WEIRDLAND: The Kennedy Heirs: Tragedy and Triumph

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Kennedy Heirs: Tragedy and Triumph

It goes without saying that of all the secretly conceived and designed wedding dresses in matrimonial history, the simple silk slip dress designed by Narciso Rodriguez for Carolyn Bessette Kennedy for her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr. has to be at the top of that list. The designer, who famously counted the late Bessette as a close friend, recently sat down with Henry Louis Gates Jr. of PBS's Finding Your Roots to delve a little deeper into his friendship with the fashion icon and how that has impacted the trajectory of his life. In a clip from the season 6 premiere, Rodriguez explains that the dress that he designed was done so with so much love, for the person "that he loved most," for the woman who would be Mrs. JFK Jr. As such, when the news of the secret wedding broke, Rodriguez went from being a private person, to a person in the public eye nearly overnight. In the exclusive PBS clip, the designer also reveals that not only did he and Carolyn both worked at Calvin Klein together (where Bessette was a publicist, and he was a fashion designer), but they also happened to live in the same apartment building, which was a catalyst for their bond. Another tidbit Rodriguez shares is that his apartment was bigger, so the blonde Carolyn used to keep her shoes and accessories in his apartment, instead of her own—the sign of a true friendship. Carolyn Bessette and JFK Jr. married in a secret ceremony on an isolated island off the coast of Georgia in September 1996, three years before they died in the crash. “She was so warm and funny,” Rose Marie Terenzio, who was JFK Jr.’s executive assistant, told PEOPLE magazine, remembering Carolyn Bessette. “Our birthdays were close together, so we would always do something alone together in between her birthday and mine,” Terenzio said. “She always made it so special picking a place we’d never been before or somewhere we loved. She always bought me something nice when we would shop. She would insist.” Bessette was “really a lovable person,” her close friend Carole Radziwill, the widow of Kennedy cousin Anthony Radziwill, also previously told PEOPLE. “She was clever, she was kind, and she had that balance of being able to be really serious and yet deeply funny.” “John and Carolyn were magic together,” JFK Jr.’s friend Gustavo Paredes told PEOPLE in 2014. “She had an earthiness and a gentle fierceness. Together, they were whole.” “John and Carolyn were wonderful people. They fell in love, and they had a stunning, dreamlike wedding,” another close friend of JFK Jr., Sasha Chermayeff, later added. Source:

Since her marriage to John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette was described as the beautiful and brainy new Queen of Camelot. Interviews with friends and former colleagues reveal a more recognizable young woman: a child of affluent suburbia, who after graduating seemed had less interest in academics than in downtown clubs, and whose good looks, sophistication and ambition propelled her upward through the fashion industry in New York. Armchair Freudians have also noted the many similarities between Ms. Bessette-Kennedy, as she chose to be called, and Mr. Kennedy's famous mother, the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Like Mrs. Onassis, Ms. Bessette-Kennedy was Roman Catholic and the product of divorced parents, with a French name and heritage. Like Mrs. Onassis, Ms. Bessette-Kennedy had an almost mysterious allure in public and, former colleagues say, a short temper in private. And like the image-conscious Mrs. Onassis, who directed her designer, Oleg Cassini, to create the look of pillbox hats and tailored suits that became her trademark as First Lady, Ms. Bessette-Kennedy worked closely for months with her designer Narciso Rodriguez through two couture fittings in Paris of three hours each to create the dress estimated at $40,000 that she wore in the church on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia for her wedding to JFK Jr.

''It's a very sensuous dress,'' said her friend and designer, Narciso Rodriguez of the Design House of Nino Cerutti, who made his pearl-colored silk crepe creation a gift to the bride. John Kennedy Jr. insisted on maintaining the high budget for the wedding. Kennedy Jr., the editor of the political publication George, grew up on Fifth Avenue but in his adult life had largely ignored his mother Jacqueline Kennedy's Upper East Side milieu. ''Frankly, I don't blame him,'' said Pat Buckley, a denizen of that exclusive circle. Ms. Bessette-Kennedy, a former public relations executive at Calvin Klein, made her mark at the design house in her early 20's and allegedly spent long hours in Manhattan nightclubs. One thing is certain: The spotlight in New York has moved for now from Mr. Kennedy to Ms. Bessette-Kennedy. Fashion editors have been eager to anoint Ms. Bessette-Kennedy as a new icon of fashion. ''We'd love to have her on the cover,'' said Liz Tilberis, the editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar and a Calvin Klein devotee. ''She's going to be an amazing symbol of American style.'' Carolyn Bessette, however, wasn't not very fond of press exposure.

Carolyn Bessette grew up in a large house on Lake Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut, by all accounts a stable background for a young woman whose friends describe her as warm and exuberant. Her mother, Ann Freeman, worked as a teacher and an administrator in the Chappaqua public school system, and her stepfather, Dr. Richard Freeman, was the chief of orthopedic surgery at White Plains Hospital. Carolyn attended St. Mary's High School in Greenwich, although a friend from Calvin Klein recalls that Ms. Bessette-Kennedy once told her that she had started at Greenwich High School ''but that her parents pulled her out because she was having too much fun.'' Ms. Bessette-Kennedy graduated in 1983 and went on to Boston University's School of Education. In Boston, she also briefly pursued a modeling career and took several photo sessions for a professional portfolio. She dated a campus hockey star, John Cullen, and appeared on the cover of a calendar called ''The Girls of B.U.'' After four and a half years of college, she graduated in January 1988 with a degree in elementary education, and soon got a job as a saleswoman at the Calvin Klein boutique in Boston's Chestnut Hill Mall. In no time, her beauty and style were brought to the attention of a Calvin Klein executive from New York, Susan Sokol, who was looking for a charismatic sales-woman to support Klein's franchise in New York. Carolyn Bessette was recommended to Ms. Sokol by a traveling sales coordinator who had visited the Boston store. ''Carolyn fit the bill perfectly,'' said Ms. Sokol. ''She was absolutely charming, completely refreshing and imposing.'' Ms. Sokol's instincts were right. 

A former colleague at Calvin Klein said Ms. Bessette-Kennedy quickly established herself as savvy beyond her years, the perfect saleswoman for important clients who ordered privately from Mr. Klein's showroom. ''She would guide them through the collection, tell them what looked good on them, and advise them on how to put it all together,'' said Paul Wilmot, who was then Calvin Klein's vice-president for public relations. Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy was herself the best advertisement for Mr. Klein's brand, and her all-American beauty the perfect face for a design house, where image was crucial. Former associates say she was one of the designer's muses and close to Mr. Klein's wife Kelly Klein. ''She was 'The Look,' '' said a former Calvin Klein employee, who remembers how Zach Carr, a designer for Mr. Klein, would often say, ''I wonder how Carolyn would put this together.'' Former associates still talk about Ms. Bessette-Kennedy's sense of style. One remembers the day she turned up at the office wearing a tight black leather Calvin Klein jacket as a blouse, set off by the thick blond mane she often wore fashionably unkempt in the ''bedroom hair'' style much in vogue in the 90s. In her seven years at Calvin Klein, Ms. Bessette-Kennedy moved up from the sales department to director of fashion productions, a job that gave her responsibility for Mr. Klein's shows in Bryant Park. While many in the industry assumed her job was light, insiders say she kept long hours and was demanding, opinionated and stubborn. Ms. Bessette-Kennedy was said to be especially good at casting models for shows, and often scouted for new faces in the nightclubs where she had gone for years. 

''She was one of our favorites because she was such a cool girl,'' said David Rabin, the owner of Rex, a club that was popular in the early 1990's. ''She was a part of the Rex family.'' Mr. Rabin said that Ms. Bessette-Kennedy went to Rex about three times a week, and that John Kennedy Jr. occasionally turned up, too. It is unclear if the two noticed each other there, just as it is unclear where they officially met, although friends often state they both met at a Calvin Klein store in Manhattan. Whatever the case, they began dating officially two years after they first met in 1992. They were engaged in September 1995, and in February 1996 they had a public shoving match in Washington Square Park that was caught on video. Ms. Bessette-Kennedy quit her job at Calvin Klein in the spring 1996. Good friends speculate that she was tired of the work schedule after seven years, she was not happy with changes in the Calvin Klein management, and wanted time to plan her newly married life. In any case, she subsequently asked her friend Narciso Rodriguez over a drink at the restaurant Odeon to design her dress, which set Mr. Rodriguez off on a three-month marathon. Rodriguez made, he said, three final versions of the dress, in various luxurious fabrics. Carolyn Bessette and John Kennedy Jr. were married before 40 family members and friends on Saturday, September 21, in a 19th-century church decorated with native wildflowers and vines on Cumberland Island, a national park that is 18 miles long and 4 miles wide. A reception was held at the island's Greyfield Inn. The wedding was kept a secret, although an announcement was released afterward by the bridegroom's uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and included a description of the couple's three-tier wedding cake with vanilla butter-cream frosting decorated with flowers. —"The Newest Kennedy, the Stylish Carolyn Bessette" (September 29, 1996) by Elisabeth Bumiller 

John eagerly endorsed his fiancé Carolyn’s wish to keep their wedding plans secret. From the start, Carolyn was in a quandary over who would make her wedding dress. Should she ask Calvin Klein, who until recently had employed her as a mid-level publicist?  Should she choose her old roommate, the talented black fashion designer Gordon Henderson? Or should she turn to Narciso Rodriguez, a former Calvin Klein staffer who now worked for the Paris couturier Nino Cerruti?  Carolyn knew that her choice would have major repercussions, for her wedding dress and its designer were certain to garner worldwide publicity. It was not until fifteen days before the wedding that Carolyn finally made a decision. She picked the relatively unknown Narciso Rodriguez to design both her rehearsal dinner dress and wedding dress, as well as Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s matron-of-honor dress. Gordon Henderson, who was Carolyn’s closest friend, was devastated over her choice. He had dreamed of designing Carolyn’s dress—and becoming a bigger fashion star. As a consolation, Carolyn asked Henderson to design John’s wedding suit and orchestrate the details of the wedding preparation. Only a few close friends and family members were invited. Everything seemed to go smoothly until Carolyn attempted to put on her wedding dress an hour before the ceremony and found that she could not manage to get the $40,000 pearl-colored silk crepe floor-length gown over her head. Without a zipper, try as hard as she might, she could not squeeze herself into it. Under mounting pressure, Carolyn grew hysterical and began yelling at Rodriguez. Henderson gently led her into a bathroom, put a scarf over her head, and managed to get her into the dress. Then, still in a state of anxiety, she sat while her makeup and hair were redone. Carolyn’s stiletto heels drilled holes in the sandy beach on the way to Cumberland Island’s tiny wood-frame Baptist Church. The stunning six-foot-tall, corn-silk blond bride was two hours late for her own wedding. The church was illuminated by candlelights, and it was so dim inside that the Reverend Charles J. O’Byrne of Manhattan’s Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, where Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s funeral Mass was held in 1994, had to read the service by flashlight. John’s cousin and closest friend, Anthony Radziwill, served as best man (as John had served as best man at Anthony’s wedding to Carole Ann Radziwill), and at the end of the ceremony John turned to Anthony to tell him that he had never been happier in his life.  

The marriage made front-page news everywhere, and a new Kennedy myth was born. The man who could have had many women of high calibre had chosen as his bride one who was not rich or famous or ennobled by family background or particularly distinguished by any professional accomplishment. What Carolyn Bessette had were certain charismatic qualities—remarkable beauty, a unique sense of style, and a sharp, hard intelligence. The media played the marriage as a Cinderella story, casting Carolyn as the commoner who had found true love with Prince Charming. When John and Carolyn returned from their honeymoon in the fall of 1996, they found a swarm of journalists camped outside their front door at 20 North Moore Street in the heart of Manhattan’s chic TriBeCa district. The rowdy media mob terrified Carolyn, and in a gallant effort to protect his wife, John pleaded with the reporters and cameramen to back off and give her a chance to adjust to her new mediatic role. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Over the course of the next few weeks, the siege of North Moore Street got only worse. Reporters even foraged through the newlyweds’ garbage, searching for clues to their sex life. Paparazzi pursued John and Carolyn, pounding on the sides of their automobile to make them turn toward the cameras, then blinding them with flashbulbs. When a photographer approached her on the street, Carolyn cast her eyes to the ground and hunched her shoulders. “She makes herself look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” complained Calvin Klein. And indeed, in many photos, she looked like a hunted creature. To avoid the paparazzi, Carolyn sought refuge in the West Village apartment of Gordon Henderson.  It was clear to friends that Carolyn was cracking under the pressure. She displayed the classic signs of clinical depression. A few months after the marriage, she began spending more and more time locked inside her apartment, convulsed by crying jags and, as gossip columnist Liz Smith observed, “bemoaning her fate as the wife of one of the most famous men in the world.” When they married, John dreamed of having a son. He had even picked out a name: Flynn. But Carolyn was not so willing to start a family. Like the ethereal Jackie, Carolyn affected an air of mystery and unavailability, which drove the media crazy and sustained the public frenzy that John was familiar with. And like Jackie, Carolyn was a very controlling person, which made John feel protected and cared for. 

From the moment John laid eyes on Carolyn, he became obsessed with her. “He lived and breathed Carolyn,” Richard Blow said, echoing the sentiments of many friends. “He could not keep his hands off her. He constantly stroked her hair, which she had dyed white blond. John kept repeating the words 'my wife' or 'my wife thinks'. He'd unconsciously rub the ring on his finger and smile when he said those words.” Carolyn accepted John’s worshipful attention as though it was her due—as though he was lucky to have her, rather than the other way around. Carolyn’s aloof attitude had set her apart from other women John had dated in the past—Christina Haag, Daryl Hannah, and many lesser-known names. Carolyn, on the other hand, appeared to be unimpressed by his fame, and in the end it was probably her posture of cool indifference, as much as her beauty and personality, that captivated him and held him spellbound. For John he always had to be the pursuer in a relationship if he was interested in a woman, he didn't like pushy ones like Melanie Griffith or Madonna who took the lead. "Carolyn was the one who presented the biggest challenge," says his friend Richard Wiese, "She didn't let him have his way, she would contradict him, and John loved that about her." A year before they got married, the couple had planned a special candlelight rendezvous at a New York French restaurant. When John showed up half an hour late, the ever punctual Carolyn was furious. When John sat at the table, she began to lecture him about his rudeness. When John made light of her criticism, she threw a glass of wine in his face and stormed out. Talking with Susan Delaney, one of Carolyn's pals, shortly after the incident, John expressed nothing but admiration for his future wife: "I love that about her. She ditched me like I was  just any other guy. She won't let me get away with any bullshit." Robert Littell, one of John's best friends, recounted: "John fell in love with Carolyn because she really was a very kind, sweet woman beneath her party girl façade and I think John developed a saviour complex with her. The qualities that John always liked in women—mystery, drama, irreverence and beauty—Carolyn had all in abundance. There's no doubt in my mind that Carolyn deeply loved John, too. John told me he knew deep in his heart Carolyn wouldn't ever betray him. They were a volatile couple, but after a row, they apologized to each other and enjoyed the making up."  

According to one of John's friends, Billy Way (who had introduced him model Julie Baker in the late 80s), Carolyn got pregnant but had a miscarriage in fall 1997, due to the constant media pressure. John then persuaded Carolyn to see a psychiatrist and he made sure that she took her daily dose of antidepressant medication. To amuse her, he flew her to exotic hideaways for romantic vacations. And in March 1999 he began to join her in marriage counseling. Sometimes, after a particularly rowdy fight, Carolyn went to sleep in a spare room that John used to store his exercise equipment. Billy Way (an aspiring writer) fictionalized part of John and Carolyn's romance in an unpublished story he kept updated in his LiveJournal, called "The Prince of N.Y. and the Angel of Connecticut", also inspired by the 1990 film "Pretty Woman". Some extracts were based on John and Carolyn's relationship and their occasional fights, sprinkled with a dose of melancholia for their fairy tale story, maybe lost in time but not forgotten. "There was this big party near Hyde Park which I was invited. After hours of boozing and  playing Cluedo games, John and Carolyn locked eyes for a moment. It felt like hours, but only seconds passed before he leaned down and the smell of her perfume surrounded him. I saw how John's cheeks reddened and it was an extremely romantic moment. Minutes later, I noticed both going silently to the kitchen and making up in the darkness. I saw that John stopped kissing her and placed his forehead on hers, his thumbs rubbing her cheek bones. I heard Carolyn mutter: 'I can't do this light, I can't do it fleeting, and if you don't stop now I am going to fall for you so hard I will never be able to move on if you leave me.' " 

John cheekily called his father Pooh-Pooh Head. “John Kennedy,” his father would say, “how dare you call the President of the United States a Pooh-Pooh Head? You rascal, you wait till I get hold of you.” But John insisted: “Pooh-Pooh Head.” After the assassination of his father, John’s impulsive behavior developed into a serious problem. He was restless, had a low threshold for boredom, and could not sit still for any length of time. He was disruptive in school and Jackie constantly had to chastise him. When John finally got to be too much for Jackie to handle, she took him to see Dr. Ted Becker, a well-known child psychiatrist in New York City. Then, through a referral by a friend—the wife of the chairman of a Fortune 500 company—Jackie found a psychopharmacologist in Moline, Illinois, and brought him to New York on the chairman’s company jet. The doctor diagnosed John as suffering from ADD, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia, an impaired ability to read. He was prescribed Ritalin, a medication similar in its chemical makeup to the body’s natural dopamine, which stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain and helps it work better. John remained on Ritalin for the rest of his life, but the results were mixed when an antidepressant (Wellbutrin) was added. Shortly before Jackie’s death, she had a serious discussion with John about his future. She urged him to carry on his father’s legacy by entering politics. In some interviews with reporters, John was understandably cagey about his interest in a political career, which he referred to as “the family business.” His apparent reluctance had nothing to do with his political beliefs, since like the Adams political dynasty, the Kennedy dynasty was more about sentiment and emotion than ideology.   

John Kennedy Jr. was both the beneficiary and the victim of the Camelot mystique. With their blurred memory, Americans recalled the Kennedys as having presided over a golden age, a time before the country was stained by assassination plots, Vietnam, racial strife, sexual permissiveness, Watergate, and national disillusionment. People seemed to project onto John all the good things associated with the Kennedys' era. Though they had no idea what John stood for politically, large numbers of Americans believed he should run for President. With the possible exception of Robert Lincoln, the Great Emancipator’s son, there had never been a figure in American history quite like JFK Jr. John had been offered—and turned down—a post as an undersecretary in President Clinton’s cabinet. And he was the first choice (before Hillary Rodham Clinton) among most Democrats in New York State to run for the seat being vacated by the state’s senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In the spring of 1994, when Jackie realized she was dying, she asked her longtime companion, the diamonds trader Maurice Tempelsman, to look after her children. But John had never felt particularly close to Tempelsman, who routinely occupied a separate bedroom in his mother’s apartment. After John’s mother died—and before his loft in TriBeCa was ready for occupancy—he let Tempelsman know that he would like to have his mother’s apartment to himself. He also suggested that Tempelsman find his own place to live, which he did by moving to the Sherry Netherlands Hotel. To the world, John F. Kennedy Jr. was the son of the slain president who grew up and became a charming, articulate and promising man who carried his name and legacy with an innate sense of grace. But to his friends, he was just “John,” the lovable, loyal, goofy pal who knocked at their windows when he lost his keys. 

“John was well placed to do so much good,” says Sasha Chermayeff. “I was sure he was going to do great things and he wasn’t wasting a lot of time. It wasn’t just his close friends – he gave the world a feeling that there was a lot of hope.” John’s closest pals reveal he was seriously considering entering into politics. His loyal assistant at George, RoseMarie Terenzio, recounts a surprising conversation she had with her boss after New York Senator Al D’Amato – a Republican – told John he should run for mayor of New York City. At the time, John laughed it off. But afterward, she asked him if he d ever consider it. “He said ‘Well, Rosie, how many mayors do you know that become President?’” recounts Terenzio. “I was so shocked I didn’t say anything. Then he smirked as if to say ‘That’s not the road you go down – we’ll see what happens.’” But well before considering any run for the White House, several friends say he was looking into running for governor of New York in 2003. According to Gary Ginsberg, a close friend who was with John the night before he died, “That last night he was very focused on two things: finding a buyer for George and his political future.” Ginsberg knew John from Brown University and went on to help him start George magazine: “By July 1999 I think he could take great comfort that he had started and led a successful business, had fulfilled his mission to cover politics in a colorful, non-ideological way that would make it appealing for people who had never been interested in politics before, and was now in a position to do something new. He had been thinking about running for the N.Y. Senate seat – he even had meetings about it that spring – but by July had concluded he would focus his attention on running for governor of N.Y. in 2003. He knew from running George magazine that he could be an inspiring, strong chief executive of a state, setting the tone for government as successfully running a complex operation. That idea became very appealing to him at some point that summer. Had the stars aligned over the next couple of years, I’m pretty convinced that’s what he would have pursued.” Now that so much time has passed, his friends find it bittersweet to share their memories of the friend they loved and lost. “There’s like a whole level of sadness that gets brought up when I remember him,” says his college roommate Chris Oberbeck, who remained a close friend. “On every level, we were so blessed to have known him. He was really a great guy, and a role model to all of us.” —The Day John Died (2007) by Christopher Andersen

Following Jack Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Bobby—who could never shake the suspicion that their enemies had retaliated by killing his brother—began reading ancient Greek tragedies for consolation. “In the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles,” writes RFK’s biographer Evan Thomas, “Kennedy discovered fate and hubris. He began to wonder if the Kennedy family had somehow overreached, dared too greatly. In his copy of Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way, he had underlined Herodotus: ‘God calls men to a heavy reckoning for overweening pride.’ The Kennedys were the House of Atreus, noble and doomed, and RFK began to see himself as Agamemnon.” Senator Edward Kennedy told a reporter that among the “irrational thoughts” that had occurred to him after the Chappaquiddick debacle was the question of “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.” It was not until the 1999 crash of JFK Jr.’s private plane, that many people were finally shocked into thinking seriously about the nature of a possible Kennedy curse and its origins. We can trace these feelings back to the Kennedys’ early history, which left an indelible scar on their psyche. Among America’s immigrant groups in the nineteenth century, the Irish were the only people who had suffered the soul-searing experience of English colonialism. Before coming to America, they had lived under the heel of cruel English oppressors for several centuries. That experience left them stuck with feelings of humiliation and powerlessness. Life did not improve much for the Irish folk after they arrived in America. The poor, powerless, dispossessed Irish souls who came over on crowded ships wore themselves out in America “digging, shoveling, lifting, hauling and dragging, laboring for ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day with seldom a break and never a vacation.” The sons of these immigrants were treated as badly or worse than Negro slaves; they were despised and they were excluded from living in good neighborhoods, from sending their children to prestigious schools, and from joining WASP clubs. Although the Kennedys eventually achieved financial security in their American sojourn, they were denied social acceptance and status by the Protestant establishment. Decades after arriving in this country, Irish Catholics such as the Kennedys remained, in the words of sociologist Oscar Handlin, “a massive lump in the community, undigested and undigestible.” 

“Mrs. Kennedy didn’t say she loved her children,” recalled Luella R. Hennessey, the children’s nurse. “It just wasn’t said. It was all about respect.” Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby, and Teddy were full of longing for a warm and tender mother. They had an overpowering craving to be close to a woman, and yet they feared it meant that they were weak as men. As a result, they put on a tremendous show of Don Juanish behavior to demonstrate that they were in actuality strong, powerful men. But this was actually a compensatory image. Deep down, they felt like helpless boys. The physical and emotional absence of a loving mother was keenly felt by all the Kennedy sons. “My mother was either at some Paris fashion house or else on her  knees in some church,” John F. Kennedy once complained. “She was never there when we really needed her. My mother never really held me and hugged me. Never! Never!” In 1993, the year before Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s death, molecular geneticists reported a major scientific breakthrough regarding altruistic behavior that made headlines and captured Jackie’s attention. The scientists announced that they had discovered a variant of the gene that makes the protein receptor for dopamine, the brain’s chemical messenger, in that portion of the brain controlling the personality. Jackie was very interested about the discovery. Fifty percent of people with attention deficit disorder, like her son John, were found to have the rare variant of the DRD4 7R gene. “The best evidence that the gene DRD4 7R probably runs in the Kennedy family is in the consistent grandiose behavior of its members,” said Dr. Robert Moyzis, professor of molecular genetics at the University of California at Irvine. “Individuals with this gene are always out on the edge, taking more chances than most other people. And being out there, they’ve had some spectacular successes. But risk taking obviously has its downside, too. In the case of the Kennedys their drive for power is often supported by good deeds, by a desire to help the poor and disenfranchised, by achieving humanitarian goals. They describe what they do not merely as ‘politics’ but as the much more elevated concept of ‘public service.’ But it doesn’t solve their substantive problem, because they still have to contend with the consequences of reality, of a fatal collision course with reality. Thus, there are these destructive collisions between their fantasy of the world and the cold, hard reality, and therefore those repeated disasters happen.”  

In the early 1960s—a tipping point in America’s cultural history—the postwar flood of American affluence was flushing away many of the country’s old Puritan restraints, leaving people eager for more personal freedom. Americans had grown tired of fatherly figures like Truman and Eisenhower in the White House. John Kennedy was nothing if not cool. “His ‘coolness,’ writes historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “was itself a new frontier. It meant freedom from the stereotyped response of the past. His personality was the most potent instrument he had to awaken a national desire for something new and better.” Kennedy met many women with whom he had dalliances—airline stewardesses, Las Vegas showgirls, campaign workers, Palm Beach socialites, and Hollywood starlets. “More alarming,” writes the historian James Giglio, “Kennedy occasionally had affairs with casual acquaintances and virtual strangers, who surreptitiously entered the southwest service entrance of the White House. They came during Jacqueline’s frequent absences, joining the President in the pool.” “A womanizer like Kennedy was not driven, as people often think, solely by the desire to be a macho person,” wrote Sue Erikson Bloland, the daughter of famed German-American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson who coined the concept of 'identity crisis.' “Kennedy himself gave us a clue to his pathological behavior when he complained that his mother was cold and distant and never hugged him or showed him any affection. His compulsive womanizing can be seen as the desperate effort of a deeply wounded child to obtain what was missing from his seemingly glamorous life—the experience of a genuinely intimate connection,” Sue Erikson argues. It is generally accepted by historians that Rose Kennedy was an absentee mother. What is less understood is the confusion that Rose sowed in her children’s emotional lives. On the one hand, she insisted on outward displays of family solidarity; on the other, she did not permit expression of personal anxieties within the confines of their own home. Inevitably, her contradictory behavior left its mark on Jack Kennedy's behavior. Christopher Lawford, Patricia Kennedy’s first child, told Collier and Horowitz that all his cousins—the Kennedys, Shrivers, Lawfords, and Smiths—felt somewhat alone and unprotected. “When Uncle Bobby was alive,” Chris thought to himself, “we knew who we were. But now he’s gone. What will happen to us?  What comes next?” —The Kennedy Heirs: A Legacy of Tragedy and Triumph (2019) by J. Randy Taraborrelli

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