August 10, 2012

Marilyn, Jack and Charles

By PETER BLACK, Canadian Dispatch

---- — Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the death of actress and pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe. The milestone prompted reflections, reminiscences and movie reruns. It also gives your scribe occasion to mention an astonishing Marilyn story I stumbled upon recently.

The tale comes courtesy of someone who might be considered an icon of Canadian entertainment journalism, for lack of a better description. Charles Foster, now about to turn 90, but whose memory appears to be eternally sharp, is the author of two books rich with stories of the many Canadians who had an important impact on the early years of Hollywood.

The British-born Foster has done an amazing number of things in his life ranging from being an air force pilot to writing episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies.

His career led him to the newspaper trade in Canada and retirement in the vicinity of Moncton, New Brunswick.

It was, however, his connection to MM that draws one’s interest in light of the anniversary of her death, and, one supposes, next year’s 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. If Charles Foster’s tale is true — and why would he fabricate such a yarn? — then the mystery of when these two towering figures first met is now resolved.

Foster recounted the story a few years ago as part of series of his memoirs published in a local seniors magazine. While there is no space here for Foster’s full story of the supposed first fateful encounter of JFK and MM, the following are the basics: Foster had been Monroe’s publicist during the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl in England in late 1956. Their friendship continued when Foster moved to Hollywood to pursue his career as a writer.

Then on a “very warm summer evening” on July 12, 1960, as the Democrat Party was preparing to nominate its candidate (you can look it up), Foster noticed a man sneaking out of a window across the courtyard from his apartment. The man — Kennedy — greeted Foster and asked if he would let him in.

Here is an excerpt of Foster’s account of JFK’s story: “They put me in that apartment block hoping it would keep everyone away. But the word spread and the front exit of the building is blocked with cameras and hundreds of people. I had to get out for a while, the window was the only exit ... then I spotted you and hoped you might recognize me and give me a hand ... My wife is back in Washington. She’s expecting our first baby and being apart at such a time plus all the ballyhoo about the election and I got desperate for a little time by myself.”

So, knowing now who his surprise visitor is, Foster accedes to JFK’s request to take a ride down to the beach. And so they do, and a couple of hours later they return to Foster’s apartment for a chat. Ding dong. Who’s at the door? None other than the blonde movie star for whom JFK, they say, had been harbouring an obsessive lust.

And so they meet and swap phone numbers — at Charles Foster’s digs, no less. 

He writes: “Did I start something that had a tragic ending? I have no doubt I really do know what happened to Marilyn on that sad day she was murdered. Yes! It unquestionably was murder, but it wasn’t Jack Kennedy who was to blame.”

Foster writes that he attended Kennedy’s inauguration — “He winked at me once as if to acknowledge our little secret” — and on several occasions afterwards talked with the president on the phone at the White House.

Did Canada’s Charles Foster “start something that had a tragic ending?” A half century after Monroe and Kennedy met untimely ends, he raises anew questions about their intertwined fates.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at