Tunnel of love?

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 11, 2005 12:00 AM

It so happened that this columnist was staying at the Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe this past weekend when Marilyn Monroe's confessions to her psychiatrist - taped shortly before she died 43 years ago at age 36 - were made public, raising questions about whether she died of a drug overdose or perhaps something more sinister.

Rather than room service, I dialed hotel security.

Frank Encinas, as he does every day, was keeping a watchful eye over the craps tables and slot machines (the Nevada-California state line slices right through the lodge's rock fireplace, thus the casino is found in the Nevada half).

"Is there a chance you might take me into the tunnels?" I asked him.

During the late 1950s, with the blessing of notorious crime boss Sam Giancana, Frank Sinatra became the "captain" and owner of the Cal Neva Lodge. Soon, the lakeside resort was a favorite playground for Hollywood's brightest stars and, some contend, a pair of famous brothers from Washington, D.C.

"Most people say that Frank Sinatra owned the Cal Neva, and Sam Giancana was his silent partner," Encinas tells me. "But those in the know say Sam Giancana was the actual owner, and Frank Sinatra was his silent partner."

What's easier to believe is that Sinatra, Giancana and President Kennedy all shared the same mistress, Judith Campbell. The Hollywood socialite acknowledged the high-level trysts when subpoenaed to testify in 1975 before the so-called "Church Committee" (named after then-Idaho Sen. Frank Church and his Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities).

Campbell, who later became Campbell Exner, told congressional investigators that Kennedy additionally used her as a go-between with Giancana, supposedly when the president was weighing a possible assassination of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The FBI, it was later revealed, had recorded phone calls from Giancana's home to Kennedy (it also was reported that Giancana, despite being a suspect in numerous killings, participated in 1960 talks with CIA Director Allen W. Dulles about ways to forever silence Castro).

Meanwhile, as all this was supposedly happening, Kennedy was rumored also to be having an affair with Marilyn. And if that's not scandalous enough, notes from the newly revealed tapes have Marilyn trying to put the skids on another secret romance - this one with Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general.

"As you see, there is no room in my life for him," she told her psychiatrist. "I guess I don't have the courage to face up to it and hurt him. I want someone else to tell him it's over."

That said, the Cal Neva Lodge on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe is supposedly where many of these colorful players came together.

"This was supposedly a secret rendezvous place for the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe," Encinas says as we duck into the cinderblock-lined tunnels. "Here's how it worked: Frank Sinatra had cabin number 5; Marilyn Monroe had cabin number 3. In each cabin, you entered the tunnels through the closet. That way, Sinatra's close friends could move about the resort undetected."

He leads me to the farthest reaches of three separate tunnels - where today carpeted staircases and ramps lead to floorboards, mounds of dirt, and in one case a locked door adjacent to the casino, its sign reading "Ski Locker."

The lodge's security officer then stops in the middle of the tunnel leading directly to Sinatra's old office (the underground entrance to the office was eventually ordered sealed by gaming control board agents. In fact, authorities stripped Sinatra of his gaming license after Giancana's involvement with the lodge became known).

After Encinas points out Sinatra's initials in the cement, he reaches across the tunnel and identifies what some believe is a telltale "X" scraped into the wall.

"My boss told me that he had read sometime ago that along this tunnel wall leading to Frank Sinatra's office, John F. Kennedy had (an encounter) with Marilyn Monroe and X marks the spot. Well," he says, "there's your X."

If tunnels could only talk. There's nothing remotely substantial, of course, to prove whether Marilyn ever encountered either of the Kennedys in the cabins - or tunnels - of the Cal Neva Lodge.

Guy Rocha, Nevada state archivist, wrote last August in the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal that indeed Marilyn was a guest at the Cal Neva just days before she died in Los Angeles of an apparent suicide, "albeit under mysterious circumstances," he added.

Her final trip to the Cal Neva, wouldn't you know, was at the invitation of actor Peter Lawford, brother-in-law to the Kennedys. Rumors, and nothing more, had it that Lawford told Marilyn that she was no longer to communicate with either of the Kennedy brothers.

"The truth in its entirety will likely never be known about the JFK-Monroe affair," the archivist concluded, and as far as the Cal Neva is concerned "may well represent a titillating, modern-day presidential version of the 'George Washington slept here' myth."

GIVING AND RECEIVING

Much reaction - from those leaning both to the political right and left - to our recent column item asking the question: What is it today that conservatives wish to conserve?

Once upon a time, we pointed out, conservatives wished to conserve slavery and later segregation, certainly neither an aim of a modern-day conservative. One common definition states that a conservative respects tradition and authority, while resisting wholesale or sudden changes.

Furthermore, a conservative in America today believes in the limited authority of government, greater power to the states instead of the federal government, lower taxes and less government spending.

Our readers tend to agree. Gil McAuliff of Manassas Park, Va., writes: "I have always said it this way: a liberal is a person who says what can government do for you; a conservative says what can you do for yourself."

Janet R. Jenkins of Albia, Iowa, recalls: "A few years back, P.J. O'Rourke wrote an essay, 'How to Explain Conservatism to Your Squishy Liberal Friends' . . . His point was 'conserving' the rights and responsibilities of the individual instead of submitting to 'group think.' Charity, for instance, was the right or responsibility of individuals, rather than the 'forced charity' by governments with tax money."

Finally, writes Joe McColgan Sr. of Philadelphia: "Having grown up in projects and poverty, my reason for declaring myself a conservative is: Liberals want to give you things; conservatives want you to earn things. Giving is most debilitating to the receiver and empowering to the giver."

YOU'RE EXCUSED

For numerous reasons beyond their control, members of Congress fail to show up on the House floor to cast all-important roll-call votes. These no-shows, as congressional rules require, then have to explain their absences in writing to the House speaker.

One of the most common excuses given is that an airline flight back to Washington was delayed. And talk about getting stuck in the air, this columnist once wrote about a lawmaker who, while en route to cast his vote, got stuck in a Capitol Hill elevator.

Often members of Congress are present to vote, but forget how they stand (or how their political party stands) on an issue. Take the previous Congress, when Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican, stood up and explained, in no uncertain terms, why she had previously cast the wrong vote.

"Mr. Speaker, due to exhaustion, I mistakenly voted on roll-call vote 445. I should have voted 'nay,'" she said, only to depart Washington hours later for a much-needed summer recess.

Just a few days ago, Republican Rep. John Linder of Georgia sat down to pen this always valid excuse: "Mr. Speaker, I was unable to cast roll-call votes . . . because I was unavoidably detained on official business with President George W. Bush."

Finally, who can fault Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr., South Carolina Republican, who wrote to the speaker on July 27: "The reason for my absence was that I had to have an emergency appendectomy at the Bethesda Naval Hospital."

POSTCARDS TO PRISON

Just what New York Times reporter Judith Miller doesn't need to be reading: piles of postcards delivered to her jail cell urging her to give in to the authorities.

Accuracy in Media (AIM), a watchdog group, is having its members mail the postcards to the scribe, who is serving time in Alexandria's detention center for refusing to testify in the Valerie Plame case.

"You could freely and honestly testify about your knowledge in the CIA leak case," read the postcards. "You have an obligation to do so. Reporters are not above the law."

As postcards flood Miller's cell, so does hate mail to AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid. One angry person suggested therapy for Kincaid, but recanted with: "Save humanity the expense and jump from the tallest building you can find."

Still, Kincaid vows to continue his group's fight to defeat a proposed press shield law pertaining to disclosing a reporter's sources. That's according to our source, whom we shall never reveal.

ESCAPE TO HARLEM

Instead of Martha's Vineyard, Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York is encouraging fellow congressmen to spend part of their summer recess in Harlem.

"You will not regret your time there," says the Democrat, a lifelong resident of New York City's black cultural center. "From the music and arts of the Harlem community to the politics and strategies of Harlem's activists and leaders, this is a community that is rich in diversity, entertainment, culture and love."

And surely there are members of this divisive 109th Congress who could stand a spoonful or two of the latter.