AS HE COULD IN SO MANY other areas, President Kennedy was able to steal his brother-in-law Peter Lawford’s thunder with women as no one else ever had. If Peter’s friends had discovered that no girl of theirs was safe around him, Peter quickly learned the same thing about Jack.
Peter's friend Bob Neal, widely renowned as a playboy, was happy to be third Musketeer when he was with Jack and Peter. He recalled a cocktail party at the Manhattan apartment of Earl E. T. Smith, who had been President Eisenhower’s ambassador to Cuba.
Peter brought Neal and Peter's manager Milt Ebbins to the party, which included many of thePresident’s closest associates, among them his aide Dave Powers and his brother-in-law Steve Smith. Neal saw the President sitting on a couch flanked by two young women. Peter greeted Jack and shook his hand; Ebbins and Neal followed suit. As hepumped Bob’s hand Kennedy said to him, “My God, Bob Neal. That’s the man we’d all like to be.”
A few minutes later Peter pulled Neal aside and they went out on a balcony overlooking Central Park. “What was he talking about, you’re the man everybody wants to be?”
“I don’t know,” Neal replied. “Why don’t you ask him?”
Ebbins overheard the question and answered it for Peter. “Jack’s heard about all the great-looking girls Bob’s been dating lately.” “Oh,” Peter said. “I get it.”
A few minutes later, Peter walked up to Neal and whispered, “You see that guy over there? He’s with a beautiful girl from South America.” Neal had indeed seen her.
Peter’s voice turned conspiratorial. “He’s had about twelve drinks too many. Why don’t we separate them?”
“Good idea,” Neal replied. “How do we do that?”
“Let’s get them into the elevator first, and we’ll figure it out once we get down on the ground.”
Within minutes, Peter and Bob were in Ambassador Smith’s private elevator with the hapless man and the girl from South America. Just as the elevator operator started to close the doors, they heard a commanding voice — “Hold the elevator!”
“The operator stuck his head out of the door and here came the President,” Neal recalled. “He strode into the elevator and he said, ‘where do you two fellows think you’re going?’ Peter looked at me and then said, ‘Well, sir, it’s past our bedtime and we thought we would go back to our hotel.’
“Jack replied, ‘You’re exactly correct.’ Then he turned to the gorgeous girl and said,‘Young lady, would you join me for a drink at the bar?’ She said, ‘I’d be delighted to, Mr. President,’ and off they went. We two jerks wound up on Fifth Avenue with a guy
who couldn’t find the floor with his hat. The President knew what we were doing.”
And the President always made sure that nothing similar happened to him. During a visit to the Lawfords’ in Santa Monica, Kennedy discovered that a certain friend of Peter’s was in the house. “Either he goes or I go,” he told Peter.
“But Jack,” Peter pleaded, “he’s one of my best friends! What am I going to say to him?”
“I don’t care, just get rid of him.” The President started to change out of his bathing suit and back into street clothes, prepared to leave. Peter grabbed Milt Ebbins, who’d been watching all this, and pulled him into an adjoining room. “What am I going to do, Milt?”
“You’ve got to tell the guy to leave. Make up some excuse. You can’t let the President of the United States leave here because you don’t want to insult your friend.”
Peter made an excuse about security considerations, and his friend left. What had the man done to so offend the leader of the free world? During Kennedy’s last visit to California, the hapless fellow had made a pass at one of Jack’s girls.