And the double standard for the Kennedy girls and boys
Products in this story are independently selected and featured editorially. If you make a purchase using these links we may earn commission.
Credit: Courtesy Harper Collins

Joe Kennedy Sr. is remembered for many things, but perhaps the most scandalous is his infidelity.

In a new biography of John F. Kennedy’s sister Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth, author Paula Byrne discusses the sexual dynamics of the Kennedy family – which often included philandering males and sexually repressed women, like Kick.

Joe was notorious for frequently cheating on his wife, Rose, and it turns out, didn’t have much of a filter suggestive comments, either – even when it came to his daughter Kick’s friends.

As a child, Kick’s friends were often uncomfortable around her father, who would touch or pinch them without their consent. At times, he’d even ask for a kiss at the end of the night, Byrne writes.

This discomfort came to head when Kick’s friend Charlotte McDonnell accidentally entered Joe’s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Joe spoke to McDonnell, while he was standing a towel, making jokes of a sexual nature, which she was appalled by.

“Her father would never have behaved like this in front of her friends,” Byrne writes.

As lax as Joe seemed to be about sex in his own life – and his sons’ – his daughter was brought up to be the exact opposite. When she was dating John White, a friend of Jack’s from Harvard, White was repeatedly stunned at just how “prudish” she was – she wouldn’t even say the word “sex” in front of him, according to Byrne.

One night, while they were back at White’s sister home in Georgetown, he tried to kiss her – an act, that he said “horrified” Kick.

According to Byrne, Kick told John: “I don’t want any of this John. You must understand. Please don’t try. I don’t want to do the thing the priest says not to do.”

However, Kick was aware of the double standard that was held against her and her brothers. While Jack had entered into a passion-filled affair with her married friend Inga Arvad – one her father encouraged – she knew it would not be tolerated if she did the same.

Arvad was just the first of Jack’s many lovers: He allegedly had affairs with Marilyn Monroe, famous stripped Blaze Starr, Marlene Dietrich (who also had an affair with his father), Jacqueline Kennedy’s secretary Pamela Tunure, White House secretaries Jill Cowen and Priscilla Wear, White House intern Mimi Alford, socialite Gunilla Von Post, among others.

“There was nothing said about ‘adultery’ or ‘fornication’ as she had been taught by her faith,” Byrne writes. “This sent such a confusing message [to Kick]. It was fine for her brother to be sexually active, fine for him to be having an affair with an older married woman, but no for her to have an affair.””

Kick wasn’t always held back by this double standard: She later defied her family’s expectations when she married Bill Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire and controversially, a Protestant. She continued to make her own way after Hartington’s death, when she started a scandalous affair with a married man, Earl Peter Wentworth Fitzwilliam – another Protestant.

Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth is available now.