Sunday, October 27, 2013

John F. Kennedy's romance with Danish journalist Inga Arvad

Inga Arvad

Jack saved Inga's letters through the war.  He saved them when he was in Congress.  He saved them when he married Jackie, when he entered the White House, when he had his children.  Inga obviously meant more to him than any other woman he had known, and he visited her with some frequency long after they had broken up.
          - Barbara Gibson and Ted Scharz
          From The Kennedys: The Third Generation

As the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination on November 22, 1963 approaches, the life of the 35th President of the United States is becoming increasingly topical.  I've been reading a book titled The Kennedys: The Third Generation by Barbara Gibson and Ted Schwarz.  Gibson was Rose Kennedy's personal secretary and was privy to the goings-on of three generations of the storied Kennedy clan.  Until I began reading her book, I was completely unaware of JFK's relationship with a suspected Nazi spy named Inga Arvad.  I found myself intrigued and decided to delve further into the story.

Inga Arvad was born Inga Maria Petersen on October 6, 1913 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  In 1931, she changed her last name to Arvad.  The tall, blond journalist was selected a beauty queen by a Danish newspaper and, according to Barbara Gibson, she also "won a beauty contest in France, which she apparently entered for the fun of it."  A well-educated woman, Arvad studied in Brussels, London and Paris.  

Inga was married and divorced before she reached the age of 20.  She wed her first husband, Egyptian diplomat Kamal Abdel Nabi, in 1931 when she was only 17 years old.  Her second husband was Hungarian film director Paul Fejos whom she met while playing a small role in a movie being filmed in Denmark.  They married in 1936.  Inga was still married to Fejos when she travelled to the United States in 1939 and during her affair with John F. Kennedy in 1941 and 1942.  She did not divorce Fejos until June of 1942.

Prior to World War II, Inga Arvad accepted a job as the Berlin correspondent for a Danish newspaper.  As a young journalist, she interviewed Nazi leaders Hermann Göring and Josef Goebbels.  Inga scooped her colleagues by reporting that Göring was soon to wed German actress Emmy Sonnemann.  Inga was a guest at the nuptials which took place on April 10, 1935 and she was introduced to many high level Nazis.  She was even granted interviews with Adolf Hitler.  In 1936, Inga attended the infamous Berlin Olympics and sat in in Hitler's private press box and was photographed with the Nazi leader.  The Führer was reported to have described her as a perfect example of Nordic beauty.  Of Hitler, Inga wrote, "You immediately like him . . . The eyes, showing a kind heart, stare right at you."

Hitler with Inga Arvad

When war broke out in 1939, Inga left Europe and immigrated to the United States.  She first settled in New York where she enrolled in the graduate program at the Columbia University School of Journalism.  She then relocated to Washington, D.C. where she found employment as a syndicated columnist for the Washington Times-Herald profiling government officials.  JFK's elder sister, Kathleen, was also a reporter at the Times-Herald and assisted Inga with her "Did You Happen to See . . ." column.  It was through Kathleen that Jack met the alluring Inga Arvad.

Jack Kennedy was a 24-year-old U.S. Navy ensign and Inga, at 28, was four years his senior. They began a romantic relationship around November of 1941.  When the FBI discovered that Arvad was involved with an American naval officer who was a member of the Kennedy family, they stepped up their investigation of the Scandinavian journalist through wiretapping her telephone, tracking her movements, intercepting her mail and entering her apartment.  At the time, Captain Seymour A.D. Hunter, JFK's superior officer, was quoted as saying that the U.S. Navy regarded Inga Arvad as a Mata Hari.

Inga may have been a Nazi spy but there is no concrete evidence that that was the case.  While it is true that Hitler and his henchmen lavished her with a great deal of attention, Arvad was a society writer and never overtly expressed agreement with Nazi politics.  In fact, she claimed that she despised Hitler's policies and only met him for interviews.  It is possible that the Germans had hoped to persuade her into performing acts of espionage for them and that she refused. According to Barbara Gibson, Inga immediately fled when the Nazis approached her to retrun to Paris and spy for them and that she temporarily left journalism because she feared that her credibility as a reporter was at risk.

The affair between Inga Arvad and Jack Kennedy cooled after January of 1942 when Kennedy was reassigned to a desk job in South Carolina.  By March, when he was sent to active duty in the Pacific with a PT-boat squadron, the writing was on the wall.  They had no chance of a future together.  The Kennedy clan would never accept Arvad as a suitable wife for JFK.  She had already been married twice and was not of the Catholic faith.  Jack required a spouse who would be an asset to his future political career.  That woman, of course, turned out to be Jacqueline Bouvier, who had also worked at the Washington Times-Harold as an "inquiring photographer," snapping on-the-street photos of people and asking them questions about current happenings.

By 1945, Inga had moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and occasionally filled in for Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.  In May of that year, she became engaged to Robert Boothby, a British Member of Parliament whom she had met in L.A.  Arvad, however, broke off the engagement because she did not want to harm his political career due to her past association Nazis and Hitler's complimentary words about her.

Inga Arvad eventually became a citizen.of the United States and married 55-year-old American cowboy actor Tim McCoy in February of 1947.  McCoy was also an U.S. Army intelligence officer and an authority on American aboriginal folklore and customs.  They met in 1946 when Inga was a fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar magazine.  The couple had two sons, Ronald and Teremce, and remained together until Inga's passing.  

Inga Arvad steadfastly refused to write a book detailing her relationship with John Kennedy. After working with Tim McCoy's travelling rodeo and wagon show, she helped her spouse run a horse farm near Nogales, Arizona. Inga died of cancer at their Nogales ranch in 1973.  She was 60 years old at the time of her death. Her husband, Tim McCoy, passed away on January 29, 1978 at the U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista, Arizona.  He was 86.  

Inga Arvad and Tim McCoy


* John Kennedy's nickname for Inga Arvad was "Inga Binga."  She called him "Honeysuckle."

* Coincidentally, the full name of Inga Arvad's third husband was Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy.

* The letters between Inga and JFK are housed in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum just outside of Boston.  Check out the link below.

- Joanne