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Gloria Swanson Went through 'Absolute Hell' During Affair with John F Kennedy’s Married Father

Titi Dokubo
Sep 28, 2021
09:00 P.M.
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Before John F. Kennedy and Marylin Monroe in the '60s, there was JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and Gloria Swanson in the '20s.

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Before her death, Swanson was a mother to two children — a girl named Gloria and a boy named after her father, with him sharing Kennedy senior's middle name. She later explained the reason for this.

The Kennedy-Swanson affair was an open secret in Hollywood, and it seemed as though nothing could shake the foundation of their love. Here's all that went on in their relationship.

Photo of Gloria Swanson and Joseph P. Kennedy with his family | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Gloria Swanson and Joseph P. Kennedy with his family | Photo: Getty Images

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THE KENNEDY-SWANSON AFFAIR

On November 11, 1927, Swanson and Kennedy senior met in the Renaissance Room of Savoy Plaza Hotel over lunch as she sought financial advice from him.

He then teamed up with the silent film star to produce films together. This meeting which led to an affair was the beginning of her financial downfall. It was more peculiar than your regular clichéd romance story.

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

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In an interview with Barbara Walters in 1981, Swanson revealed that Kennedy senior was obsessed with her because she was something he had never seen before.

She was married to her third husband, a French Marquis named Henry de la Falaise, but Kennedy was in and out of her life. Even though she said she felt guilty in the relationship, she ended up staying.

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

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Kennedy's obsession for her was so great that they had once traveled to Europe together. On this trip, Kennedy went with his wife while Swanson met them there, though his wife gave no hint that she knew about their affair.

Kennedy showed possessiveness over her during the trip that she was tortured with guilt for her husband. Even though Kennedy's wife didn't know or pretended not to care, the same could not be said for Swanson's husband.

Gloria Swanson acts surprised at a formal party from the movie "My Own Party" | Photo: Getty Images

Gloria Swanson acts surprised at a formal party from the movie "My Own Party" | Photo: Getty Images

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Even though Kennedy's wife didn't know of their affair, her father, John Fitzgerald, knew about it and confronted Kennedy at some point. Fitzgerald threatened to tell his daughter about the affair if Kennedy didn't end it.

Kennedy, not ready to end the affair, threatened that if his wife, Rose, got to know about the affair from her father, he would simply get married to Swanson.

Swanson was not his only mistress throughout his lifetime, as Rose had made it clear to Kennedy that intimacy was only for procreation. Because of that, intimacy ended after their last child.

Gloria Swanson dining at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Florida 1978 | Photo: Getty Images

Gloria Swanson dining at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Florida 1978 | Photo: Getty Images

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SWANSON ON SWANSON

In 1980, Swanson had her autobiography published by Random House, and it was titled "Swanson on Swanson." She revealed that she made endless mistakes choosing men or allowing them to choose her.

She said that her three-year relationship with Kennedy was one of her worst mistakes as she was blind and foolish. She also pointed out that they didn't love each other, and there was no point in the affair.

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

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In her revelations over the years, she revealed that Kennedy was appalled to learn that her adopted son had never been baptized, and he worked hard to rectify that.

Swanson, who had formally named the child Joseph, after her father, also had to name him Patrick due to Kennedy's middle name at Kennedy's insistence. This led to the assumption that the boy was his.

She said that she was uncomfortable with having Kennedy at her home, and she never allowed a picture to be taken of the two of them alone together. However, she would go to his Rodeo Drive house for their "meetings."

Photo of Gloria Swanson from the movie "Beyond the Rocks" | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Gloria Swanson from the movie "Beyond the Rocks" | Photo: Getty Images

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ABOUT JOSEPH PATRICK KENNEDY

Kennedy, an Irish-born banker, established himself on the East Coast and landed in Los Angeles from Wall Street when silent films transitioned to talking films.

Quickly, the businessman, familiar with Wall Street techniques, found himself at the head of several studios, namely Pathé, First National, and Film Booking Office (FBO, now RKO). He exited the RKO deal with more than five million dollars.

Harvard graduation portrait of Joseph P. Kennedy | Photo: Getty Images

Harvard graduation portrait of Joseph P. Kennedy | Photo: Getty Images

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He pulled financial tricks with the still relatively new film industry, dealt with balance sheets, and was unscrupulous. He was seen as the first and the only outsider to defraud Hollywood.

Joe Kennedy was successful in Hollywood, where Paramount and other studios countered him in a few cover attempts. His biggest film project, "Queen Kelly," directed by Erich von Stroheim and starring Swanson, failed.

Joseph P. Kennedy at his job as President of Columbia Trust | Photo: Getty Images

Joseph P. Kennedy at his job as President of Columbia Trust | Photo: Getty Images

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This was also the period when the stock market crashed, heralding the beginning of the Great Depression. Kennedy knew to pull out of the market early enough and was not affected by the failure of his movie.

They shut down the movie's production after Stroheim had shot little more than half of what he intended. In 1931, Kennedy left Hollywood and Swanson.

When they first met, he had promised that they would make millions together. However, when the affair ended, he left her completely ruined financially.

Headshot portrait of American businessman and diplomat Joseph P. Kennedy | Photo: Getty Images

Headshot portrait of American businessman and diplomat Joseph P. Kennedy | Photo: Getty Images

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SWANSON'S LIFE AND FINANCES

After the Stroheim fiasco and Kennedy's leaving, Swanson, who was casual about bookkeeping and was not at the helm of her financial affairs, realized how much debt she was in.

She learned that she owed nearly a million dollars on the "Queen Kelly" movie alone. She found that she had paid for every gift that Kennedy had supposedly given to her.

Photo of Erich Von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, and William Holden | Photo: Getty Images

Photo of Erich Von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, and William Holden | Photo: Getty Images

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Just as her business was crumbling, her husband Henry asked for a divorce. He revealed that he had known about her affair for a while. Her marriage to Henry meant she was the first Hollywood star to literally become royalty.

Even though she never really recovered professionally or financially, Swanson was not known to be a quitter. She made a few more films to earn a living.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden for the movie "Sunset Boulevard" | Photo: Getty Images

Gloria Swanson and William Holden for the movie "Sunset Boulevard" | Photo: Getty Images

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In 1950, she delivered one of the greatest performances in screen history in the classic movie "Sunset Boulevard," directed by Billy Wilder. This earned her a Golden Globe Award, and they honored her with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Before her passing on April 4, 1983, Swanson was to marry three more times. Michael Farmer became her fourth husband in 1931, but they were separated two years later. They had a daughter, Michelle Bridget Farmer, born April 5, 1932.

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of Gloria Swanson | Photo: Getty Images

On January 29, 1945, she married her fifth husband, William Davey, a wealthy investment broker. Her final marriage before her death was in 1976 was to a writer named William Dufty.

She never wanted to publish her memoirs, but after Rose Kennedy claimed to feel sorry for "poor Gloria" in 1974 in the autobiography, "Times to Remember," Swanson knew to speak up.

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