Nov. 12, 2013 -- intro: Fifty years after his death, John F. Kennedy continues to captivate and intrigue the American psyche. While thousands of books have been written about his life, White House tenure and assassination, there's still a few things you perhaps never knew about our 35th president. Below, check out our list of the 14 Most Surprising Facts About JFK.
quicklist:1 title:1. Obsessed with his weight, JFK traveled with a bathroom scale.
quicklist:2 title: 2. A James Bond fanatic ("From Russia With Love" was one of his 10 favorite books), Kennedy tried his hand at his own spy-chiller -- about a coup d'etat masterminded by Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
quicklist:3 title: 3. JFK was the first president to dance with black women at an inaugural ball.
quicklist:4 title: 4. Kennedy tried desperately to learn French (the first lady was fluent), even appealing to daughter Caroline's teacher for help.
quicklist:5 title: 5. One of JFK's legs was shorter than the other, which contributed to his chronic back problems.
quicklist:6 title: 6. Kennedy bought up 1,200 high-grade Cuban cigars the day before he was to order a ban on Cuban imports.
quicklist:7 title: 7. JFK received last rites four times in his life: in 1947 after becoming gravely ill in England; in 1951 while stricken with a high fever in Japan; in 1954 following back surgery; on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
quicklist:8 title: 8. With a phone call to Hollywood, JFK got a movie made, and not just any movie, but one that highlighted the tensions between the peace and military factions within his own administration. "Seven Days in May," starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, was based on the 1962 novel of the same name about a Joint Chiefs of Staff plot to overthrow the president for supporting a nuclear disarmament treaty. "He wanted to raise the national consciousness about the problems involved if generals get out of control," historian Arthur Schlesinger said. Eager to get the movie made, Kennedy decamped to Hyannis Port and turned over the White House grounds to the filmmakers for a weekend, even allowing them to stage riots.
quicklist: 9 title: 9. Kennedy used 16 pens to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty Sept. 24, 1963.
quicklist:10 title: 10. Kennedy had been the target of at least four assassination attempts before Dallas, one barely a month after he was elected president, when a retired postal worker, his car loaded with dynamite, followed the president-elect from Hyannis Port to Georgetown to Palm Beach. "Brother, they could have gotten me in Palm Beach. There is no way to keep anyone from killing me," Kennedy told a Secret Service agent shortly after the suspect was apprehended, recounted Thurston Clarke in "JFK's Last Hundred Days." Two more assassination plots -- one in Chicago, one in Tampa, Fla. -- were uncovered in the weeks before Nov. 22, 1963.
quicklist:11 title:11. Kennedy gave all his $100,000-a-year White House salary to charity.
quicklist:12 title: 12. He used the coconut husk on which he'd scratched his PT-109 rescue message while stranded in the South Pacific during World War II as a paperweight on his Oval Office desk.
quicklist:13 title: 13. Fifty-three percent of Americans, or 90 million people, said they'd shed tears in the four days between Kennedy's death and funeral, according to a National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago poll conducted within a week of the assassination.
quicklist: 14 title: 14. Kennedy was the only U.S. president whose grandmother lived longer than he did.
Text:Sources: "JFK's Last Hundred Days," Thurston Clarke; "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years," David Talbot; Vanity Fair, Special Commemorative Edition: Kennedys.