President Kennedy shares a laugh with Danny Kaye and Judy Garland
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JFK
Today marks the 91st anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s birth.
Naturally, we wanted to run something special to celebrate the occasion. But rather than waxing philosophical on the meaning of his life and tragic death, we thought it might be a lot more fun to remember one of the qualities we loved most about him: his irrepressible wit. He had that rare gift of always being able to make us laugh, even during some of this nation’s darkest hours.
Lem Billings (Jack’s oldest and dearest friend) once said of Kennedy: “I’ve never known anyone in my life with such a wonderful humor – the ability to make one laugh and have a good time.”
That’s the way I think he would want to be remembered by all who loved him on his birthday.
So we dove into the archives and pulled a few of our favorite Kennedy witticisms. Although it’s awfully hard to narrow it down to just a select few, and some of the best stuff is just too raunchy for publication here (ever seen those letters he wrote to Lem Billings when they were teens? Wow!), we think you’ll get a chuckle or two.
For those of you old enough to remember Jack Kennedy, we hope this brings back some great memories. As for the rest of us, well…we’re still enjoying getting to know him. Through his humor, we meet the real JFK.
A very ill young man: Kennedy with his Choate school pals, the “Muckers,” a club he co-founded with best friend Lem Billings (second from left), 1934
During one of his many stays in the hospital, a fifteen year-old Jack Kennedy wrote Billings:
Dear Crap! –
…Nobody able to figure out what’s wrong with me. All they do is talk about what an interesting case. It’ll be funny if there was nothing wrong with me. I’m commencing to stay awake nights on that…
…I’ve had 18 enemas is 3 days!!! I’m clean as a whistle. They give me enemas till it comes out like drinking water which they all take a sip of…
A few years later, while celebrating his nineteenth birthday in Los Angeles. Having just spent some length of time recuperating from yet another illness at a cattle ranch in Arizona, Jack informed Lem that:
“If you could see what a thing of beauty my body has become with the open air, riding horses and Mexicans, you would stuff such adjectives as unattractive when you are speaking of my body right where they belong.
It looks as though there will be no little rascals bearing the name LeMoyne Kennedy as yesterday I got kicked where I love which stretched me out for a few blissful minutes. I no longer have that free + easy stride and am consequently a bit worried.
I have not heard from you for 3 weeks except for a couple of smutty post-cards…Please communicate + let me know what you are planning to do + when you are planning to do it…Have some plans that will get your dander up.”
A month after narrowly escaping death when the PT 109 was sunk by a Japanese destroyer during WWII, 25 year-old Jack wrote to his sweetheart Inga Arvad:
What the hell is the story? I write you a six-page letter – trash I admit – but not as bad as that last story of yours in which you tied up Joe Stalin, Wendell Willkie + Cupid into a sort of Blessed Trinity – but anyway – that six pager cost me a good deal of sweat and toil – plus a little blood when I cut myself trying to fix the type-writer – and what do I get – nothing – not even a rejection slip. What’s the idea – Has your “husband” come between us?
…Incidentally – that picture I had of you that Kick took – which was really good – has met a watery grave. Please send me another – will you.
Soon after the war, John Kennedy was already considering his first run for Congress in 1946. He wrote in his diary:
Conversation with Dan O’Brian
Says I’ll get murdered –
no political experience –
A personal district. Says I don’t know 300 people personally…
O’Brian indicates the attack on me will be
2) injury to role on me in father’s reputation.
He is the first man to say bet me that I can’t win!
An honest Irishman but
a mistaken one
In 1958, then-Senator Kennedy had his sights on the presidency, and loved telling this story:
Several nights ago, I dreamed that the good Lord touched me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be the democratic Presidential nominee in 1960. What’s more, you’ll be elected.” I told Stu Symington about my dream. “Funny thing,” said Stu, “I had exactly the same dream about myself.”
We both told our dreams to Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson said, “that’s funny. For the life of me, I can’t remember tapping either of you two boys for the job.”
JFK and LBJ, 1960
Arriving in Wisconsin for his primary fight with Hubert Humphrey in 1960, candidate Kennedy commented:
I am the first of an advancing army. By next spring the state will look like a college campus telephone booth.
Throughout the 1960 campaign, Kennedy always attracted throngs of youngsters everywhere he went. At a stop in Ohio, he quipped:
If we can lower the voting age to nine, we are going to sweep the state.
Around the time of his now-famous debates with Richard Nixon, Jack said of his opponent:
Mr. Nixon may be very experienced in kitchen debates. So are a great many other married men I know.
Exhausted after weeks of nonstop campaigning prior to the election, Kennedy remarked at a early morning stop in Philadelphia:
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen; it is nine in the morning and this will be a quiet, dignified speech.
“Which one of you is the Chief Turkey?” JFK grants 1963’s would-be Thanksgiving dinner a full presidential pardon.
Speaking of the Presidency just before his Inauguration, Kennedy said:
It’s a big job. It isn’t going to be so bad. You’ve got time to think. You don’t have all those people bothering you that you had in the Senate – besides, the pay is pretty good. And I can walk to work.
Dave Powers, one of Kennedy’s closest friends and aides, received a scroll from JFK on his fiftieth birthday. It read:
President’s Special Award, Physical Fitness Program. Walking fifty miles per month from TV to refrigerator and back. Presented to Dave Powers on his fiftieth birthday. In recognition of your athletic ability in hiking to my ice box to drink my Heineken’s.
At the most tense moment in human history: laughter. During the Cuban Missle Crisis, JFK finds time for some Halloween fun with Caroline and John Jr., 1962.
Strolling through the White House grounds one day, the President looked admiringly at the newly-revitalized Rose Garden and remarked:
This may go down as the real achievement of my administration.
During his June 1963 trip to Ireland, Kennedy joked:
I can imagine nothing more pleasureable than continuing day after day to drive through the streets of Dublin and wave – and I may come back and do it.
Later, at City Hall in Cork, he said:
I don’t want to give the impression that every member of this administration in Washington is Irish. It just seems that way.
Shortly after the controversial announcement that Kennedy had appointed his brother Bobby as Attorney General, he cracked this one to a reporter:
Speaking of jobs for relatives, Master Robert Kennedy, who is four, came to see me today, but I told him we already had an Attorney General.
At a press conference, JFK was once asked if he had it all to do over again, would he run for president again and would he recommend the job to others? The president replied:
Well, the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second is no. I don’t recommend it to others, at least not for a while.
At his 45th birthday party, a scantily-clad Marilyn Monroe shimmied out onto the stage of Madison Square Garden and launched into the most memorable rendition of “Happy Birthday” the world had ever heard. She also serenaded him with a verse of “Thanks for the Memories,” specially rewritten for the occasion:
Thanks, Mr. President,
For all the things you’ve done,
The battles that you’ve won,
The way you deal with U.S. Steel,
And our problems by the ton,
We thank you – so much.
A blushing, clearly embarassed JFK ascended the podium and thanked Marilyn by saying:
I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President. And if you were here today, we know what you’d probably be doing:
JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY
MAY 29, 1917 – NOVEMBER 22, 1963