Home >Magazine >The Diary of Mary Meyer: A New Novel Imagines the Inner World of JFK’s Lover

The Diary of Mary Meyer: A New Novel Imagines the Inner World of JFK’s Lover

In JFK and Mary Meyer: A Love Story, Jesse Kornbluth recreates the diary Meyer might have written and draws an intimate portrait of a top-secret, star-crossed romance. 

John F. Kennedy was our most glamorous President, beloved by the public and the press—and irresistible to women.

For 25 years, Mary Pinchot Meyer resisted him. But in 1962, when JFK was in the White House and she was divorced, they became lovers. And Jack Kennedy, who rarely slept with a woman twice, became so committed to Mary that he said he wanted to divorce Jackie after the ’64 election and marry her.

Then he was killed.

And then, eleven months later, as Mary was taking a noon walk in Georgetown, a gunman shot her, execution style, in the head and the heart.

That night, her best friend called Mary’s sister. “Mary had a diary,” she said. “Get it.”

Mary’s diary was said to be filled with sketches, notes for paintings… and ten pages of cryptic notes about an unnamed lover. But we don’t know for sure—her family burned it.

In JFK and Mary Meyer: A Love Story, Jesse Kornbluth recreates the diary Mary might have written. Working from a timeline of Kennedy’s Presidency, every documented account of their public relationship, and the author’s long friendships with women who, like Mary, came from the elite of New York, Kornbluth has created an intimate portrait of a top secret, star-crossed romance.

Memorable insights in the book include:

Kennedy’s chilly take on his wife: “If Jackie hit twenty-five without a husband…she would have started going to Wall Street buildings at noon, taking the elevator to the top floor, and doing her absolute best to meet a guy before they got to the lobby.”

Her guilt: “If I was any influence on Jack at all…on race and poverty and Vietnam…if I moved him away from safe ideas to dangerous ones…then I am partly responsible for his death.”

Her take on the assassination: “I saw him change from a politician to a statesman. In the last year, he cared about more than winning elections—he really wanted a better world. And that was one reason for the CIA and the defense industry and other businesses to want him dead.”

NextTribe is excited to publish key excerpts from the novel. 

First Solo Dinner with JFK: October 1961

An intern who couldn’t have been twenty took me to the Yellow Oval Room.

Upstairs. I waited, looking at Jackie’s books—Malraux, a history of the Spanish Riding School. And the art—Berthe Morisot.

Jack entered, pointed at my blouse.

“Who made that?”

“I did.”

He laughed.

“Jackie would like it. Who made it?”

“I got it in Paris.”

“It must be nice to wake up in Paris, go to a café, walk around, meet a lover…”

“That’s your fantasy.”

“Fantasies are all I have now.”

“I doubt that.”

“I’m too busy.”

“No one `doesn’t have time’ for an affair.”

“In this fish bowl?”

“There’s always the help.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“Oh, please.”

“It’s true.”

He pressed a buzzer. Dinner rolled in: grilled chicken brushed with French mustard, zucchini, a handful of small potatoes. Wine for me, water for Jack.

He wanted to know the gossip.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was just opening. I told him Audrey Hepburn is in it, in the part Marilyn Monroe turned down.

“Why didn’t Marilyn do it?”

“In the book, the character is a prostitute.”

“Hepburn plays a whore?”

“In the film, she works in a bookstore during the day.”

“And whores at night?”

“At night, she asks rich men in nightclubs to give her tip money for the woman in the powder room.”

That got a laugh: Tip money!

“And a lawyer pays her $100 a month to deliver the `weather report’ to a mob guy in jail.”

“This sounds awful.”

“My friend saw a preview. She said Hepburn wears a black dress every woman will want.”

“What does Truman think?”

“Hates it. He’s going all over town badmouthing it.”

Laughter. Lots.

I thought: This is something I can do for him.

Dinner over. Something in the air. Better if I got to it first.

“Where is Jackie?”


“Why did you invite me when she’s not here?”

“I didn’t want to share you.”

“I’m forty-one. Way too old for you. And an old friend. So…”

Silence. And a change of mood. Like: remorse, regret, sadness.

“I’m short of old friends.”

“You’re surrounded by them.”

“All men. It’s a limited conversation.”

I thought: This is a trap. He’ll use your sympathy.

“Jack, who says no to you?”

“How about: all day, every day.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t keep score.”

“I think you’d remember who turns you down.”

“Women who voted for me seem to be eager to serve their president.”

“And not just those women.”

“I don’t know. I don’t ask.”

“What do you ask?”

“I don’t. I request.”

“Like: Mr. Kennedy requests your presence at dinner.”



“Not like tonight.”

“Are you serious, Jack? You want me to be your friend? Just your friend?”

Long, long silence.

“I trust you…I want you to be my beacon light.”

Hug. Kiss on the cheek. Home at 9:30.

A phrase came to me: lonely as Jack Kennedy.

Bedtime thought: Jack is just back from Newport. I was one of the first calls he made. Maybe the first call. He’s on the hunt.

Bedtime thought: lonely as Mary Meyer.

mary meyer

First Sex: January 22, 1962

Important to get every detail right—there’s only one first time. And I want to get it all down, because it’s not going to last and I’ll want to go back and see when it went wrong.

In the car on the way to the White House, I thought: I’m about to go to bed with the biggest star in the world.

And then: What if it’s awkward? Not great? What if we’re a mismatch?

I most definitely did not think: How can I make it great for him?

He was waiting. Reading a memo.

I said, “Don’t get up.”

He got up. “Want a drink?”

A bottle of wine on the table. Opened. One wine glass. He was drinking water.

I said, “No.”

“Come here.”

I didn’t.

I said, “I also see…someone. Is that a problem?”

He said, “I also see…a few people. Is that a problem for you?”

We sat across from one another. An awkward moment. My God, was Jack…shy?

“Inside you, Jack Kennedy, there’s a quiet boy screaming to get out.”

“I don’t remember that boy.”

“You do. And you’re going to see him again.”


“In bed. With me.”

I took his hand. He led me into a bedroom, and I realized—I was surprised to realize—it was his bedroom, not a bedroom he shares with Jackie.


The simple fact.

Taller than he looks in pictures, or dressed. And skinny, so he seems taller.

No fireworks and rockets for me. I felt clear-headed. Wide awake. Like we’d just accomplished something.

To understate: Jack was relaxed.

“I won’t make you talk,” I said.

“I tend to doze off.”

“I’ll show myself out.”

“You’re not offended?”

I kissed my fingers, put them to his lips.

First Conversation About Divorcing Jackie and Marrying Mary: June 13, 1963

As soon as I get upstairs he grabs me and takes me right to bed. And everything clicked—for both of us. After, he was invigorated, happy.

“It does not get better than this,” he said.

“You’ve said this before.”

“But I didn’t mean it. I mean it now.”

“It’s very nice to hear that.”

“I’ll go further.”


“I’ve been thinking about this. Next year…after the election…”


“Yes. That. I want to divorce Jackie and…”

“No. No.”

“…you would be a much better wife.”

“It would be such a misery. You would be hated. I would be Wallis Simpson.”

This was true. He knew it. Knew it before he said a word. What was driving this?

“After the election, Jack—that’s so far away. Let’s just get there. And then sort it out.”

“I like goals, Mary.”

“Ok…you have one.”

And then—for the first time, a year after we became lovers—he kissed me.

Read More: Leaving Princess Leia Behind: How Carrie Fisher Became a Writer

The Funeral: November 25, 1963

I sat with Tony. No tears. Numb.

Arlington Cemetery:  The flyover. Devastating.

Fifty fighter jets, followed by Air Force One, flying so low and so slowly it seemed to be floating.

Directly over the cemetery, it dipped its wings left and right…an acknowledgment, a final bow.

Then it disappeared in the vapor trails of the fighter jets.

So beautiful, so artful, so, so sad…sadder even than all those people filing past the coffin at the Capitol, crying for him but even more for themselves…sadder even than seeing Jackie in the ghostly black veil, lighting the flame at the gravesite.

November 26, 1963

What I learned from Jack…what Jack believed…is that you’re never really bonded with anyone. Even if you think you are, it’s never complete.

At the end, after all the wishing for intimacy, he gave up. He was how he was, and nobody got close enough to see the loneliness, so it was his secret. Not even a bitter secret, a recognition of a defect, because it never got in his way—he sold aloneness as a life truth very convincingly to himself.

And, by circumstance, to me.

Now I feel it: I am alone, I will be alone. The kids. Yes. But soon they’ll be gone for good.

This is my new definition of hope: the postponement of disappointment.

An Encounter with Jackie: January 25, 1964*

Thick, fluffy snow—like in New York, on days when school was cancelled and Tony and I would walk for hours on Park Avenue, smoking cigarettes we didn’t dare inhale and hoping to run into boys we knew.

Noon. Walk.

It’s like stepping into a black-and-white French movie.

On the towpath, no one’s out, the only sound is the crunch of my boots.

Coming toward me, a woman in a cashmere coat and a scarf.


“Oh, Mary.”

We fall into one another’s arms, weeping.

“We were so happy.”

The past—what she knows, what she feels—who cares about any of that now?

We are two women, mourning one man.

She whispers: “La mer s’est elevee avec les pleurs.

Holding one another. She’s shaking.

I’m not. But I can’t get a word out.

I don’t think I’ll ever see her again.

*This really happened. Dialogue is invented, of course.

mary meyer

From the Epilogue

On October 12, two days before her birthday, Mary left her studio around noon for her regular walk along the towpath of the C&O canal. A man grabbed her from behind and shot her in the head. She flailed, tried to run, fell, staggered to her feet. The man pushed his gun against her shoulder blade and fired again. The bullet pierced her aorta, killing her.

Who killed Mary Meyer?

We know this much: Police arrived almost immediately. Fifteen minutes later, they spotted a small black man. Twenty-five-year-old Raymond Crump Jr. was wet, with weeds pasted to his T-shirt. His hand was bleeding. His fly was open. He said he’d been fishing, had fallen asleep, dropped his pole in the water, woke up, and fell into the water trying to retrieve it. His bloody hand and a cut over his eye? Branches in the river had scraped him. In the water, near the murder scene, police found Crump’s torn jacket; they never found a gun. Forty-five minutes after the murder, police arrested Crump. They found his fishing gear—at his home. Later, he would say he’d come to the canal to have sex with a prostitute.

At trial, Crump was represented by Dovey Roundtree, a civil-rights activist, minister, and legendary defense lawyer. The prosecutors presented fifty exhibits and testimony from twenty-seven witnesses but offered no forensic evidence. Roundtree’s cross-examinations focused on a single point: Eyewitnesses had described a killer considerably larger than Crump, who stood 5’3” and weighed 130 pounds. Roundtree called three witnesses and offered one exhibit: the defendant. Her thirty-minute closing argument was a reminder that the prosecution’s witnesses were not credible: “You hold in your hands the life of a man—a little man, if you please.” On July 30, 1965, after eleven hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Crump.

Read More: Gail Collins’ New Book Charts the History of Older Women—and Shows Us How We Can Live Now

JFK and Mary Meyer: Telling Their Story

JFK and Mary Meyer is a novel, but so built on fact that only the romance is invented. It was the romance that hooked me. Kennedy was damaged goods, Mary was his last hope for a healthy relationship; I wanted to write that relationship. So I didn’t begin with a theory about her murder, and I didn’t develop one along the way. For a simple reason: I didn’t need to. I always knew when the diary—which is, by definition, written by someone who doesn’t know the future—would end: just before Mary’s murder. And I always knew how it would end: after deep mourning for her lost lover, Mary was moving beyond despair.

But I can’t avoid the chilly reality. Two lovers, both shot to death. Two murders, eternally unsolved. Was his assassination a coup? If so, was her murder just a bit of housekeeping? Or were these murders isolated events: a demented loner in Dallas, a demented loner in Georgetown?

I was a journalist for four decades, and I have a journalist’s love of facts and a resistance to conspiracy theories. Mary had worked as journalist after college; in her assassination research, she had great energy and a good eye for facts. Theories of the murder were more elusive; she may not have learned who pulled the trigger, but she definitely felt she knew who paid for the bullets. I’m less sure. Don’t conspiracies usually unravel? If Kennedy’s murder was the product of a conspiracy, the conspirators have, remarkably, kept their secrets for more than fifty years.

During a newspaper strike, New York Times columnist James Reston said, “How can I know what I think if I can’t read what I write?” That happened here. I set out to write one story, and I did, but when I read it, I saw I’d also written another, about power and institutions and the way they intersect to make that power and those institutions permanent. Mary Meyer had an insider’s look at that process. It’s entirely possible she paid for it with her life.


Jesse Kornbluth has been a magazine journalist, author, screenwriter, Internet executive and, now, playwright. As a journalist, he has been a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, New York and Architectural Digest, and a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire, and more.

By Jesse Kornbluth


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Find your tribe

Connect and join a community of women over 45 who are dedicated to traveling and exploring the world.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This