By Steven L. Brawley, Editor-in-Chief
October 27, 2014: In honor of LGBT History Month I am reposting this story from 2013.
President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie had a complex relationship. A lot has been written about their lives. But few know there was a third person in their marriage, and he was gay.
The third wheel was Lem Billings, JFK's lifelong BFF, who was a homosexual. They roomed together in school and would be inseparable until Nov. 22, 1963. How close were they? Well, this is what Jackie had to say. "Lem Billings has been a house guest every weekend I've been married." There is no reason to believe a sexual relationship existed between the two, although Billings truly loved JFK.
So, how did the three get along? Having a gay man in your marriage might have caused some tension, but most historians agree that Jackie appreciated Billings.
In many ways, she had much more in common with Billings than she did with JFK. They both loved all the artsy stuff JFK did not fully appreciate.
When Jackie was unavailable to go to a dinner or on a foreign trip, JFK would take Billings along. He had his own room at the White House and came and went like a member of the family. Billings never recovered from JFK's death, turning to drugs and alcohol. He died in 1981. Jackie would attended his funeral. A final sign of respect to the man she shared with JFK.
Over the years I have somehow become a Jackie historian. When I was a kid, my grandmother had one of those mass-produced pictures of President and Mrs. Kennedy hanging in her living room in St. Louis. When I would visit, I would barrage her with questions about the Kennedy's.
Today I publish pinkpillbox.com, a web magazine that looks at Jackie's influence. Through the popularity of my site, I have been asked to speak at functions (including Jackie's 50th class reunion at George Washington University in DC), display my memorabilia at events, and provide media commentary. Being gay, I am interested in her relationship with the LGBT world.
Gay men were always part of her life. Women of her social standing, and of her generation, knew who were light in the loafers, both the married and the confirmed bachelor crowd, keeping their secrets and enjoying their company.
Jackie ran with an impressive list of gays:
- Writers: Joseph Alsop, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal (her step brother)
- Artists: Rudolf Nureyev, William Walton, and Andy Warhol
- Interior Decorators: Billy Baldwin, John Fowler, Albert Hadley (and lots more who were "technically" married)
- Fashion Designers: Armani, Dior, Givenchy, Gucci, Halston (designed her 1961 inaugural pillbox hat), Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and others
- Stylists: Kenneth Battelle (did both Jackie and Marilyn Monroe's hair)
In the forward to Pamela Clarke Keogh's "Jackie Style," noted gay fashion designer Valentino says of her, "Quite simply, Jackie's power was to fascinate. Her manner crossed the populist with the regal…"
The gays would be helpful to her historic restoration of the White House (raising money and scouting out priceless antiques) and with her efforts to save important buildings such as Grand Central Station in New York City.
William Kuhn, best-selling author of "Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books" offered insight into one of Jackie's many gay friendships.
October 26, 2014: My introduction to Jacqueline Kennedy came early. It all started with a series of events – a poster of the presidents outside the door of my first grade classroom circa 1980, the gift of “The White House: An Historic Guide”, and a book about the first ladies.
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Parker, was big on history. We sang “My Country 'Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” virtually every morning after the flag salute, and we were to have memorized our presidents and state capitols by the end of the year. The poster outside the door served as a daily reminder of this expectation but, to me, the most captivating images on the poster were those of the White House and the rooms within.
Consulting my 1964 World Book Encyclopedia, I learned a bit about the history of the president's house and, more importantly, the role that Jacqueline Kennedy played in restoring it in the early 1960's. One picture – a still from Mrs. Kennedy's tour of the White House, caught my eye, and I was off.
By Steven L. Brawley, Editor-in-Chief
October 23, 2014: Welcome back to pinkpillbox (PPB).
Since 2003, PPB has been celebrating the style and substance of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and her influence on pop culture.
PPB strives to offer its readers informative and entertaining features that bring to life Jackie's passions and her impact on the role of the First Lady, interior design, historic preservation, beauty, fashion, entertaining, editing/publishing, and so much more.
While Jackie is PPB's inspiration and creative muse, we delve into a wide range of historical figures, places, and events. If you have a story idea, please let us know.
What's up with my Jackie obsession? I first met JBKO when I was age five at my grandmother's house in St. Louis. Grandma Brawley had one of the mass produced framed prints of President and Mrs. Kennedy by photographer Yousuf Karsh hanging in her living room. Grandma would tell me about the young couple, their children, and how a bad man killed the President. I was transfixed right away.