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Everyone knows about John F. Kennedy’s public life—his family pedigree, his ascent to the presidency, his “Ask not” imperative, his sparkle of hope for the nation and world, his lofty aspirations cut tragically short.
Everyone knows about Kennedy’s private life, too—his controlling father, his not-so-rosy marriage, his incorrigible womanizing, his playboy parties, his crippling back pain.
Indeed, aside from that great eternal mystery of Dallas, it seems everyone knows everything there is to know about JFK.
But there is one stone left unturned.
In this explosive collection of handwritten love letters—never before seen in their entirety since they were penned more than a half-century ago—a new facet of Jack Kennedy is revealed. It is a tender side, heartfelt and sincere, hopelessly romantic, naïve even, while his bright star was still on the rise and before universal fame came to dim and pollute, turning him callous and insatiable in his lust for conquests.
This Jack stole but one kiss from a young Swedish beauty and yet never forgot her. This Jack went to the trouble six months later of locating her in Stockholm from an ocean away and initiating an intimate correspondence that would continue for a year and a half until, at long last, they could be reunited for a one-week “brief, shining moment” of smitten bliss. This Jack was willing to risk it all—his political aspirations, his marriage, his family name—for the airy dream of what might’ve been with the svelte Swede he would affectionately call “Gorilla,” “Dearest Gunilla,” and “my Swedish flicka.”
It all started in August 1953, just weeks before the 35-year-old Senator Kennedy’s wedding to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. Vacationing on the French Riviera, he made the acquaintance of Gunilla von Post, a 21-year-old blonde siren with aristocratic roots, and he fell in love with her. They had eyes only for each other as they dined, danced and later kissed—fairy-tale-style—with the stars shimmering on the Mediterranean Sea. As far as von Post knew, she’d enjoyed a magical evening with a fun-loving American prince and would never see his tousled hair and jaunty smile again. But this Jack came calling … and writing. He pursued her despite the daily demands of public service and newlywed nesting, and even despite a near-death experience on the operating table. No obstacle was too great to bar the soon-to-be King Arthur from courting his beguiling Lady of the Lake.
Now, for the very first time, this deeply buried time capsule of Kennedy’s eleven letters and three telegrams to his Swedish muse, Gunilla von Post, is being unearthed and made publicly available. All told, the fourteen correspondences recount the entire story of their improbable, long-distance love affair. Contained within the eleven handwritten missives and envelopes (all of which are addressed in the fallen statesman’s own hand) are a total of 15 Kennedy signatures. Ten of the letters are signed “Jack”; one (the first) is signed “John Kennedy”; one has an internal quasi-signature of his father’s name “J.P. Kennedy”; two of the envelopes are signed “J. Kennedy” in the return address; and one envelope (the first) is initialed “JFK.” The letters begin on blank pages but eventually shift to official Senate stationery, with the archive averaging Excellent condition as a whole. The text and signatures rate “9-10” in strength. Each of the eleven letters is accompanied by an LOA from John Reznikoff of University Archives. Additional accompanying pieces include: a signed hardback copy of Love, Jack, von Post’s 1997 memoir in which she finally broke her forty-four-year silence (following Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s death) and in which she described and minimally excerpted from these correspondences without ever publishing them for full view; and a DVD of von Post’s 1997 interviews on 20/20, Extra and The Today Show.
In view of its size, scope, substance and significance, this offering stands out as the most thrilling JFK discovery to emerge in some time and one that merits inclusion in the very finest private collection or museum, if not the John F. Kennedy Library itself.
LETTER 1 – 3/2/54: “Do you remember our dinner and evening together this summer at Antibes and Cagnes. How are you? – and what are you now doing in Paris, you said you were going to work for an airline. Do you – and do you fly to the United States. I expect to return to France in September. Will you be there? Best, John Kennedy c/o T.J. Reardon 3134 Dumbarton Avenue N.W. Washington D.C.”
In her book Love, Jack, Gunilla Von Post describes her reaction to this letter: “I looked at the envelope, postmarked March 2, 1954, and then at the return address handwritten in the upper-left corner: RM 362, JFK, Senate Office Bldg., Washington, D.C. … I was amazed and thrilled that Jack had written to me, that he had taken the time and trouble to look up our address in Stockholm. I fully intended to write him back, but in the meantime he had also found our telephone number and called the apartment, though unfortunately, when I wasn’t there … On the following Tuesday, I missed him again … Finally I sat down to write him, but in the midst of writing the letter, he called and I was home. ‘Gunilla? Is it you?’ The long-distance wires crackled, but I recognized that distinctive New England voice. I was flooded with the same warm feeling that I’d experienced upon seeing him sitting at the banquette at Le Château that past August.” (37, 39-40) Additionally, the mention of “T.J. Reardon” refers to Kennedy’s administrative assistant.
LETTER 2 – 6/28/54: “It now appears as though I shall be coming to Europe at the end of August. Will you be busy – or might it be possible to meet. What are you doing now. Will you stay there for the summer – or will you return to Cagnes. I thought I might get a boat and sail around the Mediterranean for two weeks – with you as crew. What do you think? Best, Jack.”
Again, von Post: “I allowed my imagination to run free. I saw the two of us, alone in a big, beautiful yacht, white sails fluttering in the wind, with the crystal azure of the Mediterranean lapping all around us. I longed to be close to him again, to feel that exciting intimacy that had been so intense at Cap d’Antibes. The boat, the blue water, the idea of Jack and me alone at sea was romantic beyond belief. I knew, however, that Jack had a wife and that I shouldn’t be having this dream. But every time I pushed this vision away, it crept back, invading my heart.” (42)
LETTER 3 – 8/16/54: “I was very glad to hear from you again. I still believe I shall come to Europe in the fall – and would like to be sure that you could leave Sweden and come to Paris – or perhaps go to the Cote d’Azur (sic) – Qu’est-ce que vous pense (sic)? Let me know – as I do not want to drift through Europe waiting for a message from the North that never comes. Best, Jack.”
In this letter, Kennedy dabbles with French, and his Senate stationery envelope (with pre-stamped free-frank signature) makes its first appearance.
TELEGRAM 1 – 9/3/54: “LEG INJURED AND HOSPITALIZED TRIP POSTPONED WILL WRITE MANY REGRETS - JOHN”
Sent from Hyannisport, this telegram mentions a leg injury but makes no mention of the serious back problems that will sideline Kennedy for much of the next six months.
LETTER 4 – 11/12/54: “I am still in the hospital after two months. I was terribly disappointed that at the last moment I was not able to come to Europe – especially when you were going to be in Paris – and we could have had such a good time. I expect to be here another month – then go back to Washington in January – we will finish there in July – and then without fail – I shall come over – if you are not all settled down by then. Is there any chance you will be coming to the U.S.? Best, Jack.”
This letter is postmarked through New York City’s Grand Central Station and provides the forwarding address of the Hospital for Special Surgery, where Kennedy nearly died when he fell into a coma after his three-hour spinal-fusion procedure.
LETTER 5 – 12/18/54: “I must say you are a good correspondent. Under that beautiful, controlled face that still haunts me – beats a warm heart. There is a nurse on this floor that comes from Sweden. But she is dark-black haired. I say to her how could you leave the Venice of the North. But she replies – New York is so much nicer. How can she think that. She must be French. Why do you not suggest to the Swedish Automobile Association that they send you to the U.S. to explain the beauties of driving through Sweden to American tourists – or why couldn’t your cousin have been minister to Washington instead of Warsaw. I leave here Tuesday – and then go to Palm Beach for two months to stay with my family to recover and then go back to Washington. We stay in session in Washington until the end of July and then I return to the mountains of Cagnes. Your Jack. I shall be c/o J.P. Kennedy Palm Beach Florida until March – afterward back in Washington.”
Kennedy’s sense of humor rings out in this most lively of the letters, as he makes a joke about his nurse being French and then teasingly prods Gunilla to ask her employer, the Swedish Royal Automobile Club, for a U.S. assignment (or, as it were, assignation). There are also notes in another hand on this letter as an apparent aid to deciphering Kennedy’s at-times cryptic penmanship. And Kennedy’s warmth toward his correspondent is increasingly apparent with the change from “Best, Jack” to “Your Jack.”
LETTER 6 – 3/12/55: “Many thanks for your letter. I was wondering what had become of you. I finally got out of the hospital for the 2nd time and for good – and expect to go back to Washington in another month. And there I shall look around for your friend – the Swedish Ambass. Daughter – why do you not come to visit her? When the Senate is finished at the end of July – I am going to Indo-China and Formosa. But first I am coming to Europe – Qu’est-ce que vous feriez? What town in Europe are you recommending to the users of the Swedish Royal Automobile Society. What is the best beach in Italy to sit for two weeks and watch the waves come in. If I join the Society – will they let you decide my trip. This time I shall not fail to come – and you? Best, Jack. Write me after April 11th at the Senate Office Bldg. – The Capitol Washington D.C.”
Postmarked from Palm Beach, where Kennedy recovered from his back surgery at his family’s home, this letter again features French and farce, as Kennedy now mentions joining Gunilla’s automobile club so that she can serve as his tour guide.
LETTER 7 – 6/25/55: “Many thanks for your letter. I was delighted to hear from you. Send me your picture standing in front of 45 Skyransgatan (sic). I expect to be finished here around the first of August – I thought I would come to Europe around the 12th. If you are in Sweden – I shall come there. There must be a beach in Sweden. If you go to Italy I shall come there. I should like to get a boat and sail around. Qu’est-ce que vous pensez? And then in September – I shall go to Vietnam and Japan sadly. Did you see in the paper that our friend – the cold, frozen Mr. Gavin Welby – got married to Mr. Churchill’s secy. Something must have happened. I have not met your friend – Mona Boheman as yet – but I am looking forward to asking her if she knows a beautiful Swedish girl with a quiet smile who lived on top of a mountain in the Cote d’Azur (sic) in August 1953. Jack.”
It was Gavin Welby who originally introduced Kennedy and von Post, and Mona Boheman was von Post’s friend and the daughter of the Swedish Ambassador to the United States. This letter begins the trend of Kennedy’s (somewhat boldly, considering the secretive content) using official Senate stationery. On the back of the envelope is a note in his hand, “Dear G. So let me know your schedule.” Also worth mentioning are the reference to Winston Churchill and the quite poetic conclusion about “a beautiful Swedish girl with a quiet smile who lived on top of a mountain in the Cote d’Azur (sic) in August 1953.”
LETTER 8 – 7/12/55: “Many thanks for your letter. My plans are your plans – so now instead of going to the warm Riviera – I am going to Sweden where the summers are, according to what you once wrote to me, ‘cold and damp.’ I thought I would leave here by boat around the 27th of July – and drive by car from Le Havre to Sweden and you. Is that possible? There seems to be a good deal of water in between. Get out all of your old Swedish Automobile Ass. maps and tell me how many miles I must drive and how long it will take – and how to go. If you should decide meanwhile to go to Italy, let me know as I do not want to be freezing in Scotland, while you are warm in Capri. If you want to go to Italy later in August – I will need someone to point out the right roads – so I will borrow you from the Royal Automobile Ass. So let me know your schedule for August again – Write soon – Jack – And don’t forget the photo.”
Of this letter, von Post writes in Love, Jack: “I finally convinced him that if we were to meet at all, it was going to be in Sweden. With some reluctance—and the usual undercurrents of complaints about Scandinavian weather—he capitulated by mail in July: ‘my plans are your plans’ … So I went immediately to the photo shop and had a copy made of a picture taken of me in front of Styrmansgatan and sent it, along with another snapshot of Visby, the site of my summer job.” (54)
LETTER 9 – 7/20/55: “I received your letter – and the picture of Visby and your photograph – which I liked best of all. I am now planning to come on the 29th of July on the Ile de France – which gets to Le Havre the 4th of August – or the 5th of August on the United States which gets in the 10th. Sweden must be more than 120 Swedish miles from Le Havre – or is a Swedish mile 5 times longer than anyone else’s mile? I assume you got to Stockholm to to meet your sister in August. Would you send me your address in Bastaad (sic) – and I will let you know exactly where I am. It is hot here – 101° - and I am anxious to leave and to see my Swedish friend. Jack.”
LETTER 10 – 7/22/55: “Everything is set. I leave on the United States on the 5th of August – in Le Havre the 10th and shall be in Bastaad (sic) on about the 12th - I think a friend will drive with me – could you get us two seperate (sic) rooms. I can’t read your Swedish very well – as to your address in Bastaad (sic) – but I’ll find you one way or another. Of that I am sure. Until we meet – Jack.”
The friend Kennedy mentions is his old chum Torby MacDonald.
TELEGRAM 2 – 8/10/55: “A BIENTOT - JACK.”
This brief but poignant French sentiment of “See you soon” was sent from aboard the USS United States en route to Sweden and to von Post, who recounts: “I was enormously touched. I also began to relax. This was the gesture of a man in love, the kind of thing that lovers do for each other, and I knew it down to my bones. Now I had less fear and apprehension.” (61) The week Kennedy and von Post spent together in Sweden was everything they had hoped for, full of passion, excitement and joy. In Love, Jack, von Post writes: “I have thought many times about that incredible moment when Jack returned to me, and wondered just what were all the elements that came together so magically to create such a once-in-a-lifetime occasion … Years later, when I learned the truth about his hospitalization and near-death in 1954, during the months he was writing and calling me as our long-distance courtship grew, I believe he genuinely thought he might never see me again. But he survived, and we did meet again, so it was even more precious. It was a miracle for both of us.” (65-66)
LETTER 11 – 8/22/55: “How are you? Did you survive the day on the farm – I must say you did not seem sad to see the last of MacDonald & myself – were you relieved? I just got word today – that my wife & sister are coming here. It will all be complicated the way I feel now – my Swedish flicka. All I have done is sit in the sun & look at the ocean & think of Gunilla… All love, Jack.”
Written in (symbolic) red ink from the French Riviera after his departure from Sweden, Kennedy opens this letter for the first time with “Dearest Gunilla” and ends with “All love, Jack.” He expresses insecurity about von Post’s feelings toward him, laments the arrival of his wife Jackie, reminisces fondly on his Swedish excursion, and calls von Post “my Swedish flicka.”
TELEGRAM 3 – 8/2?/55: WANT TO TALK TALK WITH YOU PLEASE CABLE ME HOTEL QUISISANA CAPRI WHERE I CAN REACH YOU MISS YOU LOVE. JACK.
With his wife and sister gone, Kennedy prevails upon von Post to come join him, but to no avail. He, too, returns to the U.S., where he tries to convince von Post by phone that she should move there, with the promises that he’ll get her a job as a model and that he’ll talk to his father about a divorce. In Love, Jack, she recounts what Kennedy told her in their ensuing conversation: “I said [to my father] that I’d fallen in love with you, and I didn’t think I could go on the way things are now. That I wanted to end my marriage so that I could be with you … He yelled at me, “You’re out of your mind. You’re going to be president someday. This would ruin everything. Divorce is impossible’ … He repeated something he’s been telling us all our lives. He said, ‘Can’t you get it into your head that it’s not important what you really are? The only important thing is what people think you are.’” (103)
Not long after, Kennedy calls and tells von Post that his wife is pregnant. When Jackie subsequently miscarries, von Post sends Kennedy her condolences and begins to move on with her life, getting married herself on July 18, 1956. Almost two years later, as destiny would have it, Kennedy and von Post attended the same April in Paris Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. “I hoped Jack would spot me,” von Post writes in Love, Jack, “but I was only one of many hundreds of faces there. The waiter was taking cocktail orders … I picked up one of the paper napkins that he had placed on the tablecloth for drinks, and I wrote on it, as clearly as I could: SWEDISH GORILLA SITTING IN FRONT OF YOU! … I folded it in half and gave it to the waiter, along with his pen. ‘Would you please give this to Mr. Kennedy?’ I asked … I saw Jack look up, smile, and take the napkin, which he unfolded and read in one movement. My heart was in my throat. Jack stood up as though a bolt of electricity was coursing through him, and then he scanned the tables for only an instant and spotted me. His grin was incandescent. Still standing, he gestured with his thumb, poking vigorously at the air and pointing toward the hallway to his right, and started walking to the exit, glancing back and making it clear that I was to follow. I gathered up my purse and ran toward the corridor … When I arrived outside in the hall, Jack stood alone, waiting for me. I wanted to rush into his arms, but this was a different place and time, and discretion ruled. Nevertheless, he embraced me quickly and kissed me on both cheeks. ‘It’s marvelous to see you,’ he said, looking into my eyes … He reached toward me and brushed the lock of hair from my forehead. No one saw us. He turned quickly and walked through the door into a room full of a thousand people.” (139-141)
And thus, after five years, the star-crossed, storybook romance of John F. Kennedy and Gunilla von Post had come to its natural end with a tender adieu.
John F. Kennedy & Gunilla von Post Timeline
(featuring references to all 14 pieces of correspondence included in this archive)
January 1953 – John F. Kennedy is sworn in as Massachusetts U.S. Senator
August 1953 – The 35-year-old Kennedy shares dinner, dancing and a moonlit seaside kiss with 21-year-old Swedish beauty Gunilla von Post while vacationing on the French Riviera.
September 1953 – Kennedy marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in Newport, Rhode Island.
March 1954 – Kennedy seeks out von Post’s Stockholm address and sends his first letter to her, suggesting they meet again either in the U.S. or France. He begins persistently telephoning her house from his Senate office (letter #1).
May 1954 – Kennedy’s chronic back pain flares up due to a collapsed vertebra, forcing him to rely more and more on crutches.
June 1954 – A second letter to von Post proposes that he charter a boat for two and they sail around together on the Mediterranean Sea (letter #2).
August 1954 – Kennedy reconfirms by mail that he’s planning a trip to Europe and that he wants desperately to see von Post. Meanwhile, he is advised by his physicians to undergo a risky spinal-fusion procedure (letter #3).
September 1954 – Von Post receives Kennedy’s telegram postponing their rendezvous due to “hospitalization.” (telegram #1)
October 1954 – Kennedy nearly dies during his surgery. He falls into a coma, is administered his last rites, and learns that he may not walk again.
November 1954 – Convalescing at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, Kennedy resumes contact with von Post. He expresses his disappointment over canceling their scheduled get-together and promises to come to Europe the following summer (letter #4).
December 1954 – Another letter reiterates Kennedy’s ardor and tells von Post to write to him in Palm Beach, where he’ll be recovering at his family’s home (letter #5).
February/March 1955 – Kennedy undergoes a second difficult back surgery and updates von Post that “he’s out of the hospital for the 2nd time and for good.” (letter #6)
June/July 1955 – The intimate correspondence continues with four Kennedy letters (all now on official Senate stationery) in which: they firm up the date of his arrival; Kennedy consents to von Post’s request that, instead of meeting at an Italian beach, he visit her at home in Sweden; and von Post responds to his request for photographs of herself. (letters # 7 to #10)
August 1955 – Two years after their unforgettable first evening together, Kennedy and von Post finally enjoy a week-long reunion of love and companionship. En route to her on the USS United States, Kennedy sends a romantic telegram in French: “A BIENTOT” (See you soon). Then, after his departure from Sweden, Kennedy writes to von Post from the French Riviera, calling her “Dearest Gunilla” and “my Swedish flicka,” inviting her to join him there once Jackie leaves his side to return to the States, and signing off for the first time, “All love, Jack.” When von Post demurs on making the long journey for her still-married man, Kennedy makes an urgent final plea for her company via telegram from Capri, thus completing their passionate two-year correspondence. (telegram #2 and #3; letter #11)
October/November/December 1955 – Kennedy implores von Post to move to the U.S. He promises to secure her a job as a model and to talk to his father about getting a divorce, but his father is outraged by the notion. Jackie becomes pregnant and suffers a miscarriage.
January 1956 – Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage is published
July 1956 – Gunilla von Post marries Anders Ekman.
August 13-17, 1956 – At the Democratic Party Convention, Kennedy narrowly loses the vice presidential nomination to Estes Kefauver, but gains visibility in the organization.
August 23, 1956 – Jackie Kennedy delivers a stillborn daughter.
November 1956 – Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson loses the election.
November 1957 – Caroline Kennedy is born.
April 1958 – By chance, Gunilla von Post and John F. Kennedy both attend the April in Paris Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and are able to share a tender last goodbye.