Sunday, September 09, 2007


John F. Kennedy's life was a fairy tale, and iconic pictures of him and his family are pervasive in American culture. Who hasn't seen the photos of Kennedy and his son in the Oval Office or Kennedy with Jackie sailing off Cape Cod?

David Pitts, a local gay author, has uncovered a trove of pictures featuring Kennedy with a less familiar face - that of Lem Billings, Kennedy's gay friend from their years at Choate School, a prep school in Connecticut, during the 1930s. In his new book, "Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings, the Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship," Pitts explores the relationship the pair shared until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Pitts, who has a long standing interest in Kennedy, said that the inspiration for the project came from reading a variety of books over the years about the former president in which the name Lem Billings kept appearing, but was never fully explained. Pitts began researching the pair's relationship and uncovered how progressive Kennedy was in terms of accepting Billings' sexual orientation.

"The most surprising thing I learned was just how extremely close this friendship was," Pitts says, "Outside of his family, John F. Kennedy was closer to Lem Billings than any other person in his life."

In writing his book, Pitts interviewed members of Billings’ family (his sister and brother are both alive and in their 90s), writer Gore Vidal and Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post, who knew both Billings and Kennedy.

"The letters that John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings exchanged, along with an oral history that Lem did before he died, were restricted until Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., made them available to me," Pitts says.

Beginning with their years at Choate, Billings often spent holidays and vacations with the Kennedys, although his family lived in Baltimore. He was also a fixture at the White House, which many found odd. Billings had a room there, and he frequently listened to the president vent about the international crises in Cuba and Berlin. Politicos wrote him off as Kennedy’s school friend who was a political lightweight, and others felt that he simply spent too much time hanging around.

Persistent rumors about Kennedy’s bisexuality are not answered in this book. Pitts uncovered no evidence that suggested a sexual relationship between the two friends.

"I tried to apply journalistic rules - and didn’t put in any gossip," Pitts says, "I only put in information that I could confirm … Something could have gone on, but I uncovered no evidence of that fact."

As for the relationship between Lem and Jackie Kennedy, Pitts writes, "All the people I interviewed about the relationship between Jackie and Lem - which I think is an interesting relationship in and of itself - agreed really on the nature of that relationship.

There was no disagreement among any of the people who knew them both. And that is, she liked him. She had more in common with him than she did with JFK in many ways. She was interested in the arts like he was, she had the same kind of sensibility. She also appreciated the role he played in her marriage during all the rough spots in the early days, essentially.

And the evidence that she liked him, the proof of it really, is that after the assassination when she could easily have cut him loose, she didn't. When the British invited her to England for the memorial for JFK at Runnymede, she asked Lem to go with her. She frequently visited him in Manhattan when she lived there in the 60s, and she also went to his funeral. So the evidence that she essentially liked him is there.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that she was frustrated at times that he was always there, so it's a mixed relationship. Probably when you think about it, it's a marriage of three people, so that attitude is understandable.

JFK golfing with Press Secretary Pierre D. Salinger and K. LeMoyne Billings in Hyannisport July 27, 1963, three months before President Kennedy was assassinated.

*Lem Billings is also listed (K. LeMoyne Billings) as one of the ushers at JFK's wedding and after Kennedy's death, became one of the directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Corporation.

I also found this interesting and somewhat amusing article in the New York Times titled:


Published: January 17, 1981

The Kennedys always were fast on their feet when it came to running for office. But yesterday afternoon, one of the younger generation helped the police run down a pickpocket inside Bloomingdale's.

The helper was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 26-year-old son of the late Senator. He was on the Lexington Avenue subway with K. LeMoyne Billings, a long-time family friend and financial advisor, when someone took off with Mr. Billings's wallet and $60 in it.

Mr. Kennedy, the police said, chased the thief out of the 59th Street station, yelling for a nearby Transit Police officer, James McQueen, to help. The suspect ran into the crowded department store, but the other pursuers caught him on the second floor. The wallet and the money were recovered.


RIC said...

Great post, dear Don! Thank you so very much!
Not everything in an intimate relationship between two men must necessarily come down to bed sheets and sex drives.
I do know such relationships are not only possible but also quite true!
As to Groban, he's now a most cherished company on my blog...
Thank you!
Have a great week yourself! :-)

Blogzie said...

I love you, Mr. DonDon.

Your blog looks and sounds great, just like you.