One pair of onlookers spotted the critical difference between George and Lee, and that was Declan and Katya Ford. Their perspicacity was curious, for they liked George and disliked Lee. But it was Lee they respected. Lee was a “serious seeker,” and “idealist,” while George only wanted to be “a commissar,” wanted to be “on top” himself. George was a talker. What the Fords saw about Lee was that he was capable of acting on his beliefs.
Everyone who knew them agrees that Lee looked to George as a father. Marina says that her husband was slightly afraid of George and that for George alone, he might even go so far as to amend his political opinions. Gary Taylor thought that Lee would do anything George told him to do. He would even take his advice on such matters as what time to go to bed, where to stay, and whether to get a new job. Whatever George’s suggestions, Gary says, “Lee grabbed them and took them.” George himself has said that “he was clinging to me. He would call me. He would try to be next to me.”
It did not occur to George what effect his political talk might have on Lee. Marina sensed that her husband was merely “the latest exhibit in George’s collection of friends,” and that George thought, “It would be interesting to see how he turned out.” George himself said that “he is just a kid for me, with whom I played around. Sometimes I was curious to see what went on in his head. But I certainly would not call myself a friend of his.”
Such condescension, no matter how artfully concealed, must have been maddening to Lee. It was seldom that he looked up to anyone. And now he, who set the distances of all his relationships and kept nearly everyone at arm’s length, was himself being kept at arm’s length by the one man he longed to be close to, the one man whose esteem he coveted.
As the winter of 1963 began, the idea seems to have taken shape in Lee’s mind that by a single, dramatic act whose political thrust George would approve, he might compel George’s respect.
— 21 —
On December 28, Lee and Marina climbed into the back seat of George’s big gray convertible and drove to the Sanger-Harris department store to pick up Jeanne. “Her former husband is in a mental hospital,” George said, and he told them of Jeanne’s success designing clothing in New York. She had so much drive that she always got what she wanted. Plainly George was proud of the woman he had married. When they reached the department store, he fairly leaped out of the car to fetch her.
Lee and Marina talked it over. “He’s probably lying about his Jeanne and how much money she makes,” Lee remarked. “She probably makes a lot but not as much as he says.” In fact, Lee liked Jeanne for being able and willing to support her husband.
They were on their way to a combination Christmas and New Year’s party at Declan and Katya Ford’s. It was Jeanne who had arranged the evening. She was worried about the Oswalds’ being alone over the holidays and had telephoned Katya to ask if she might bring them to the party. Katya, who hoped she had seen the last of the Oswalds, gulped a little and said yes. Jeanne also arranged for a neighbor to babysit. It was the first time the Oswalds had been anywhere without June.
The Fords’ sprawling modern house on Brookcrest Drive was brightly lit for the occasion. A fire was blazing in the huge stone fireplace in the living room. The guests, many of them Russian, were astonished to see the Oswalds. Like Katya, they thought they had seen the last of them.
The first person Marina saw was George Bouhe. She kissed him on the cheek and greeted him with embarrassed affection. Lee’s reaction was typical. “Why are you sucking up to him?” he said to her the first chance he got.
Lee spent most of the evening with Yaeko Okui, a young Japanese girl who had come with Lev Aronson, an émigré from Latvia and a well-known cellist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They sat on stone steps at one end of the room, deep in conversation. No one had seen him so attentive to a woman before.
Relieved to be rid of Lee, Marina moved happily from friend to friend, ate heartily, and ended up with a group singing Russian songs at the piano. She was enjoying herself. As the Russian at the party most recently arrived in the United States, she was the cynosure of attention. She felt, moreover, that everyone was genuinely happy to see everyone else. She sensed a welcome absence of hypocrisy, of fake party manners, in the air. Watching her, however, George Bouhe and Anna Meller thought she was not looking well. Mrs. Meller wondered if she had enough to eat at home.
Lee, too, was something of a sensation. He was obviously enjoying the company of Miss Okui. He had liked Japan and appreciated Japanese women. They talked about Japanese and American customs, and about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, which Miss Okui was certified to teach. But Marina noticed that she spoke Russian and was drinking only Coca-Cola, nothing stronger. It occurred to her that Miss Okui might work for American Intelligence. During an interval in the kitchen, she cautioned Lee against talking politics and especially against praising Khrushchev. “Watch out,” she said. “That girl is pretty and very charming. Only, she may be a spy. Don’t be too frank with her.” Never before, and never again, was she to feel prompted to warn her secretive husband to keep his mouth shut.
One other person reacted to Miss Okui exactly as she did—George de Mohrenschildt. To all appearances he was busy chasing a couple of girls, but his antennae were out, and he remarked to Marina: “That Japanese girl—I don’t trust her. I think she works for some government or other, but which one, I don’t know.” Others at the party noticed that Miss Okui’s escort, Lev Aronson, was more than a little jealous of Lee. “My God,” they claim to have heard him say, “what an idiot that is!” Lee also made a strong impression on Katya Ford’s teenage daughter Linda. Toward the end of the party, Declan Ford played a record called “The First Family” in which the comedian Vaughn Meader gave a hilarious imitation of President Kennedy. While the others laughed, Lee stared at Linda with his large, solemn eyes wide open and never once cracked a smile. Linda felt so uncomfortable under that unblinking stare that afterward she could remember nothing else about the party. The Oswalds left about midnight with the de Mohrenschildts. They were not invited to the other Christmas parties given by the Russians in the next few days.
It was Marina’s first Christmas in America, and she longed for a tree. She begged Lee to buy her one as they walked home from the grocery store one night. “No,” he said. “It’s too expensive, because you have to buy toys and decorations. It’s nothing but a commercial holiday, anyway.”
Later that evening Marina slipped out on the street, found an evergreen branch, propped it up on their bureau in front of the mirror and spread cotton around it for snow. The next day she gathered up 19 cents that Lee had left lying about and made for the five-and-ten-cent store, where she bought colored paper and miniature decorations. She shredded the colored paper into tinsel; the decorations went on the branch. Lee was proud and surprised. “I never thought you could make a Christmas tree for only nineteen cents,” he said.
Conversations with Declan and Katherine Ford.
Testimony of Gary E. Taylor, Vol. 9, p. 96.
Testimony of George S. de Mohrenschildt, Vol. 9, p. 238.
Testimony of Jeanne de Mohrenschildt, Vol. 9, pp. 319–321; Testimony of Katherine Ford, Vol. 2, pp. 305–307.
Exhibits No. 1859, Vol. 23, pp. 628–630, and Nos. 1860–1861, Vol. 23, pp. 630–632.
Testimony of Anna N. Meller, Vol. 8, p. 389.