14: Rare Meetings in 1963
I Am a Patsy! by George de Mohrenschildt
This last incident, due this time to Lee’s romantic interlude, showed us that it was only up to them to iron out their difficulties. We even began to agree that the Russian refugees were perhaps right in eliminating this unhappy couple from their lives.
We did not show to Lee or Marina this change of our attitude but our meetings became rarer. When we saw each other we spoke mostly about Lee’s job, our coming departure and about June’s health. Only one evening led to some serious discussion. I remember Jeanne complimented Lee for his serious attitude towards life, she was tired of people teasing her and did not enjoy this American pastime. My teasing annoyed her also.
“Excessive vanity is related to jokes and constant teasing,” she told Lee. “People who tease are trying to be brilliant at others’ expense. That you don’t do, Lee, neither to us to Marina. The teasers and constant jokers,” she continued, “want to show themselves superior.”
Lee was grateful for the compliment. He sat on that sofa of ours and told us something very touching. “I think that I shall be moving away from here after your departure. When my heart is heavy — and it will be when you will be gone — It will be hard for me to remain in one place.”
“Don’t impose new changes on Marina and the child, think of them,” said Jeanne. “If everyone works out well, we shall invite you to stay with us in Haiti.”
Then she gave the Oswalds this advice: “you seem to be still in love with each other. Cultivate this love as you would cultivate a fire, adding affectionate actions like little pieces of wood. Otherwise the fire will be extinguished.”
“Study, Lee,” I had to add my piece of advice. “Study is the best consolation against worst adversities. Some philosopher said that, it’s not my own idea.”
“Kids,” said Jeanne. “We shall miss you, although you have been giving us a lot of headaches. We shall be basking in the sun of Haiti, drinking the beauty of our favorite island and eating sunshine and mangoes.”
“Maybe it won’t be so pleasant,” said I, not wanting the Oswalds to think of their dismal lives on Elspeth Street in Oak Cliff. “Remember life in America is fun…fun…fun… and then worry…worry…worry…” I quipped. “Try to have more fun than worry.”
As a result of our admonishments Marina promised not to smoke and Lee said: “I won’t put out cigarettes on your arm, since you won’t be smoking.” Peace for a while in the Oswald family.
Practical issues of life took over. I had to spend all the time on my geological work and on preparations for departure, and Jeanne was designing furiously for several companies at the time trying to make some money. Our finances were almost exhausted.
The de Mohrenschildts’ Film Show
But one evening with Oswalds, fraught with incidents, stands out in our memory. That evening we decided to show the 8mm. movie of our walking trip which Lee did not see and insisted on seeing. This was sometime in January of 1963. A scientist working for the research department of an oil company, Edward Glover, arranged for the projection in his house. And he invited all his friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Most scientists and skillful technicians dream of wilderness and free life in the open. And so the large room was full. Our only guests were Lee and Marina. They had found someone to babysit for baby June.
I did not show this film often as this original was precious to us and we didn’t have a copy of it. Taken all outdoors, this film came out amazingly well starting with our departure from the “civilized” world and ending a year later south of Panama canal. What we did was a little walk from the Texas border, all on foot — and we did not cheat even once.
This trip began in October of 1960 and we returned from Panama in a civilized way by plane, to Jamaica first and then to Haiti where we took a good rest.
During this hejira we made a complete breakaway from all comforts, slept exclusively outside, on the ground, ate whatever the Indians had to sell, and I exchanged occasionally my knowledge of minerals against food supplies. We walked freely as much as we wanted, slowly at first, much faster later, guiding ourselves by old mining maps and by compass. We lost a lot of disgusting fat in a hurry and after three months became lean and bronzed like savages, able to run up a high mountain without breathing hard.
The film, taken periodically, showed this amazing change in us, from slobs to healthy individuals, the rest consisted of beautiful scenery, of Indians we met, of our wonderful Manchester Nero and of our unpredictable mule — Condessa.
We stopped in a ranch south of Panama canal and left our mule there, to be retired from hard work. I hope she ended her life peacefully.
Quite a few of Glover’s friends from Dallas and New York, mostly young career people, although conservatively inclined, were interested in meeting Lee Harvey Oswald. Some were more interested in him than in our movie, and they got their money’s worth. After the showing they asked Lee some pointed questions and he answered them aggressively and sharply without hiding, and even exaggerating, his feelings. Lee wanted to show these well dressed, prosperous youngsters that he was different radically from them. I wanted to stop him but he went on nevertheless talking of his sympathies of revolutionary movements all over the world, of his respect for Fidel Castro and for Che Guevara. This made him hardly popular with this group, composed mainly of big oil companies’ employees, dreaming not of revolutions but of advancement of their respective careers.
And there is nobody more conservative and even race conscious than an oil company employee or executive. Lee knew that. “I bet you,” he said sharply, “that your companies do not employ any Blacks or Mexicans in any positions, not executive but average positions …”
Nobody answered Lee’s challenge.
“Naturally abroad you act differently, you use natives of all colours that American oil companies are soooo liberal.”
Incidentally, now the situation changed somewhat, possibly because of President Kennedy’s assassination, which put in sharp prospective racial discrimination in this country.
Ruth Paine Meets Lee and Marina Oswald
But there was an exception in this conservative group — a tall, dark–haired, attractive woman in her late twenties. She took a vivid interest in Marina and did not take offence to Lee’s utterances. She asked me if Marina spoke any English. I said — “no.”
“Would you introduce me to her? My name is Ruth Paine.” I did. And to my great surprise Ruth began to speak in fluent Russian to equally flabbergasted Marina.
Mrs. Ruth Paine, an eccentric American, came from a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker family and went to some Eastern college where she took Russian studies very seriously. She was one of those gifted people who learn a difficult language well and are infatuated by the Russian culture. Mrs. Paine was probably bored in the suburban Irving atmosphere and wanted to practice Russian; her husband being a research engineer for Bell Helicopter, she had energy and time on her hands. She saw a native–Russian who did not speak any English — Marina was a real find for her. Some people accused her later of an infatuation of a different type, but I did not notice it. Anyway she was more interested in Marina than in Lee who in the meantime continued his furious and extravagant discussions with our conservative friends.
Thus began a friendship between these two women, a friendship which lasted till the days of assassination. Ruth Paine has done more for Marina and June than any other person, yet, for some reason Marina refused to see her after Lee’s death.
All in all the showing of our picture was a success, beautiful scenery, waterfalls, volcanoes in eruption, outcrops of brilliantly hued deposits showed up well — and scientists, being adverturers at heart, loved wilderness. Marina could not care less, she was not an outdoor woman, but being polite, she did not express her dislike and kept on chatting amicably with Ruth Paine.
Lee, on the other hand, commented late [sic] excitedly how much he liked the film and that he envied us for having lived for a year close to nature, an ascetic life of complete freedom. “You have walked almost 4,000 miles to get away from people, comforts, stupid gadgets and conventions. It would be my dream also. I envy you. I have never been completely free.”
“Yes it was a great privilege,” I told Lee, “but it was tough, believe me. We wore out twenty two pairs of shoes and guaraches each.”
The subject of our film filled most of our last conversations with Lee. I advised him to try the same, we spent quite a lot of money on our trip but some American lunatic who pretended that he was a saint had done part of our itinerary by himself, without spending a cent, people fed and clothed him out of charity.
“I would never do anything without paying for food and lodging,” said Lee. “And Marina is not an outdoor woman like your wife.”
Some newspapermen and writers atttribute to me the part of Svengali, of sinister, evil adviser to Lee. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He was strong and stubborn man, a hundred–per–cent American, who had made a decision early in life, in his childhood as a matter of fact, that the American way of life means unabridged capitalism, crooked politics, violence, racism, pursuit of luxuries rather than ideals, living up to Joneses etc. and that conviction motivated his escape to Russia. Nothing could have persuaded him to the contrary.
Lee Oswald’s Opinions About Latin America
Lee’s views on Latin America were determined long before we met. On the basis of our trip I began to look at things somewhat like Lee always did. Previously I lived in several Latin American countries, where the social injustices were obvious, but then I was looking at life as an eager petroleum geologist, not as a sociologist.
This time our primitive trip put us close to simplest people, we lived with them and understood the problems of the poor. And it was exactly what had happened to Lee in Japan — hence his immediate close relationship with Yaiko who was a sensitive and perceptive woman.
Lee told me that the same phenomena of awakening to the fate of the poor occurred to the Che Guevera when he carried his assignment as a doctor in Central America, in places we visited ourselves. The desperate plight of the poor could not be denied by anyone with open eyes and a little bit of feelings for a fellow–man.
“Che Guevera understood the situation well,” said Lee, “although his stay in Central America took place years before your trip. But still you saw dismal poverty in parts of Mexico, in Guatemala, San Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, didn’t you?”
“Yes we did. But in Costa Rica we found a somewhat different situation. Why?”
We knew the answer but asked Lee anyway.
“Simply because,” he said, “that this country has never been occupied and corrupted by us, Americans.”
Right he was. the ignorant “high–school dropout“ knew the history of different United States interventions in Latin America.
And so Costa Rica is Switzerland of Latin America, with a true democratic government, limited police force, no army or air force. You can talk there freely and meet the president in the barbershop in San José. You can also find refuge there if you steal millions in USA.
All these problems are clear and open now but they were not in 1963.
We discussed with Lee the dismal poverty of overcrowded El Salvador, where the wealth of the whole country belongs to 23 families, latifundistas since the Spanish conquest. It’s still true today.
And then the tragi–comical history of Nicaragua. Somoza family owns most of Nicaragua and this regime was imposed by the wife of an American ambassador during the occupation by the Marines. An elderly Nicaraguan geologist told us the story of a handsome and husky telephone lineman, who seduced the lonesome wife of the Yankee Ambassador — the name was mentioned but I forgot it — and his subsequent appointment as chief of police, which was equivalent to a dictator for life. His and [his] children’s.
These discussions with Lee took place 13 years ago. Today the frequent support of the United States of oligarchs, crooked generals and ruthless dictators is discussed openly in the Congress, Senate and in the United Nations. But in 1963 such conversations might have been considered subversive. Now, after Vietnam and Watergate, we all see a little clearer and talk more freely.
“Lee, how do you understand the Latin American situation so well?”
“I am from New Orleans, as a kid I met a lot of refugees from all these banana republics, no better source of information.”
In this way both Lee and I were non–conformist, even revolutionaries. But my long years of experience in Latin America, followed by my son’s death and the ensuing saddness, made me commiserate with the fate of the poor and of the starving. A younger man, I was career and money mad, a hustler.… But Lee was the same since his childhood, which made him such a beautiful and worthwhile person to me.
I had been in the Social Register, played with the jet–set, knew innumerable rich people, including the Bouvier family, father and mother, and Jacqueline and Lee when they were young girls — all this foolish activity makes me today disgusted with myself. Now all this opportunis– [sic] waste of time is meaningless but Jeanne, my wife, and Lee had always been on the side of the underprivileged and she had lived in China and saw new–born babies thrown in the garbage because parents were too poor to feed them. To Lee, commiseration for the dejected came naturally. Poor as his family was in New Orleans, he never really experienced hunger. But his inner nature he belonged to the socially motivated people.
In our last meetings Lee often expressed his concern about this country — past and present. Its origins — according to him — by the hypocritical pilgrims, through Indian genocide, invation of the continent by the greedy and hungry European masses, who, meeting racist attitudes of the Anglos, became even more racist themselves. Before busing confusion arose in this country, Lee was keenly aware of the racist cancer eating America’s healthy tissues. “All people are sob’s” he often said, “but the strongest and more ferocious always win, physically but not morally.”
Lee Oswald and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt
Jeanne often participated in our discussions. Let me explain her background a little and to clarify why she got along so well with Lee. Social attitudes are unpredictable and do not depend on your parents or on your environment. Jeanne’s family in China was well to do, her father built a railroad, how lived a luxurious childhood, but she preferred from early days to give than to receive. He remembered the Chinese as humble and kind people, dismally poor, who hated to fight and rather insulted each other and stamped their feet. Even in huge families, violence was seldom seen. These subjects were interesting to Lee who discussed them with my wife. She told him of the formation of the puppet state of Manchukuo, of the Japanese invasion and of the ensuing cruelties, of her flight from the Japanese to the United States.
Lee compared her experiences of the old militaristic Japan with the present Japanese movement, which he knew so well. And so both of them got along fabulously well, instructing each other on the Far–Eastern situation thirty years ago and now.
Since Marina never participated in these discussions, we would talk with Jeanne of this curious couple after their departures from our home.
“The opposites attract,” was Jeanne’s opinion.
“I think it’s sex,” was my opinion, “but what type of sex I don’t know.” But there must have been a strong emotional bond between those two. They always came to each other, except just before the assassination Lee begged Marina to come and live with him, he had a job with the Book Depository, everything seemed fine. And Marina refused because Lee could not buy a washing machine to which she had had access in Mr. Paine’s house. From this incident came the theory attributed to me by some publication (Esquire, I think) — “A washing machine theory of Kennedy’s assassination”. Supposedly I compared Marina to a typical Texas woman who would not go back to her husband because he could not afford a new Cadillac. But in poor Marina’s case it was a washing machine …
The comparison is not bad but I did not enunciate it since for me Lee is innocent of Kennedy’s assassination. I cannot prove it but the later events, which will be discussed, tend to prove Lee’s innocence.
I did not know Lee to be a dangerous man, a man who would kill like a maniac without any reason — with reason any man is a potential killer — and we proved that he was rather an admirer of Kennedy’s. Lee’s connections, when we knew him, were fairly liberal, equalitarian, not even communist but rather vague, Marxist beliefs. He did not try to influence me in any way nor did I try to exert any influence on him. “That’s why it’s so easy to be with you,” said Lee one day, “everyone tries to influence me one way or another, in the Soviet Union, in Japan, here, and you leave me strictly alone.”
Our film recurred frequently in our conversations and even Marina participated in these discussions. “How could you have done such a thing at your age?” she asked Jeanne. “And to look so trim, strong and beautiful?”
“Effort and constant exercise. Control over your body,” would lecture Jeanne. But to no avail. Neither was I successful to convince Lee to be sportier. “Get your troubles, your sadnesses, your anger out of your systems through hard physical exercise,” I advised them both. It worked so well in our case. Unfortunately neither of them would follow our advice.