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Archive for January, 2011

According to Nigel Hamilton, it was Inga Arvad (herself) who wrote the original byline for the story of the PT-109, that was picked up by one of the wire services and later appeared “on the front page of the Boston Globe and The New York Times.” Well, here’s the story as it appeared in the Times on January 11, 1944, so this must be the one.

[Note:] Read the comments for a link to the actual PT-109 column she wrote, thanks  to Delia. – WD

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It is often said that life imitates art, and art by its very nature must needs draw on the great well of life for its inspiration. There is however an inherent inequality and a general lack of reciprocation between reality and perception, that is, between life and art. More often than not they belittle or ridicule one another, which is why art inevitably tends to the abstract and life becomes absurd or comical or even tragic.

When John F. Kennedy fell for Inga Arvad – alleged Nazi spy – the plot would have been only too familiar to him. Surely he had seen it somewhere before. He could have read it easily enough – it was a repeat of one of those hackneyed romantic war stories that pop up from time to time, whenever the supply of armaments exceeds the demand for peace in the world and beautiful and vulnerable women are in abundance – but more probably, he saw it on the screen in one of his father’s theaters.

Joseph P. Kennedy loved money and power, but his hobbies were movies and beautiful women. In the late 1920s he had an affair with an actress Gloria Swanson, and ventured a great deal of his capital into a Hollywood movie production company, FBO, which would later become RKO Pictures. It wasn’t one of FBO’s movies and it didn’t star Miss Swanson, but Joe and Jack Kennedy were probably familiar with the film “Convoy” that appeared in 1927 when Joe was still in Hollywood. The film starred an aging English-born American actress Dorothy Mackaill, a silent-film star noted for her stately if not beautiful on-screen appearance. Nor was her voice all that impressive in her several attempts at sound film, like many other actresses of her era, and her career ended rather abruptly in the early 1930’s. Like Miss Mackaill, the film “Convoy” was quickly forgotten too, but not to a thin and sickly boy with chronic back pain and a romantic nature who couldn’t wait for his dad to return “from Hollywood with Tom Mix cowboy suits,” and reels filled with wondrous tales of adventure to watch on the screen in their private family theater, and not to the power-grubbing father who could manipulate life and art as freely as he could the stock market.

In ‘Convoy’ Mackaill plays Sylvia Dodge, a New York society lady who is recruited during WWI by a Secret Service agent, known only to her by his code-name Smith. Sylvia’s assignment is to gain the confidence of a suspected German spy, Ernst von Drachenfels, who is masquerading as an American named Ernest Drake. Smith tells Sylvia that he knows Drake/Drachenfels is somehow sending coded messages to U-boat captains, waiting just off the American coast, but he doesn’t know how he is doing it. Sylvia quickly discovers that Drake and his henchmen are using a clever but simple code involving the flowers of different varieties, that he sends to his lady friends. By observing the various deliveries from a distance, and knowing the address and time of day, his agents are able to read each coded message and quickly convey them to the U-boat captains via wireless.

Drachenfels is quickly exposed as a spy and arrested, but in the process Sylvia is also arrested and charged with espionage. Though she could clear herself, Smith urges her to keep silent for reasons of national security. Accordingly, she is convicted and sent to prison to begin serving a long sentence, but, happily, the movie has a happy ending. Not so the story of JFK and Inga Arvad, but I’m getting way ahead of myself and the telling of the tale.

The story of “JFK and the Nazi Spy” surfaced rather suddenly in the wake of the Watergate investigation. Like Frank Waldrop, the newspaper columnist who first broke the story in an article he wrote for The Washingtonian in April 1975 we could ask ourselves “Where did it all begin? London, Copenhagen, Singapore, Berlin, Stockholm, a peak in the Andes?” Or was it Hollywood or Wikipedia? I would say, Copenhagen, where Inga Marie Arvad Petersen was born in 1913, in either June or October of that year, depending on who you talk to. In fact the whole story depends on who you talk to. Sadly nearly all of the players are dead now and gone and their story is interred with their bones, but as luck would have it they left behind a sizable paper-trail, though, admittedly that trail often dwindles down to practically nil or leads back around in a circle.

At this point I would like to say that I have read several of the more popular historical accounts of the life of John F. Kennedy, and like the authors I am firmly convinced that he was a good and dedicated man, and one of the greatest presidents of the United States. I was in the 7th grade when he was assassinated, and like most naïve and largely uninformed Americans at the time I accepted the explanation that Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-Marine shot him from the window of the Texas School Book Depository building on that fateful November day in Dallas, and that he had acted alone. I don’t believe any longer that Oswald was the only assassin working on that day in Dallas, but on the other hand I don’t blame Jackie Kennedy, the Mafia, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan either. I guess like most naïve, and still largely uniformed Americans, I don’t know who to blame or if they are even still alive. But I’d still like to know the truth, and tie up some of the many loose ends.

My dad told me once that he knew Lieutenant Kennedy when he was stationed at the Motor Torpedo Boat Training Station (MTBS) at Melville, RI in 1942, so I am particularly interested in that part of the future president’s life. I don’t know if any of the seeds that grew the assassination were planted that far back in time, but I have found there several loose threads to pull. One of those threads is the story of the romance between JFK and Inga Arvad, the beautiful Nazi spy.

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Adolf and Inga

Frankly I don’t see what the big deal was…

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But I’ve been to Fort Huachuca…
They tell me Tim McCoy died there
And it’s still an active army base.
But I really didn’t know that,
Til the guy with the gun told me to leave…

 

So I headed back to Las Vegas
And I made it far as Needles
But first I drove all over Tucson
And (finally)found Tim and Inga’s house in Nogales…

 

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