Priscilla Johnson McMillan’s Marina and Lee: The Tormented Love and Fatal Obsession Behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassination of John F. Kennedy, reissued for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, examines Lee Harvey Oswald’s dark psyche though the eyes of his Russian wife.
What do Marina’s insights tell us about Oswald?
They show his state of mind before the assassination. Marina had a very good eye for Lee’s character. He was violent with her, she saw what he was doing with his guns, she had a close view of the moods and thoughts that led up to the Kennedy assassination.
He seems like a classic narcissist, someone with a grandiose self-image.
Yes. He wanted to do something big. His first job back in the U.S. from Russia was painting houses in Fort Worth [Tex.], with the hard sunlight beating down; there’s such a discrepancy between the work he could get and what he thought he could do. If he had had a trial—Marina thought this—he would have boasted that he was trying to bring down capitalism.
Did Marina see beforehand the possibility of the assassination?
She knew about Lee’s attempt to kill General Edwin Walker. Later, when Richard Nixon visited Dallas, he said he was going to have a look at him. She was terrified that he was going to try and shoot Nixon, so she locked him in the bathroom until he calmed down.
You document Oswald’s penchant for secrecy, lies, and aliases. He always acted as if he were involved in a conspiracy—which stimulates speculation by conspiracy theorists. Was that all just in his head?
Yes. Lying and keeping secrets were a way of life, independent of what the lies or the secrets were about. They made him feel important. But I could never find any associates; it was a conspiracy of one. The Russians concluded that he was not conspiracy material—because he was basically crazy.
Marina and Lee came out in 1977. Since then Marina has come to believe that Oswald was involved in a conspiracy.
Yes. When I talked to her there was no question of her changing her mind. But Marina loves attention, and conspiracy theorists in the 1980s gave her that attention. Some of them have said that I worked for the U.S. government to cover up the facts.
Is that true?
No! It’s hard for people to accept that one small person like Oswald could cut down a historic figure like Kennedy. I felt that as human beings they were equal. But if it had turned out that Oswald didn’t do it—or if the truth was more complicated—I would have written that.
You see Oswald as a prototype for the political rebels of the 1960s. How so?
Movements questioning the established order, like SDS, sprang up soon after him—partly in consequence of the assassination. Oswald was a forerunner; if he had gone to college and been a joiner he might have advanced his politics on the street with other people.