Jack Kennedy, precocious squire, meets Lem Billings in Choate School, and a lifetime of friendship is born. While the two chums shared their lives together, what is not often publicly mentioned is that one of them, well Lem, was a gay man. What was JFK's reaction to learning of his friend's interests? A mere yawn, a gentle warning to not cross that bridge with him, and the two became incredible chums. Such is the story spun in the weirdly fantastic and not yet complete story "Jack and Lem".
Pitts chronicles that journey of friendship for nearly thirty years, through war, elections and a fateful assassination one sunny afternoon in Dallas. The two boys meet and become fast friends, and share a remarkable legacy of letters that are quoted throughout the beginning of the book. These letters at first are fun and amusing, the ramblings of adolescent teasing that formulated their friendship. You can see the connection between the two men, as one probably spends years yearning for JFK, and must settle for his close friendship. It must have been both heaven and hell for Lem, doomed to devote his life to Jack.
Soon, however, it becomes clear that there isn't much of story to tell between the two men. The aforementioned letters start to drag the book a bit, as it seems that irrelevant information is shared between the two writers. The author mentions that the letters stop as soon as Lem and Jack are reunited, and that is when the book becomes enjoyable again. Pitts description of Jack and Lem during the White House years is brief, but filled with a few funny stories, and the revelation that Lem had his own room at 1600 Penn Ave.
As soon as Jack dies in Dallas, Pitts claims that a bit of Lem dies too, and the story once again fizzles out a bit. As Lem struggles to find himself a place in the Kennedy clan, he mistakenly gets involved with some of the offspring on a booze and drugs juggernaut which really saddened me towards Lem, no matter how truthful it was. I guess I just preferred to see him engaging in pranks with Jack, or gossiping wih Jackie instead. Pitts chapter on the gay rights movement in general was ineresting, but seemed like an odd "add-in" to the book to make it longer. Perhaps that chapter would have better worked blended into the rest of the story, rather than as a stand alone.
Overall, Jack and Lem is an uneven book, but one that I think I will ultimately appreciate. The fact that JFK had a gay best friend, and the fact that he didn't give a hoot about it, is a resonating message that carries strongly today.