John F. Kennedy's best friend for three decades was a gay man, according to a new book titled, "Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings. The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship;" the book documents the relationship between the two men from its beginnings at a New England prep school in 1933 until the gunfire in Dallas in 1963. The evidence presented indicates that Jack found out that Lem was gay early in the friendship. Despite his own heterosexuality, however, Jack didn't reject Lem. On the contrary, the friendship grew and survived against the odds.
Though much has been published about Jack Kennedy over the years, little has been known about his enduring friendship with Lem until now. Author David Pitts tells the story with the aid of hundreds of letters and telegrams exchanged between Jack and Lem as well as previously unavailable documents that were placed in the John F. Kennedy Library in 2003 and accessed for the first time with the cooperation of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Featuring interviews with Ben Bradlee, Gore Vidal, Ted Sorensen, friends, family, and many others who knew Jack and Lem, the story begins with their early years at school, follows their relationship through Princeton, Europe, World War II, Kennedy's rapid political ascent, and his time at the White House. Over fifty photographs illustrate the book, most of which are of Jack and Lem at various stages of their lives and have never been seen before by the public.
Even though Lem was a personal friend and never held a position in the Kennedy administration, Jack valued Lem highly enough to discuss with him the great events of his presidency, including the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. There is new political information in the book about how JFK really viewed LBJ and other leaders, about his anger with the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and about his reluctance to commit American armed forces in various conflicts. While Jack was president, Lem even had his own room at the White House and was there most weekends. The book also details the effect of Jack and Lem's close friendship on the president's marriage. Although Jackie Kennedy liked Lem, she was sometimes frustrated by his omnipresence. "He has been a houseguest every weekend of my married life," she told the White House usher.
The author paints a profile of a richly textured friendship set against the backdrop of some of the most remarkable events of the twentieth century, a time of unparalleled idealism but also of rampant homophobia. The book concludes with a chapter on Lem's life after Dallas when he admitted he had loved John Kennedy deeply. "Jack made a big difference in my life," he said. "Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married." Crushed by the assassination, Lem became a much-diminished man in his final years.