The Hollywood columnist and AP reporter, who died today at age 96, was of another era when stars actually hung out regularly with journalists, and stories stayed out of the news in a kind of tacit agreement.
That’s what made a conversation with Bacon so memorable, for in the passage of time he was not shy about sharing the nitty gritty details of his friendships and encounters with just about any legendary name from the 50s and 60s. I’ll never forget an interview I did with him over lunch about 10 years ago at Musso & Frank Grill, a meal over French onion soup that extended right up into happy hour. Just about any star or politico from that era elicited some kind of story from Bacon about an amusing romp or high octane evening. You always got the sense that Bacon was nothing but professional — he worked for the AP for most of his career — but you also understood that it was another time, the rules and standards were different, and he fit quite well into the role of drinking buddy and confidant.
That was perhaps no more so true than with what Bacon said he knew about Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy, and why he and his bosses didn’t publish it.
“I think [the affair] started in 1960 and I think he came to Palm Springs,” Bacon said in the interview. “I think that is where she first met him. He always had someone down there when he was in Palm Springs. Jackie never came to Palm Springs.”
“Marilyn told me about it,” Bacon added. “She just told me how much she loved him. I told my bosses about it. They said, ‘Well, we can’t put anything on the wire.’ It was her say so.”
“I was lucky. I worked for the AP. I couldn’t get dirt on the wire if I wanted to. The wouldn’t accept it. …You had to have your facts documented before you could put anything on the wire, so I couldn’t put on rumor or gossip. Those were just the guidelines from which I worked. It made it easy for me in a way because a lot of the stars figured I was favoring them. I wasn’t favoring them. It was just the way the job operated.”
Bacon had his own affair with Monroe, which lasted for about three or four months, but he said that they were “friends through it all.”
Of course, he never broached the subject with Kennedy, whom he covered on his visits to Los Angeles.
“I used to always cover JFK when he went to Mass (at Church of the Good Shepard in Beverly Hills) on Sunday. I always sat right behind him. And on Sunday the collection box came by and it looked like he put a hundred dollar bill in the collection box. So I wrote a story about it. Page one across the country, because a hundred dollar bill in the collection box was always a big story, even in Beverly Hills. [Kennedy aide] Dave Powers told me that the next day Kennedy read my story in the Washington Post and he said to Dave Powers, ‘Did you give me a hundred dollar bill to put in that collection box? And Dave Powers says, ‘No, I knew Jim Bacon was behind us so I took a ten dollar bill and folded it up so it looked like a hundred dollar bill. JFK says, ‘Wait until I see Bacon. I will kid him about that.'”