President Kennedy's First Marriage!!

John F. Kennedy married Jackie Bouvier in 1952. Previous to that time he was married to Durie Malcolm–a twice divorced Palm Beach socialite. According to Latin Church canon law, that marriage was invalid because it was not performed by a priest in front of two or three witnesses.

Here is the dogmatic Council of Trent statement on marriage:

Those who shall attempt to contract marriage otherwise than in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest by permission of the said parish priest, or of the Ordinary, and in the presence of two or three witnesses; the holy Synod renders such wholly incapable of thus contracting and declares such contracts invalid and null, as by the present decree. It invalidates and annuls them. (Council of Trent, Twenty-fourth Session, Chapter I).

According to Latin Church canon law, the only President of the United States who was legally married was Jack Kennedy.

Additionally, the Council of Trent defines marriage as one MAN and one WOMAN:

The first parent of the human race, under the influence of the divine Spirit, pronounced the bond of matrimony perpetual and indissoluble, when he said; This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. But, that by this bond two only are united and joined together, our Lord taught more plainly, when rehearsing those last words as having been uttered by God, He said, therefore now they are not two, but one flesh; and straightway confirmed the firmness of that tie, proclaimed so long before by Adam, by these words; What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Council of Trent, Twenty-fourth Session).

Clark Clifford was a very prominent lawyer and special counsel to President Kennedy. In 1961, he was summoned to the White House because of the discovery that the President had a previous wife.

Clark Clifford (1906-1998).

Clark Clifford


In 1961, Clark Clifford was called to the White House for damage control due to the discovery of a prior marriage for President Kennedy.

In 1991, he published his memoirs entitled Council to the President.

He called the incident the Blauvelt Affair.

President Kennedy and Clark Clifford. President Kennedy and Clark Clifford.

President Kennedy and Clark Clifford.

The Blauvelts were a Dutch family who came to the New World in 1638. A descendant, Louis L. Blauvelt, made a family genealogy which had an account of a family member, Durie Malcolm, marrying Jack Kennedy in 1947.

Durie Malcolm (1917-2008). Age 18.
Durie Malcolm (1917–2008),
at age 18.

Jack Kennedy married Durie Malcolma twice divorced Palm Beach socialite in 1947.

Joe Kennedy was FURIOUS. He planned on running his son for the Presidency and a divorcée was not Presidential timber.

He had the marriage annulled, but a formal civil divorce was never obtained.

Durie Malcolm circa 1960.
Durie Malcolm circa 1960.

It's a small world after all and President Kennedy must have been shocked when he found out that Clark Clifford actually knew his former wife!!

The Blauvelt Affair by Clark Clifford

In January 1962, Evelyn Lincoln called once again with those words that always somehow seemed to imply an emergency, without actually saying so: "The President would like to see you right away." Ten minutes later, I was alone with President Kennedy, who began the conversation by saying, "You won't believe this one." Thus began my involvement in one of those silly and bizarre incidents that can happen to almost any public official–the wholly inaccurate story which takes on a life of its own. The "Blauvelt Affair" is a remarkable example of how time-consuming it sometimes can be to deal with a complete fabrication.

President Kennedy told me that a story had been circulating that he had been secretly married when he was younger to a woman named Durie Malcolm. The rumors were based upon a privately printed book, a genealogy of all the descendants of a seventeenth-century Dutch Hudson Valley settler named Blauvelt; it had been compiled over twenty years by a retired General Electric toolmaker in New Jersey named Louis L. Blauvelt, who finished his work in 1957, and died two years later at the age of seventy-nine. Fewer than one thousand copies of the book had been printed, but one was on file at the Library of Congress. In the late summer of 1961, an unknown person had photocopied and mailed to several reporters page 884 of this obscure book, which contained the following passage:

  (12,427) DURIE, (KERR), MALCOLM.... 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.  

At first, in the summer of 1961, President Kennedy and his staff had tried to deal with the matter by ignoring it; but when the rumor continued to circulate and then surfaced in a few minor periodicals, the President called me. When I asked him what the facts were, he replied, "All I know is that some years ago, I knew very briefly a young woman named Durie Malcolm. I think I had two dates with her. One may have been a dinner date in which we went dancing. The other, to my recollection, was a football game. Those were the only two times I ever saw her. My brother Joe also dated her a few years earlier. I remember that she was quite attractive."

My response startled him, as I knew it would: "I'll go further than that, Mr. President. I think she was one of the most attractive women I ever met"
"What are you talking about?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Well, "I replied, "I have known Durie Malcolm for a long time. Some years ago, one of the heirs of a wealthy family in St. Louis, a young man named Firmin Desloge, met this charming girl–my recollection is that she was from Chicago–and brought her back to St. Louis as his wife. Her name was Durie Malcolm. They were a good deal younger than my wife and me, but we saw them quite often socially. She had a great deal of spin and vitality. Firmin Desloge was a nice fellow, but not right for Durie and she left him after a while. Later, she married a man I knew slightly named Tommy Shevlin, a social fellow and a good amateur golfer, and they moved to Palm Beach."

He was amused at this striking coincidence, but he was less amused at the fact that the extract from Blauvelt's genealogy was beginning to circulate widely among right-wing and anti-Catholic circles throughout the nation–with several hundred thousand copies of the item being distributed by bigoted opponents. So far it had not appeared in print in any serious or responsible publication. But the President showed me a "blind" item from a recent issue of Roll Call, a publication for Capitol Hill employees, that asked, "Who is the former Senator, now in high public office, who is concealing his former marriage?" The President asked me to deal only with him, his brother, and Press Secretary Pierre Salinger.

I went to the Library of Congress that same day to see for myself the Blauvelt genealogy. It was a tiny item in a huge book that contained virtually nothing but names. There was no evidence that the author had noticed that the man mentioned in the item about Durie was already a United States Senator at the time of publication.

Next, I located Durie Malcolm Desloge Shevlin in Palm Beach and called her up. She was surprised to hear from me again. It had been a long time since we had last seen each other in St. Louis, but she said she had followed my career from time to time. I said I needed to talk to her about President Kennedy: "I want to read to you an item from a book about the genealogy of the Blauvelt family that states that you and President Kennedy were married."

I could hear her laugh. "Good God," she said, "imagine being married to President Kennedy. That's a laugh."
"Durie," I said, "as a lawyer, let me ask you some very formal questions. One, were you ever married to John F. Kennedy?"
Again, she laughed. "No."
"Did you know John F. Kennedy?"
"Yes, I knew him and his brother Joe. He was young and attractive. I believe that it was before he was in the Congress. My recollection is that we had two dates. We may have had dinner in New York and the other time we went to a football game."
"Durie, we are old friends. Let me ask you the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. Was there anything serious between you and John F. Kennedy?"
"Absolutely not," she replied, quite emphatically. "We hardly even knew each other. There were those two casual dates. We did not seem to click and that was all there was to it. How in the world that stuff could have gotten into that genealogy, I do not know. I come from the Blauvelt family, but the genealogy is wrong."

I told her I would report all this back to the President, and we would look for ways to stop the story from spreading any further. She said she did not wish to deal with reporters and would refuse to take their calls, but that we were free to state that she had denied the story if we wanted to do so. I asked her if she would sign an affidavit stating that she had never been married to John F. Kennedy, and she readily agreed.

Throughout the rest of the year, the story continued to circulate without appearing in a major publication. In May 1962, The Thunderbolt, which described itself on its masthead as "the official white racial organ of the National States Rights party," ran the item from Blauvelt's book, and accused the national press of suppressing the story. A right-wing business executive in Massachusetts mailed copies of the story to a list of selected "patriots."

In growing numbers, letters began arriving at the White House, asking about the story. The White House replied with a form letter pointing out several gross errors of fact in the genealogy. But, hoping not to give the story any further dissemination, the President and Salinger resisted making any public statement.

Rumors, however, do not have to be true in order to survive. On September 2, 1962, Parade, the nationally distributed Sunday newspaper supplement, printed a letter from a reader in its widely read column, "Walter Scott's Personality Parade," written by Lloyd Shearer, asking if the rumor that the President had been married before was true. In telling his readers that the story was false, "Walter Scott" was, of course, disseminating it widely for the first time. And on the same day the British press reported the story.

These two press items convinced the President that he had to take rapid action. In order to "control" the story, he invited his closest friend in the press corps, Benjamin Bradlee, then the Newsweek bureau chief in Washington, to print the story in the form of a false rumor revealed, denied, and hopefully buried. At the President's request, I recounted to Ben my involvement in the story. Newsweek's story, in the September 24, 1962 issue, said that the magazine had been aware of the rumor since August 1961, and had found it completely false, but that it had created an "acute" problem for the President as it continued to be widely circulated "by extremist groups ... for political purpose."

The Newsweek story was picked up by the rest of the national press, and was the talk of Washington for a week or so. As the Kennedys had hoped, though, once the falsehood had been exposed to public light, it was reduced to a curious footnote to the Kennedy legend. I remain to this day convinced that the entire affair was nothing more than the result of an error made by an old man who was not careful in checking his facts. I doubt that it would ever have received much attention had it not been for the intense interest and continual rumors swirling around the personal life of President Kennedy and the entire Kennedy family. (Clifford, Counsel to the President, pp. 371-374).

Editor's Note

Clifford should have advised Durie Malcolm to sue for millions . . . if she could prove that the story was a fabrication. However, she did speak a half-truth, because, under Latin Church canon law, she was not really married to JFK.

Vital links



Clifford, Clark, & Holbrooke, Richard. Counsel to the President: A Memoir. Random House, New York, 1991.