The Press: An American Genealogy

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(12,427) DURIE (Kerr) MALCOM (Isabel O. Cooper, 11,304). We have no birth date. She was born Kerr, but took the name of her stepfather. She first married Firmin Desloge, IV. They were divorced. Durie then married F. John Bersbach. They were divorced, and she married, third, John F. Kennedy, son of Joseph P. Kennedy, one time Ambassador to England. There were no children of the second or third marriages.

This brief item appeared in a 1957 book that belongs on any alltime worstseller list: The Blauvelt Family Genealogy. It was one of some 25,000 capsule biographies, taking up 1,100 pages, of the descendants of Gerrit Hendricksen (who later became known as Blauvelt), a Dutchman who helped settle New York in 1638. Yet it was to set off a great search—one that tried to distinguish between fact and fiction, between records and rumors. For in its deadpan way, the item plainly said that John Kennedy had been married secretly to someone before he wed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Declining to Deny. Just who first spotted the paragraph about Family Member No. 12,427 remains unknown. But around the spring of 1961, photostatic copies of the page from The Blauvelt Family Genealogy began to be passed around. The person showing the page usually knew no more than was printed on it, and, depending on who he was, he either accepted it as fact or thought it a good joke. Newsmen heard about it and, understandably, became curious. The best, fastest, most direct way of checking seemed to be by asking the parties involved: President Kennedy and Mrs. Durie Malcolm Bersbach Desloge Shevlin.

Both sides declined to deny. White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger even put his refusal to comment off the record. Durie Malcolm, now Mrs. Thomas H. Shevlin, either scoffed at the whole thing as too "ridiculous" to discuss or dismissed queries with the comment: "I'm bored with this." The White House reasoning, no doubt, was that a categorical denial would acknowledge the story and get it into print, whereas off-the-record "no comments" would leave it in a vague limbo where it might eventually die.

All this only whetted interest. In the absence of forthright denials, the story—and the rumors—grew. Last March, The Realist, a shabby Greenwich Village periodical, published the fact of the Blauvelt genealogical entry as an "expose." So, a bit later, did Birmingham's antiSemitic, anti-Negro circular, The Thunderbolt ("The White Man's Viewpoint"). So, in June, did The Winrod Letter, a oamphlet put out by the Rev. Gordon Winrod of Little Rock. Racist organizations in the South and crackpot groups everywhere photostated these pieces and sent them out as junk mail by the scores of thousands; it is estimated that at least 100,000 were received by mailbox holders in Massachusetts alone.

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