Marilyn, JFK and a Literary Hoax

On Salon.com today, an extract from Melissa Katsoulis’ book, Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds, explores the Cusack Papers, which purportedly offered definitive proof of an affair between Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh studied the Cusack Papers while writing his 1997 book, The Dark Side of Camelot, only to discover they were fake after publication.

“It was in the mid-1990s that Lex Cusack, the son of an attorney who had worked for the Catholic archdiocese of New York, came forward with his revelatory stash of papers. Those papers, which he claimed to have found among his late father’s belongings, revealed that Lex Senior had been none other than Kennedy’s secret legal advisor and the documents were, without a doubt, absolutely the most inflammatory things anyone with an interest in JFK (i.e., just about everyone) could hope to read. They detailed, both in the form of legal contracts and tear-stained love-letters from a certain ‘Happy Birthday’-singing film star, the full extent of the mess the thirty-fifth president had found himself in shortly before his murder in 1963. He was a bigamist. He had been having an affair with Marilyn Monroe and had paid her a large sum of money to keep quiet about his bigamy, their affair and – perhaps worst of all – his connections with the notorious mobster Sam Giancana and various other underworld figures. And he was afraid that J. Edgar Hoover was on to him and his game would very soon be up.

These three scandals had been the stuff of rumour and gossip ever since the mid-sixties but until Lex Cusack came forward with his father’s letters there had been no material proof of them whatsoever.

In 1985, Lex’s well known father Lawrence X. Cusack had died, leaving the big names in New York’s Catholic community bereft of one of their most trusted legal aides … In the immediate aftermath of his death, the Manhattan law firm of which he was a founding partner, Cusack & Stiles, instructed one of their clerks, who also happened to be his son Lex, to sort through the thousands of papers left behind in Lawrence’s office. Amongst these papers were, Lex would claim, the 300 or so which revealed the close advisory relationship, hitherto unknown to anyone, between Cusack and Kennedy. Cusack characterized his father as an all-knowing ‘Holmes’ figure to the troubled president, and this special partnership contained such damning evidence as a trust agreement committing Kennedy to paying for Monroe’s mother’s healthcare in return for Marilyn keeping quiet about all she knew of the president’s underworld connections and illegal marriage.

Even before Hersh lent his good name to the project, however, Cusack had sold several of the letters to private collectors … Letters such as the one in which Kennedy refers to ‘MM’, with her dangerous knowledge about his private life, needing to be sorted out even pointed to the popular conspiracy theory that Marilyn had been murdered by government agents trying to cover up a scandal. And another note, suggesting that just before her demise Marilyn was about to call a news conference and tell-all about the president who had broken her heart, only fueled the rumours further.

Sy Hersh, who had now used his access to Cusack’s papers to increase his book advance by several hundred thousand pounds, was as much of a Kennedy enthusiast as the next American … Hersh knew full well that hoaxers frequently turn out to have left a trail of mis-truths and self-aggrandizing lies, and eventually he had to admit he had been conned. In 1999 Lex was imprisoned for ten years for defrauding his buyers of a total of $7,000,000.”

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