Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

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The President, The Lady and Godfather


Daily Mail 20th September 1976

Douglas Thompson, Dermot Purgavie, Peter Greig and Jeri Elrod

The power that controls the United States of America is a complex w e b of three great forces — money, politics and crime.

The inter - relationship be­tween the people who head these forces is carefully guarded. The public spotlight rarely exposes it. They are in contact, all right, through intermediaries and specialised am­bassadors but all this is hidden by a security screen of enor­mous secrecy.

There is one neutral area, however, where the leaders of these groups can see each other. It is an acceptable meeting place and a pleasant one, where big men can make deals, threats, exchange views or come to arrangements.  This is the world of show business.

Show business recognises only power, money and talent. Show business provides a glamorous cover and every facility imaginable in return for support and investment.

This is what this story is all about. It is about the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and the Mafia God­father, Samuel Giancana, and his deputy, Johnny Roselli, all three now dead from assassins' bullets. It is about their links through show business and through one of the biggest stars in America, Frank Skiatra.

It is about a woman who was the companion of all three of them at the same time. She was the link and not neces­sarily by accident be­tween these powerful men. And they talked to her.

But this is not pri­marily a story of sexual infidelity. It is now well known that John F. Ken­nedy was a promiscuous man who had affairs with many women while he was President of the United States.

What was never known until it was discovered by ,a Senate committee earlier this year was that Judith Camp­bell Exner, the Los Angeles show-business society girl who became the Presidential mistress, was also .sleeping with the head of the Mafia at the same time.

The implications are enor­mous. For the first time, links between Washington and the underworld were exposed.

That is why the story of the President, the Godfather and the Lady is essentially a political one. It is about power-broking. It is about the way America works seen inti­mately by a woman who, for a crucial period of history, was the mistress of the two most powerful men in the United States.

Cocktails and power

Beautiful women gravitate to men of power. Powerful men like the company of beautiful women. This is a basic law of the sexes which no man-made stricture has been able to control.

Most of these liaisons take place naturally. Sometimes, however, they can be arranged.

Judith Campbell Exner is a very striking woman. Sixteen years ago, she was even more attractive.

An ail-American beauty in her late 20s, poised and sophisticated from her middle-class Californian up­bringing, she was suddenly plunged as a young divorcee into the swinging crowd which circles Hollywood's elite.

America has a genius for pro­ducing precisely the right, linguistic label for any market­able products. In the world of commercial sex, America has hookers and hustlers, B girls and call girls. Each is a different grade of woman prepared to sell her body. Each has a different operating procedure and a diff­erent price.

Judith Campbell was none of these. What she has been labelled is ... 'a Party girl.' California specialises in producing .Party girls. They are beautiful and educated young women who seek excitement by making- themselves* decorative additions to a glamorous world. You will find them in Hollywood, Washington or around New York society. Usually with plenty of money in their own right, they have excellent wardrobes and well schooled tastes. sleekly groomed camp fol­lowers of today's society cannot be bought in a crude commercial sense. But they can be wooed and won with presents and passports to the non-stop cocktail party of power.

Bored, restless (they are always on the move) untalen-ted and untrained, by back­ground and upbringing, to work, they are fun seekers and fun pro­viders, always^withjhe adven­turess's awareness that tlie first rule in how to marry a millionaire is to make contact with him.

Such a girl was Judith CaniDbell Exner. And it is important to realise what sort of girl she was and what sort of background she had if one is to understand her affair with John P. Kennedy.

She was the daughter of Irish-American parents, a racial combina­tion which produces children of unusual attractiveness and outgoing personality. Her father, Frederick Immoor, was chief draughtsman for a very large firm of architects. His skills earned him a very good salary. But the more he earned the more he spent.

So Judith Immoor grew up in a family used to living to the hilt. She recalls that home was always a mansion (later, when she was more or less a permanent house guest- at Prank Sinatra's Palm Springs home, she was to remark on what a 'small house' the singer owned).

She remembers that there was always champagne at weekends. In the 1940s a highly successful Ameri­can professional man was able to employ servants to run a big house without it really affecting his income. So there were people to fetch and carry and there was a tutor to come to educate Judith.

Marriage and an affair

She missed two years of high school because Her mother was recovering irom a car crash and wanted her daughter at home. So, at 17, Judith Immoor had finished her education with a high school graduation, certificate but she had neither the wish nor the intellectual drive to go to university. 'Her upbringing Was a dichotomy.

She came from a family that lived lavishly and spent indulgently and were used to having things done for them, But overlaying that was a fierce Catholicism, which inhibited and overprotected the children. In addition, Judith was anxious to make up the fun she felt she had missed at high school. It was fairly natural that she would make an early marriage and it would be a disastrous one.

The actor Robert Wagner was one of her first boyfriends. Around her 18th birthday, he introduced her to another young actor, Billy Camp­bell. Six months later she married Campbell against her parents' wishes. Campbell says: 'They didn't want her to get married to me because Mama was a very pushy Hollywood mother who wanted to turn both her daughters into movie stars.

There Is no way that she could have done so with Judith because Judith just didn't have the talent. Or the interest. But Mama felt that I would get in the way.'

The young couple moved in a scene which contained a number of other teenage and youthful actors, many of them weU known stars today: Mike Connors, Hugh O'Brian, Lloyd Bridges . . . these men and their wives formed Hollywood's young set in 1953 and life was a round of swimming pool parties. It was not the most stimulating existence nor conducive for a girl like Judith Campbell to build a good marriage.

In two years it was over. Then followed a long affair with another actor called Tony Travis. Travis was older and more sophisticated than Campbell and he introduced his young girlfriend to a wider and more powerful section of Califor­nian society . . . businessmen, in­dustrialists and financiers. Slowly that affair broke up and. at the age of 24, Judith Campbell was a beau­tiful youna; woman with a broken marriage and a very unhappy love affair behind her.

Says Campbell: "The divorce was pretty amiable. Judy was not a demanding girl. She didn't try to mangle me in terms of money.' He did agree to pay $433 a, month and later paid her a lump sum of $5,000.

'We were too immature for mar­riage,' says Campbell, who later -had a very successful acting career. 'Judy's main concern was with her looks and her clothes. Nothing much beyond that interested her.'

That was it, she had taste and elegance but no professional skills with which to earn a living. But the thought of work never occurred to her. She had alimony and a small private income. She had a very ex­pensive wardrobe to which she was always adding. Her mind never turned beyond her social life, which meant dining and dancing every night and being seen in the right places with all the right people.

She wanted to be admired, for her looks, her style and her taste.

How she progressed from this point to becoming the mistress of the most dynamic and attractive President the United States has elected this century is what this story is all about.

But, because she was the kind of woman she was by birth and up­bringing, it was perfectly acceptable for Kennedy to be seen with her. It was also perfectly acceptable to Kennedy's inner circle in the White House that JFK should have a relationship with such a woman. She was discreet and upper class and apolitical. She could do no harm, they thought.

And America being what it is in the age of surveillance, it was not unnatural for agents of the FBI, without the President's know­ledge, to observe his private life and to build up a file on him.

One day the name Judith Camp­bell came into that file. She was a 'friend' of the President, and not the first either.

Security and surveillance are all about records and cross - indexing. The name Campbell was cross­checked to see if it was in any other files. She was in the biggest and the fattest file on the FBI current archives ... she was listed as a close woman friend of Sam Giancana, the Godfather of Godfathers, Mafia boss of the Chicago family, the largest crime the United. States.

What was more, she was in the habit of <?oing straight to Chicago arid her Godfather friend immedi­ately after a lovers' tryst with the President of the United States.

The agent who stumbled upon this probably wished he had not. Its explosive content was almost nuc­lear. But he knew what he had to do and he picked up :a phone and asked for a top priority interview with the Director — J. Edgar Hoover.

J. Edgar Hoover read the files and cannot have been displeased. The information before him was vitally about politics. He knew that it was about information and pressure and about secrets and deals to keep secrets. He knew that in politics know­ledge was power.

And so, a.s he ordered his aides to find out everything about Judith Campbell, he was secure in the knowledge that, when he had found out everything, John F. Kennedy, whatever his prior intentions, would accept that J. Edgar Hoover was the only man in America fit to control the FBI. And, in that sense, a little bit of history would be changed simply because JFK had an eye for too pretty a girl.

And so the investigation com­menced and it led back to the neutral world of show business where crime and authority mingle and communicate. At the top of that world was Frank Sinatra.

New girl in The Clan

In 1959, Sinatra was 43. He was at the height of his fame. He had been divorced from Ava Gardner in 1953-after a stormy marriage and, after such films as From Here to Eternity and The Man witli the Golden Arm, he was one of Holly­wood's hottest properties.

The world of pop and rock had not yet arrived to shake his supremacy as the biggest selling singer of all time. His records were bought by the million. He was enor­mously rich and, to a complete gene­ration who had fallen in love to the sound of his voice, he was the most romantic figure in the whole world of show business.

Sinatra was then famous as the leader of the Rat Pack, a group he had taken: over from Humphrey Bogart when he died. The character and complexity of this clique changed when Sinatra became its leader ... and it was swiftly renamed The Clan.

Sinatra liked his entourage around him at all times. The inner circle were chartea- members of The Clan } actor Peter Lawford, and singers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and comedian Joey .Bishop.. Around ; them were less known hangers-on and on hand all the time were thre« or. four .very pretty 'and attractive girls. It was notorious in Hollywood how their faces changed but such was the glamour particularly in Conversation.' says . her first husband, actor Billy Campbell.
'I'm not saying she was dumb-but she was no great intellectual either.'

Laughs, and a gentle love*

In any case it must have been very difficult to converse in normal con­versational style with members of The Clan. They had developed a hip language all of their own, which was part compounded of jazz musicians' jive talk and Hollywood Jewish slang. They made much of this in the films that they were later to appear in together and it certainly must have gone over Judith Camp­bell's head.

Sinatra played the romantic lover to Judith Campbell in Hawaii practically singing her into his bedroom. She says of that first week that he was a kind and gentle lover . . . and the whole trip looked as though it would be the most idyllic time of her life.

The weather was perfect, the hotel service superb, there were lots of laughs and drinks and wonderful dinners.

It was during this stay in Hawaii that Judith Campbell must have first become aware of the Kennedys. Peter Lawford and his wife, Pat, who was Kennedy's sister, were never far from Sinatra's side.

Neither Lawford nor his wife treated Judith Campbell with much interest or respect. To them she was just another of Prank's girls.

And not everything was pleasant on that vacation. Sinatra was a man of many moods and his dark side was vicious and frightening. Lawford, she realised, was his acolyte ... one description of that weekend suggests he was a whipping boy for Sinatra. But Sinatra was always respectful to Lawford's wife.

Pat Lawford was intensely proud 61 her brother and talked about her to other members of 'The Clan'. Even they were ready to listen for Kennedy was something special as a politician.

When  the   Presidential year  of 1960 opened, Kennedy was clearly a leading Democratic candidate, though not the leading one. Never­theless, it seemed as though he had a good chance of winning and Sinatra, through his friendship with the Lawfords, decided that he would become involved in politics himself and support Kennedy.

Kennedy was the most glamorous candidate and the richest and Sinatra was anxious to support this new friend for the prestige and ex­citement that the campaign would generate for him. Judith Campbell recalls that, while in bed with Sinatra—she was a frequent guest in his Palm Springs home at that time—he would muse out loud about Kennedy and his chances of winning the election. 'He is my friend and I know how to help my friends,' he used to say.

But it was not easy being Frank Sinatra's girl. The singer always a moody and mercurial man, at that time of his life swiftly tired of regular female companionship. Sometimes, he was obviously bored with Judith Campbell and virtually ignored her. Other times he was generous, tolerant and dedicated. Certainly she felt he was an ego­maniac but she still liked his charm.

What brought their affair to an end was a quarrel over sex. Her version is that, during the time Sinatra first romanced her, he was a gentle and considerate lover and she was very happy with him. But, she claimed, as she became more accepted into his circle, Sinatra wanted to experiment in ways which did not appeal to her. This led to tears and quarrels. She found this totally distressing and decided that she could no longer continue on the same basis with him.

Farce and intrigue

However, it may be that Sinatra simply tired of her. He had met the dancer, Juliet Prowse, at that time and she was beginning to replace Judith Campbell in the circle. In any event, they agreed to split but remained 'friends.'

It had been a useful interlude for her. Sinatra's patronage and influ­ence was enormous in Hollywood and through him she had met most of the establishment names that counted in Los Angeles. She had become known. She was photo­graphed and quoted in the gossip columns of the time, as Sinatra's 'regular date' often being described-as an actress.

So the Sinatra episode opened up her social life and, in early 1960, she was dating, dancing and dining virtually every night at some Holly­wood party or other.

And, although she was no longer the number one girl, she was still accepted as a fringe member of the Sinatra circle.

After all, she was a pretty girl to have around and Sinatra liked lots of pretty girls, so he kept in touch with her.

At that time, virtually the whole of The Clan were appearing in Las Vegas while they were making the film Oceans 11 there. At weekends, their friends would fly out from Los Angeles for the parties and the shows and Judith Campbell was one of those invited to make this week­end pleasure pilgrimage.

It was on one of these trips that she met the man who was to become the President of the United States. The man who introduced her was Prank Sinatra.

The date was February 7, 1960. It would start in farce with an over-eager Teddy Kennedy trying to get into Judith Campbell's bedroom and end in intrigue with Jack Kennedy deciding that he would like to know more about her.

Vegas, a city of vigorous vulgarity, had sprouted out of bleak desert sands for one purpose only ... to was rooted in the Nevada decision to make gambling legal ... the only State in the Union to take this decision. But since the silver mines, which were the State's only income, were hardly viable, gambling was the only way Nevada could survive.

After the Second World War, Vegas began to expand at almost visual speed. Huge, garish hotels, decorated to an almost decadent level of opulence, sprang out of the desert —each with its own casino. And to . go with the gambling were swim­ming pools, dude ranches, good restaurants, round-the-clock drink-tag and lavish floorshows. Nevada . . . the last true Western frontier State in America . . . turning its back totally on Yankee Puritanism, registered another first, in legalising prostitution, and the city that was built for pleasure alone, was com­plete.

Imagine fifty Monte Carlos rolled into one, with French elegance replaced by vulgar but good hum­oured American slickness and you have Vegas.

Into this city early in February ' 1960 came the Democratic candi­date for the Presidency of the United States, Senator .John Fitz­gerald Kennedy, known to his friends as Jack. With him, then 28 years old, was his youngest brother, Edward, known as Teddy. Their host, who had promised them a good and relaxing time as a break from the campaign trail, was Francis Albert Sinatra, known to the world as Frank.

The Kennedys were coming to town for both business and plea­sure. Sinatra would help with both. They were fund-raising for cam­paign cash . . . and when the poli­ticking was over they would relax and have fun.

The Senator addressed a meeting for nearly six hundred people in the city's convention centre. He went to a select cocktail party where several dozen wealthy Democrats—casino and hotel people — met him and wrote suitable cheques. He was no stranger to Vegas having made three or four trips there over the previous couple of years. And the contributions to his campaign funds were not unhealthy. So much for business.

The good time began on a Sunday evening. Frank Sinatra was busy in the lounge of the Sands Hotel in­troducing the Senator and his friends. There was a crowd of push­ing show business czars and busi­nessmen and musicians and pretty girls. One of them was Judith Campbell. She was given the big Introduction and then found herself  having   dinner with  the  two Kennedys and the Lawfords.

It was Teddy who tried to monopolise her, joking and chatting and giving her mean­ingful glances. But, as she was to admit, it was Jack Kennedy who fascinated her.

Kennedy had a politician's talent for making anyone to whom he was talking seem the most important person in the world. But, in partic­ular, he could do this to a woman.

When he came to Las Vegas, he was fit- and tanned from Florida sunshine . . . the rigours of the cam­paign had not yet taken their toll ... he was amusing as all the Ken­nedys were, and he was as cool and relaxed as Teddy Kennedy was pushy.

Nevertheless, when dinner was over, Judith Campbell left with Teddy Kennedy. He had asked her to 'show him. the town' and this she was happy to do.

One plays one's luck all night long In Vegas . . . and if it doesn't run well on one set of tables then vou move to the next . . . this is known as casino hopping . . . and that's what Teddy Kennedy and Judith Campbell did that night until the ; early hours of the morning.

Naturally, he insisted on escorting her back to her room. And, once there, it didn't take him long to get inside. But, according to Judith Campbell's account of the evening, he was a nuisance rather than a menace and it wasn't'too much of a problem to sweet talk him into 'being a good little boy'.

Teddy Kennedy grudgingly left her room. He was going to Colorado on the morning plane and, on an inspiration, asked her to come with him. Of course it was impossible she told him. So Teddy, with his plane to catch, went dashing off to the airport and Judith Campbell fell into bed and a deep sleep.

She wasn't to stay that way for long. Barely an hour later she was woken up by an insistent telephone. It was Teddy Kennedy again insist­ing that she should come with him to Denver. It was important for the campaign, he argued; they would have a lot of fun. Judith Campbell couldn't have known whether to be flattered or angry. But, once again, she laughed the whole thing off and Teddy Kennedy went to Denver alone.

Judith Campbell went back to sleep again, hardly giving Teddy Kennedy another thought. The man on her mind was his brother, Jack, the Presidential candidate. With his charm and sex appeal, he would figure in the minds ff millions of American women during that elec­tion year and their votes would help him towards the White House.

It seemed that Judith Campbell had only been asleep a few minutes when the phone rang once more. In fact it was midday and the voice on the phone said 'Hi . , . this is Jack Kennedy. I'd very much like us to have lunch.' It was the start of the affair.

TOMORROW: Secret rendezvous with Kennedy in New York's Plaza Hotel, Then a party in Miami with the most feared man in the underworld.

The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 2
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 3
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 4

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