Cannes, France, 1953: the Côte d’Azur is enjoying a golden age after the end of the Second World War. A few years earlier the first edition of the film festival that placed the small town on the world map was held. And there, in that summer of 1953, two people met and played out a furtive love story: he was just a few weeks away from marrying his fiancée, Jacqueline Bouvier. Their names were already famous, but not on the scale they would be in later years. Swedish and American, they were the aristocrat Gunilla von Post and US Senator John F. Kennedy. Von Post was 21 when she met Kennedy, then 36. She had been learning the hospitality business in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was in Cannes to improve her French. Now, six decades later, their romance has been revealed to the world.
Letters exchanged by Von Post and Kennedy are to be sold by Boston auction house RR. The lot consists of a complete letter and two partial missives, eight pages in total, dated a few years after their 1953 meeting in France and in which the two swap information and make arrangements to meet. The context of the letters is better understood by referencing a book written by Von Post and published in 1997 titled Love, Jack, in which the Swedish aristocrat details their little-known romance. The letters being auctioned remained among Von Post’s personal possessions until her death in 2011. They will now go under the hammer for a reserve price of $2,500, although it is estimated they will fetch somewhere in the region of $30,000.
The first missive included in the lot is one of the partial letters, dated from approximately 1955. Von Post had previously sent Kennedy a photograph and he had asked that she translate the Swedish words she had written on the back of it. “You look amazing and happy,” Kennedy tells her. A meeting between the two is also arranged. Kennedy at the time was a senator for Massachusetts, a post he held from January 1953 until he was elected president in 1960. “It seems that Congress will not break up until August 5, so I will be sailing on the United States, which arrives in Le Havre on August 10 and I should be in Sweden on the 12th. Where shall I go? Send me the address in Bastad where you will be staying.”
Indeed, the meeting went ahead as planned and Kennedy and Von Post spent almost a week together “consummating their relationship throughout Sweden in August 1955,” says the auction house, based on Von Post’s book. It was a passion that, at least in the case of Von Post, lasted for some time. In her memoirs she stated that over the next year, Kennedy attempted to separate from Jackie Kennedy in order to once again be with Von Post, and even to bring her to the United States. However, Von Post said that this plan was thwarted by Kennedy’s political ambition and the considerable influence of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
Another factor was Jackie Kennedy giving birth to a stillborn daughter in 1956, which affected both Kennedy and Von Post profoundly, and her subsequent pregnancy and the birth of Caroline Bouvier Kennedy in 1957.
The only complete letter in the lot dates from 1956 and is a farewell message with shades of humor. “Many thanks for your letter. I have to say that I’m sad to hear, after everything, that you’re not coming to the US after all and you’re going to marry the farmer. Thank God it’s not the one we gave a lift to in Sweden last year,” joked the then-Senator in reference to Von Post’s imminent marriage to a landowner. Nevertheless, in spite of his lover’s situation, Kennedy wrote: “I was planning to come and see you next summer… and then this happens. In any case, let me know what you’re going to do. If you don’t get married, come, I’d like to see you. I had a wonderful time with you last summer. It’s a memory full of light in my life, you are amazing and I miss you,” the senator wrote in the letter, which will be sold in its original envelope. According to the auction house, it is the only known letter in existence in which JFK professes his love for another woman while he was married, despite a long list of lovers attributed to the former president that includes Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
However, the fact that Von Post was unable to travel to the United States to be officially installed as Kennedy’s girlfriend or wife did not mean that he was going to give up her company, something the final letter displays. The partial correspondence, date stamped at Hyannis Port, a small coastal town in Massachusetts where the Kennedys would spend long summer breaks, is signed ‘Jack’ and begins with a half-sentence that is easy to interpret. “… arriving and maybe you can make a space for me. I’m eager to see you. Isn’t it strange after so many months?” As Kennedy says to Von Post in the letter: “Perhaps at the beginning we appeared like strangers to one another, but we are not and I am sure that it will work and it will be worth it.” The letter, dated August 1, 1956, is addressed to the “wife of Anders Ekman,” the name of the landowner who Von Post married.
Kennedy and Von Post would only see each other on one more occasion, almost by chance at a gala dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in 1958. She was pregnant at the time with her first child, Andrea, and would go on to have a second, Rosina. What they couldn’t know at the time was they would never see each other again. Anders Ekman died two years later, in 1960, while piloting a plane. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Von Post eventually moved to the US and settled in Florida after marrying an IBM executive.
English version by Rob Train.