Author calls JFK-Monroe affair most sensational in U.S. history

September 25, 1992|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- Imagine being in bed with John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

It's a frequent stop in Michael Korda's controversial new novel "The Immortals" -- a work the author calls "faction" that portrays relationships the global sex goddess had with JFK and later with his brother Robert.

"It is totally natural that Jack Kennedy should have had an affair with Marilyn Monroe," Mr. Korda says. "For Jack it must have been like climbing Mount Everest. He must have thought 'I owe myself. It's there, you've got to do it.' His father had Gloria Swanson, after all."

This is high-concept, quick-pitch stuff, of course.

"The Immortals" is just reaching bookstores this week but has already been sold to filmmaker Dino De Laurentiis for what gossip columnist Liz Smith calls "major bucks." The Hollywood buzz has Madonna playing Marilyn.

The 559-page book, published by Poseidon Press and priced at $20, is a Literary Guild selection and will be serialized in Cosmopolitan.

"This was arguably the most sensational and interesting love affair in American history," Mr. Korda explains.

The author, 58, is short, trim, blond and dressed for effect. He wears black cowboy boots, creased jeans, a buttoned-down denim shirt, a blue tie with large white polka dots and a tweed sports coat. When he's not writing his own books, Mr. Korda is editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, publisher of writers ranging from Larry McMurtry, Tennessee Williams and Graham Greene to Jackie Collins, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

On this day, Mr. Korda seems a tad defensive, having been accused by some critics of creating a sordid sort of pseudo-history. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Joe Queenan said the book repackaged "every fact, factoid, rumor and lie that has ever been circulated about the Kennedys."

The author, who knew Marilyn and Bobby but not John, protests that he liked and admired them all.

"In a way, what I want 'The Immortals' to do is set the record straight and show these people as they were," he says. "I don't think it does any good to look at the Kennedys through rose-tinted glasses and see Jack and Bobby merely as martyr figures.

"At the same time, it doesn't do any good for us to pretend that Marilyn Monroe stands for victimization of women for all time, because she doesn't. My intention is to restore three people whom I admire to three- dimensional vitality and at the same time to tell the story, based on fact although it's fiction, of what went on between these three people."

Mr. Korda says then-Senator John Kennedy met Marilyn Monroe in 1954 and the two had a torrid and not-very-secret affair for seven years. Once in the White House, JFK "brutally cut off" the relationship, effectively passing the movie star to his brother, the attorney general.

He doesn't think the Kennedys arranged Marilyn's death.

"I don't believe Marilyn was murdered. She was a walking pharmaceutical case by the end of her life," he said of her 1962 death by drug overdose. "Can you imagine Jack Kennedy saying to Bobby, 'I want you to have Marilyn murdered? . . ." Mr. Korda portrays JFK and MM as kindred souls, both survivors of troubled childhoods of different sorts.

And Mr. Korda says Jackie Kennedy knew about her husband's affairs.

"At the great birthday party bash at Madison Square Garden, where Marilyn was brought to sing happy birthday to the president in that highly unsuitable dress, Jackie was not present, having announced that she could not be at the president's birthday party because she had a prior and conflicting engagement at a horse show in Middleburg," he recalled.

"We could conclude that Jackie said to Jack that 'if Marilyn Monroe is going to be there, I'm not coming,' " he said. "And Jack presumably said to Jackie, 'Fine.' "

Mr. Korda, who once appeared on the cover of New York Magazine wearing motorcycle leathers, could be a character in one of his jet-setter novels. Born in England, the son of a British actress and movie art director, he grew up in Beverly Hills, New York City and Switzerland.

What's his lifestyle like?

His "basic car," he says, is a Ferrari 308. His wife, Margaret, has a Porsche, but they also have a truck, an Audi and a four-wheel drive Toyota. And, of course, Mr. Korda has a Harley-Davidson, because he likes motorcycles.

They sold their home at the Polo Club in Palm Beach. "Shortly after buying the house, Margaret and I looked at each other by the pool and said, 'Why are we here?' " he explained.

They largely live on a farm in Dutchess County, N.Y., where they raise horses, but still keep a "small apartment" in Manhattan and a house in Sante Fe, N.M.

Mr. Korda's earlier books include the memoir "Charmed Lives," and "Queenie," a novel loosely about his aunt, the actress Merle Oberon.

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