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- May 27, 1991
- Vol. 35
- No. 20
Camelot After Dark
Despite Pain and Humiliation, the Kennedy Women Have Stood by Their Men—Often at Great Personal Cost
The dark tradition lingers in the atmospherics surrounding the case of William Kennedy Smith, Joe's grandson and the second son of Jean Kennedy Smith. After late-night drinks with Uncle Ted Kennedy and Ted's son Patrick in Palm Beach on Good Friday evening, Smith is alleged to have raped a young woman at the Kennedy estate. Following his surrender to police last week, Smith called the charge "an outrageous lie." Still, the facts not in dispute manifest precisely the roistering male behavior that has cast a shadow on the family name: 59-year-old Ted late-night partying with single women and taking his 23-year-old son and 30-year-old nephew in tow.
In matters of sexual adventure, the Kennedy men have long gone in harm's way. Rose Kennedy's father, Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, was a known philanderer, but her mother bore it stoically. Rose wished better for herself, but the pattern was replayed. Biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, in The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, quotes a family member's recollection: "Even in the early years of their marriage, Joe had a reputation for being a ladies' man, and some of this gossip must have caught up with Rose."
As time passed, gossip was overtaken by flamboyant fact. Joe brought his women to his Palm Beach and Cape Cod estates and even took film star Gloria Swanson along with Rose on a voyage to Europe. Says Rose's former personal secretary Barbara Gibson: "She never showed any pain about those things." Above all, according to author Garry Wills in The Kennedy Imprisonment, Rose took care "not to embarrass the men of the family, obstruct their careers, dim their accomplishments."
Rose gamely endured her husband's excesses, as did later generations of Kennedy women with the sons and grandsons who carried on the legacy of the founding father. Joe's sons reportedly used to provide their father with female companions when he visited them in Washington, D.C. During the '70s, Rose's grandsons Christopher Lawford and Joseph Kennedy II, as well as the then-married Teddy, would share daiquiris with young women at Rose's Palm Beach lunches, then head for the bedrooms after Rose retired for her nap, according to Gibson, interviewed recently by PEOPLE.
Jack was a chronic philanderer. Among his reported conquests were Angie Dickinson, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. Bobby also had an affair with Marilyn, as detailed in James Spada's soon to be released Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets. Ted carries on in the family tradition. The brothers' wives, Jackie and Ethel and Joan, had to live with the rumors as best they could. As though fated, Rose's daughters Pat and Jean ended up with faithless husbands as well.
Tolstoy was right, of course: Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way—and no one can see into the real heart of another's family. Publicly and privately, all of the Kennedy women have had to find a way to cope. Some looked to the bottom of bottles, others upward to God. Some triumphed, others failed. "[The Kennedy men] expect their sisters and wives to put up with everything as long as the fame and glory are pouring in," says an unkind friend of Jean Kennedy Smith's children who, like many people who discuss this powerful family, declines to be identified. "The fathers set an example for the sons; the mothers set an example for the daughters. It will never cease."
JACKIE ONASSIS: THE ULTIMATE SURVIVOR
More than any other woman of her clan, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has not only survived the trials that come with being a Kennedy but has triumphed over them. At 61, Jackie is content with her life—and according to those who know her, that is no accident. "She knows exactly what she wants, she's single-minded about it and she goes for it," says a relative.
As the daughter of stockbroker John "Black Jack" Bouvier and socialite Janet Lee, Jackie lived with uncertainty from the start; her father, a profligate spender, squandered his fortune. Though Jackie grew up in privileged circles, she never forgot the precariousness of her early years and, like her mother, apparently made it her goal to be financially secure and want for nothing.
When she married Jack Kennedy in 1953, Jackie may well have thought that the rewards of a life with the promising—and wealthy—36-year-old Massachusetts Congressman would outweigh the risks of his playboy reputation. But Jackie soon found that her husband was not about to curb his sexual appetite. She found a passion of her own, spending months redecorating the White House and fashioning an image of glamour unprecedented for any First Lady. "When the going got rough, Jackie went shopping," says a relative. "And she weathered spectacularly, considering how rough it got for her."
She found another outlet in her utter devotion to children Caroline and John Jr. One year after JFK's assassination in 1963, Jackie moved to New York City, bought a 14-room apartment on Fifth Avenue and began meticulously mapping out their education and careers. Her marriage in 1968 to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis—she reportedly received $26 million as part of her prenuptial agreement—guaranteed they would have the very best. Jackie also rigorously controlled their exposure to the rowdy Kennedy cousins, particularly after Onassis' death in 1974. "She yanked her kids out of the maelstrom," says David Horowitz, coauthor of The Kennedys: An American Drama.
Jackie's careful mothering has been rewarded. Caroline, 33, is a graduate of Radcliffe and Columbia Law School who married artist and designer Edwin Schlossberg in 1986 and coauthored the current bestseller In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action. And John Jr., 30, hardly fits the mold of the Kennedy rogue. Aside from plenty of dating—despite his long-term relationship with girlfriend Christina Haag—he rarely drinks, shuns parties and works quietly as an assistant district attorney in New York City. "Caroline and John John's success is Jackie's own masterpiece," says C. David Heymann, author of A Woman Named Jackie.
For the last decade, Jackie has had a soul mate of sorts—New York diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman, 61. The relationship began after Onassis' death, when Jackie turned to Tempelsman for investment advice. His astute handling of her finances has reportedly quadrupled her worth since 1975, leaving her with a fortune estimated at more than $100 million. Though still married to Lily, his wife of 41 years, he is often seen with Jackie, sharing her interest in opera, entertaining family and friends and in general being happy to be the man behind Jackie 0. "He places no demands on her," says a friend. "That's the secret of their success."
ETHEL KENNEDY: SHE TOOK REFUGE IN HER FAITH
Bobby Kennedy met Ethel Skakel on a skiing trip in Canada in 1944. At the time, he was dating her elder sister, Pat, but Pat eventually married someone else, and he began seeing Ethel. Unlike the serious Pat, Ethel "was exciting and energetic," says Jerry Oppenheimer, who is writing an unauthorized biography of the Kennedy widow. She came from a large, rambunctious Catholic family with plenty of money—similar to the Kennedys. Her father was CEO of the multinational Great Lakes Carbon Corporation.
After they were married, they first lived in Charlottesville, Va., where Bobby was finishing his law degree, and then in Georgetown. They were always "arm in arm, hand in hand, huggy, kissy," says Oppenheimer. "[Ethel's] only interest was the Kennedy family, the Kennedy name, what Bobby could do in the future, what the other Kennedys were doing, what Jack's future was. She just gave her life over to them."
Bobby went on to become his brother's Attorney General and later U.S. Senator from New York. He also had a much-rumored affair with Marilyn Monroe, which Ethel, like the other Kennedy wives, apparently ignored. After Bobby was assassinated in California, she retreated to their home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Va. Struggling with her continuing grief, Ethel raised her 11 children with the help of a small army of nannies, nursemaids, cooks and social secretaries. Over the years, many of them quit after run-ins with her difficult temper. Ethel was a capricious disciplinarian, and her children were imbued with Bobby's credo of pushing life to the limit. "It was a kind of adolescent acting out that took an extra degree because they were Kennedys and thought they had to prove themselves," says David Horowitz, coauthor of The Kennedys: An American Drama. "This is when the drug taking began."
In 1983, just after he passed his bar exam (he had flunked it a year earlier), her son Robert Jr. was arrested and pleaded guilty to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to two years' probation. A year later, another son, David, was found dead in a Palm Beach hotel from a heroin overdose. All the surviving children have since led productive lives. Her eldest son, Joseph II, is a Massachusetts Congressman; her daughter Kathleen Kennedy Town-send runs an educational program in Maryland. And her daughter Kerry, director of the Robert Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, recently married Andrew Cuomo, son of New York's Governor, Mario. A reformed Bobby Jr. is now a crusading environmental lawyer.
How did Ethel, who lost a husband and a son, as well as her parents and her brother in separate plane crashes, manage to cope with this great weight of sorrow? "Ethel is a very religious woman," says Oppenheimer. "Bobby was, I think, overwhelmed by her religion. But I think it has saved her, has carried her through tragedies and scandals." For her, marriage has always meant more than a few years together on earth. Years after Bobby's death, she was appalled by friends' suggestions that she find someone else. "How could I possibly do that with Bobby looking down from heaven?" she asked. "That would be adultery."
JOAN KENNEDY: PICKING UP THE PIECES
For one brief, shining moment, Joan Bennett Kennedy looked like a happy woman. She was young and beautiful, the wife of a U.S. Senator whose brother was President and whose own star seemed surely ascendant. But the assassinations of both her husband's older brothers—and the awful humiliation of Chappaquiddick in 1969—turned much of that early promise to ashes. And in the face of her husband's apparently relentless skirt chasing, Joan Kennedy turned to alcohol. "Rather than get mad or ask questions concerning the rumors about Ted and his girlfriends, it was easier for me to just go and have a few drinks and calm myself down, as if I weren't hurt or angry," she said in 1981.
Finally, Joan decided she had had enough. "She realized that the only way she could save herself from total destruction was to leave behind her husband and everything Kennedy for a new life," says an old friend. Joan and Ted began living apart in 1976. Still, there was no divorce or formal separation. When Ted began his unsuccessful run for the Presidency in 1979, she went public with her alcoholism and attempted a reconciliation, but a week after Ted's failed bid they became legally separated. Years later, Marcia Chellis, her campaign aide and a fellow recovering alcoholic, wrote a book, Living with the Kennedys: The Joan Kennedy Story, describing those days. She portrayed Joan as a deeply troubled woman who courageously used the challenge of the campaign to try to give up drinking.
In 1988 Joan was charged with drunk driving after crashing into a fence on Cape Cod. Since then she has struggled to stay sober. But last Tuesday evening, Joan was arrested for drunk driving on an expressway in Quincy, Mass. She now divides her time between her apartment in Boston and her Cape Cod house. An accomplished pianist with a master's degree in music education, she is hard at work on a book for Doubleday that she hopes will "knock down these myths that classical music is elitist and expensive." Says Joan: "It is very reachable."
Joan also dedicates her time to various volunteer projects, working at a shelter for homeless women and serving on the board of Children's Hospital in Boston. She remains close to her three children, now all adults. And she sees her former husband from time to time. The family reunites every Thanksgiving and Christmas. "We have celebrated together for 32 years," she told PEOPLE this month. "And we will all be together as a family for Patrick's May 19 graduation [from Providence College] and then on May 27 when Teddy [Jr.] graduates from Yale [receiving a master's degree in environmental sciences]."
EUNICE KENNEDY: DOING THE RIGHT THING
Joseph Kennedy saw Eunice as the best and brightest of his daughters—an intelligent student and Stanford graduate who went on to work at both the State and Justice departments. She was so competent he paid her the supreme compliment: "If that girl had been born with balls, she would have been a hell of a politician." But nothing has stopped Eunice Shriver, 70, from making her mark. In 1957 she took over direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for the mentally retarded, and in 1968 she founded the Special Olympics, a worldwide offshoot of the summer day camp she had started in the backyard of her Rockville, Md., home in 1963.
Married in 1953 to Sargent Shriver, who was the first director of the Peace Corps under her brother Jack and served as Ambassador to France, Eunice raised a family that avoided the Kennedy penchant for dangerous living. The Shrivers often kept their children apart from the self-named Hyannis Port Terrors, including some of Ethel's children, Bobby Jr. and David, and Chris Lawford. Eunice always sat with the kids at dinner, even if she would be dining at an official function later that night, and the family held consciousness-raising discussions of news stories torn out and taped to the dining-room mantel. "Those kids have an anchor which doesn't exist through the rest of the family," says a onetime Shriver family intimate.
The Shriver family ethic has been well taught: all the couple's children—Robert, 37, newswoman Maria, 35, Timothy, 31, Mark, 27, and Anthony, 25—have engaged in public service.
PAT KENNEDY LAWFORD: A LONELY STRUGGLE
In 1954, Joe and Rose Kennedy begged their daughter Patricia not to marry actor Peter Lawford. Less than a decade later, John Kennedy, then President, begged her not to divorce him—at least not until after the 1964 elections.
Pat agreed, but the Lawford marriage was rarely happy. By all accounts, the actor was a tireless womanizer who once won a JFK-inspired contest to be the first of the Kennedy brothers and brothers-in-law to sleep with a woman other than his wife in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House. Soon after her brother's assassination, Pat dropped all pretenses, packing up her son and three daughters and moving from Los Angeles to New York City. Her divorce from Lawford, on the grounds of "mental cruelty," became final in 1966. (Lawford died of cardiac arrest and complications of cirrhosis in 1984.)
Well before the breakup, Pat had escaped into a world of alcohol and pills, according to both Horowitz and Barbara Gibson, a former assistant to Rose Kennedy. "Her children just ran wild," says Gibson. The Lawfords' only son, Christopher, now 36 and acting in Hollywood, proved to be the greatest problem. During the late '70s he developed a heroin dependency that he says he shook only five years ago. Her three daughters—Sydney, 34, Victoria, 32, and Robin, 29—have fared better in their careers and personal lives. But Pat herself is said to have become less visible in recent years. In 1989 she pleaded guilty to driving while impaired after hitting a utility pole on Long Island. In the early years of Pat's marriage she was known as a gregarious hostess, arranging elaborate dinner parties, as well as lively gin rummy matches, in her Santa Monica beach home for the Lawfords' Hollywood friends. Her social life today is more likely to include visits with her children and Rose. Outside the family, says a longtime associate, "no one sees her anymore."
JEAN KENNEDY SMITH: DIGNITY AND DESPAIR
It's ironic that Jean Kennedy Smith, eighth child of Joe and Rose Kennedy and mother of William, now accused of raping a woman at the family's Palm Beach estate, is considered one of the least troubled in the family. "She's the most amiable and the least demanding of all the Kennedy women," says Barbara Gibson. In fact, Smith has long been a model of public poise—a low-profile sophisticate committed to charity fund raising who continues to impress outsiders with her dignity and kindness. Yet for years Smith, 64, endured infidelity and anger.
Her marriage in 1956 to Stephen Smith began happily enough. He came from a wealthy New York City family and was liked and trusted by Jean's father. When the patriarch died in 1969, Smith took over the family's political and financial machine, looking out for everyone's interests—but not necessarily his wife's. While she stayed home and raised the children—Stephen Jr., now 33, and Willy, 30—he caroused. "He literally had one girl to his left and another to his right," says a family acquaintance familiar with Smith's notoriously indiscreet womanizing. Furious but unable or—in the Kennedy tradition—unwilling to speak out against her man, Jean looked the other way. But she did have an affair with an Italian who soon spurned her. "Steve was callously insensitive to his wife before she had the affair," says a family friend, "but his attitude to her became terrible after her affair ended. He treated her like dirt."
Jean and her husband started living apart, and before long the couple were completely estranged. Even her much-loved children, who by then also included two adopted daughters, Amanda, now 23, and Kym, 18, were often left to themselves, ensconced in elite prep schools during the year, scattering to the various Kennedy homes during holidays. "She just withered from within," says a close friend. "Her pain was so great that she stopped venturing out into the world."
Jean had no man left to turn to—not even her favorite brother, Ted, who, as one of Steve's partying buddies, offered little solace. It was a different crisis—her husband's lung cancer, diagnosed in 1987—that persuaded Jean to reconstruct, one last time, a semblance of family life. In 1989, Steve's last full year alive, she nursed him at home, and the family traveled briefly in Europe. "These people obviously have their problems," says a friend of the Smith children, "but it's also obvious they love one another."
PAULA CHIN, JOE TREEN, KAREN S. SCHNEIDER and bureau reports
April 25, 2015
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