DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Fail

TMZ Falls For JFK Photo Hoax

Photo that "could have changed history" was from Playboy

John F. Kennedy

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TMZ Falls For JFK Photo Hoax

DECEMBER 28--In a colossal screw-up, the gossip web site TMZ today published a photo purporting to show John F. Kennedy frolicking on a yacht with a harem of naked women--except that the image actually appeared as part of a November 1967 Playboy photo spread, The Smoking Gun has learned.

The TMZ hoax was billed as an "exclusive" featuring a photo that "could have altered world events" had it surfaced prior to JFK's presidential campaign. "It could have torpedoed his run, and changed world history," the site added. In reality, the photo appeared in a story about Playboy's "Charter Yacht Party: How to Have a Ball on the Briny with an Able-Bodied Complement of Ship's Belles."

As seen in this page from the November 1967 issue, the Playboy photo is in color. The "Exclusive" TMZ image is the same photo, just reproduced in black and white. [Click here for a side-by-side comparison of the original Playboy photo and the watermarked version published today by TMZ.]

According to the web site, the photo was "eventually given to a man who owned a car dealership on the East coast. The man kept it in a drawer for years, and would brag to friends he had an image of JFK on a boat with naked women. The man died 10 years ago and one of his sons inherited the photo."

The gossip site offered no further details about the photo's provenance or what they paid for the image. The site noted that "we believe the photo was taken in the mid-1950s," likely while Kennedy was on a two-week "Mediterranean boating trip" with his brother Ted and Senator George Smathers. TMZ claimed to have consulted with "multiple experts," including a forensic photo expert and two unnamed JFK biographers, as it sought to confirm that the late president was once photographed surrounded by a quartet of naked women.

According to the caption accompanying the Playboy photo spread, four couples were enjoying themselves on a trip to Petit Rameau, an island in the Grenadines. As "Andy" sunned himself on deck, "Elaine" dove naked into the water while "Roxanna" provocatively shimmied up a ladder. In an interview, Larry Dale Gordon, the Playboy photographer who took the yacht image, said that the man TMZ identified as Kennedy was a "paid model," as were the naked women featured in the shot. (2 pages)