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Second Best Thing: Marilyn, JFK, and a Night to Remember

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President John F. Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe. A page-turning reconstruction of an enchanting after-party by the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. On the night of May 19, 1962, the marquee of the old Madison Square Garden boasted: “BEST THING TODAY…JOHN F. KENNEDY / 2ND BEST THING…MARILYN MONROE.”Few things illustrate the m President John F. Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe. A page-turning reconstruction of an enchanting after-party by the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. On the night of May 19, 1962, the marquee of the old Madison Square Garden boasted: “BEST THING TODAY…JOHN F. KENNEDY / 2ND BEST THING…MARILYN MONROE.”Few things illustrate the magnetism of the Kennedy era like Marilyn Monroe co-headlining the President’s massive birthday fundraiser, and suggestively crooning “Happy Birthday.” But only a privileged few know what happened months earlier, when the two icons spent a weekend at a private summit hosted by Bing Crosby, and later, after the New York extravaganza, at the top secret, invitation-only midnight affair at a millionaire’s Manhattan town house.For more than half a century, this exclusive, no-press-allowed after-party has been shrouded in rumor and myth. Lot 6191 in the 2010 auction of White House photographer Cecil Stoughton’s archive—“Marilyn Monroe at JFK Party”—included twenty-three prints. Their negatives, marked in Stoughton’s hand with “Sensitive material, Do not file,” were seized by the National Archives. Among the collection: the sole existing photograph of Marilyn and the president. Spellbound by the intimacy of the image and the force of public imagination, bestselling historian James Swanson masterfully reconstructs the fabled soiree, bringing alive a night that history nearly left behind.


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President John F. Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe. A page-turning reconstruction of an enchanting after-party by the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. On the night of May 19, 1962, the marquee of the old Madison Square Garden boasted: “BEST THING TODAY…JOHN F. KENNEDY / 2ND BEST THING…MARILYN MONROE.”Few things illustrate the m President John F. Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe. A page-turning reconstruction of an enchanting after-party by the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. On the night of May 19, 1962, the marquee of the old Madison Square Garden boasted: “BEST THING TODAY…JOHN F. KENNEDY / 2ND BEST THING…MARILYN MONROE.”Few things illustrate the magnetism of the Kennedy era like Marilyn Monroe co-headlining the President’s massive birthday fundraiser, and suggestively crooning “Happy Birthday.” But only a privileged few know what happened months earlier, when the two icons spent a weekend at a private summit hosted by Bing Crosby, and later, after the New York extravaganza, at the top secret, invitation-only midnight affair at a millionaire’s Manhattan town house.For more than half a century, this exclusive, no-press-allowed after-party has been shrouded in rumor and myth. Lot 6191 in the 2010 auction of White House photographer Cecil Stoughton’s archive—“Marilyn Monroe at JFK Party”—included twenty-three prints. Their negatives, marked in Stoughton’s hand with “Sensitive material, Do not file,” were seized by the National Archives. Among the collection: the sole existing photograph of Marilyn and the president. Spellbound by the intimacy of the image and the force of public imagination, bestselling historian James Swanson masterfully reconstructs the fabled soiree, bringing alive a night that history nearly left behind.

30 review for Second Best Thing: Marilyn, JFK, and a Night to Remember

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Reading Rush: Read in one place More of an extra long essay than a novella, about the authors search for a "missing" photograph of Marilyn Monroe & President John F. Kennedy together at an after party for JFKs infamous birthday bash in 1962. As you know I will read anything about the Kennedy's and this definitely proves it but hey it was free on Kindle so it was worth it. There really isn't much to say about this but it was a quick read and it did raise an important question Where is the full tap Reading Rush: Read in one place More of an extra long essay than a novella, about the authors search for a "missing" photograph of Marilyn Monroe & President John F. Kennedy together at an after party for JFKs infamous birthday bash in 1962. As you know I will read anything about the Kennedy's and this definitely proves it but hey it was free on Kindle so it was worth it. There really isn't much to say about this but it was a quick read and it did raise an important question Where is the full tape of JFK's birthday gala? No rec but if you wanna read it I think its still free on Kindle

  2. 5 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    Second Best Thing Marilyn, JFK, and a Night to Remember By: James L. Swanson This is a short story about missing photos from a secret party with JFK and Marilyn Monroe! The photos were from the only person JFK would allow to take pictures there, Cecil Stoughton. The author is a historian and describes how he was able to get some of these photos. Very interesting! I am a Marilyn and history geek so I really enjoyed it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Interesting essay about photos of the famous JFK birthday bash at Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday and the after party

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary Eve

    Swanson's essay revisits that infamous night in history, the night an American President was serenaded by the most famous blonde in the world. Did the night end at the after party, or did JFK and Marilyn retire the evening together? Swanson is currently researching details of this night. He uses his essay to reach out to anyone that may have attended the Presidential birthday party at Madison Square Garden. "The marquee outside the Garden broadcast the evening’s stars in huge letters: BEST THING Swanson's essay revisits that infamous night in history, the night an American President was serenaded by the most famous blonde in the world. Did the night end at the after party, or did JFK and Marilyn retire the evening together? Swanson is currently researching details of this night. He uses his essay to reach out to anyone that may have attended the Presidential birthday party at Madison Square Garden. "The marquee outside the Garden broadcast the evening’s stars in huge letters: BEST THING TODAY . . . JOHN F. KENNEDY / 2ND BEST THING . . . MARILYN MONROE." Swanson is looking for possible attendees of both parties: the birthday salute and the private after party. Actual ticket sales are lost to history, but at $10 a ticket I can only imagine the thousands that were sold for the Garden event. C'mon. Kennedy AND Marilyn Monroe at Madison Square Garden!!! Had I been alive back then I would have happily sold my brother in order to attend that gig. Swanson hopes someone will come forward with new information or personal videos. He's also trying to recreate the actual guest list for the private party. Most importantly, we all want to know about that damn picture by Cecil Stoughton — the only surviving picture in the world that captured both Marilyn and Jack. Does this image harbor secrets? Is there more to the story? If you were at that party, give Swanson a shout out. He's looking for YOU.

  5. 4 out of 5

    TL

    2 🌟.. just okay *shrugs* Interesting enough to finish and the photographs were neat to look at, but the writing didn't suck me in. 2 🌟.. just okay *shrugs* Interesting enough to finish and the photographs were neat to look at, but the writing didn't suck me in.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miebara Jato

    So it didn't happen? I mean JFK didn't dig Marilyn Monroe in his famous 45th birthday party, after all. Anyway, much about the night still remains unearthed. The truth will come to light eventually. Unfortunately, this essay leaves more questions than answers. So it didn't happen? I mean JFK didn't dig Marilyn Monroe in his famous 45th birthday party, after all. Anyway, much about the night still remains unearthed. The truth will come to light eventually. Unfortunately, this essay leaves more questions than answers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Freesiab

    This essay takes about an hour to read, so if you’re expecting deep dark secrets to unearth you won’t find them here. What you will find is a well researched look at the events surrounding the President’s Birthday and Marilyn Monroe’s role in those events. It gave a good account and provided great photographs of the various parties. I also liked hearing about the other celebrities that were in attendance, as well as some of the hypotheses regarding the President’s extra curricular activities. I This essay takes about an hour to read, so if you’re expecting deep dark secrets to unearth you won’t find them here. What you will find is a well researched look at the events surrounding the President’s Birthday and Marilyn Monroe’s role in those events. It gave a good account and provided great photographs of the various parties. I also liked hearing about the other celebrities that were in attendance, as well as some of the hypotheses regarding the President’s extra curricular activities. I would have enjoyed this with more detail but it is what it is and I liked it!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ella

    2.5 stars. It was mostly just a summary of the night, with a little bit of extra info sprinkled in. Overall, a good summary of the events that happened that night. A well-researched essay.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    James L. Swansons's 'Second Best Thing: Marilyn, JFK, and a Night to Remember' (2020) is too short an essay to give anything more than two stars. I was through this in just one hour! Even the photographs of the evening of JFK's birthday party fundraiser in New York on May 19th '62 taken by Cecil Stoughton fail to blow out the candles, even with Marilyn in attendance in that dress. I do go for most things Camelot, but as a night to remember, this sank without trace. James L. Swansons's 'Second Best Thing: Marilyn, JFK, and a Night to Remember' (2020) is too short an essay to give anything more than two stars. I was through this in just one hour! Even the photographs of the evening of JFK's birthday party fundraiser in New York on May 19th '62 taken by Cecil Stoughton fail to blow out the candles, even with Marilyn in attendance in that dress. I do go for most things Camelot, but as a night to remember, this sank without trace.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lacey

    This essay is pointless. The picture isn’t scandalous & the relationship between Marilyn & JFK seems to be based on rumors & conjecture. Would not recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elaine Hall

    Very interesting Remarkable discussion about long-hidden details of that picture. It certainly was a night to be remembered. A quick interesting read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jen Simon

    Interesting essay on the authors’ search for lost media artifacts of one of history’s most prolific presidential events with a public glimpse of the incestuous intermingling of wealth, politics, Hollywood entertainers and, of course, the famous bejeweled performance by Marilyn Monroe - all otherwise referred to as “Camelot”. Definitely a conversation starter.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ginger

    Interesting.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    May! As a Kennedy fan it was interesting but just a rehash.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    As this is an essay, it was a pretty quick read but it was interesting nonetheless. The author discusses JFK forty- fifth birthday celebrations and his famous guest Marilyn Monroe. I found this story to be somewhat tragic and keeping in mind that Marilyn died shortly after her legendary performance it made me a little sad. I loved the pictures that were included with the essay. No one knows what really happened between Marilyn and JFK, so this essay leaves me with nothing but not answered questi As this is an essay, it was a pretty quick read but it was interesting nonetheless. The author discusses JFK forty- fifth birthday celebrations and his famous guest Marilyn Monroe. I found this story to be somewhat tragic and keeping in mind that Marilyn died shortly after her legendary performance it made me a little sad. I loved the pictures that were included with the essay. No one knows what really happened between Marilyn and JFK, so this essay leaves me with nothing but not answered questions and my own assumptions.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    One mans theory/opinion with no credible evidence. Pure speculation with only rumors to back up claims. I’m assuming the essay was merely a plea for witnesses of the event to come forward. It doesn’t matter anymore.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Krista Rodriguez

    I really liked the photos. I did learn some things about this particular night in Kennedy’s life,but there was also a lot of theory. Actually, I would have liked to know more about the people at the party,etc rather than rumors.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tara Brock

    Small essay A glimpse into a night of celebration for JFK and the performance of Marilyn Monroe...and one small picture. Interesting, but no wow factor.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chuckdee

    An interesting recitation of a very small, but documented, night in American politics...worth the read if any of the people or topics central to this story are of interest to you

  20. 5 out of 5

    Polly J. Van Benthusen

    Interesting but nothing really new I enjoyed looking at the old photos and reading this account. There was really nothing new just some presumed information.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I got this thinking it was a short story, as I thought the marketing suggested. It certainly begins like one, with the first person narration of a writer at an auction-house, where rare photo's of the Kennedy presidency taken by his Court photographer Cecil Stoughton are under the hammer. Will shocking new images come to light unearthing some dark hints at conspiracy and immorality? No, this is actually an essay, like an excerpt from a longer biography, and concluded with a plea for more informa I got this thinking it was a short story, as I thought the marketing suggested. It certainly begins like one, with the first person narration of a writer at an auction-house, where rare photo's of the Kennedy presidency taken by his Court photographer Cecil Stoughton are under the hammer. Will shocking new images come to light unearthing some dark hints at conspiracy and immorality? No, this is actually an essay, like an excerpt from a longer biography, and concluded with a plea for more information by the writer to help him fill in the gaps. But it is still a vivid reconstruction of Kennedy's birthday gala, with its variety show, famous MC's such as comedian Jack Benny, and breathless rendition of 'Happy Birthday Mr President' by the titular 'second best thing' (Kennedy being the first) on the programme, Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe. Much is made of the breathtakingly then shocking translucency and painted on nature of Marilyn's outfit. We also see Kennedy throned in splendour as the King of Camelot, seated in his raised booth, cigar in hand, with all paying tribute before him. It does capture the mystique and glamour and charisma of this Presidency. The essay does not go for easy scandal. We are told Jackie Kennedy stayed away, and previous trysts between Kennedy and a range of women including Marilyn are acknowledged. But the fission here is what might have happened, rather than what did, and the writer is at pains to show both leads going their separate ways at the end of the evening. The essay is illustrated with a range of Stoughton's images, and a central one shows Jack turning away as the camera flashes with Marilyn by his side. We'll never know if this turning away was deliberate or not. The writer concludes sombrely with the tragic destiny of both protagonists, which gives events a romantic melancholy. Very much worth a read, especially if you are interested in this chapter of history, and full of vivid details that do bring the night to memorable life. Given that no consistent recording of the whole night exists, what we are left with here, then, is a fascinating reconstruction.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

    My rating is 2.5 stars. Interesting facts about President Kennedy's 45th Birthday Celebration: *The Democratic party needed to raise $1 million to pay off the Democratic National Committee debt from the 1960 presidential campaign. The date was May 19th, 10 days before his real birthday. Part 1 was an exclusive dinner with JFK, Part 2 would be an entertainment extravaganza at the old Madison Square Garden. *In March 1962 while attending a weekend event at Bing Crosby's home in Rancho Mirage, JFK pe My rating is 2.5 stars. Interesting facts about President Kennedy's 45th Birthday Celebration: *The Democratic party needed to raise $1 million to pay off the Democratic National Committee debt from the 1960 presidential campaign. The date was May 19th, 10 days before his real birthday. Part 1 was an exclusive dinner with JFK, Part 2 would be an entertainment extravaganza at the old Madison Square Garden. *In March 1962 while attending a weekend event at Bing Crosby's home in Rancho Mirage, JFK personally asked Marilyn Monroe to appear at his birthday gala & she accepted. * The marquee at Madison Square Garden: "BEST THING TODAY....JOHN F. KENNEDY/ 2ND BEST THING...MARILYN MONROE. * Estimated attendance was 12,000....but Jacqueline Kennedy did not attend. She was aware of sex romps with other women. She was a star, too, and she refused to be upstaged by a dyed-blonde sex kitten. *Marilyn's dress was made by Jean Louis. It was a sheer concoction of flesh-colored marquisette fabric (basically lightweight mesh or net) studded with twenty-five hundred hand-sewn crystals & six thousand glittering rhinestones clung to every curve of her svelte body. The dress was so formfitting that Marilyn had to be hooked and sewn into it. To ensure a seamless fit and silhouette, she wore absolutely nothing beneath it. She sang "Happy Birthday" & then "Thanks Mr. President for all the things you've Done" to the tune of "Thanks for the Memory". *There was a private party afterwards and JFK & Marilyn attended...she still had on "the dress". *Marilyn died less than 3 months after this event. She had been fired from the film "Something's Got to Give." On November 22, 1963 JFK was killed in Dallas. *In 1999, Christie's sold Marilyn's dress for over $1.26 million. When it hit the block again in 2016, it was bought for $4.8 million. In 1962 it had cost Marilyn less than$1,500. It's the most expensive dress ever sold at auction, according to Guinness World Records.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline W. Landrum

    Short, Sweet and Memorable This little book by James L. Swanson won’t take you long to read, and you will be glad you did. The 45th birthday of JFK was celebrated with three separate events on the night of May 29, 1962. This is the story of those three events and the photos that were taken at them, particularly one little known but very important photograph. The highlight of the middle event held in Madison Square Garden was Marilyn Monroe (“the second best thing”) singing a sultry version of “Ha Short, Sweet and Memorable This little book by James L. Swanson won’t take you long to read, and you will be glad you did. The 45th birthday of JFK was celebrated with three separate events on the night of May 29, 1962. This is the story of those three events and the photos that were taken at them, particularly one little known but very important photograph. The highlight of the middle event held in Madison Square Garden was Marilyn Monroe (“the second best thing”) singing a sultry version of “Happy Birthday” to the President (“the first best thing “). In lot 6191 of Bonhams auction house in December of 2010, the author discovered one of the rare surviving prints of the single photograph from the third and last event of that birthday celebration that shows President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe together. The negative of this photo is missing. This story is a concise and very well written account of these events and this photo and the questions that remain unanswered with any proof about the relationship of JFK and Marilyn Monroe.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Astrid

    Quick Case: Characters: I have never gotten enough of following these two! The narrative of this essay is on point! Incredibly easy to read and a real treat too. -5 Atmosphere: Was I there? It sure felt like it! This book has a way of sucking you in and you don’t even think about leaving. I forgot to blink multiple times because I didn’t want to look away! It was elegant. It was suspenseful. It was sexy! -5 Substance: If you told me that I would absolutely eat up a story about a photograph that no Quick Case: Characters: I have never gotten enough of following these two! The narrative of this essay is on point! Incredibly easy to read and a real treat too. -5 Atmosphere: Was I there? It sure felt like it! This book has a way of sucking you in and you don’t even think about leaving. I forgot to blink multiple times because I didn’t want to look away! It was elegant. It was suspenseful. It was sexy! -5 Substance: If you told me that I would absolutely eat up a story about a photograph that no one has seen I would have had a hard time believing you. We follow a very limited time frame wherein SO much happens! This essay teases you with so much that it could’ve been marketed as a mystery! -5 Enjoyment: Um, have I not made that clear?? If not, I owe you an apology. I recommend this to anyone that wants a little fix of JFK and MM….and who doesn’t?? If you believe you’ve had enough of these two then, I am sorry, we cannot be friends. Now, if you’ll excuse me; I have to go look at every one of my grandfathers’ pictures. -5 Total: 20. 20/5=5

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Bagshaw

    This is not really a book, but more of an essay. The author is in search of missing photos of JFKs private birthday party after the event where he was serenaded by Marilyn Monroe, this is because within a lot of photos available at an auction, there are ohotos from that night, but the negatives are seized or missing. My main issue with this is the lack of evidence. The photo the aitbor is using to prove an affair is the onr on the front cover - to me it looks like two people talking. The author This is not really a book, but more of an essay. The author is in search of missing photos of JFKs private birthday party after the event where he was serenaded by Marilyn Monroe, this is because within a lot of photos available at an auction, there are ohotos from that night, but the negatives are seized or missing. My main issue with this is the lack of evidence. The photo the aitbor is using to prove an affair is the onr on the front cover - to me it looks like two people talking. The author however claims that JFK had turned away as the photograph was taken, missing out on the actual photo the photographer was trying to capture. Throughout the essay, a lot of the language used by the author suggests that Marilyn Monroe was desperate, in love with a man she couldn't have and somewhat of a slut. I personally didn't like the way the author seems to have put all the blame of the affair on Marilyn when it was well known that JFK had numerous nights with different women. It was a quick read though and nice to have an insight into such a prestigious event.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Helen Robare

    When I bought this book I thought it was a biography of Marilyn and JFK. Be warned it isn't! What it is is a story about the presidential photographer and pictures he took of the night Marilyn sang Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy. You can't even call this "book" a short story because there really is no story and there are only 39 pages in the book and half of them are full-page photographs. About the only thing, I learned from this book was that the national archives now own those pho When I bought this book I thought it was a biography of Marilyn and JFK. Be warned it isn't! What it is is a story about the presidential photographer and pictures he took of the night Marilyn sang Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy. You can't even call this "book" a short story because there really is no story and there are only 39 pages in the book and half of them are full-page photographs. About the only thing, I learned from this book was that the national archives now own those photographs and their negatives, that one of the negatives is missing, and that a government/presidential photographer does NOT own the negatives of any pictures he/she takes. All I can say is it's a good thing I "bought" this book for free on Amazon Kindle cause it was not worth even $3.99!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bob Crawford

    Some answers, more questions For a child of the early 1950s, as I am, there are no two more iconic personalities - and images - than JFK and Marilyn Monroe. For that reason, what would be smutty Hollywood gossip were it about anyone else took on historic proportions and still resonates for those of us old enough to remember. And I remember. I recall exactly where I was, having just turned 13, when Kennedy was murdered, and where I was when I heard about Marilyn’s death on the radio. So this essay - Some answers, more questions For a child of the early 1950s, as I am, there are no two more iconic personalities - and images - than JFK and Marilyn Monroe. For that reason, what would be smutty Hollywood gossip were it about anyone else took on historic proportions and still resonates for those of us old enough to remember. And I remember. I recall exactly where I was, having just turned 13, when Kennedy was murdered, and where I was when I heard about Marilyn’s death on the radio. So this essay - a snippet, really - certainly evokes those memories. I hope the author finds more and flushes out this story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    M.

    I listened to the audible version, which I would recommend. The narrator's voice is well-suited to talk about Marilyn Monroe. The focus is on one night that Marilyn Monroe had with JFK. It also goes into what they both did separately, leading up to that night. Much is left to your imagination but the photographs were somewhat insightful. They give you a better understanding of that night as well as some of the people whom Monroe and JFK were associated with. I would definitely recommend the audi I listened to the audible version, which I would recommend. The narrator's voice is well-suited to talk about Marilyn Monroe. The focus is on one night that Marilyn Monroe had with JFK. It also goes into what they both did separately, leading up to that night. Much is left to your imagination but the photographs were somewhat insightful. They give you a better understanding of that night as well as some of the people whom Monroe and JFK were associated with. I would definitely recommend the audible version. It takes no more than about 45 minutes to listen to (or less).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    More an essay than a novella. If you're looking for anything earth shattering, you'll be disappointed. Photos taken by White House photographer during the Kennedy administration are basically the topic - esp. when they went up for auction after the photographer's death. Emphasis on JFK's 45th birthday gala held at Madison Square Garden featuring the iconic Happy Birthday Song by Marilyn Monroe and the private party that followed that event. Based on rumor and speculation. Photos are interesting. More an essay than a novella. If you're looking for anything earth shattering, you'll be disappointed. Photos taken by White House photographer during the Kennedy administration are basically the topic - esp. when they went up for auction after the photographer's death. Emphasis on JFK's 45th birthday gala held at Madison Square Garden featuring the iconic Happy Birthday Song by Marilyn Monroe and the private party that followed that event. Based on rumor and speculation. Photos are interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    The Bee's Knees Book Blog

    Every quick read! This story is about a search for a missing picture(s)/negative from the JFK birthday bash after party. We also get to relive that birthday bash. I'm only 30 so I was not even born during that time but I still felt like I was there just by reading this story. I've always had a fascination with Marilyn Monroe and also the views of her relationship with JKF and also with Robert Kennedy. Thank you for a quick read and hopefully the guest list can be completed and the missing pictur Every quick read! This story is about a search for a missing picture(s)/negative from the JFK birthday bash after party. We also get to relive that birthday bash. I'm only 30 so I was not even born during that time but I still felt like I was there just by reading this story. I've always had a fascination with Marilyn Monroe and also the views of her relationship with JKF and also with Robert Kennedy. Thank you for a quick read and hopefully the guest list can be completed and the missing picture can be found.

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