not one of those humor pieces where the writer pretends to some experience currently in the news in order to make an “amusing” point. It was 1961, and I was hired by Pierre Salinger to work in the White House press office, the very same place where Mimi Fahnestock was to work the following year. And now that Mimi Fahnestock has been forced to come forward and admit that she had an affair with JFK, I might as well tell my story too.
I notice that all the articles about poor Mimi quote another woman in the press office, Barbara Gamarekian, who fingered Fahnestock in the oral history archives at the Kennedy Library. Gamarekian cattily pointed out, according to the newspapers, that Mimi “couldn’t type.” Well, all I can say to that is: Ha. In fact: Double ha. There were, when I worked there, six women in Pierre Salinger’s office. One of them was called Faddle (her best friend, Fiddle, worked for Kennedy), and her entire job, as far as I could tell, was autographing Pierre Salinger’s photographs. Fiddle’s job was autographing Kennedy’s. Typing was not a skill that anyone seemed to need, and it certainly wasn’t necessary for interns like me (and Mimi, dare I say), because THERE WAS NO DESK FOR AN INTERN TO SIT AT AND THEREFORE NO TYPEWRITER TO TYPE ON.
Yes, I am still bitter about it! Because there I was, not just the only young woman in the White House who was unable to afford an endless succession of A-line sleeveless linen dresses just like Jackie’s, but also the only person in the press office with nowhere to sit. And then, as now, I could type one hundred words a minute. Every eight-hour day there were theoretically forty-eight thousand words that weren’t being typed because I DIDN’T HAVE A DESK.
Also, I had a really bad permanent wave. This is an important fact for later in the story, when things heat up.
I met the president within minutes of going to “work” in the White House. My first morning there, he flew to Annapolis to give the commencement address, and Salinger invited me to come along with the press pool in the press helicopter. When I got back to the White House, Pierre took me in to meet Kennedy. He was the handsomest man I had ever seen. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but perhaps they are included in Salinger’s reminiscences in the Kennedy Library. Someday I will look them up. What I do remember is that the meeting was short, perhaps ten or fifteen seconds. After it, I went back to the press office and discovered what you, reader, already know: that there was no place for me to sit.
So I spent my summer internship lurking in the hall near the file cabinet. I read most of the things that were in the file cabinet, including some interesting memos that were marked “Top Secret” and “Eyes Only.” Right next to the file cabinet was the men’s room, and one day the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, inadvertently locked himself into it. Had I not been nearby, he might be there still.
From time to time I went into the Oval Office and watched the president be photographed with various foreign leaders. Sometimes, I am pretty sure, he noticed me watching him.
Which brings me to my crucial encounter with JFK, the one that no one at the Kennedy Library has come to ask me about. It was a Friday afternoon, and because I had nowhere to sit (see above) and nothing to do (ditto), I decided to go out and watch the president leave by helicopter for a weekend in Hyannis Port. It was a beautiful day, and I stood out under the portico overlooking the Rose Garden, just outside the Oval Office. The helicopter landed. The noise was deafening. The wind from the chopper blades was blowing hard (although my permanent wave kept my hair glued tightly to my head). And then suddenly, instead of coming out of the living quarters, the president emerged from his office and walked right past me to get to the helicopter. He turned. He saw me. He recognized me. The noise was deafening but he spoke to me. I couldn’t hear a thing, but I could read his lips, and I’m pretty sure what he said was “How are you coming along?” But I wasn’t positive. So I replied as best I could. “What?” I said.
And that was it. He turned and went off to the helicopter, and I went back to standing around the White House until the summer was over. I never saw him again.
Now that I have read the articles about Mimi Fahnestock, it has become horribly clear to me that I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the president did not make a pass at. Perhaps it was my permanent wave, which was a truly unfortunate mistake. Perhaps it was my wardrobe, which mostly consisted of multicolored Dynel dresses that looked like distilled Velveeta cheese. Perhaps it’s because I’m Jewish. Don’t laugh; think about it—think about that long, long list of women JFK slept with. Were any of them Jewish? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, perhaps nothing happened between us simply because JFK somehow sensed that discretion was not my middle name. I mean, I assure you that if anything had gone on between the two of us, you would not have had to wait this long to find it out.
Anyway, that’s my story. I might as well go public with it, although I have told it to pretty much everyone I have ever met in the last forty-two years. And now, like Mimi Fahnestock, I will have no further comment on this subject. I request that the media respect my privacy and that of my family.
Me and Bill: The End of Love
I broke up with Bill a long time ago. It’s always hard to remember love—years pass and you say to yourself, Was I really in love, or was I just kidding myself? Was I really in love, or was I just pretending he was the man of my dreams? Was I really in love, or was I just desperate? But when it came to Bill, I’m pretty sure it was the real deal. I loved the guy.
As for Bill, I have to be honest: He did not love me. In fact, I never even crossed his mind. Not once. But in the beginning that didn’t stop me. I loved him, I believed in him, and I didn’t even think he was a liar. Of course, I knew he’d lied about his thing with Gennifer, but at the time I believed that lies of that sort didn’t count. How stupid was that?
Anyway, I fell out of love with Bill early in the game—over gays in the military. That was in 1993, after he was inaugurated, and at that moment my heart turned to stone. People use that expression and mean it metaphorically, but if your heart can turn to stone and not have it be metaphorical, that’s how stony my heart was where Bill was concerned. I’d had faith in him. I’d been positive he’d never back down. How could he? But then he did, he backed down just like that. He turned out to be just like the others. So that was it. Goodbye, big guy. I’m out of here. Don’t even think about calling. And by the way, if your phone rings and your wife answers and the caller hangs up, don’t think it’s me because it’s not.
By the time Bill got involved with Monica, you’d have thought I was past being hurt by him. You’d have thought I’d have shrugged and said I told you so, you can’t trust the guy as far as you can spit. But much to my surprise, Bill broke my heart all over again. I couldn’t believe how betrayed I felt. He’d had it all, he’d had everything, and he’d thrown it away. And here’s the thing: It wasn’t his to throw away. It was ours. We’d given it to him, and he’d squandered it.
Years passed. I’d sit around with friends at dinner talking about How We Got Here and Whose Fault Was It? Was it Nader’s fault? Or Gore’s? Or Scalia’s? Even Monica got onto the list, because after all, she delivered the pizza, and that pizza was truly the beginning of the end. Most of my friends had a hard time narrowing it down to a choice, but not me; only one person was at fault, and it was Bill. I drew a straight line from that pizza to the war. The way I saw it, if Bill had behaved, Al would have been elected, and thousands and thousands of people would be alive today who are instead dead.
I bring all this up because I bumped into Bill the other day. I was watching a Sunday news program, and there he was. I have to say, he looked good. And he was succinct, none of that wordy blah-blah thing that used to drive me nuts. He’d invited a whole bunch of people to a conference in New York, and they’d spent the week talking about global warming, and poverty, and all sorts of obscure places he knows a huge amount about.
When Bill described the conference, it was riveting. I could see how much he cared; and of course, I could see how smart he was. It was so refreshing. It was practically moving. To my amazement, I could even see why I’d loved the guy in the first place. It made me sadder than I can say. It’s much easier to get over someone if you can delude yourself into thinking you never really cared that much.
Then, later in the week, I was reading about Bill’s conference, and I came upon something that made me think, for just a moment, that Bill might even want me back. “I’ve reached an age now where it doesn’t matter whatever happens to me,” he said. “I just don’t want anyone to die before their time anymore.” It almost really got to me. But then I came to my senses. And instead I just wanted to pick up the phone and call him and say, if you genuinely believe that, you hypocrite, why don’t you stand up and take a position against this war?
But I’m not calling. I haven’t called in years and I’m not starting now.
Where I Live
1. I live in New York City. I could never live anywhere else. The events of September 11 forced me to confront the fact that no matter what, I live here and always will. One of my favorite things about New York is that you can pick up the phone and order anything and someone will deliver it to you. Once I lived for a year in another city, and almost every waking hour of my life was spent going to stores, buying things, loading them into the car, bringing them home, unloading them, and carrying them into the house. How anyone gets anything done in these places is a mystery to me.
2. I live in an apartment. I could never live anywhere but in an apartment. I love apartments because I lose everything. Apartments are horizontal, so it’s much easier to find the things I lose—such as my glasses, gloves, wallet, lipstick, book, magazine, cell phone, and credit card. The other day I actually lost a piece of cheese in my apartment. Also, apartment buildings have doormen, a convenience if you’re having things delivered to you, which I often am, sometimes to replace the things I can’t find.
3. I live in my neighborhood. My neighborhood consists of the dry cleaner, the subway stop, the pharmacist, the supermarket, the cash machine, the deli, the beauty salon, the nail place, the newsstand, and the place where I go for lunch. All this is within two blocks of my house. Which is another thing I love about life in New York: Everything is right there. If you forgot to buy parsley, it takes only a couple of minutes to run out and get it. This is good, because I often forget to buy parsley.
4. I live at my desk. It’s eighty-four inches long and twenty-eight inches high, a custom height to avoid computer-related ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome. My desk is painted white. My computer is a Power Mac G4, and I spend most of the day and half the night at it. Only yesterday, while surfing the net, I discovered that there’s an expression for what I am—a mouse potato. It means someone who’s as connected to her computer as couch potatoes are to their television sets. My favorite thing about my desk is that it has a huge drawer on the lower left side that contains a monster wastebasket. I probably didn’t invent the concept of building a wastebasket into a desk, but I might have, and whether I did or not, it feels like a breakthrough. As a result, there’s no ugly wastebasket on view, taking up floor space and full of horrible, messy crumpled pieces of paper and old tea bags. I highly recommend building a wastebasket into a desk, and I have every hope that just by writing about it here, it will catch on, big-time, and become the thing I’m remembered for. My desk is a mess. Many of the things I’m missing are buried somewhere on it, although some are in my wastebasket, where I have mistakenly thrown them.
5. And of course, I live in the kitchen. Sometimes I go there to eat, sometimes I go there to figure out what I’m going to eat the next time I eat, and sometimes I go there for a little exercise. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I walk into my kitchen about a hundred times a day. I think I’ll go there right now to finish the apple I started eating exactly one minute ago. I hope it’s still there.