Vital Signs

That Special Relationship

John Kennedy and Harold Macmillan were the odd couple of the Special Relationship.  Conjuring a picture of them from the cuttings files and obituaries, they seem almost comically mismatched.  For much of the three years that they overlapped in their respective offices, the grouse-shooting British premier appeared ludicrously archaic next to a President who confidently promised to put men on the moon.  Macmillan acted the part of the stereotypical English toff, brought up in the old tradition of great houses, tweed, and noblesse oblige, and Kennedy that of the thrusting New Frontiersman.  When it came to sex, one of them quickly discovered and exploited a lifelong talent for charming women, and the other sustained a 46-year marriage characterized more by mutual affection and shared experience than by any grand passion.

In other ways, they were surprisingly similar.  When the President and the PM came to visit each other, the meetings were a pilgrimage back to the scene of some of their most character-forming family history.  For Kennedy, there was the seminal year he spent studying at the London School of Economics, shortly after which his father served as U.S. ambassador to Britain.  Macmillan’s mother, the former Helen Belles, grew up in Spencer, Indiana, which she rather boldly left as a young woman in order to study music in Europe.  In later...

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