The Island of Palm Beach, Florida has been known for its wealthy and illustrious residents over the decades. Such names as Horace and Anna Dodge of the Dodge automotive family, Marjorie Merriweather Post built Mar-A-Lago, now owned by Donald Trump. The DuPont and Barney families call Palm Beach home as well as the singer Jimmy Buffett, to name a few. The winter season is the social high time on the island with a population about 30,000 living there between October and April.
The Island of Palm Beach will forever be known for the most famous family to live there, the Kennedys of Massachusetts. Their home was purchased in 1933 at the north end of the island. The residence became even more celebrated while John F. Kennedy was president from 1961 to 1963 and the family home in Florida served as the Winter White House.
Right across the street from the Kennedy home was the mansion owned by George H. Malcolm and his family. George was married to Isabel O. Cooper and she had one daughter, Durie Kerr, born Dec. 30, 1917, from a previous marriage to Frederick Kerr. When her mother divorced Kerr and married George around 1920, Durie took the surname, Malcolm. George was a wealthy executive for Otis Elevator Company in Chicago.
Durie was beautiful and a well-known socialite in Chicago and Florida, especially in Palm Beach during the 1930s. With the Kennedy family directly across from the Malcolm home, Durie had many opportunities to know several of the Kennedy sons, including Joseph Jr. and John, who were both around her same age. Durie dated Joseph Jr. before her marriages in 1937 and 1939.
The first marriage for Durie was in April 1937 to F. John Bersback of Illinois. That marriage only lasted 14 months and they were divorced by June 1938. Within a few months Durie was engaged to Firmin Desloge IV of St. Louis, Missouri. Their wedding was held at the Malcolm mansion on Palm Beach on January 2, 1939. Within a couple of years Firmin and Durie had a daughter, who was named Durie. There were problems in the marriage within a few years and they were drifting apart. Durie felt Firmin was not interested in her anymore and didn’t want to go places with her. After the end of World War II in 1945, she was doing what she wanted even through the divorce from Firmin was not official until January 1947.
It was at this time, the end of 1946 and into early 1947 that Durie dated John F. Kennedy a few times. She had already known the Kennedy family on Palm Beach for years. In the January 20, 1947 issue of the New York World-Telegram newspaper the following was written:
“Jack (John F.) Kennedy, who won the Navy’s highest award for heroism by swimming through a sea of flame to rescue two of his PT boat crew, has just been voted another outstanding decoration. Palm Beach’s cottage colony wants to give [him] its annual Oscar for achievement in the field of romance . . . giving Durie Malcolm Desloge the season’s outstanding rush. The two were inseparable at all social functions and sports events. They even drove down to Miami to hold hands at football games and wager on the horses. Durie is the daughter of the George H. Malcolms of Palm Beach and Chicago. She is beautiful and intelligent. Tiny obstacle to orange blossoms is that the Kennedy clan frowns upon divorce.”
Right there was the major roadblock to any serious romantic connection between Durie Malcolm and John F. Kennedy. It was known that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was grooming John to be president of the United States one day. For John to be accepted by the public as a Roman Catholic and president was difficult enough, but also being married to a divorced woman, would have never worked in the American society at that time.
As was suggested and observed by many of Durie’s friends, she had many suitors and never seemed really interested in the young Jack Kennedy. Years later while John Kennedy was president, a listing in a 1957 book titled: The Blauvelt Family Genealogy, which was housed at the Library of Congress, presented perhaps different story. It stated Durie Malcolm and John F. Kennedy had married in 1947.
The story goes that during the time Durie Malcolm and Jack Kennedy dated, they also for a bit of fun had a quickie marriage in front of a Justice of the Peace on January 24, 1947. Once that news was received by Jack’s father, Joseph Sr., he was going to see that marriage was ended immediately. Durie was a divorcee and totally not acceptable as a wife of a future president.
Joseph had Cardinal Cushing of the Roman Catholic Church quietly grant an annulment, which both Durie and Jack agreed to. To avoid any publicity, no public or civil divorce was done. Instead, the marriage record was removed and destroyed from the Palm Beach County courthouse.
To insure Durie’s silence, she was paid a sum of money by the Kennedys and then arranged in a quick marriage to Thomas H. Shevlin in July 1947 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He was a sports enthusiast and big game hunter. Durie and Tom Shevlin later owned a white colonial mansion on North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach near the Kennedy estate. They remained married for years and were a popular couple in the social circles of Palm Beach.
While Kennedy was president the reference to a 1947 marriage of Jack and Durie surfaced again. Both Durie Shevlin and the Kennedy family denied any such event occurred. The families knew each other and Durie had dated a couple times two of the Kennedy sons and that was all.
Thomas H. Shevlin died February 14, 1973 in Palm Beach. Durie remarried on April 18, 1978 to Francis Henry Appleton. That marriage lasted until Francis Appleton’s died on August 2, 1996 in Palm Beach. Durie Malcolm Appleton died March 17, 2008 in Palm Beach and to her dying day at the age 91, she denied she was ever married to JFK.