“Jack and Lem”–JFK’s gay best friend

Pitts, David. “Jack and Lem: John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Story of an Extraordinary Friendship”, DeCapo, 2008.

JFK’s Gay Best Friend

Amos Lassen

There has been a great deal written about the Kennedy administration and it is still hard to believe that President Kennedy has been gone so long. One of the things that has just appeared in print is something new—Kennedy’s oldest and most trusted friend was gay. In “Jack and Lem”, author David Pitts looks at the relationship between the late president and Kirk LeMoyne Billings or “Lem”. Lem profited from the friendship—he was an official member of the Kennedy clan, he went to fancy White House parties and even had his own friendship at the presidential mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Kennedy first took office, Lem flew to Washington almost every weekend from New York and was given his own room on the third floor which became known as Lem’s room. He came and went as he pleased and many thought he was a Secret Service agent. Nothing was ever said about his being there—everyone knew he was the presidents best friend, a friendship that had begun when they were prep school students at Choate.

In all the literature about Kennedy, the only mention of Lem is that he was Kennedy’s prep school roommate and that is it. This is very odd since Lem was at the White House every weekend of the Kennedy administration.

Lem was a big, good-looking guy who told wonderful stories and kept everyone happy but some presidential aides resented him as they no reason for him being at the White House. However, people knew better than to question his presence. He had come into Kennedy’s life when they were high schoolers and he never left it. Some wondered if he was gay but t was never talked about.

Lem was discreet. Whatever he did, he did so privately. He was probably very careful because of the times and the general feeling toward homosexuals at the time—remember we are talking about the 60’s. The Cold War was raging and times were not easy—especially for gay people.

To write this book, David Pitts examined hundreds of letters that had not been released before. He looked at telegrams and interviews. Lem was dead so everything in the book is based upon what was written and what others have said. What the book is the story of a true and enduring loving friendship between two men, one of whom controlled the power of the United States.

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