Superlative sepia matte-finish 7 x 11 Choate senior portrait, boldly signed and inscribed in fountain pen, “To Lemmer, The gayest soul I know—In memory of two tense years and in hopes of many more—your Pal and supporter! Ken.” Also signed by the photographer in pencil and dated 1935. Archivally triple-matted and framed to an overall size of 13 x 16.5. In very good to fine condition, with nearly imperceptible pencil shading to JFK’s eyebrows and lower lip and a small indentation to lower border affecting nothing. There is significant surface loss to the upper border edge (easily trimmed if desired) which is perfectly hidden by the tasteful matting to produce a remarkably attractive display, in which 6 x 9.25 of the photo is visible. Accompanied by a full letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA.
John F. Kennedy and Kirk LeMoyne Billings met at Wallingford, Connecticut’s prestigious Choate Preparatory School in 1933 and formed an instant connection. Consummate pranksters, “Ken” and “Lemmer” were just two of their quirky nicknames for one another. The boys found comfort away from home in their similar senses of humor—during their senior year, they formed a secret society known as ‘The Muckers Club.’ The bane of their Choate headmaster's existence, Jack and Lem were known as Public Enemy Number 1 and Number 2 and were nearly expelled on several occasions.
Jack spent much of his time at Choate very ill, and it was Billings who gave him the unwavering support he needed to persevere. In pain most of his life, JFK hardly ever complained—Lem was the first and virtually only person with whom he shared his physical suffering. He lifted Jack’s spirits at such a formative time when the future president could have easily sunk into despair. Lem (a closeted gay man) secretly loved Jack and made an unrequited pass at him early in their relationship. The resulting awkwardness didn't put a damper on their friendship, and upon their 1935 Choate graduation they exchanged senior portraits. The here-offered example was Jack’s gift to Lem (confirmed on page 26 of David Pitt’s 2007 book, Jack and Lem).
At all the difficult turns in Kennedy’s presidency, Lem was there—he talked him through the Cuban Missile Crisis and even had his own room at the White House. Their inseparable 30-year friendship lasted right up to that fateful day on November 22, 1963. This exceptional piece—one of the youngest known Kennedy signed photos in existence—is an integral part of JFK history and worthy of inclusion in the finest presidential collection.
Provenance: The Lem Billings Estate. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.
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