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07.24.09

Kennedy Fantasies

The new book Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story, which claims the two Kennedys had an affair, relies on a dead witness, improbable happenstance, and a view into the Kennedy compound that was physically impossible.

When C. David Heymann was invited to call in to Howard Stern’s Sirius show on the morning of July 22, it seemed like a match made in heaven—shock-jock Stern takes a prurient interest in celebrity sex, and Heymann is a biographer of four books about the Kennedy family that have gotten massive media attention for depicting the Kennedy men as essentially a band of porn stars who, in their clothed moments, dabble in politics.

A few of Heymann’s more colorful biographical claims: Bobby Kennedy was seen making out with Rudolf Nureyev in a phone booth, JFK prepared for the Kennedy-Nixon debates by nailing a hooker (an event that apparently was so gratifying that afterward he swung the used condom around like a lasso for an aide to see), and John Kennedy Jr. totally getting in on with a bunch of gay dudes.

Stern, however, had invited Heymann on to discuss the tome he released this month, Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. Stern made a conversational beeline to perhaps the book’s most explosive claim—that Jackie and Bobby had been witnessed en flagrante on the lawn of the Kennedy’s Palm Beach estate in 1964.

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Heymann had little trouble adapting to the argot of the show. “Well, Mary Harrington, who’d been a girlfriend of Bobby’s, told me that story,” Heymann said. “She was visiting someone in Palm Beach, overlooking the Kennedy estate, and saw Bobby and Jackie coming out of the house. [Jackie] was topless, and they went out into the garden and [Bobby] began fingering her.”

Stern was impressed with Heymann. “This guy’s got some credibility,” Stern marveled. “Three Pulitzer prizes.” Heymann didn’t bother correcting Stern by telling him that his dust jacket biography actually describes him as “a three-time Pulitzer nominee,” not winner. And actually, nominee means nothing since anyone can send their book in for consideration. Since the early '80s, the Pulitzer Committee has announced “Nominated Finalists” for the award and Heymann’s books have never been recognized as such.

Instead, Stern helped the “Pulitzer-nominated” Heymann publicize a book whose most salacious bit came from an alleged Bobby Kennedy ex who is now dead and, according to a trusted local real-estate agent, could not have witnessed the tryst from any possible vantage point near that Florida compound.

That sure seemed like the old C. David Heymann I’d gotten to know. Back in 1999, I’d written a story about Heymann for the New York Observer. Just after John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane was lost en route to his cousin’s wedding in Hyannisport, Heymann emerged onto the scene via a Cindy Adams’ cover story in the New York Post headlined, “He Did Not Want To Fly.”

John Kennedy, Heymann told Adams, had confessed to him 10 days before the fateful flight that he didn’t want to drop Lauren Bessette in Martha’s Vineyard before heading to Hyannisport, but his wife was forcing the issue. So the Bessette sisters immediately became cast as the heavies in the tragedy.

There was one very obvious question nobody bothered to ask: Why in God’s name was John Kennedy Jr. talking to C. David Heymann, who had already included in his work some ugly innuendos about Kennedy’s family?

When I asked to meet Heymann, he was more than happy to suggest a cocktail at the Madison Pub, the place he said Kennedy had invited him, wanting to meet the writer of A Woman Named Jackie, a book he deemed “balanced.” Heymann told me John hounded him to write a piece for George on Heymann’s experiences as a Mossad agent, that Kennedy had given Heymann some “Tiffany gold” as a wedding present, and how they had double-dated.

“There was virtually no way anyone could see inside that property,” says the Sotheby’s listing agent for the property. The entire property was walled at the time.

The problem was, just a little digging revealed Kennedy had never been to that restaurant where Heymann said they'd dined together and nobody at George had ever heard Heymann’s name. Perhaps most damning, though, a source close to Kennedy told me Lauren Bessette had only decided to catch the lift with JFK Jr. five days after Heymann supposedly had the heart-to-heart that Adams had turned into a Page One story.

All that comes on top of a 1982 incident in which Random House was forced to pulp 58,000 copies of his book about Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton because of a factual error. It probably also didn't help his case that a handwriting expert pronounced as fakes the journals Heymann said Barbara Hutton had given to him.

Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau ended up investigating Heymann.

The source for the Bobby-on-Jackie diddling scoop is, conveniently, dead. The woman who allegedly spied it is one Mary Harrington, who Heymann describes as “a well-known and well-connected socialite.” But as Heymann notes in his RFK biography, she died in 1997, a year before he first used any quotes from her.

What’s easier to check is the story about Harrington—or anyone else for that matter—being able to see anything on the lawn of the former Kennedy Palm Beach estate.

In Heymann’s telling of the event, around Christmas 1964, Harrington—whom Heymann claims had her own affair with RFK—coincidently happened to be staying next door to the estate, and from her third-floor window could see the Kennedy lawn. “[T]here,” Heymann writes, “sunbathing in the grass next to the house, was Jacqueline Kennedy, wearing a black bikini bottom and no top. A door opened and out walked Bobby Kennedy in a white swimsuit. He approached Jackie and knelt by her side. ‘As they began to kiss,’ said Harrington, ‘he placed one hand on her breast and the other inside her bikini bottom.’”

There’s one major problem with this story. “There was virtually no way anyone could see inside that property,” says Ned Monell, who was the Sotheby’s listing agent for the property when the Kennedys sold the place in 1995. The entire property, Monell says, was walled at the time.

The only possible place where Harrington could have been staying was at a beach shack on the adjoining property to the south, which sat about 10 feet lower than the Kennedy residence. Monell says that owing to the heavy vegetation planted around the house, she would have been unable to see anything on the lawn.

Heymann chose not to return messages left with his publisher, Atria Books. Neither Atria’s publisher, Judith Curr, nor its editorial director Emily Bestler would comment on how much vetting they did before signing Heymann up to write a book for the Simon and Schuster imprint.

What, I wondered, if anything, did they knew about Heymann before assigning his 2007 book on Caroline and John Kennedy Jr., American Legacy, a book that curiously did not quote any of the taped interviews with John Kennedy Jr. that Heymann professed to possess?

Nor would the publicist answer if anyone within Simon and Schuster had even done a Google search on the name “C. David Heymann” considering that the very first citation would be a link to my 1999 piece about him.

“We don’t comment on our editorial process, but we are very pleased with how the publication of the book has proceeded,” is all Atria publicist Christine Saunders could offer.

Andrew Goldman is a contributing editor at Elle and New York magazine, where he writes about entertainment, politics, and culture. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Robin and son Henry.