Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist


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The President, The Lady and Godfather

A STORY OF INTRIGUE AND CORRUPTION AT THE CENTRE OF POLITICAL POWER

Daily Mail 21st September 1976

Douglas Thompson, Dermot Purgavie, Peter Greig and Jeri Elrod

Kennedy's campaigns were going well. By day in the New Hampshire Primary. By night in the New York Plaza...

SO FAR:

THIS story is about two of the most powerful men in the world, the President of the United States and the Mafia's Godfather of Godfathers Sam Giancana.

It is about their links through show business with the biggest star in America, Frank Sinatra.

Above all, it is about the woman who was the companion of all three of them at the same time, Judith Campbell (now Mrs Exner), the beautiful, restless daughter of a wealthy Irish-American family.

After a failed marriage to an actor, Judith Campbell was part of the swinging crowd that circles Hollywood's elite. The fun-seeking young divorcee, became a fringe member of The Clan, Sinatra's glamorous jet-set, and eventually became his girl-friend and lover. And it was Sinatra, at a Las Vegas party in February I960, who introduced her to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. The next day, her bedside 'phone rang. It was Kennedy asking for a date. The affair was on.

IN FEBRUARY 1960, Jack Kennedy was still the outsider in the U.S. Presidential race. He was young, just 42, and, if he won, he would be the youngest President ever in American history/That was a mark against him. He was Irish and he was Catholic. These were even bigger marks against him.

But he had many things going for him. He was attractive to women while still remaining a man's man. He had what was later to be labelled 'charisma' but in Hollywood terms was pure, old-fashioned sex appeal.

He had a beautiful wife, the former Jacqueline Bouvier, and a charming little daughter. On the surface, it seemed a perfect marriage and that was another big political plus for Jack Kennedy.

And most of all he had a ruthless and incredibly wealthy father behind him, a man with a sense of dynasty who had planned for decades that a Kennedy would get into the White House.

That plan was to come to fulfil­ment in that election, though the man to do it was not the original candidate. Kennedy senior had always intended his eldest son, Joe, to become America's first Irish Catholic President. But Joe was killed in the war and the mantle fell on Jack Kennedy.

He was competitive, like the rest of his family, and he had the Irish genius for politics. He had a good brain and he could win loyalty from a team. But Jack's attention could wander; he could be easily distrac­ted unless forced to work.

His father forced him . . . but he could not from a public relations P9int of view be seen constantly at his son's side. He warned, however, time and time again, on the dangers of distraction. Perhaps the best example of how easily Jack could be distracted with his easy going Irish ways has only recently been revealed.

It concerned his wartime career. He had entered the Navy, despite poor health, and ended uo as a patrol boat commander in the Pacific. His boat, the PT 109, was sunk in combat with a Japanese destroyer and the story of how Jack Kennedy had rescued his crew and eventually saved their lives was as well known in America as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. There was a reason for this. His father, 'Ambassador' Joe Kennedy, had arranged to have his version of the story published in a number of national magazines ... and Kennedy had become a hero.

That was how he was seen when he entered the Presidential race in 1960. It was not until many years after his death when wartime classifled documents were released that a different complexion was put on the story.

It wasn't that Kennedy was a coward. It was just that he was not a very alert or efficient FT boat commander. The documents reveal that PT 109 was sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagari be­cause Kennedy was not keeping sufficiently alert watch and had allowed some members of his crew to sleep while in the middle of a combat zone.

Kennedy had been relaxing and chatting, running slowly and leisurely through enemy waters on a very dark night when he spotted the Amagari ... it was only a few hun­dred yards away and Kennedy could not muster enough speed to avoid it. He was rammed and his boat sank almost at once.

It was that fatal distraction which    caused    the    sinking though few people in America except his closest family and friends knew that in I960.

These friends knew also that there was always a risk of distrac­tion throughout the campaign . . . and it would most likely be with an attractive girl. For Kennedy had an eye for women and liking; for their company. His advisers accepted this, as long as the women could not damage him politically and would not distract him from his main purpose to win the Presidency.

And, now. after his weekend with his friend Prank Sinatra in Ve^as, Kennedy was feeling the need for distraction. He had liked the dark haired girl he and his brother had met the night before. She was sophisticated and well bred. She clearly had some Irish blood and that appealed to him. And he was interested . . . his curiosity was insatiable ... in just what her relationship was with the Sinatra crowd.

Besides, Kennedy always performed better when his personal chemistry was turned on by an admiring woman. He was due to give a Press conference in the Sands Hotel, ' a rather boring repeat performance of many other such affairs, and he wanted someone to perform to in the audience. So he rang Judith Campbell, asked her to lunch and then as an afterthought said : 'I've got to give a Press confer­ence first down by the pool, why not meet me there ? '

When Judith Campbell nervously walked into the Press conference, Kennedy broke off what he was saying, grinned at her and said 'Hi Judy, I'll be right with you when we finish.'

It was the kind of audacious thing he would do. He worked on the principle of being open. So, when the conference was over, he walked over to the new woman who had interested him and charmed her and joked with one or two of the reporters.

It was a perfectly safe thing to do. Because of his charm and boy­ish film star looks, there would often be more women than men in his audience and far more women than men in the groups of campaign workers slaving day and night to win him the nomination. So the Press were used to seeing him with smart, attractive females and never suspicious ; a fact which would make Kennedy secretly laugh.

He decided that day that he wanted to know all about Judith Campbell and he told her that he had borrowed the patio of Frank Sinatra's suite, which was much more intimate that the restaurant, and there they would be able to talk through lunch.

A close friend of Judith Campbell has said that it was at this lunch that her feelings for Jack Kennedy 'intensified'.

It was understandable. She had his undivided attention. The mood was right. He was flattering and attentive. He would, as he always did, persuade her to talk about her­self. And they had much in common, . their Catholicism, their Irish blood.

She would tell Kennedy about the private lives and gossip of the Hollywood stars, which always fas­cinated him. 'He could never get enough gossip,' she would say later-And he would tell her something of politics, about which she knew nothing. And, naturally, they would talk about Teddy. His antics the night before certainly made Kennedy laugh. Particularly as he, the elder brother, was sitting lunching with the pretty girl involved while Teddy was already back at work on the campaign.

This would not be their only conversation about Teddy ; and Jack, according to her agent Scott Meredith, would several times express doubts about Teddy Ken­nedy's fitness for really responsible political office.

There's a great deal of politics in American showbusiness and even more showbusiness in American, politics. Once every four years, it all comes out into the open in a Presidential campaign. The atmo­sphere is heady and vibrant with excitement and glamour.

In Las Vegas that night, the Hollywood Democrats had taken Jack Kennedy tp their hearts. Some of the leading party workers, such as Gloria Cahn, the wife of songwriter Sammy Cahn, were not overly pleased to see Judith Camp­bell as the centre of the Senator's attentions. After all, she was not a political worker . . . she wasn't even a Democrat and knew nothing about political affairs. Imperiously, Gloria Cahn swept the Senator away, giv­ing Judith Campbell a look of triumph as she did so.

But later that night, the candidate and his new found friend were dis­covered sitting in a private booth watching the floor show at the Copa Room. Afterwards they were seen having a farewell drink before the candidate flew off to carry on with the campaign.

The next day, Judith Campbell was back in Beverly Hills. A florist delivered a dozen red roses . . . from Jack. She went out and bought Kennedy's two books Why England Slept and Profiles in Courage. That evening, Jack Kennedy telephoned and they talked for a long time.

That was the first of many such calls. He phoned from icy New -Hampshire where the first primary was taking place. He phoned from the Deep South where the religious bigotry of the Southern Democrats would force them to vote Republican rather than support a Catholic from their own party. He phoned from New York and he phoned from Washington whenever he was there, which was not often.

What all this meant to Kennedy, we do not fully know. It was the .start of a new affair, a distraction to stop him getting bored with repeating the same speech and eating the same bland political dinner in a different city each night —that was for sure. But how deep it went, no one knows. Probably not very deep. Kennedy had enormous surface warmth and charm. But underneath he was not desperately concerned with establishing deep, emotional relationships with women.

He did not get married until he was 36 and his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy was working mainly because she had her own interests and did not object to giving him his freedom to run an Irish political life whatever that entailed.

If it entailed long nights of drinking and talking with the Irish political gang around him ... all well and good. If it involved girl chasing, as long as it was handled discreetly and with style and she was not humiliated it seemed that Mrs Kennedy was not prepared to make this an open issue.

In any case, Jack was running true to family form. His father had been notorious as a ladies' man and spent long periods away from his wife and family with various mistresses . . yet it never affected the family. It did affect his son, in the sense that he never valued women's friendship as much as he jJid men's.

Women were decorative and merely to be used ; in this sense Kennedy was a male chauvinist pig before the term was invented. But he certainly knew how to sweep a woman off he. But what this meant to Judith Campbell was something entirely different. Pew women could fail to be overcome by the attentions of America's most glamorous politician.

Kennedy had made it clear by his flowers and phone calls that he in­tended that they should have a long friendship. True, he was married . . but then so were many men and Judith Campbell knew ... or thought she knew . . . how to be discreet.

The sense that she, out of two hundred million people in America watching Kennedy, had this secret intimacy with him was overwhelm­ing. The fact that, in the middle of this great political battle, he would stop and telephone her was flatter­ing to the point of exhilarating madness.

He would tell her how much he missed her. How much she interested him. He would say he was tired or elated depending on how that day's campaigning had gone. He told her how to find him any time of the night and day by routine calls through his secretary, Evelvn Lincoln.

It was clearly only a matter of time before they met for a secret rendezvous and it took place in the Plaza Hotel in New York exactly one month after their first meeting.

It was there that they became lovers. It was also on the eve of the New Hampshire Primary, where a Kennedy victory would begin the winning streak which would elevate him to the favourite candidate posi­tion and eventual nomination. But that night, according to Judith Campbell, politics was not the big­gest priority on his mind.

If it had been no more than that ... a date with a pretty girl in New York's best hotel, to ease the tension on the eve of a vitally important ballot . . . there would be no story. Politicians are no strangers to sexual interludes as necessary escapist therapy. Ken­nedy was no exception and it is now known that he had more than his share of this kind of escapitm. But this episode was different.

Different because of the outside interest in it, about which Kennedy knew nothing. Different because of the strange timing which led to the extraordinary love triangle of Presi­dent, Mafia Godfather and Judith Campbell. It is important to study the dates.

From that meeting on March 7, 1960 in the Plaza Hotel, where she and Jack Kennedy became lovers for the first time and began an affair which would last over two years, Judith Campbell. went on to Miami, Florida. There two weeks later, she would meet another man who would show enormous interest in her. A man who would flatter her, offer her expensive gifts and arrange for her to fly all over the country whenever she chose.

Swingers and hell-raisers

That man was Sam Giancana, head of the Chicago crime syndicate, number one in the Mafia, the God­father of Godfathers. The mutual friend who would introduce this sinister and deadly suitor to Judith Campbell was the same man who had introduced her to Jack Kennedy —the singer Prank Sinatra.

Sinatra and The Clan were now the biggest thing in American entertainment. The whole concept of an irreverent gang of swingers . . . devil-may-care hell-raisers . , . who defied all establishment think­ing, had been taken up by the media in a big way. And now Sinatra and his friends were exploit­ing their fame in a business sense ; they had made Oceans II and from that had evolved a stage act. It was opening in Miami in the second half of March, and as usual Sinatra wanted all his friends, acquaint­ances and hangers-on around him for the big night.

Among those invited was Judith Campbell. She was still friendly with Sinatra and her access to him was very important for her position :'n the 'Who's in ? Who's out ?' world of show business in which she moved.

One evening in Miami, she nad a quiet drink with Sinatra and he introduced her to a man called Joe Pish. A seemingly insignificant man, Fish, whose real name was FischeLti, had one real claim to fame He was a cousin of the late Al Capoiie, America's most famous mobster.

A few days later Judith Campbell went to another party in the Fon-tainebleau Hotel. There Sinatra was the centre of attention. Joe Pish was beside him and drew Sinatra's attention to her arrival.

A witness to that party recalls that Prank Sinatra called out to Judith Campbell : 'Hey Judy, come over here ... I want you to meet a good friend.'

That good friend was a small, balding, bespectacled man with black glittering eyes. He wore a, dark silk suit, very expensive.

Judith Campbell says he was, introduced to her by Frank Sinatra as Sam Flood.

It was quite a meeting. Flood had a particular style with women. He was one of those men who holds on to hands and peers deeply into eyes.

'It's a -great pleasure to meet you Judy,' he said 'A very real pleasure.'

He had got her hand now with no Intention of letting go. There was a silence while he continued to look at her, his eyes unblinking, but the smile quite wide.

'Do you mind if I say something to you, Judy ?'
Judith Campbell said she didn't think that she really minded at all.
Sam Flood laughed. He spoke in a rasping rather quiet voice almo.it as if out of the side of his mouih.
You're far too beautiful to be wearing junk — excuse me — I mean costume jewellery.' He paused. 'A beautiful girl like you should be wearing real pearls and diamonds and rubies.'

Judith Campbell recalls that she said something smart like : 'A girl like me sometimes does.'
'No offence, please,' he said.   'Real pleasure meeting you. Hope to see you again soon.'
If that seems like a scene from a very bad pre-war gangster movie, it only underlines its authenticity.

Sam Flood was one of the many aliases used by Sam Giancana, the Chicago Godfather. He was the most dominant and feared man in the American criminal underworld. Never mind if he sounded like a poor actor in 'B' picture gangster movies. He knew he was the real thing and so did the people around him.

And the point to remember about this exchange and all the future exchanges which would take place during their curious courtship is that Giancana and others like him did behave with an unctuous gallan­try towards women. They had an image to live up to ; it was part compounded of Hollywood's Cagney projection and part of their own ideas of old world Sicilian courtesy.

But, if the words and the actions seem ludicrous, they would not necessarily appear so to Judith Campbell. Firstly, she moved mainly in showbusmess circles and many people in the world of entertain­ment talked like that. All the old time movie moguls, Goldwyn, Mayer and Harry Conn would flatter their stars with equally overblown com­pliments.

Sam, the prime suspect

And, secondly, though the words might be banal, the man speaking them was clearly not. records as 'in charge of the rough stuff department for Tony Accardo,' the then Mafia boss of Chicago. In 1953, Giancana and Accardo were 'holding conferences in Reno and Las Vegas with other kingpins of the national syndicate.'

In 1956, he was proclaimed 'en­forcer' during a dinner party at the Tarn O'Shanter Country Club. Accardo, who had twice been almost killed by unknown gunmen, was ready to abdicate. Within a year Giancana was number one.

As the Godfather of the Chicago crime syndicate, Giancana was the Managing Director of an enormous crime business . . . and responsible for its day-to-day success.

He ruled over area bosses right down to street corporals in the heart of the slum side of the city. All these executives took their cut of the vast profits of crime and passed on the bulk to the organisation.

It has been estimated that the work force under the control of the Mafia's Chicago family was more than 50,000 men. They consisted of hoodlums, and accountants, burglars and counterfeiters, hijackers, drug pushers, chemists, loansharks, pimps, prostitutes, union bosses, businessmen, theatre and nightclub workers, bookmakers, crooked judges and police.

The Mafia revenue from Cook County, the area around Chicago, was estimated by the Federal authorities to be in excess of two billion dollars annually. Giancana's cut was believed to be one million dollars a week.

This made Giancana the most powerful arch-criminal in the world. Where New York rackets were divid­ed among four or five separate organisations, Giancana was the ruler of a single syndicate with interests extending as far west as Hawaii.

A man o£ many interests

His immediate perimeter stretched from Cleveland to Kansas City, from Hot Springs to New Orleans. Trusted lieutenants operated lucra­tive rackets in Florida, the West Indies, Arizona, Nevada and California.

This was the man who, within a few days of meeting her, would go out of the way to woo Judith Camp­bell. He would pull strings and a friend would persuade her to liave dinner with him. At that dinner, he would turn on his charm and his power and tell her that she must become his good friend.

She did not know who he was, but she had been around Holly­wood long enough to know that he was not an underwear manu­facturer from Ohio.

He was clearly a man of many interests. And now one of his biggest interests was to be Judith Campbell.

Why ? Because she was young and attractive ? Or because he already knew that she had started an affair with a man who could become the next President of the United States?

The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 1
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 3
The President, The Lady and Godfather Part 4

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