Janet Fontaine, Joe Kennedy's mistress, looks back at the famous family and their rise to power

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Credit: Courtesy Janet Fontaine

The longtime mistress of Kennedy family patriarch Joe has revealed to PEOPLE that she carried on her nine-year affair right under the nose of his wife Rose – and that Rose seemed to accept her husband’s infidelities with little protest.

Janet Fontaine, now 91, gave an exclusive interview in this week’s PEOPLE magazine about her unique view inside Kennedy family life. She says the affair began not long after Joe hired her as his personal assistant in 1948. She was 24; he was 60.

Fontaine’s self-published memoir A Good Life tells how she became close to Joe, Rose and the children and watched their rise to influence and power.

“I spent a great deal of time at their homes in Hyannis Port [Massachusetts] and Palm Beach,” Fontaine tells PEOPLE. “Rose accepted me with open arms, was very fond of me and treated me beautifully. I have no hard feelings toward her.”

For much more on Rose Kennedy, including excerpts from rarely heard recordings, and new revelations from Joe’s mistress Janet Fontaine, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

Joe, she says, was “very charismatic and very attractive. Did you ever watch Dave Letterman on television? Well, he reminded me of Joe at 60.”

This week’s PEOPLE takes a look back at Rose Kennedy – the mother of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy – who died in 1995 at age 104. A new play about her life, Rose, written by Laurence Leamer, is based on tapes she made with her biographer, Robert Coughlan. “Rose” is set to open on November 29 at Manhattan’s Clurman Theater.

[IMAGE “3” “” “std” ]As for the Kennedy marriage, Fontaine says, “Joe and Rose were not close but they respected one another. There was a loneliness in his life. Joe had just lost his son, Joe Jr., in the war and then four months after I went to work for him, he lost Kathleen, his favorite daughter [in a plane crash]. He used to cry and say ‘I can’t talk about them.’ I think he needed someone to cling to and bring little segment of happiness to his life.”

While the public knew Rose as the staunch and strict Catholic matriarch, she also had a more independent side. “She preferred to live her own life,” says Fontaine. “She loved to travel to Paris to buy clothes. Rose, I think, was grateful to have me there, knowing she could leave her husband and he was being looked after. I don’t mean just sexually, but as a companion.”

Fontaine says her trysts with Joe only occurred when Rose as away. “It generally happened at night in his room at Hyannis Port,” she recalls. “Rose was never there. And I conducted myself with dignity and I was discreet.”