Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
'Personal' Kennedy history blow-by-blow account
Beginning a book on the expansive, multi-generational American Kennedy clan is akin to reading a Russian novel. Who are all these people and how are they related?
To keep them straight in your head, find and print a family tree. It's the only way to prevent a life-threatening aneurism.
That said, U.S. celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli's straightforward chronology gives a year-by-year, blow-by-blow account of the continuing trials and tribulations of the family.
One might think nothing good ever happened to the second and third generations. Most of them, however, have turned out pretty well and live respectable lives.
In 1914, Joe Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald, and among their offspring were: Jack, the future president who married Jackie Bouvier; Bobby, who married Ethel Skakel; Jean, who married Edward Smith; Eunice, who married Sargent Shriver; Patricia, who married Peter Lawford; and Edward, who married Joan Bennett.
Collectively they had 30 children. The three other children, Joseph, Kathleen and Rosemary, had no children.
Taraborrelli has written about Diana Ross, Grace Kelly, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.
His books have been scantly praised by critics, likely because they are written with the customers of People, National Enquirer, TMZ and Entertainment Tonight in mind.
He calls After Camelot, the sequel to his 2000 Kennedy opus, Jackie, Ethel and Joan: The Women of Camelot, a "personal history."
That's code; he means he has been snooping around in medicine and liquor cabinets, underwear drawers and laundry hampers.
Anyone with more than a passing knowledge of Kennedy family history won't learn anything new. The range of the Kennedy men's peccadilloes is too well documented.
It's certainly clear why the long-suffering Kennedy women are so often pictured as fingering their rosary beads, attending mass and praying, a lot.
Taraborrelli adores Jackie and her children. He is sympathetic to her in her marriage to Aristotle Onassis and everything she did in life. Was she more than a mere mortal? Obviously yes, so let us simple souls not judge harshly.
One week after the 1963 assassination of her husband, Jackie used the word Camelot to describe the Kennedy presidency. The Arthurian analogy soon became ascribed to the Kennedy dynasty.
It ended, Taraborrelli writes, in 1969, when Ted Kennedy drove his car off the bridge in Chappaquiddick, killing Mary Jo Kopechne. This scuttled his chances of ever running for the presidency and irrevocably stained the family brand.
It was hard growing up a rich and entitled Kennedy or an equally rich and entitled Kennedy cousin, writes Taraborrelli. He quotes Lawford saying Kennedys had to be better than everyone else, but Jack and Bobby's premature death elevated them "to mythic proportions."
"Their greatness was undiminished, their human failings forgotten," Lawford said. "They were our benchmarks, which on a deep unspoken level we knew we could never reach."
Taraborrelli believes Bobby's unruly lot of children felt this pressure. The boys, in particular, have suffered from alcoholism; David died of a drug overdose in 1984 and Michael had serious legal problems prior to his 1997 death in a skiing accident.
The story of William Kennedy Smith's infamous 1991 Palm Beach, Fla., rape scandal takes up a full chapter. Taraborrelli does a good job documenting the power the clan wielded to manipulate the course of justice and the tragicomic involvement of drunken roué Ted Kennedy.
After Camelot is a good summer read. Light, simple, outrageous and forgettable.
Ian Stewart teaches at Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg.
A Personal History of the Kennedy Family,
1968 to the Present
J. Randy Taraborrelli
Grand Central, 624 pages, $33
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 J9