Against the wishes of the Kennedy family, nephew of JFK writes memoir

Breaking News

Kennedys don't cry -- that was dynasty founder Joe Kennedy's famous dictum. Nor do they spill their guts. For more than four decades, family members have maintained a stoic front through assassinations, scandals, fatal accidents and the other ordeals collectively known as the Kennedy Curse. There was something heroic in the Kennedys' stony embrace of their fate, particularly in this age of compulsive confessionalism. But over the years it has also trapped the family in a bell jar of morbid celebrity. Unable to confront the terrible meaning of the murders of Jack and Bobby -- the two brothers who brought the family to such political heights -- the Kennedys were doomed to live in the shadows of these martyrs. But now comes "Symptoms of Withdrawal," a raw, exposed wound of a memoir by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, one of the baby-boom generation cousins, that tries to liberate the family from its crushing legacy.

Peter Lawford might have belonged to one of the entertainment world's most exclusive clubs, along with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. But Patricia Lawford made it brutally clear to her husband, and even to her own children, that they did not have full membership in an even more restricted clan, the Kennedy family. Christopher Lawford writes that on the climactic summer night that John Kennedy was to climb onto the stage at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to accept his party's presidential nomination, flanked by his telegenic family, his mother tried to stop her husband from joining them, telling him, "Peter, you can't come. You're not a Kennedy." A more levelheaded JFK quickly intervened on his brother-in-law's behalf, telling his sister, "Pat, he's your husband. I'd say that qualifies him. Besides, it doesn't hurt having a good-looking movie star around."

Lawford writes that his mother was never happier than she was that night, "standing at the apex between the worlds of politics and Hollywood," where she had the joy, as a California delegate, of voting for her brother as the next president of the United States. And his father, despite his mother's proprietary attitude toward her family, enjoyed an easy and friendly relationship with JFK, with whom he swapped fashion tips and Hollywood dish. Even as his parents' marriage began to hit the rocks and Lawford went to the White House to seek Kennedy's advice, the president reassured him: "Don't worry, Peter. I will always be your friend."

This world ended for young Christopher and the rest of his family on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, when his teacher, Sister Agnes, took him out of class to tell him his uncle had been shot and killed. Jack and Bobby had been the sun and moon of the family, the fulfillment of their father's Olympian ambitions and the celestial lights around whom the others orbited. Now the older brother was gone and everything began spinning off its axis.

"The next morning when I woke up," Lawford writes, "I found my father sitting at the flagpole where I used to raise the presidential flag when Uncle Jack came to visit. He was crying like a baby.
... In public, Bobby Kennedy had stated that he accepted the official version of his brother's public execution in the streets of Dallas. But privately, as I have discovered through research for a book on the Kennedy brothers, RFK nurtured strong suspicions of a high-level plot and recruited several of his closest and most trusted associates to quietly investigate the crime. If he made it back to the White House, RFK confided to these associates, he would reopen his brother's case. However, perhaps out of a desire to protect his family, Bobby did not share his suspicions about Dallas widely among his relatives. Since Bobby publicly accepted the Warren Report, writes Christopher in"Symptoms of Withdrawal," the family was reassured that nothing was rotten in America. After Bobby's murder, this became harder for the family to accept. But the Kennedys chose once more to suffer in silence."I never heard any of the grown-ups vent any anger or hatred toward the murderers," writes Christopher."I never heard anybody question why they did it or how ... We just ate it and tried to be good little Kennedys and demonstrate that stoic grace that everybody seemed to admire so much."

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Vernon Clayson - 10/5/2005

While granting that his elder three siblings were almost magical in their conduct, younger brother Ted may not cry but he is a whiner and a petulant nag, not even a pale shadow of his more celebrated kin. Apparently he believes his near-hysterical rants will make him as famous as their noteworthy accomplishments