THE BLOG
10/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

JFK, Marilyn Monroe and, uh, Sarah Palin -- The French Recollection

When I was a little girl, one still heard the inspiring slogan that America was a place so full of promise and equal opportunity that "Any boy can grow up to be president."

(The 21st century corollary, "Any flag lapel pin-sporting attractive outdoorsy conservative female with five children one of whom is being deployed to Iraq can grow up to be nominated for Vice President" was not yet being bandied about.)

Having just finished the unfussily titled Marilyn et JFK, a brand new French-language tome by prominent journalist Francois Forestier, I have to think that, above all, a president-to-be needs extraordinary organizational skills.

Because it's difficult for me to understand how a head of state could have such frequent sex with so many different women in so many places and still run the country.

JFK initiated and completed encounters with the fair sex in the amount of time I might dedicate to eating a small Hershey bar. Mr. Kennedy's relentless extracurricular pronging is now common knowledge, but was not well known to the nation when he occupied the White House.

Reading Mr. Forestier's book -- which, on September 11 at the Deauville Festival of American Film, will receive the 34-year-old event's Literary Prize, (an award that has previously gone to Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Budd Schulberg) -- one is reminded that the field of journalism has changed quite a bit since "Camelot."

And not just because it is possible for Sam Zell to continue to wield power and influence after stating that the most valuable reporters are the ones who crank out the most stories. (One word is as good as another, apparently. That's certainly going to save ME a lot of time as a reporter from now on.)

And, since people who read newspapers probably enjoy reading, getting rid of the book review section of the LA Times seems about as bright as trying to kill Castro with poison pens and exploding (or LSD-laced) cigars.

In Kennedy's day, the electorate was spared too many potentially upsetting details about the president's penchant for swift horizontal exercise.

Forestier describes Washington Post publisher Phil Graham's champagne-fueled outburst at the AP convention in 1963. Although he and JFK were friends, Graham blew a gasket wanting to know why the president's seemingly bottomless appetite for having sex with women other than his wife was conspicuously absent from print and the airwaves.

Yeah -- why DOES the press discuss some things and ignore others? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's obituary in the NY Times said of the Russian writer's acceptance speech for the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature :

"He wrote that while an ordinary man was obliged 'not to participate in lies,' artists had greater responsibilities. 'It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!'"

Consensual peccadillos involving genital contact needn't be a blight on anybody's resumé -- except maybe the Pope's.

And adultery, the use of call girls -- or boys -- and out-of-wedlock underage pregnancies needn't make headlines. Unless, that is, the people caught with their pants down (or their skirts up) have made "family values" or "chastity" or "fidelity" or "accountability" a cornerstone of their presumed moral superiority.

You know, moral superiority, virtuous conduct, an iron grip on right and wrong -- the stuff from which flows the privilege to lead, be it from a pulpit or a government office.

Maureen Orth's recent Vanity Fair profile of France's first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy tells me -- and anybody else who can read English -- the names of quite a few of the men with whom Ms. Bruni went steady. But Madame Sarkozy doesn't have the wisp of a problem with her prior romances being public. She has nothing to hide. The only danger is to her feelings or those of her former paramours.

It would be premature to put blackmail on the Endangered Species List in American politics, but in decades past, having the "goods" on activities considered bad was as potent as having a nuclear warhead and the means to launch it.

Forestier neatly lays out that JFK and RFK (and select Mob kingpins and J. Edgar Hoover and the KGB, to name but a few) had such a problem with their literally dangerous liaisons that, Forestier implies, people died. Marilyn Monroe just being the only household word.

In the introduction to his 90,000 word hardback essay Marilyn, Norman Mailer wrote, "For Marilyn, so soon as one attempts to classify her too neatly, goes to phosphorescence and dust."

Sarah Palin on the other hand, seems to have been manufactured in a lab for the express purpose of being "classified neatly."

Life experiences garnered beyond America's borders -- not to mention, facts -- are just too confusing for some voters.

For example, a poll cited last month in the international edition of Newsweek says that 12 percent of Americans still believe that Obama is Muslim -- and this despite frequent coverage of his churchgoing. (That Muslim rascal -- trying to pass himself off as a Christian.)

Forestier's book reminds us that Joe Kennedy had goons ask Sammy Davis Jr. (who had one glass eye) whether he "wanted to lose his other eye" in order to dissuade him from attending JFK's inaugural, to which he had been invited. Apparently the filthy rich ex-bootlegger was not offended so much by the color of Davis' skin but by the fact that he was Jewish. Gosh, it's good to have priorities in one's prejudices.

(Deauville is presenting a complete retrospective of films by Spike Lee, who was not yet three years old when Mr. Davis was warned not to show his ebony face at the inaugural bash.)

In his introduction, Forestier says "And they expect us to believe that we don't know who killed Kennedy? That it's just one of those eternal mysteries... where we'll never ever know what happened?"

Well, yeah -- that IS what they expect us to believe. Only some ornery European with an attention span and a fondness for examining evidence would question Oswald as lone nut assassin and find a reputable publisher for his breezy roundup. Pesky foreigners like Forestier probably think Sarah Palin was manufactured in a lab -- or pulled out of a hat -- in order to pander to specific demographics.

Literally hundreds of books have been written about the Kennedys and about Monroe. Forestier connects the dots.

I was surprised to learn that JFK dropped acid just a few days before the Cuban Missile Crisis. In retrospect, that makes it a little nutty to have pilloried Bill Clinton for pot smoking (albeit of the purely cosmetic variety, unburdened by the effort of inhaling) or suggesting that Obama may have suffered character-stunting brain damage from youthful drug experimentation.

Like I said, volumes galore have been written about the Kennedys and about Monroe. I'm not planning to read them. Which frees me up to read about the accomplishments-to-date and outstanding legislative feats of Sarah Palin.

Okay, I'm done.

If one were flippant and cynical, one could argue that Marilyn Monroe, who was intimately acquainted with many powerful men, was as qualified to run for the next-to-the-highest elective office in the land as is Ms. Palin.

Of course, Ms. Monroe had many, many abortions and no children.

But she was pretty and talented and extremely American. She was an effective public speaker, too. When asked what she slept in, Ms. Monroe had the wit to reply "Chanel Number 5." We needn't ask Ms. Palin the same question.

First off, whether she's Pro-Birthday Suit or staunchly Right-to-Pajamas might be too hardball as questions to government officials go these days. And secondly, we know the answer: She sleeps wrapped in a little number Betsy Ross whipped up. And even if the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate does have a favorite fragrance, she would not broadcast that it was a perfume made in -- horrors -- France.

This November 22nd will mark 45 years since John F. Kennedy was fatally shot.

There is reason to believe that the accurate tabulating of votes in U.S. elections has been shot for quite some time.

As a nod to unreliable electronic voting machines and to (paraphrasing Henry Kissinger's remark about oil and Arabs) anybody who thinks voting is too important to be left in the hands of citizens, dare we re-name one of Ms. Monroe's better known efforts?

"Some Like it Shot."

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