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JFK and Inga Binga

Feb. 8 - 26, 2023 • MainStage Series at The Historic Dock Street Theatre

By Julian Wiles
Direction by Julian Wiles


Contact Sara Berkowitz, Director of Development, at 843.647.7363 or sberkowitz@charlestonstage.com to learn how to become a Sponsor.


About the Show

 
Lead title Sponsor:
Katherine Schob Glenn 
 
title sponsor:
Sarah beardsley and christopher randolph

Associate Sponsor:
Dr. Del and Linda Schutte

 
The True Story of a Future President’s Whirlwind Romance in WWII Charleston

 
Julian Wiles’s JFK and Inga Binga tells the incredible true story of young Ensign John F. Kennedy and his WWII affair with Inga Arvad Fejos, a former Miss Denmark, and suspected Nazi spy. Drawn from the secret files of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and set in the Francis Marion Hotel, with FBI agents listening in from the room next door, this farcical retelling of the youthful exploits of the man who would be President brought down the house at the Dock Street Theatre when it world-premiered in 2012 and now returns for an encore engagement.

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Please note, Feb. 8th is our PNC Pay-as-you-please performance for JFK and Inga Binga. These special ticket sales are only available online 24-hours prior to the performance. For more details about our PNC Pay-as-you-please performances and to purchase tickets, click here

Single Tickets for JFK and Inga Binga now on sale. SEASON TICKETS now on sale.


Content Guide

We are always excited to see families at the theatre, but we know that patrons may want information on more specific content when deciding if a show is appropriate for their families. Below is a content guide outlining things you may want to know about JFK and Inga Binga.

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Background Information

 

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT


Julian WilesJulian Wiles - Playwright, Director, Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Charleston Stage
 
Playwright, director, designer and educator, Julian Wiles (he, him, his), grew up on a farm in Fort Motte, SC, and studied history and theatre at the College of Charleston (B.A. 1974). He moved to North Carolina to pursue graduate work in theatrical design, receiving an M.F.A. in Dramatic Art in 1976. In 1978 he founded Charleston Stage, which became the resident company of the Historic Dock Street Theatre, America’s first theatre. Under Wiles's leadership, Charleston Stage has become one of the region’s largest and most respected arts institutions and includes an extensive education program reaching over 25,000 young people annually.
 
Wiles has designed, directed and produced over 300 plays and musicals for Charleston Stage. He has written 34 original plays, musicals, and stage adaptations, eight of which are published. Many such as The Seat of Justice and Gershwin at Folly celebrate the Lowcountry’s rich cultural heritage and history. More than 100 productions of his published works have been performed across the United States and internationally.
 
Wiles received the National Youth Theatre Director's Award in 1988, Charleston’s NAACP Special Recognition Award in 2004, SC’s Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2010, and was inducted into the SC Theatre Association’s Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2021, he was awarded the University of North Carolina’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

 

JFK AND INGA BINGA HISTORICAL NOTES

 
The basic historical elements of this story are true.
 
Ensign Jack Kennedy did have a passionate love affair with Inga Arvad Fejos in late 1941 and early 1942.  They were introduced by Jack’s sister, who worked with Inga at the Washington Times Herald. At the time, Jack was in Washington working for the Director of Naval Intelligence.
 
Inga’s career as a journalist began in 1936 when she managed to wrangle an interview with Adolph Hitler. Hitler was apparently quite smitten with her, granted not one but three interviews and invited her to visit his private box at the 1936 Olympics. Her articles ran in Danish papers and with this triumph, Inga moved to New York to study Journalism at Columbia University. A year later in New York she ran into the editor of the Washington Times Herald, and he offered her a column in his Washington paper.
 
When a photo of Inga and Hitler at the Olympics was uncovered by one of Inga’s co-workers (perhaps a jealous co-worker), rumors that Inga might be a German agent (it was known she spoke fluent German) began circulating about the Times Herald newsroom.
 
When Inga became aware of these rumors, she angrily complained to her editor. He suggested Inga voluntarily make a statement to the FBI. Inga agreed, hoping this would clear her name but, as she would soon learn, this interview only further aroused the FBI ‘s suspicions. Soon her phone was tapped, her apartment bugged, and an around-the-clock watch was placed on her apartment. This turned up a frequent nightly visitor who was soon identified as Ensign Jack Kennedy. 
 
It is believed that the FBI tipped off Jack’s superiors at Naval Intelligence and also leaked the affair to nationally syndicated columnist Walter Winchell, who in his gossip column on January 12, 1942 wrote:
 
One of Ex-ambassador Kennedy’s eligible sons is the target of a Washington columnist’s affection. So much so she has consulted her barrister about divorcing her exploring groom. Pa Kennedy no likes.
 
The next day Kennedy was transferred to Charleston and he was not allowed to travel more than 70 miles from his base. The transfer was a double disappointment because it also thwarted Jack’s efforts to get assigned to combat duty. Distance didn’t keep the two lovers apart however. Soon Inga was taking trains and planes to visit Jack in Charleston. From FBI bugs placed in their hotel rooms, we know they spent the first two weekends at the Ft. Sumter House and a third weekend at the Francis Marion Hotel. Though they spent most of their time in the hotel room, the couple did find time to visit Middleton Gardens, dine at Henry’s Restaurant, golf at Yeaman’s Hall Country Club, and window shop on King Street. One Sunday, they even attended church together at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
 
From reminisces of people who knew the couple well, it appears that Jack was truly in love with Inga and, from the FBI reports, we know they even spoke of marriage. But there were complications. Inga was still married. Actually she was on her second husband, a fact that made marriage to a devout Roman Catholic out of the question. In addition, Jack’s father made it clear he opposed the match. Toward the end of their time together, Jack also learned that Inga was two-timing him having spent a night with Nils Block, one of her former lovers.

The Battery
Far right: John F. Kennedy talks to a group of enlistees at The Battery (Charleston, SC July 8, 1942).

 
In March of 1942, their relationship came to an end. Though they would correspond and speak on the phone, Jack even begging her to come back at one point, it was clear that the affair was over.
 
Within six months Inga had moved on, marrying a movie cowboy named Tim McCoy with whom she would settle down and raise a family. She died in 1972 at the age of 60.
 
Soon after Inga left him, Jack went on medical leave to deal with his chronically bad back. A few weeks later he was able to return to active duty. In the summer of 1941 (perhaps with help from his father), Jack finally got orders to leave Charleston for PT boat school in Chicago. A year later he took command of PT Boat 109 in the Solomon Islands.

 

SOME KEY PLAYERS

These characters are drawn from real life characters.

JFKJohn F. Kennedy was the second of nine children born to Joe and Rose Kennedy. Kennedy’s father had made a fortune in banking and had served a controversial tenure as the US Ambassador to Great Britain. Ambassador Kennedy made no secret that he thought Britain was a lost cause and that a U.S. accommodation with Nazi Germany was only a matter of time. Having spent part of his youth with his father in London, Jack wrote of his exploits in a college theses, often disagreeing with his father’s view of things. This was published in 1940 under the title Why England Slept. Though he disagreed with much in his son’s book, Joe Kennedy used his influence with Henry Luce, Editor of Time Life, to get Jack’s book published. It became a best seller and led Jack to believe he may want to pursue a career in journalism.
 
Joe Kennedy also used his influence to get Jack in the Navy after Jack had failed both navy and army physicals. Jack had been a sickly child and still suffered from a bad back and undiagnosed intestinal problems—medical issues that often led to hospitalizations.  Despite the health issues, Jack was determined to seek active duty. He began his naval career working for the Director of Naval Intelligence in Washington but was suddenly transferred to Charleston when the Navy learned of his affair with Inga. Following his affair with Inga, Jack was hospitalized again for back problems and surgery was considered, but later rejected. Jack returned to active duty, leaving Charleston in the summer of 1942 (some say thanks to strings his father pulled once more). After attending PT Boat School in Chicago, Jack was sent to the Solomon Islands where he took command PT Boat 109. On a night patrol his boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer. Two men were killed but Kennedy, after swimming many miles while carrying a wounded crewman on his back, led his crew to safety. After newspaper accounts of Jack’s exploits reached the states he became a war hero. He was elected to Congress in 1947, the Senate in 1952 and became the 35th President of the United States in 1961. After Charleston, Jack saw Inga only once more. He met her in Los Angeles on his way home from the Pacific. To be sure he knew she had moved on, Inga brought her current boyfriend along to the meeting.

Inga ArvadInga Arvad Fejos was 28 years when she met Jack Kennedy. She was born Inga Marie Petersen in Copenhagen, studied ballet and at 16 won the title of Miss Denmark. She traveled to Paris to compete in the Miss Europe Pageant. Despite being named a finalist, she eloped at age 17 with Egyptian diplomat Kamak Abdel Nabi. This first marriage was short-lived and soon she remarried, this time to Paul Fejos, a Hungarian movie director who made two films that starred his gorgeous new wife. It was at this time that she took the name Inga Arvad as a stage name. Inga’s films were financed by Axel Wenner-Grenn, one of the richest men in the world who had made his fortune with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Some believe Inga was his paramour as well. While dating Kennedy, Inga did receive a $5,000 check from him. Axel Wenner-Grenn, who was on the U.S. watch list for alleged pro-German sympathies, was at the time of the play living on his yacht in Mexico. His yacht was the largest in the world having bought it from Howard Hughes. At the time of the play, it was suspected he was using it to ferry fuel to Nazi U-boats allegedly operating in the Caribbean though this was never proven.
 
After her first two films, Inga became disinterested in film and in her husband Paul. She turned to journalism, traveling to Berlin to cover the 1936 Olympics. There she interviewed a fellow movie actress who was engaged to Hermann Goering. Goering’s fiancé was so delighted with Inga that she invited Inga to her wedding. At the wedding, Inga met Adolph Hitler who was serving as Goering’s best man. She convinced him to sit for an interview and, charmed by her, invited Inga to join him in his private box at the Berlin Olympics. There, allegedly a photo of the two of them together was taken (though the fate of this photo is unknown). Still estranged from her husband Paul, Inga traveled to the United States to study journalism at Columbia University and from there secured a position with the conservative and isolationist Washington Times Herald. She was assigned a regular column called “Did you happen to see?” which was a series of lighthearted interviews with the movers and shakers in pre-war Washington. One of her co-workers was Kathleen Kennedy who introduced Inga to Jack. She and Jack had a passionate affair until late March 1942 when they agreed, perhaps because of the FBI surveillance and press coverage, to call it quits. The next month, however, Inga flew to Reno to divorce her husband Paul. In 1946, she married movie cowboy Tim McCoy and settled down and raised two sons. Ironically McCoy’s full name was Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy. Inga Arvad McCoy died of cancer in 1972 at the age of 60.

LemLemoyne “Lem” Billings was, by everyone’s account, Jack Kennedy’s life-long best friend. Because Billings was not involved in politics or the Kennedy administration he is not well known. The two met at prep school at Choate and remained close friends until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Billings was a frequent guest at Kennedy homes in Palm Beach and Hyannisport, so much so that many considered him almost a member of the family. Billings also joined Jack on a tour of Europe in the summer of 1937. Though not actually in Charleston at the same time as Inga, Billings did come down to Charleston twice. Though their paths didn’t cross in Charleston, Lem and Inga did know each other. Like Jack, health issues kept Lem out of the service (he had very bad eyes) but, again, through Joe Kennedy’s connections Lem was accepted into the ambulance corps and served with distinction in North Africa. Returning to the states, and after his friend Jack had been acclaimed a war hero, Lem enlisted in the Navy and also served in the Pacific. After the war, he and Jack remained close friends—in fact, much of what we know about the young Jack Kennedy comes from the many letters Jack sent to Lem and Lem saved. Billings worked for Coca-Cola and other beverage companies and created the 1950’s “Fizzies” sensation which became a national fad. Never having married, Billings was widely known to be, what was euphemistically called in those days “a confirmed bachelor.” Billings died in 1981.

 

WARTIME CHARLESTON

 
It’s difficult, now 90 years later, to imagine what must have been going through the minds of Charlestonians in February 1942. Just two months earlier, news of the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor arrived. A few days after Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany also declared war on the U.S. With the first U-boat attack off the North Carolina coast in January of 1942, the great oceans that once seemed to have kept world conflicts far away, now became the means of imminent attack.
 
War preparations were well underway in Charleston. Air raid sirens were placed atop St. Michael’s steeple, the Francis Marion Hotel and County Hall on King Street. Air raid shelters were set up all over town and plans for blackouts were being put into effect. 
 
Suspicion of spying (even sabotage) was rampant, especially by foreigners or anyone who appeared foreign. Inga Arvad certainly had reason to be concerned she would fall into this net. Even American citizens were not exempt from suspicion. On February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which set the stage for the internment of US citizens of German, Italian or Japanese ancestry. Though the order would mainly be used to inter Japanese citizens on the West Coast, some citizens of Italian or German ancestry were affected as well.

 

FEAR OF U-BOAT ATTACKS

U-Boats Off The Carolina Coast/ Germans Sailors Captured and Brought to Charleston

Fears must have certainly been further aroused when German U-boats began attacking Allied shipping along the East Coast. This began with the sinking of the merchant ship The Allen Jackson and the loss of 22 seamen on January 18, 1942 off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, just up the coast from Charleston. Before the war was over, 3,500 merchants ships and a 175 warships fell prey to German U-Boats in the Atlantic. 

UBoat
May, 1942: Captured German crew of U-Boat 352 line up in ranks at the Charleston Naval Base.

Though most attacks on East Coast shipping occurred further north in the Cape Hatteras area, Charleston was on high alert with blackouts and submarine watchtowers erected on Sullivan’s and other islands up and down the coast. One of these can still be seen on Dewees Island today.
 
Air patrols also watched the waters off the coast and the city was on high alert—and for good reason. On May 9, 1942, while Jack Kennedy was still in Charleston, American forces engaged the German U-Boat 352 between the Outer Banks and Bermuda. Severely damaged by depth charges, the U-boat was forced to surface but kept fighting. Though the German crew lost 17 sailors in a surface firefight and managed to scuttle their boat, the remaining German crew was captured and brought to Charleston Navy Base where Kennedy was stationed.

 

J. EDGAR HOOVER AND THE FBI SEARCH FOR NAZI AGENT SPIES
 
HooverAs World War II was breaking out in Europe, even before the war came to the shores of the U.S., Hoover’s FBI was already hard at work ferreting out foreign agents. As early as 1938, they captured their first German agent. Soon after the war broke out, FBI agents apprehended German spies that had come ashore via U-Boats on the beaches of Florida and New Jersey. Hoover himself approved the wiretaps and surveillance of Inga and Jack in February 1942.  
 
J. Edgar Hoover actually began his career searching for spies in WWI. He moved up through the ranks of what was then known as the Bureau of Investigation (it became the FBI in 1935). In 1924, he was named Director and charged with cleaning up some of the illegal and warrantless surveillance the bureau had been undertaking. Rather than eliminating these shady practices, Hoover not only continued them under his tenure but kept them secret by storing many of the most clandestine files in his personal office to keep them out of the regular FBI files where others might find them. It was in these files that the records of the FBI surveillance of Jack and Inga in Charleston were found but only became public after Kennedy’s death.
 
Some have speculated that Hoover used these embarrassing files to keep the Kennedy brothers (brother Bobby was then Attorney General and technically Hoover’s boss) from forcing Hoover to retire. Though already past retirement age, Hoover didn’t retire until 1972. Because of Hoover’s highhanded methods his career remains under a cloud. He became very controversial in the last years of his reign at the FBI. Perhaps because Hoover was such a complex and secretive man, rumors about Hoover’s own private life made the rounds in Washington. Hoover never married and lived with his lifelong friend and assistant, Clyde Tolson, for many years. The two vacationed together and are buried side by side. This led many to speculate that the two lifelong friends may have had sexual relationship though there is no evidence of this. Rumors that Hoover was seen dressed drag at a party in New York also circulated widely in the 1970’s but there is no concrete evidence of this and the incident is strongly discounted by historians.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Reckless Youth, Nigel Hamilton
This is the definitive book on Jack Kennedy's youth.   Hamilton interviewed many of the players in the early Kennedy story and drew on many of the letters from Jack to Lemoyne Billings.

Jack and Lem by Charles Bartlett
Chronicles the lifelong friendship between Jack and Lem. 

The News and Courier articles, from February 1942, provided much insight into what was happening in Charleston including the air raid sirens,  air raid shelters, air raid drills, etc.

Letters from Inga Arvad to Jack Kennedy, in the collections of the John F. Kennedy Library.  These are available online.

The FBI Files on Jack and Inga’s Liaison in the Nigel Hamilton Papers (The Massachusetts Historical Society) and in The Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover by Athan Theoharis.

Jack Kennedy, the Education of a Statesman, Barbara Leaming.

The Kennedys at War by Edward J. Renehan, Jr.

The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, Doris Kearns Godwin.

A Measureless Peril, America in the fight for the Atlantic, The Longest Battle of World War II by Patrick Snow. 

 

INGA BINGA TIMELIME

Fall 1941 Kathleen Kennedy who works as a reporter at the Washington Times Herald introduces her brother Jack to a co-worker, Inga Arvad.  The two soon begin a passionate love affair.
Dec 7, 1941                         The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.
Dec 11, 1941  Germany declares war on the U.S.
Dec 12, 1941 Inga Arvad, to squelch rumors spread by a co-worker, makes a voluntary statement to the FBI to assail rumors she is a German spy.
Jan 12, 1942 Winchell’s “Pa Kennedy no like” column appears.
Jan 13, 1942 Jack is transferred to a Naval Intelligence desk job in Charleston, SC.
 
Inga probably traveled to Charleston on this weekend to see Jack but the FBI lost track of her whereabouts.
Feb 6, 1942 Inga registers as Barbara White at the Ft. Sumter Hotel. Jack arrives at 5:30. They stayed in the room except for dinner Friday and a midnight snack on Saturday Night. On Sunday they went to church at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street, and window-shopped at Schindlers Antiques. On Sunday afternoon, they probably went to Yeaman’s Hall for golf. Early Monday, Inga took a cab to the train. Jack slept in and was caught by the desk clerk on his way out and forced to pay for an extra day at the hotel.
Feb 15, 1942 The British surrender Singapore to the Japanese.
Feb 19, 1942 FDR issues Executive Order 9066 setting in motion the detention of American Citizens of Japanese, German and Italian descent (though this would mainly be applied to those of Japanese descent).
Feb 22, 1942 Inga comes to Charleston once more. This time they stayed at the Francis Marion Hotel for the weekend. The FBI bugs this room.
Feb 28, 1942 Jack flies to Washington, spends the night with Inga and they end their relationship.

Upcoming Shows

JFK and Inga Binga Feb. 8 - 26, 2023 • MainStage Series
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In Residence at the Dock Street Theatre Since 1978