Kennedy was introduced to the famous actress in February of 1962 when his brother-in-law, British actor Peter Lawford, invited Monroe to a dinner party in New York that was being held to honor JFK. Monroe had actually met Kennedy twice before, but very briefly each time. Although dinner was at eight, Monroe was notoriously late for everything, and the fact that she was going to attend a dinner with the President of the United States waiting did not improve her lack of punctuality. She eventually arrived more than an hour late. Lawford's business partner, Milt Ebbins, later recalled
"When she walked in, it was like the parting of the Red Sea. There were about 25 people in there and the crowd divided into halves as she walked through the room." Actress Arlene Dahl, was also at the party, and as she recalled: "Marilyn walked in and everything stopped, everyone stopped. It was magical, really. I've never seen anyone stop a room like that. The President turned around and you could see that he was immediately attracted to her. 'Finally! You're here,' he said, with a big smile. 'There are some people here who are dying to meet you.' Then she was descended upon. People just wanted to stand near her, smell her fragrance, breathe the same air."
According to other reports, Kennedy took Monroe's arm and they went to the table, giving Ebbins a wry little smile and a wink. Kennedy later asked Monroe for her phone number and called her the next day. In the call, Kennedy is alleged to have told Monroe that he was going to be in Palm Springs on March 24, and he asked if she would meet him there, adding "Jackie won't be there."
Philip Watson, a former Los Angeles county assessor, stated that he was present when Monroe met Kennedy on March 24th at Bing Crosby's Spanish-style house in Palm Springs. According to Watson, Monroe was calm and relaxed, and was wearing "kind of a robe thing". Watson added, "There was no question in my mind that Marilyn and the President were together. They were having a good time. She'd had a lot to drink. It was obvious they were intimate and that they were staying there together for the night."
According to other reports, the tryst was viewed differently by the two main subjects. Monroe became obsessed with the President, while Kennedy simply looked upon their encounter as another conquest. According to Kennedy's good friend Florida Democratic Senator George Smathers:
"Jack was pretty much done with her after Palm Springs. JFK told me that they were talking and he happened to say something to her like: 'You're not really First Lady material, anyway, Marilyn.' He said it really stuck in her craw. She didn't like hearing that. I think he only saw her one more time, and that was when she came into Washington unexpectedly and we - he, I and a few others - took her sailing on a motorboat down the Potomac River. We got back at 11.30 at night. She didn't stay at the White House, she stayed somewhere else. There was no hanky-panky between her and JFK that night. I know, because I asked him the next day and he would have happily said so. But, anyway, Jackie knew about that trip. In fact, we were dancing at a White House ball and she said to me: 'Don't think I'm naive about what you and Jack are doing with all those pretty girls, like Marilyn, sailing on the Potomac under the moonlight.' She was accustomed to Kennedy's indiscretions, but this one bothered her. She knew from what she'd heard and read that Marilyn was a troubled woman. It wasn't so much that she was angry about it, more that she was just disgusted."
A Secret Service agent later stated: "We all knew about the weekend. It wasn't until she and the President were both dead that people started talking about an affair. Trust me, no one was saying anything about an affair in 1962. What we knew was that JFK and Marilyn had sex at Bing Crosby's, and that's it. We didn't think it was a big deal. He had sex with a lot of women. She was just one of many and it wasn't that noteworthy. If there was more to it between them, they somehow managed to keep it from us - and I don't think you can keep something like that from the Secret Service."
The weekend in Palm Springs developed into an obsession for Monroe, who desperately wanted to see Kennedy again. Her publicist Rupert Allan described her as being "fixated on the President. It started to become unclear as to what was going on between them, even though I thought it wasn't much. She was acting like she wanted more, though." Another secret service agent said: "She was calling him a lot. She wanted to see him. Everyone knew it." But the feeling wasn't mutual and Kennedy refused to return her calls to the White House.
After the incident in May in which Monroe sang "Happy Birthday Mister President" to Kennedy at Madison Square Gardens in a skintight sequined gown (shown in the YouTube video above), first lady Jackie Kennedy told her husband that she was deeply unhappy about the event. According to author Seymour Hirsch, she threatened to file for divorce immediately, before the next presidential campaign, something that would have hamstrung his chances of being re-elected.
George Smathers said:
"Jack was already done with Marilyn anyway, by that time. He had this other girl named Mary Meyer he was playing around with. His view of Marilyn was that she was a very sweet girl, but to him sweet girls were a dime a dozen and Marilyn was trouble. She began to ask for opportunities to come to Washington, to the White House, that sort of thing. But he told Jackie: 'Look, it really is over. It was nothing anyway.' Jack told me 'It's not worth it, George. I have a free ride here with Jackie. She gives me great latitude. So if this one is going to be an issue for her and cause me problems with respect to her dealing with the other women, then, fine, I can live without this one. No problem. So let's just end it with Marilyn before it's too late.' So I called someone I knew, a friend of Marilyn's I could trust, and said 'I need you to put a bridle on Marilyn's mouth and stop her from talking so much about what's going on with Jack. It's starting to get around too much.' That's all I did to end things, my little contribution. But I know what Jack did: he stopped taking her calls, if he ever took any. As far as he was concerned, he was done with her. But, Marilyn... well, she wouldn't be so easily got rid of, let's put it that way."
Publicist Rupert Allan adds, "If Kennedy had handled Marilyn differently, things might not have turned out so badly. But just ducking her as he did - not good."
Kennedy never personally told Marilyn that their fling was over. Instead, he had his brother Attorney-General Robert Kennedy tell her that she was not to call the White House again.
Whether it was rejection by Kennedy or some other cause, by 1962, the year she died, Monroe was heavily dependent on prescription drugs and alcohol to control her emotional instability. On August 5, 1962, at 4:25 a.m., LAPD sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call from Dr. Ralph Greenson, Monroe's psychiatrist, saying that Monroe was found dead at her home at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. She was 36 years old.
According to Kennedy biographer Richard Reeves, "the logistics of Kennedy's liaisons required secrecy and devotion rare in the annals of the energetic service demanded by successful politicians". Kennedy reportedly believed that his friendly relationship with members of the press would help protect him from revelations about his sex life. During his lifetime, he was correct about this assumption.