Jack Kennedy was the guest of honor at a party at Chasen's; he was also on hand at brother-in-law Peter Lawford's beach house for a late-night party where, according to one Marilyn Monroe biography, the candidate met the actress, who'd come with Sammy Davis Jr. According to accounts in various biographies, Kennedy slipped away from his bachelor pad one night, apparently for a tryst with a former diplomat's wife he'd known for years. On another night, he invited Judith Campbell Exner to Lawford's suite at the Beverly Hilton. When Kennedy brought her to his bedroom, she was shocked to discover another woman waiting for him. Exner fled the hotel. By way of apology, Kennedy got Exner tickets to the convention; she took a pass, sending her mother instead.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 15, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Name misspelled--Washington hostess Perle Mesta gave a party for Democratic Party leaders during the 1960 convention. Her name was misspelled in a story in the Aug. 13 Sunday Calendar.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 20, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Washington hostess Perle Mesta gave a party for Democratic Party leaders during the 1960 convention. Her name was misspelled in a story in the Aug. 13 Sunday Calendar.
Kennedy also spent time with his most ardent industry supporter: Frank Sinatra. The Kennedy clan showed up at Sinatra's house one night for a screening of his newly released film "Ocean's Eleven." Sinatra returned the favor by singing the national anthem at the convention's opening ceremony and recruiting stars to perform at the convention's closing night. That fall, Sinatra arranged for his Rat Pack pals and other celebrities to headline a host of Kennedy fund-raisers and campaign appearances, culminating with a lavish show at Kennedy's inaugural ball.
"It was a heady relationship for both of them," recalls producer Guy McElwaine, who was a young MGM publicist working for Sinatra in 1960. "They were two kings with a common cause. Frank was a real Roosevelt Democrat who really respected what Kennedy stood for. And Jack loved being around Frank. Hey, it was Frank Sinatra. No one had the power, charisma and volatile nature that Frank had in 1960. Jack knew a lot of powerful men, but no one like Sinatra."
It was a perfect time for a charismatic young politician to woo the entertainment community. Yet outside of Sinatra, Kennedy had few supporters in Hollywood until after he was nominated. Adlai Stevenson was Hollywood's favorite son, the party's die-hard liberal standard-bearer. Kennedy was viewed with suspicion, by both rank-and-file Hollywood and the studio moguls, who were predominantly Jewish.
In 1940, Joe Kennedy, then the United States ambassador to England who was a suspected Nazi sympathizer, came to Hollywood and met with the assembled studio chiefs. He bluntly told them that Hollywood's Jewish community would be in jeopardy if they didn't stop making anti-Nazi pictures that promoted democracy over dictators. He said anti-Semitism was growing in England, and that if America were forced into the war, prominent Jews like themselves would be blamed.
"The studio heads came away with the very strong feeling that the Kennedys were anti-Semitic," recalls Sam Goldwyn Jr., whose father was at the meeting. "That's one reason Joe wouldn't show his face at the convention--he was too unpopular here. He'd been close with Sen. Joe McCarthy, who'd ruined so many people's lives in Hollywood. People were worried that Jack would be too much like his father."
And there was the issue of Kennedy's religion. Tina Sinatra remembers her father worrying that Kennedy's Catholicism would hurt him with Protestant voters. "Being an Irish Catholic cut both ways," recalls Frank Mankiewicz, who brought Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, who was Jewish, to meet industry Democrats at the convention to soften opposition to Kennedy. "A lot of people liked it that Jack was so vigorous and athletic, but for the Jews, it only reminded them of all the Irish kids who'd beaten them growing up in New York and Boston."
For Hollywood Democrats, Stevenson had more gravitas. "We didn't know Jack--we didn't know then that you needed charisma to win," says Shirley MacLaine. "I was part of the Rat Pack, but I was always more impressed by someone's intellect than their charisma. Jack was smart and good-looking, but I liked Adlai--he was kind of the absent-minded professor. You knew he was the real thing because he had holes in the bottom of his shoes."
Even after it was clear Kennedy had won the nomination, not everyone was persuaded. At convention's end, Shelley Winters cornered Mailer and said: "Tell me something nice about Kennedy so I can get excited about him."
After Kennedy was nominated, Hollywood began to change its tune. Longtime Democratic activist Roz Wyman, then a member of the Los Angeles City Council, ran a women's committee for Kennedy that organized fund-raisers around the country. One of her big draws was a group of Hollywood celebrities, led by Sinatra, who lent the campaign his airplane and recruited big names.
"Washington people were fascinated by Hollywood," Wyman recalls. "It was a different world for them. Frank was the one who really made a difference. If he asked people to go somewhere, they'd go. Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Milton Berle, Bobby Darin, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. Frank got them all to do events for us."