“During his stay, Ensign John Kennedy of the United States Navy spent every night with subject in her room at the Fort Sumter Hotel and engaged in sexual intercourse on numerous occasions”.
This laconic message is written February 6 1942 by an anonymous FBI agent in a report to the FBI chief himself, J Edgar Hoover. It refers to the man who later became the American President and the Danish woman only a few people know of.
Inga Arvad is the name of ‘the subject’, characterized in the same report as a “smart dresser” with “heavy legs”.
She was much more than that, particularly to JFK. And at last, at long last we are able to read her fantastic story: A Danish beauty who came close to Hitler, attended Goring’s wedding, married an explorer, moved to the USA and almost got married to one of the world’s most powerful men.
Inga Arvad’s story is almost incomprehensible and hence it is very reassuring that it has been handled by someone who had the energy to go through with the old-fashioned hard work of close-reading dusty documents in the USA, Denmark and Germany, scour WWII newspapers and 1200 pages of FBI documents, plough through dairies, post cards and posthumous writings. Plus all the oral history of the writer’s research: Interviews with her two sons and with contemporaries who remember her.
Ann Mariager is a journalist and she too attended Columbia University School of Journalism in New York, just like Inga Arvad did at the age of 27, when the newspaper New York World-Telegram in 1941 wrote of Inga Arvad that she was one of the “people who live those lives” of the chosen few.
Ann Mariager’s book opens with this quote and from then on you do not put her book down. Even though you’re eager to go straight to the passionate affair between Miss Denmark 1931 and the man who became a myth, Ann Mariager writes in a way that makes her entire life, the very person Inga Arvad, fascinating.
We know that Arvad will go far at the age of 17 when she wins the beauty contest – a vulgar event according to the bourgeoisie that Arvad belonged to. She has a talent for being in the spotlight, she takes it in and lets it enhance her radiance even more. Other young women are beautiful and gifted but Inga has so much chutzpah that she shortly after the Miss Europe contest marries an Egyptian and moves to Cairo. She already knows the world, having travelled with her mother for years as a child; she gets bored easily and leaves Egypt for Denmark to try out the film business.
Later she marries film director and explorer Paul Fejos, gets bored again and wants to write. Her good connections and her coquettish audacity help her land a string of bigwig interviews in Berlin in the mid-30s. She is the first reporter to break the news of General Hermann Goring’s upcoming marriage to actress Emmy Sonnemann.
Wisely Ann Mariager lets us read this article from the Berlingske Aftenavis, just as we get to read Inga Arvad’s interview with Hitler later that year, 1935. Her articles show a woman reporter who has the courage to write like a woman, not just copy men’s focus on politics but pass it only to dig deeper into the person underneath.
Throughout the entire book Ann Mariager wisely selects from the millions of details that created some of the most eventful years ever in Europe and the United States. We get the events that framed Arvad’s life. We get the events that put women into perspective. How were they able to move ahead? How did the world function at the time? We see things not only in a historically reasonable light but with a sense of the lives lived at the time, its sensibilities and its facts.
These angles of approach are rarely used by writers but they make it possible for us to understand why Arvad was suspected of being a Nazi spy even though she wasn’t. This suspicion, along with Arvad’s marriages, makes it impossible for JFK’s father, “Big Joe” Joseph Kennedy, to accept the subject of his son’s affections.
Instead, John is destined to fulfill his family’s ambitions and unescapably more so when his big brother Joseph is killed in action. That’s when Big Joe and the FBI increase their surveillance and Ann Mariager shows us a facet of American mentality we mostly know from action filled conspiracy movies.
Ann Mariager also shows us how women are looked upon by not only men but by the power structures they create. How panic-stricken they are by their own libido and how far they’ll go to blame it on women.
It is a grim game Inga Arvad is thrown into, but she makes the decision to leave it herself. She decides to keep her self-respect, finds new ways, a new job and eventually a man who can give her the children that she wants to have.
She ends up having had it all, all kinds of lives: A life of affluence, of politics, of journalism, of the suburbs ..
Through the years she creates her own life – in the company of her mother Olga, who raised her alone. Mother and daughter “nearly form a legalized union”, writes Ann Mariager. Her biography is almost a double portrait of these two fates.
It is nothing less than a formidable story, Ann Mariager has written.
Beyond being a wise and well-constructed portrait of a woman, it is also a painting that explains two continents in an era that formed the politics and mass culture into what we’re living with today. It is seen from a completely different angle. It is so enrichening that everybody with the slightest interest in the opposite sex is encouraged to read this book.
I hope that an intelligent person will create an epic movie out of this book. I cannot wait to see it.
“Inga Arvad – the Scandalous Scandinavian” – Full review in the B.T. daily. Sunday edition, November 2 2008.
Danish born journalist and beauty queen Inga Arvad became notorious and famous for her connections to Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy. A new book reveals the truth about Inga’s fabulous life and her appetite for men.
Was Danish Inga Arvad a Nazi spy? J. Edgar Hoover, the dubious FBI chief, was convinced she was. When the Danish beauty queen and journalist Inga Arvad Petersen in 1942 became the girlfriend of young Navy ensign, John F. Kennedy, Hoover put Arvad under surveillance and wiretapping. Indeed, Danish Inga was the girl on friendly terms with Adolf Hitler and other horrible bigwigs like Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. Inga’s sensational 1935 interview with Adolf Hitler for Berlingske Aftenavis, a Danish newspaper, had been published all over the world. Everybody had read her account of her meeting with Der Fuehrer in Berlin:
When Adolf Hitler suddenly appeared in front of me, I couldn’t resist greeting him with a Heil. He is immediately likable. He appears to be lonely. His eyes are tender-hearted and look right at you. They shine forcefully. In my confusion I repeat my Heil and a large smile appears on the fuehrer’s face. He asks me to sit down.
The Kennedy clan listened to Hoover’s warnings that “Inga Binga”, as young JFK called her, posed a threat to both the young man’s future and to the security of the United States. John F. Kennedy, who later became the President, was yanked out of Inga’s passionate embrace in Washington, D.C. First he was transferred to the naval base in Charleston, S.C. and then later to serve in the Pacific, even further away from Inga. That finished the romance off, and it was only revealed several decades later when the FBI files were opened.
“They kicked my ass out of the country because I was seeing a Scandinavian blonde and they thought she was a spy”, John F. Kennedy later told a friend.
So what actually happened to Inga, the Danish girl who forever was branded as a spy? Journalist and author Ann Mariager presents Arvad’s story in her book, “Inga Arvad – the scandalous Scandinavian”. In it she writes about Inga’s adventurous life, with the help from Arvad’s two sons, Ronald and Terry McCoy. An adventure that sets out in Copenhagen in 1931 when Inga becomes Miss Denmark at the age of 17 and concludes in 1973 when Inga dies from cancer in Nogales, Arizona.
Ann Mariager has gained access to Inga Arvad’s personal papers and writes a fascinating portrait of the Danish blonde who, by order from President Roosevelt, was kept under a surveillance so intense that her case takes up more than 1200 documents in FBI archives. Thousands of articles about Inga and John F. Kennedy have been published in newspapers the world over but nobody has come so close to the truth as Ann Mariager.
Among the recollections that professor Ronald McCoy, Arvad’s older son, share with the author is how his mother’s thoughts often were with Kennedy and how she reacted when she learned that Kennedy had been assassinated. She spent the day alone in her room. She never forgot her great love. But she rarely spoke about Kennedy during her marriage to Tim McCoy, the former Western actor.
As her younger son, Terry McCoy, puts it: “My mother never let the wake rock her boat”.
Inga’s third and last husband, the Western actor Tim McCoy, rejected any speculation that his wife had been a Nazi spy.
“Her political insight was not impressive”, McCoy writes in his memoirs. “After her successful interview with Hitler, she was asked whom she wanted to interview next, and she immediately replied: “Lenin”. She had no idea that Lenin for years had been dead in his Moscow marble mausoleum”.
On several occasions American newspapers offered Inga money to write about her relationship with John F. Kennedy. Inga always declined politely. She took that part of her life with her in her grave. And yet! Ann Mariager’s book is a scoop. Through Arvad’s sons she has had access to Inga’s personal love letters to Kennedy, her diaries and her notes for a book, Arvad herself planned to write about her life.
In her often passionate letters to Kennedy, Inga writes about her with to have children and create a family life, however, she lowers her expectations by pointing to the insurmountable problems that the young couple are facing. Kennedy is a Catholic, Inga is still married (second husband was the Hungarian-American film director Paul Fejos), she is rumored to be a Nazi friendly spy and the head of the Kennedy clan, Joseph Kennedy, finds her unworthy of his son.
For the first time ever we read the whole truth about Inga Arvad’s life and her three marriages. Plus a string of lovers. Inga was true man-eater and everybody fell for her incredible beauty and charm.
Full review, the Berlingske Tidende national daily October 30 2008
Online in Danish: http://www.b.dk/boeger/hun-trodsede-sin-tid
She defied her time
By Karen Margrethe Schelin
Reality always tops imagination. This is certainly true in the case of Inga Arvad, the Danish journalist and beauty queen, who at the tender age of 21 interviewed Hitler – he called her “a perfect Nordic beauty” – and later became world famous for her love affair with a young, American ensign with a bright white smile.
His name was John F. Kennedy.
As a term of endearment the 23-year old Jack called his Danish girlfriend ’Inga-Binga’. Arvad herself remarked after her first meeting with the man who later became President of the United States, that he had “charm that could make birds fly out of the trees”. Their love affair made the FBI fly, too.
Inga Arvad had an eye for great men, and great men were to be her destiny. The story about the Danish journalist, whose interview with Hitler was printed in this newspaper (Berlingske Tidende) November 30 1935, has been told bit by bit over the years. Many journalists and film documentarians have tried to piece Arvad’s life together and tell her full story. No one has succeeded before, because Inga Arvad’s family did not want to contribute to the project.
However, Ann Mariager has succeeded, and for the first time a writer has met with Arvad’s family, read through her letters, her dairies and her memoir sketchings. In addition to her talks with Inga Arvad’s family and friends, her book is based on an extensive research in Denmark and Europe as well as the United States, including reading the 1200 documents on Inga Arvad in the FBI archives in Washington.
The author has persistently followed in the footsteps of the Danish journalist and adventurer who, right up to her death in 1973, lived an extraordinary life and whose fabulous story now can be read in the book “Inga Arvad – the scandalous Scandinavian”, published by Gyldendal and out in book stores today.
It is a thought-provoking and fascinating portrait that the writer draws of Inga Arvad’s life and destiny. The story of Inga Arvad is also the tale of a woman, who defies her time and insists on following her ambitions to become a journalist. Her career is jumpstarted in 1931 when 17-year old Inga becomes Miss Denmark.
Inga Arvad’s upbringing had given her an international outlook and she moved effortlessly on the international stage. She was squeezed by her single mother who paced her daughter forward and followed her all over the world. Almost all the way into the conjugal bed with the string of men Inga Arvad married – for reasons that not always had to do with great big love.
The beauty queen title paved Inga’s way into the film industry and a career in film appears to open. Inga does, for a brief while, become a movie star in Denmark. But she turned her back to film. She wanted to become a journalist.
Following a shipwrecked marriage to an Egyptian that she married at the age of 17 and lived with in Paris and Cairo, Inga decides to try her luck in journalism. She takes off for Berlin on her own, and thanks to her drive and her beautiful looks manages to get through to Hitler, Goebbels and to Goering’s lavish wedding. She reports cheerfully on the wedding to Danish media. Actually, she is the first to break the news on Göring’s upcoming wedding with a German actress.
However, her time as a journalist in the 1930s Nazi Germany will prove to have fateful consequences for Inga Arvad. Her past catches up with her when she arrives in the USA a few years later, following an expedition voyage with her new husband, film director Paul Fejos, and the outbreak of World War II.
But Inga still wants to become a journalist. With the help from her connection to the Swedish Electrolux-billionaire, Axel Wenner-Gren, she manages to get into the prestigious journalism school at Columbia University in New York. Wenner-Gren is sponsoring her husband’s exotic expeditions.
At the school she is considered a somewhat stranger and her obvious talent as an interviewer and feature writer is not very appreciated. But she continues purposefully and upon graduation the Danish journalist manages to land a job at the conservative Washington Times-Herald (later to be bought by Washington Post). And while World War II is raging, Pearl Harbor is being bombed by the Japanese and the US enters the war in Europe, Inga is busy writing her daily column “Did you happen to see?” Profiles of new, fascinating faces in Washington.
One day her boss suggests a new person for Inga to profile.
“Get an interview with the young Kennedy for your column”, she says.
She gets it. And on November 27 1941, Inga introduces her readers for Jack Kennedy in ”Did you happen to see?” In her column she writes that ”Jack hates only one topic – h i m s e l f. He is the best listener I have come across between Haparanda and Yokohama. Elder men like to hear his views, which are sound and astonishingly objective for so young a man”.
Det får hun. Og således kan Inga Arvad 27. november 1941 introducere sine læsere for Jack Kennedy i »Har De tilfældigvis set?« I klummen skriver hun blandt andet: »Jack hader kun et emne – ham selv. Han er den bedste lytter, jeg er løbet ind i mellem Haparanda og Yokohama. Ældre, erfarne mænd kan lide at høre hans synspunkter, som er kloge og forbløffende objektive for så ung en mand.«
Those are the last lines of Ingas profile of young Kennedy.
And even slightly older women like to listen to Jack. Inga does, for sure. She has just turned 28 when she meets the 23 year old navy ensign with the brilliant smile, and soon the two of them start a passionate but secret affair. Inga is still married to her film director, though he has been away for years because of film projects. Fejos himself finds a young pianist whom he later marries. So it’s not maybe it isn’t coincidental at all that beautiful Inga with an extraordinary appetite on life falls into the arms of Jack. Jacki, by the way, is the brother of one of Inga’s newspaper colleagues, Kathleen Kennedy.
Inga Arvad eventually pays a high price for her love affair with John F. Kennedy. His father is against their alliance, and rumors begin to circulate that Inga is a spy for the Nazis. She is working for a newspaper that really isn’t President Roosevelt’s cup of tea. When an old news item out of Berlin surfaces, in which she is called Hitler’s publicity chief in Denmark, FBI embarks on a zealous surveillance of Inga Arvad. From the FBI archives Ann Mariager can report on the numerous telephone conversations between Inga and Jack, and even their sexual encounters were recorded.
The FBI tackles Inga so roughly that she is marked for life. The Federal Bureau has no proof and they never succeed in proving that she in any way should be a spy. At one point she considers suing the journalist who started the rumors, but she decides not to. As Inga writes in her notes later in life:
“I interviewed Hitler. At the time it was a journalistic achievement much envied and much appreciated by the newspaper I worked for. For years it lay dormant. It wasn’t a problem. Actually I was praised for it, occasionally. Then suddenly, during a war hysteria coupled with a reporter-colleague’s jealousi, what had been a halo fell down and became a noose”.
Inga Arvad was without a doubt rather naive when she at the age of 21 threw herself into reporting from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. But she wasn’t the only one being naïve at the time. She is to pay a high price for her youthful daring. And hence is the story of Inga Arvad’s life and destiny thought provoking on several levels. The story of her life is also a portrait of a resilient woman who was before her age and had an incredible ability to live in the moment and get the best out of it.
It is the tale of a smart and beautiful woman, born in a time of unrest between traditional, female values and a modern women’s ideal. Inga Arvad’s ambitions gave her an international outlook, but she was also pushed forward by a mother that she distances herself to too late. As with a lot of other things, she learns to live in spite of the limitations of the time.
Inga Arvad was a woman who loved to be close to adventure, power and influence. She was also a restless soul and, as Ann Mariager writes, the beautiful rolling stone longed to find a place called love.
She does not get the love of her life. But she eventually settles down in a marriage with the war veteran and former Western actor Tim McCoy, 22 years her senior. They have two sons, and as Terry, the younger says in the book: “My mother never let the wake rock her boat”