There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s all so depressing we were happily distracted by something that might or might not have happened half-a-century ago.
This titillating tale came to us courtesy of England’s Daily Mail, one of the famously feisty British press’ feistiest papers, which leaked a soon-to-be-published book’s claim that Jackie Kennedy had an affair while she was First Lady with the famed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. For salacious ‘60s gossip this is hard to top, but the book further claims that around the same time Nureyev also had an affair with presidential brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, as well as yet another affair with Jackie Kennedy’s celebrity sister Lee Radziwell, and that it all ended only when Kennedy noticed Nureyev taking an inordinate interest in her handsome young son. Even by the jading standards of the seemingly endless Kennedy sex scandals, it’s shocking stuff.
The authors of the book, titled “Pink Triangle,” attribute these claims to the late writers Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, both of whom were confidantes of Jackie Kennedy but neither of whom were entirely reliable sources, so there’s no judging the veracity of the story. The Mail bolsters the book’s claim with a paparazzi photo of Nureyev strolling with Jackie Kennedy, another of him walking alongside Bobby Kennedy, and a third showing him seated at some swank affair with Radziwell, in each case all of them looking quite chummy. There’s also an old interview with Nureyev in a Danish newspaper conducted just before he died in 1993 from AIDS in which he seems to boast of these of conquests, and that nothing regarding the Kennedy clan can be dismissed as too far-fetched, but we still retain a certain skepticism.
It is hard to believe, for one thing, that even such a formidable philanderer as Nureyev could keep up with so many Kennedys. Following that family’s affairs in the tabloids is tiring enough, and the exertions involved in bedding so many of them would surely leave the halest hoofer too tired to perform a pirouette. We also doubt the book’s claim that Richard Nixon hit on Jackie Kennedy after a presidential campaign debate with her husband, as all the mountains of mud that were hurled at “Tricky Dick” during his long career never included an allegation of sexual misbehavior, and it is hard to imagine him strolling up to Jackie Kennedy with shoulders stooped and jowls flapping as he says “Hey, baby.” Despite Robert Kennedy’s reputation for an all-too-healthy heterosexuality we find it plausible that he might have dabbled with Nureyev, and the book’s colorful detail that one of their assignations occurred in a telephone booth sounds believably Kennedyesque, but we’d hate to give modern Democrats yet another reason to adore him.
Still, it’s the sort of racy reading that explains why the British press still sells newspapers, and the unsettling sense that it is at least slightly plausible should be cautionary. Many of those other depressing stories in the news involve a handsome, young, and charismatic president whose heroic image has been carefully maintained by a compliant press, others involve a successor-in-waiting who is the supposedly long-suffering First Lady of a frequently unfaithful president, and it all seems somehow familiar. The most scandalous legends should be regarded skeptically, but at this point we know enough about the Kennedys, Clintons, and Obamas to also suspect the more flattering legends about them.
— Bud Norman