WEIRDLAND: October 2020

Friday, October 30, 2020

Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy

By the time Edward Kennedy died, in August 2009, he had represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate for nearly 47 years — longer than any of his brothers had lived. He was eulogized as one of the most important legislators in American history, an assessment reflecting not only the affection he enjoyed on both sides of the aisle, but also genuine awe at his achievements. Over the course of five decades, Ted Kennedy had sponsored nearly 700 bills that became law, and left his imprint on scores of others. The Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Immigration and Nationality Act of that same year; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 — all bore his influence or were advanced by his efforts. That struggle and its significance are the subjects of “Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour”, published on 27th October 2020 by Crown Publishing Group, the first installment of a two-volume treatment by Neal Gabler, the author of well-regarded books on Walt Disney and Walter Winchell. Kennedy’s expansive life has yielded no shortage of biographies, but Gabler’s is on its way toward becoming the most complete and ambitious. No less important, as Gabler writes, “there was a joy in him, a great love of people.” He drew them in — whether voters back home or the Southern septuagenarians who ran the Senate — won them over, made them willing, even eager, to support him. He was the most natural politician in his family, a close match in temperament to his grandfather John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, who had taught him, Gabler notes, “what empathy meant.” “Catching the Wind” lends a cinematic sweep to Kennedy’s legislative crusades — for example, his noble campaign in 1965 to ban use of the poll tax, that old racist roadblock to the African-American vote, in state elections. (The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, had prohibited its use in federal elections. The year after Kennedy’s effort foundered, the Supreme Court ruled the poll tax unconstitutional at the state level.) Gabler makes these battles exciting and the scenes are often amped up by incantation: “And then Ted quoted at length, great length, from a speech, a remarkable speech,” reads a typical passage. The reader needs no such prodding; the drama, as it develops, is real enough. The swiftness with which Ted Kennedy went from being teased by Republicans as “Little Brother” to becoming the patriarch of a political dynasty — the bearer, as he himself put it, of his martyred brothers’ standard — is unfathomable, however familiar the story remains. In 1968, when Robert was killed in Los Angeles while running for president, Ted was only 36. The pressure upon him to carry forward the campaign was instantaneous: One of Bobby’s aides cornered Ted on the flight that carried his brother’s body back to New York, pleading, “You gotta run.” Kennedy knew himself well enough not to accept a draft — he was deeply depressed, immobilized by grief. But he had lost control over himself and his future. 

Tragedy begat tragedy, and Los Angeles led, in some indirect but inexorable fashion, to Chappaquiddick in July 1969. The death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kopechne had worked as a campaign aide for his brother, Robert Kennedy) in Ted Kennedy’s car was, as Gabler writes, “indelible — a stain he bore that no amount of penance could erase.” And Gabler suggests it was more than that. Because Kennedy, he writes, was “the face and the voice of modern liberalism,” Chappaquiddick cost liberalism its moral authority — at a time, the end of the ’60s, when that authority was already waning. “Catching the Wind” is presented as something of a parable — “This book,” Gabler states, “is about political morality” — by “political morality,” the author seems to mean, exclusively, a concern for the “voiceless and powerless,” as Kennedy often put it. The decline of liberalism, in any event, had at least as much to do with economic stagnation as it did with moral authority or the imperfections of liberal apostles. Kennedy, for his part, felt the winds shifting. In the wake of Bobby’s death and Chappaquiddick, as the book describes, he redoubled his commitment to be “the senator of all those in need.” As Gabler writes in a powerful closing, Ted Kennedy was attacked by the white working class from which the Kennedys had risen. For some of them Kennedy was now “favoring minority rights over their rights.” As Gabler’s next volume will no doubt describe, Kennedy’s response was not to change course. He would simply sail harder. Source: Source:

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

JFK Jr: Some Strange Magic

Political polarization at the elite level is a major concern in many contemporary democracies, which is argued to alienate large swaths of the electorate and prevent meaningful social change from occurring, yet little is known about how individuals respond to political candidates who deviate from the party line and express policy positions incongruent with their party affiliations. This experiment examines the neural underpinnings of such evaluations using functional MRI (fMRI). During fMRI, participants completed an experimental task where they evaluated policy positions attributed to hypothetical political candidates. To study how we process political information, political psychologist Ingrid Haas of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her colleagues created hypothetical candidates from both major parties. On the whole, the research shows, conservatives desire security, predictability and authority more than liberals do, and liberals are more comfortable with novelty, nuance and complexity. If you had put William Buckley and Gore Vidal in a magnetic resonance imaging machine and presented them with identical images, you would likely have seen differences in their brain, especially in the areas that process social and emotional information. The volume of gray matter, or neural cell bodies, making up the anterior cingulate cortex, an area that helps detect errors and resolve conflicts, tends to be larger in liberals. And the amygdala, which is important for regulating emotions and evaluating threats, is larger in conservatives. Liberals proved more attentive to incongruent information, especially for Democratic candidates. When they encountered such a position, it took them longer to make a decision about whether it was good or bad. They were likely to show activation for incongruent information in two brain regions: the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, which “are involved in helping people form and think about their attitudes,” Haas says. Source:

Chastising those who present a “the tear-jerker scenario about Big, Bad, Ugly America” in Sex, Art, and American Culture, Camille Paglia cites the United States “as the most open, dynamic, creative nation on green earth.” You can’t say American exceptionalism any better than that. America is right and America will fight, even if it means destroying the world. It may be simplistic to divide the world into two, when there are many stripes to us all, but the middle is fast disappearing as we rock SS Democracy. There is nothing radical about fixing the world to keep the convenience of the wall plug while discarding downstream damage. There is nothing radical about living within our means, economically and environmentally. We’ve been warned about hollow horses since Cassandra, but some just won’t hear. In North by Northwest, Roger O. Thornhill, spells out a simple American truth, “There is no such thing as a lie; there is only an expedient exaggeration.” Paglia notes that one doesn’t need to embellish Donald Trump’s screed, because “Everything he says is so ridiculous that it is hard to heighten it.” We may have graduated from “speak softly and carry a big stick,” but there must be more to truth, justice, and the American Way than “yap loudly and pack a big shtick.” We should be wary of people who make things up to suit their politics. Time to stop polluting the airwaves and the world. 

“Those who tell the stories rule society,” said Plato centuries ago. “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture,” said Allen Ginsberg more recently. Further, “our bottomless appetite” for TV and internet content is leading to an “information glut” so that “what is truly meaningful is lost and we no longer care what we’ve lost as long as we are being amused,” added Andrew Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood and Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Postman reflected on Aldous Huxley and his dystopian book Brave New World. According to Postman, one of the dangers of that new world was that “people will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” Camille Paglia says Postman saw that “the young would therefore inherit a frantically all-consuming culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.” 

Camille Paglia also reflected on the charisma of the son of the martyred president John F. Kennedy (July 23, 1999, interviewed by Joan Walsh): I think John Kennedy Jr. was a phenomenally personable individual on the cultural landscape, and this cutting down of such a promising man who had not reached the peak of his maturity is one of the most cruel jokes. I was all the more enraged as the days went on and publicity -- thanks to that buffoonish biographer, David Heymann -- began to turn against the women. Oh, right -- blame the women! -- the passengers, not the pilot. Another person who tried to blame Carolyn was Ed Klein who was criticized heavily by John's circle and his book was considered nothing but fiction. In reality Ed Klein got all that info straight from a November 1999 article written by DailyMail writer Annette Witheridge (on November 14, 1999). My first thoughts at the time were: What a curse indeed is on the Kennedy clan! Getting close to the Kennedys is hazardous to your health.  I was chilled to the heart by the weird fact that this accident occurred on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Chappaquiddick. The Kennedy travails have often been compared to Greek tragedy, and the comparison is a just one. It's the dark theme from Greek mythology of curses visited upon generation after generation after generation. For this entire week during the horribly protracted search for the bodies, I found it enormously wrenching. My thoughts have been besieged by images from classical literature. I couldn't help thinking of Hector, the great hero and crown prince of Troy, as his body was mutilated by Achilles and dragged around the walls of his parents' citadel, followed by the ritual burning of his body. I thought about "Antigone" and the way that play begins with the impious exposure of Antigone's brother's body. And I thought also of a famous passage in Virgil's "Aeneid" about the death of Marcellus, a very promising young man who was the adoptive son and heir of the Roman emperor Augustus. Marcellus' death at age 20 produced enormous mourning among the Romans, since he embodied the future of the dynasty. That theme of the young man cut down recurs in this case, although John F. Kennedy Jr. was not 20, but 38. But it still falls under the archetype of Adonis, the beautiful young man whose blood is shed to regenerate nature. In fact, Gore Vidal very wonderfully cited this metaphor about JFK Sr. to explain the enormous popular outpouring after the assassination that made him mythological. 

I think all of us who admired JFK Jr. we did so because we realized what opportunities he had to be a total wastrel and an arrogant ass, but he was the opposite, an amiable, very laid-back guy. It appears that Jackie herself was worried and described him as a sort of space cadet who would suddenly tune out. It was his way of coping with the pressures. His going off into dreamy detachment could have been a factor in his final fate. I did see him in person on one occasion, he had a Cary Grant level of beauty, with the proportions of a Greek Kouros sculpture. The one time I saw JFK Jr. was at the party that he threw at the Art Institute in Chicago during the 1996 Democratic Convention. He knew who I was, and we briefly shook hands -- I remember thinking how rock-hard his forearm was when I patted it. It was just a moment, but I have to say that in my entire life, I have never seen a more charismatic person. He himself seemed to radiate this light that has always been identified with exceptional persons in history. The subject of charisma is one that I've discussed in my own work. It goes all the way back to the sudden influx of grace perceived by early Christians. Halos or auras are always shown emanating from holy beings in the world art. It's a theme I've applied in my work to the charisma of great movie stars, the radiant light in George Hurrell's photos of Garbo or Dietrich at the 1930s high point of the Hollywood studio system. I've seen genuinely charismatic people only a few times in my own life, and that night in Chicago was certainly one of them. At his best, JFK Jr. exuded some strange magic. It partly came from the mere fact of his celebrity, but it was also his physicality, his movie star looks, his dazzling presence. Obviously his magazine wasn't doing as well as might be hoped, but the fact that he broke his ankle this year in that sports accident was a sign that his control of the physical world was starting to slip. It was a warning sign to slow down -- to stop and reassess. Something was turning in his own life and fate, but he didn't listen to the signal. Source:

An acquaintance of historian Steve Gillon remarks: Caroline Kennedy kept touch with Rosemarie Terenzio between 1999-2002, and apparently she reached out to her when her book “Fairy Tale Interrupted” came out to let Rosemarie know she was okay with it. This is Rosemarie's version of why John and Carolyn spent time apart before the crash: "They were not separated. They spent a night apart because Carolyn was at the hospital with Anthony. She spent the night there and John was at a Yankee game and left his keys at the office." I know Caroline wasn't so happy about Billy Noonan's book, since it focused more on the dark side of John and Carolyn’s marriage, and she went hard on Noonan in 2009. Gary Ginsberg’s kids are friendly with Caroline’s kids, and he has proved to be discreet. Caroline has avoided most of the circle of friends surrounding John, due to their propensity to speculation or talking about his brother’s privacy. In other cases, as Sasha Chermayeff or Robert Littell, I have the feeling the distance has always been mutual. On all accounts, Caroline Kennedy only talked with the Bessette family when she had to settle their lawsuit, although later she had contact with Carolyn’s sister Lisa Bessette, who has worked for the Art department at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. John Perry Barlow observed once that Caroline Kennedy didn’t seem to like anybody beyond her husband, kids, and their snobby friends and she had ditched 80% of the Kennedy clan. I’ve heard that Arthur Schlesinger's tapes were going to be eventually released but Caroline moved the date forward (for whatever reason). The Kennedy family retains control of materials related to Death of a President (1967) by historian William Manchester. Jacqueline Kennedy's interview tapes with the author are sealed at the Kennedy Library until 2067.

John had a few chances to question his decision of getting married to Carolyn Bessette. It seems that Carolyn was also unsure since she did not like the press and all of it put a strain on their relationship. Carolyn had to bear some ridiculous criticism from Anne Witheridge who had the nerve to call her in print: “A bug-eyed pupa in reverse evolution who seems to reserve her smiles for her exclusive acquaintances or cool people and who may have been a dead end for him [John] as a personality.” She also received praise, but posthumously: “She was one of the most iconic, beautiful and stylish women of our time, who epitomised elegant, easy and flawless chic. Her ’90s uniform of neutral colours and crisp silhouettes inspired a number of spring/summer 2019 collections, including Burberry and Chanel,” said international fashion editor Jayne Pickering. I thought Carolyn's best look was with thicker eyebrows and dirty blond hair rather than that bleached into oblivion blond. The cheesiness of Carolyn's early photoshoots reflected her sense of humour. “Carolyn loved to laugh – hers was an unforgettable, contagious laugh,” says Colleen Curtis, a former classmate. “She was always ready with a wise-crack. She greeted friends with a big hug. You never doubted her sincerity.”

I always thought Carolyn resembled John Mellencamp's ex-wife--Elaine Irwin. It was reported she was first hired by Calvin Klein for her resemblance to Irwin. Carolyn had stayed in Boston after graduating and worked as an events organiser for a nightclub management company. Then, aged 24, she went into the Calvin Klein store at Chestnut Hill Mall to enquire about a sales assistant position and was given the job on the spot because of her resemblance to Elaine Irwin, the brand’s favourite model at the time. I don't think Carolyn was cheating during the marriage, her Bergin’s affair post-wedding to John was all made up. What I am sure is if Carolyn had got pregnant and they had a baby, he was gonna stay with her at least for 18 years. If she had been more ambitious, she would've left the fashion schtick alone and used her early education degree to help John with ReachingUp, or collaborate with him more steadily for George. That way she would've gotten better press, and it would have been a stepping stone to becoming a political wife. She didn't go from being a waitress in Boston to a valued CK employee by being lazy. But I feel once she married John, she said 'Fuck it, I'm set for life now'. Also, John encouraged his old-fashioned idea of taking care of his wife. Anyway, as RoseMarie Terenzio said: “Carolyn wasn’t John’s shadow; she was his equal”.

The kind of people who came out and said negative things about Ms. Bessette are people who tried to be friends with her but she probably ignored or avoided. Candace Bushnell (who wrote the columns that TV show Sex and the City were based on) had a monthly "fictional" column in Manhattan File magazine that followed the narcissistic, drugged-up, travails of a woman whose initials were something like CKB (I can't remember but it was obviously a play on Carolyn's name). The woman in these stories was always running from paparazzi, popping pills and complaining that her famous hubby didn't spend enough time with her. Since Bushnell was a New Yorker in the know and based almost everything she wrote on real people and events, I always believed this column was a direct poke at CBK. After her death, the column was never seen again. I know by good sources that Candace Bushnell had a fling with Michael Bergin and encountered Carolyn a couple times. Carolyn Bessette's roommate Dana Strayton from Boston University said that Carolyn never mentioned John Kennedy prior to meeting him at Calvin Klein, and she never talked about purposely going to NY.

I know John taught at several universities, including Pace University in New York, and the students spoke highly of him. He also tutored ESL students in English in Connecticut. The world really got cheated out of what he might have done in the future. The public's fixation with Lady Di and forcing a meet cute with John was so weird, John literally said he didn't like the British Royal family, and his only interaction with Princess Diana was the meeting to discuss a George cover which she declined, and that was that. In one interview with Chris Matthews, John alluded that in the case he was going to run for office, his life had to be in order. I saw Presidency for him in the future, I saw him being a great advocate for diverse causes. He didn't have a mean bone in his body but those nasty Right Wing people would have definitely gone after Carolyn and her issues during a campaign. Caroline Kennedy got dragged when she tried to run for senate, despite being backed up by his uncle Teddy. Even her husband Edwin Schlossberg gave her an ultimatum - ‘our marriage or the job’. I feel she resented Edwin for damaging her relationship with her brother. John and Caroline were not on the best terms before John died, they were barely speaking. I know John didn’t like his brother-in-law at all. I don’t think Jackie liked Edwin either. Caroline probably has a lot of regret of how she treated her brother and Carolyn. They died and they weren’t talking by then. Santina Goodman was a good friend of John (they never dated) and his death led her to a deep depression and she committed suicide in January 2019. She wanted to write a memoir, she had a manuscript, photos and everything sort of set up, but she was in a very dark place. Despite being close to Jackie and Caroline Kennedy before John's death, Caroline cut off Santina and 90% of John's friends after the crash, and they were disappointed with her.

The Kennedys were never too liberal. They were always centre leaning left. “Most of the members of my family keep working in public service,” Caroline Kennedy explained at the JFK library, “but some of them have started doing other things.” An aide, mingling in the aisles, said the late president’s daughter writes and speaks just “because she wants to get the message out.” Helen Ward has her own Kennedy connection. The Wards were said to be close friends with Caroline’s late brother, John, going back to the days when John was dating Daryl Hannah, and they all went on a trip to go helicopter skiing. About Daryl Hannah, Jackson Browne was burnt because she had asked him not to come to her family home during her father's illness and subsequent death. Jackson found out that he wasn't invited -- mind you, they had been in a 10 year relationship and Daryl did not want to marry him after he had proposed numerous times, they had communal possessions that had to be sold and arbitrated after their official split up. Knowing what I do about prior and subsequent relationships that Jackson had, I find him to be a kind and gentle soul and I know he was deeply hurt by this final indiscretion by Daryl Hannah.

Jackson wasn't invited because JFK Jr was instead at Daryl's family home. Contrary to what the tabloids have printed, Jackie Kennedy and Daryl were friendly, and as far as I know she didn't approve nor disapprove of Daryl for JFK Jr. But Daryl was very prone to cheating on Jackson, and JFK Jr. was not the first indiscretion in that relationship. Also, Jackson Browne found out about the relationship of Daryl and JFK Jr. through the tabloids and friends, not directly from Daryl. Steve Gillon reached out to Daryl to interview her for his book, but she refused. Daryl and John had their fights for sure, she was going back and forth between John Jr and Jackson Browne, which angered John because she couldn't decide. When John was at Brown University, he briefly dated a girl until she cheated on him with another girl, it turned out she was a lesbian, and John was shook for a while. He said, "Did I make her do that?" John also had an "invisible chain" on his exes if you will, that he "rattled" at times and when he did they would come back to him. The only ex that really moved on, and never had contact with John after the breakup was Sally Munro.

Carolyn Bessette was clearly a flawed person and she was problematic sometimes, and the fact John regularly put up with it is what baffles many people. It's clear that Carolyn was not a social climber. A true social climber would've attended all these elite events and galas on a whim, but Carolyn dreaded them and preferred to stay at home. A true social climber would've made important connections with John's circle, but Carolyn was cutting them off or even ruining John's relationship with them. A social climber would've gotten closer with his family members even if the feeling was not genuine, However, Carolyn was barely skimming the surface. A social climber would've loved and relished the public attention, but Carolyn hated it, and avoided it. She only was called a social climber by Ed Klein because Carolyn Bessette was born in White Plains, her father William Bessette was a cabinet-maker and she didn't belong to a wealthy family. The former VP of Public Relations at Calvin Klein, Suzanne Eagle, commented to Liz Lange about how much she missed Carolyn's company, despite of acknowledging she could be difficult to work with. "I always wished that being her boss was a better experience," said Eagle.

James DiEugenio: No film in history was ever attacked, actually vilified, as Stone's film JFK was in advance. At least I cannot think of one. Stone was saying that the likes of David Halberstam, and the rest of the media were wrong. Vietnam was not some kind of inevitable tragedy. LBJ did not continue Kennedy's policy there. Kennedy was planning on getting out when he was assassinated. And Stone not only said this, he had back up for it through Fletcher Prouty and John Newman's books. Stone was not just going up against the MSM, but the historical establishment. How could all of those academics have missed this? I mean, in the Gravel version of the Pentagon papers there is a section entitled "Phased Withdrawal". Does this mean our historical establishment did not do its homework? Or that they did not have the guts to swim against the tide? After all the war went on for decades, killed 58,000 Americans, disabled 375,000 more, and killed millions of Vietnamese people. Could everyone have been so wrong, and JFK was right? They did not want to admit that. And they sure as heck did not want to ask the follow up question: did the reversal of policy have something to do with Kennedy's assassination? The reason for this resistance is that it supplies a dramatic and visible reason for a high level plot. Which is what Stone was insinuating. Its not like this subject had not been broached previously. It had by people like Peter Scott, Arthur Schlesinger at the trial of Dan Ellsberg, and Bobby Kennedy said it himself before he died. Jim Garrison was the first critic to pursue a trial. Now you got a mass market, Oscar nominated movie dramatizing that thesis, with many additional facts to back it up. The capper is this: it was Stone's film that produced the evidence that showed LBJ was lying about this matter in order to cover his own tracks. The Vietnam angle is the reason why the film was so bitterly attacked. I now can argue persuasively that Johnson had planned on reversing Kennedy's policy and escalating the war at a very early date. He then, step by step, executed that plan. To give but one indication that many people know: the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was written two months before the incident happened. To give another, NSAM 288, issued in March of 1964, included many of the targets that were hit in the air attack LBJ ordered after the Tonkin Gulf incident in August. Let me add this: the very writing of NSAM 288 would seem unimaginable under Kennedy. And that is not me saying that. Its Roger Hilsman of the State Department because NSAM 288 was written up by the Pentagon. Kennedy told Hilsman, who was undersecretary for Asia, that he did not want the Pentagon guys even visited Vietnam unless it was cleared by him. But now LBJ had allowed them to draw up the plans for a large scale attack upon the north. In other words, something Kennedy had not allowed in three years, LBJ now paved the way for in three months. So here is my question: how the heck did all those scholars and all those journalists--and David Halberstam--miss this key point for all those years, even decades? Was it ignorance? Or just bias? Either way, they did not look good with the exposure of Stone's film. In fact, as we now know, LBJ had a secret committee working on the planning of  his escalation of the war. And  the target date was keyed around his inauguration.The committee decided the war would begin in February right after that ceremony. The first troops arrived at Da Nang in March. Source: 

Friday, October 16, 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 the 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. 

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

Brothers (2015) by David Talbot begins with Robert Kennedy's reaction to the news of his brother's death in Dallas. The structure flashes back to a year-by-year review of the Kennedy presidency. It then picks up again with RFK after his brother's death, and then follows him forward through to 1968 and his own assassination. It concludes with a summary of the actions taken to try and resolve the issues surrounding both assassinations since 1968. In many ways, the first chapter is the best in the book. It opens with J. Edgar Hoover telling RFK that his brother has been shot. In conversations with two assistants, Bobby immediately refers to the perpetrator of the crime as "they" and not "him". He instinctively believes that the crime centers around the CIA, the Mafia and Cuba and he begins to question people with access to each group, including John McCone, Director of the CIA. When the body arrives back in Washington, RFK questions Secret Service agents Roy Kellerman and James Rowley and finds that both believe there was a crossfire in Dealey Plaza. RFK then told his friend Pat Moynihan to investigate the Secret Service while Bobby interviewed agent Clint Hill himself. In 1962, Bobby told journalist George Bolshakov that Khrushchev did not seem to realize that every step his brother took to meet the premier "halfway costs my brother a lot of effort. In a gust of blind hate, his enemies may go to any length, including killing him." This chapter is the highlight of the book. It may be one of the most important ever written on either the Kennedy presidency, or Robert Kennedy himself. It basically confirms through much firsthand evidence what many have suspected. First, whatever Bobby said in public about the Warren Commission was a sham. 

From the beginning, RFK never believed the lone gunman mythology. He always suspected a powerful domestic conspiracy. Second, he was going to bide his time. He would wait until he was in position to do something about the crime. But he would not jeopardize his path to get to that position by making public comments that would make him a media target in America. As pointed out by Jim Garrison and Harold Weisberg, this strategy entailed its own dangers. For enough people knew about Bobby's suspicions to let the word reach out to others in the power elite. And this is probably one of the chief reasons for what happened in Los Angeles in June of 1968. In fact, both Harold Weisberg and Vincent Salandria predicted that if Bobby won that California primary, he would be killed before he won the presidency. And Talbot does go in explicit terms with that implication. I believe this is the first time that this message, however subliminal, has been contained in a book that reached a mainstream audience. That is a real and salutary accomplishment. In this regard, Talbot deserves kudos.

Talbot quotes Kennedy as saying, "We're not going to plunge into an irresponsible action just because a fanatical fringe in this country puts so-called national pride above national reason." (p. 51) Arthur Schlesinger told Talbot that after the Bay of Pigs Kennedy dismissed the Joint Chiefs "as a bunch of old men. He thought (JCS Chairman) Lemnitzer was a dope." It is at this pivotal point that Kennedy began to withdraw from his formal advisers with disdain and turn more to people like pacifists Ted Sorensen, Pierre Salinger, and his brother Robert. And JFK actually told Walton, "I am almost a "peace-at-any-price president." However, Talbot doesn't write about Operation Forty, which the CIA designed to wipe out the Kennedy Cubans and their leadership so the CIA/Batista Cubans would prevail in Havana. Although he later writes about Operation Northwoods, he skips over the Guantanamo provocation part of the Bay of Pigs, which would have insured an American response. In the aftermath, although he mentions Kennedy's firing of Allen Dulles and Director of Plans Dick Bissell, he leaves out the termination of Deputy Director Charles Cabell. Yet it was Pentagon man Cabell who was at CIA headquarters that night trying to get the analysts to tell Kennedy that the Cubans were using Russian MIG's to strafe the exiles on the beach. This was utterly false but would have put pressure on Kennedy to send in American planes to knock them down. So although his discussion is correct, I believed it lacks texture and layered depth. I point this out because it is generally symptomatic of how Talbot treats the two other great confrontations of the Kennedy presidency, namely the Missile Crisis and the decision to withdraw from Vietnam. He is deft and accurate in his appraisal of these events, but he leaves out some valuable information that I think would aid his argument and make it more compelling to his reader. For example, although he believes that Kennedy was disengaging from Vietnam he writes that the only White House document that gave some indication of this was NSAM 263. This ignores the record of the May 1963 Sec/Def meeting which clearly shows that the administration was withdrawing from the conflagration and rapidly increasing the Vietnamization of the war. (Probe Vol. 5 No. 3) It also leaves out the famous Honolulu Conference of November 20, 1963. This meeting resulted in the tentative draft of NSAM 273, which was then pointedly altered after Kennedy was assassinated. 

These alterations were so serious that in his fine book JFK and Vietnam, John Newman titles his chapter on the subject, "NSAM-273 -- The Dam Breaks." Talbot describes the infamous meeting in July of 1961 where Lemnitzer and Dulles recommended plans for a nuclear first strike against Russia on Kennedy. Talbot also describes how Kennedy, feeling the heat from the organized opposition to his liberal foreign policy, was forced to demote both Goodwin add Chester Bowles at the end of 1961. The book features a good discussion of the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. In this section he is explicit about the duplicity of Richard Helms in attempting to switch the blame for those plots from the CIA to the Kennedys. He neatly notes that Helms had photos of all the presidents he served except Kennedy's. A deft stroke by Talbot in this regard is his further exposure of Seymour Hersh's hatchet job, The Dark Side of Camelot. He notes how Hersh was so cozy with the CIA in his writing of this book that he trusted covert operator Sam Halpern. Halpern told Hersh that RFK used the late Charles Ford to activate Mafia assets in Cuba to destabilize, and even kill, Castro. Talbot found a Church Committee memorandum by Ford. In discussing his interview with them he explained that his meetings with RFK on Cuba were about "the efforts of a Cuban exile group to foment an anti-Castro uprising, not on Mafia assassination plots." Talbot properly concludes that Helms and Halpern "fabricated their story about Bobby Kennedy and the Mafia. Officials like Helms and Halpern tried to deflect public outrage over their unseemly collusion by pinning the blame on the late attorney general." Talbot could have added here that Halpern should have already been suspect to Hersh because he is listed as a witness in the CIA IG Report. Further, Halpern was placed in charge of the internal investigation of the CIA's supersensitive Operation Forty. The man who placed Sam Halpern in that position was Richard Helms.

Any serious chronicler has to be just as careful with the Marilyn Monroe episode as with Judith Exner's story -- and to his credit, Talbot managed to avoid that disinformation filled land mine. A surprising source Talbot uses here is none other than CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, the guy who was likely handling Lee Harvey Oswald until 1962. Talbot actually quotes the nutty Cold Warrior, Kennedy antagonist and Warren Commission cover up artist waxing poetic about Kennedy being in love with Mary Meyer: "They were in love... they had something very important, not only sexual, also on an intellectual and platonic level." About Kennedy's philandering, Talbot dismisses this facet a great deal: "Kennedy often had to sleep on a piece of wood. The possibility of him being a Lothario would have been a miracle. He would have been delighted to be thought of as the Errol Flynn of his era. And then he would have been angry, because it takes away from what he truly accomplished. Did he like the ladies? Yes. Did he find bright, fascinating people a challenge and a delight? Yes. But in recent years, the Kennedy legacy has been clouded by a spate of books and articles that have attempted to demythologize Camelot by presenting JFK as a drug-addled, sex-addict. And this pathological interpretation misses the essential story of his presidency. There was a heroic grandeur to John F. Kennedy's administration that had nothing to do with the mists of Camelot. It was a presidency that clashed with its own times, coming to office at the height of the Cold War and held hostage by their party's powerful Southern wing. The Kennedy brothers steadily grew in vision and courage, until they were in such sharp conflict with the national security bureaucracy and Southern Democrats that they risked splitting their own administration and party. This is the fundamental historical truth about the presidency and greatness of John Fitzgerald Kennedy."

Talbot picks up with RFK as he begins to assimilate himself to the pain of his brother's death and his now completely altered future. He relates how Jackie Kennedy reaffirmed to Khrushchev that domestic opposition to his quest for Soviet/American detente had killed JFK. Talbot quickly sketches in the fact that with his brother gone, Bobby was now under Hoover's thumb. For example, when he met with Hoffa, to presumably talk about the assassination, RFK had to borrow Jackie's Secret Service for protection. But he felt he could not move while he was slipping from power or, as he said, "there would be blood in the streets." In addition to Hoover now superseding him, LBJ cut him out of intelligence briefings while Allen Dulles lobbied to get on the Warren Commission. And when the Warren Report was issued in September of 1964, RFK sharply commented, "I have not read the report, nor do I intend to." Talbot quotes an aide whom Johnson had charged with reading the report that LBJ didn't believe it either. Furthering this point about people in power, the author adds to his non-believer list Larry O'Brien, Mayor Richard Daley, and Kennedy aides Fred Dutton and Richard Goodwin. Goodwin specifically pointed to a plot between the CIA and the Mafia. After Bobby was murdered, Secret Service Agent Kenneth O'Donnell acquired a serious drinking problem and died of a liver ailment at age 53. 

RFK delegated the reading of the critical literature to people like Adam Walinsky. As criticism about the Warren Report picked up speed, various critics wanted to talk directly to Bobby. He only met with Penn Jones. As part of his own inquiry, Bobby went to Mexico City and did some work on Oswald's trip down there. (p. 301) As his investigation continued, his enemies began to spy on him. In addition to Hoover, Talbot mentions both Helms and LBJ. And clearly, the policy differences over places like the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Latin America, and especially Vietnam all begin to fan Johnson's fear and paranoia about an RFK run in 1968. The worst chapter in the book, by far, is entitled "New Orleans". This is allegedly about Robert Kennedy's reaction to the investigation of the JFK case by local DA Jim Garrison. One problem seems to be a hangover from the David Talbot of 1992, the man who thought that Robert Blakey (The Plot to Kill the President, 1981) was the ultimate authority on the JFK case. And, to his credit, the author seems to have amended this judgment. About Clay Shaw, Talbot confirms his linking to the CIA. We have this not just from the declassified files, but from FBI agent Regis Kennedy, who said, in referring to Shaw's association with Permindex, that Shaw was a CIA agent who had worked for the Agency in Italy. For over a decade. Jim Garrison had busted at least three bars in New Orleans which were run either by Carlos Marcello or his associates. I have been through a large part of the extant Garrison files. His son Lyon Garrison allowed me to copy them in New Orleans. I then had them shipped to Los Angeles and filed them in chronological order. In a legal deposition, Gordon Novel admitted that he was being paid by Walter Sheridan on a retainer basis for spying on Jim Garrison. Since Novel was writing letters to people like Richard Helms at the time, it's fair to say he was working with the Agency. Further, Garrison discovered that Sheridan was getting the expense money for people like Novel through a local law firm, which was laundering it for the CIA. And a declassified FBI memo reveals that NBC had given instructions that the special was meant to "shoot him Garrison down". 

Further in Robert Kennedy and his Times, Arthur Schlesinger quotes Kennedy as saying that it was NBC who sent Sheridan to New Orleans, and further that he felt Garrison might be on to something. As many commentators have noted, including Carl Bernstein -- who Talbot uses (p. 390) -- the major networks worked with the CIA on issues like defending the Warren Report. And the chairman of NBC at the time, General David Sarnoff, had worked in intelligence during World War II. In a further imbalance, Talbot barely discusses Sheridan's intelligence background, devoting all of two sentences to it. I could go into much more length about Sheridan's activities in New Orleans, and how they continued even after RFK was dead. And I could point out even more errors Talbot makes on this issue. For instance, he writes that Garrison "turned the tables" on Sheridan and arrested "him for bribing witnesses." Sheridan got an entourage of proven CIA affiliated lawyers for his defense. And in a recurrent tactic, they got the charges switched to federal court where they were eventually thrown out. Sheridan clearly did not like Garrison's focus on the CIA in the JFK case. He then worked a lot with the HSCA, Dan Moldea, and Robert Blakey pushing the Mafia/Jimmy Hoffa angle, which was certainly prominent in the HSCA Report and volumes. Yet on the day the report was issued Marcello's lifelong friend, lobbyist Irving Davidson, told an acquaintance that he had talked to Sheridan and that he agreed that the HSCA report was a piece of crap too. (Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p. 1175) So if Sheridan did not believe the CIA was involved, and he thought Blakey's focus on the Mafia was B.S., what did he believe then? The mystery of Walter Sheridan -- who he was, and why he did what he did -- is a long, serious, and complex one. Talbot does not even begin to plumb its depths. For that reason I believe and I can demonstrate that every tenet of this chapter is just plain wrong.

The last part of Brothers deals with RFK's run for the White House, his assassination, and a final chapter called "Truth and Reconciliation" which attempts to summarize the various attempts to solve both assassinations since 1968. Talbot posits that Kennedy's increasing estrangement from Johnson's foreign policy, especially on Vietnam, is what provoked his premature run for the White House, which he had originally scheduled for 1972. That and Eugene McCarthy's good showing in New Hampshire. It was a campaign that Jackie did not want RFK to make since, as she told Schlesinger, the same thing would happen to him that had happened to her husband. (p. 352) In keeping with this main theme throughout, Talbot includes RFK telling campaign worker Richard Lubic in San Francisco, "Subject to me getting elected, I would like to reopen the Warren Commission." The night of the great California primary victory Mayor Daley called RFK in his suite and told him he planned on backing him at the convention in Chicago. As the phone call ended, Pierre Salinger said: "Bobby and I exchanged a look that we both knew meant only one thing -- he had the nomination." In the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel, where RFK was shot, Lubic recalled seeing Thane Eugene Cesar with his gun drawn. When investigators from the LA police department arrived at his home, Lubic tried to tell them about this. But they cut him off, "It's none of your business. Don't bring this up, don't be talking about this." Talbot quotes Richard Goodwin on what happened to America afterward: "We've been on an endless cycle of retreat ever since the Kennedys. A retreat not just from liberal ideals, but from that sense of involvement in the country." The last chapter deals first with first the Church Committee and then the HSCA. In an interview with Gary Hart, the former senator told Talbot he thought that Helms was in on the cover-up. For his review of the HSCA, Talbot interviewed former Deputy Counsel Robert Tanenbaum who told him of his interest in and confrontation with David Phillips. He also talked to the co-author of the Mexico City report, Dan Hardway. Hardway also presents his suspicions about Phillips. Hardway believed some CIA officers were implicated. Talbot takes a strong swipe at the media in this last chapter. He writes, "The American media's coverage of the Kennedy assassination will certainly go down as one of its most shameful performances, along with its tragically supine acceptance of the government's fraudulent case for the wars in Vietnam and Iraq." He then interviews Ben Bradlee and tries to press him on why he did not push for a better investigation of JFK's murder. Bradlee states that he was young and not established, therefore probably afraid for his career since he might be discredited over those kinds of efforts. He then adds that it would have been fantastic if they had solved the case. Talbot concludes this section with a quite interesting interview with Frank Mankiewicz who ran the public relations desk for Oliver Stone's JFK: "I worked on the film's behalf because I believed in it. Oliver was the first serious player to tackle the subject." Source: