Inga Arvad: The woman who won the heart of Hitler and JFK
Inga Arvad was a Denmark-born journalist with seductive charm. Some women are simply born to win over high-ranking officials. Arvad was one of them. Who else was able to make romantic declarations about both John F. Kennedy and Adolf Hitler? According to People, Arvad once told one of JFK’s friends, “I have gooey eyes for him.” In later years, she wrote of Hitler: “You immediately like him . . . the eyes, showing a kind heart, stare right at you. They sparkle with force.”
What made this beautiful journalist capable of admiring two world leaders with such disparate philosophies? Her story is set in several countries and electrified with wartime espionage and romance. Several shared connections paved the way for her one-time romance with JFK, while her earliest reporting about Nazi officials would eventually come back to haunt her.
Inga Arvad before JFK
Born in 1913 in Denmark, Inga got her early education in England as per the wish of her mother Olga, who was an English doctor. When her father died, Inga lived in Paris, then Brussels and then back to Paris. Her first turn as a celebrity was being crowned Beauty Queen of Denmark at 16, which made her a contestant for Miss Europe. A year later, at 17, she had the first of three marriages. She and Egyptian diplomat Kamal Abdel Nabi divorced just two years later, leaving Inga free to head for Copenhagen and her first journalism job.
From that time, except for a bit of acting, she turned her attention to writing about newsmakers and only occasionally was the center of the story herself. She moved to New York to attend the Columbia School of Journalism. Following graduation, Arvad began reporting in Berlin, doing feature profiles of top Nazi officials that included Adolf Hitler of the sparkling eyes. Some of her other interview subjects included Hitler henchmen like Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels, but in 1935 she was granted an interview with Hitler himself.
As the story goes, Hitler was so dazzled by Arvad he offered her work as a spy for the Nazis. Though she was later his guest at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Inga did decline the spy offer. However, the photos taken of Hitler and Inga from his box at the Olympics would come to light later. In 1939 she departed Europe and got back to the U.S., working as a syndicated columnist in Washington, D.C.
Jack and Inga sitting in a tree
One of Inga’s newspaper colleagues, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy introduced her to her brother, Jack, in November 1941 (before he was married to Jackie…not that that would have stopped him.) Both felt the pull of animal magnetism. Later that month she called JFK “a boy with a future” in an article she wrote for her flagship, the Washington Times-Herald. In those first months, they enlisted Kick’s help to keep their budding romance from prying eyes. But later Arvad divorced and she and Kennedy became a regular item. Their relationship was sexual and intense, with Arvad, older by four years, playing the European mistress role.
But she was also able to talk to Kennedy about politics and critique his writing, so the relationship quickly became an emotional involvement, too. Within weeks, Arvad understood Kennedy better than most of his family and long-time friends. They even entertained the idea of marriage. But this was not to be.
J. Edgar Hoover enters the story
Even the director of the FBI was obsessed with Arvad, albeit for different reasons. There was something about her that screamed espionage. She mingled with top-ranking government officials the world over. She spoke multiple languages. She was beloved by all. Hoover was convinced she was a Nazi spy. The FBI didn’t realize that Germany had a terrible intelligence program. Arvad was innocent on all accounts. She was one of the most captivating women in history. A spy, she was not.
The not-exactly-a-spy who loved JFK
Right after the U.S. entered World War II, the FBI took a more active role in trying to figure out if Inga was a Nazi spy. Agents even tapped her phone and soon her connection to a Bostonian named Jack became apparent. This was where the JFK and Inga Arvad romance came to a halt. Kennedy’s stern and manipulative father Joe, once an ambassador to the U.K., didn’t like his son being involved with a suspected Nazi spy. (Note he didn’t have any objections when his son was just sexually smitten with a gorgeous older European woman.)
The dad prevailed in getting his son reassigned to a desk job in Charleston, S.C., but the two lovebirds were still hooking up. But Joe Kennedy did finally get his way when JFK learned that the FBI was still tracking him and Inga, even into the bedroom, where their pillow talk became part of an FBI file. While Inga was always considered one of the great loves of JFK’s life, they split. She was said to give in graciously, saying that she could no longer fight for her guy as she would have if she were still 18. Following the breakup, Inga left the Times-Herald, where an eager Kathleen Kennedy replaced her as a syndicated columnist.
As for Kennedy, his breakup with someone that could sabotage his political aspirations set the stage for the many sacrifices he would make during his political career. It took 19 years for him to make it from Inga’s arms to the Oval Office as the 35th president of the United States.