Talk about mixed messages. In the September '97 issue of his George magazine, John F. Kennedy Jr. ran a picture of himself seminude—directly above his editor's letter pointing out that the alleged sexual misconduct of his cousins Michael and Joe made them "poster boys for bad behavior."

The odd juxtaposition of vim and virtue seems to sum up the two sides of the 36-year-old Kennedy's personality. He may have ended his giddy run as America's most eligible bachelor, but the John-John we knew and loved—unassuming, outdoorsy, fun-loving—is still kicking. At the same time, he has emerged as a sober, canny businessman, assuming control of his two-year-old political magazine. "He fooled everyone," says Kennedy family intimate, architect Richard Meier. "He said, 'Hey, I'm a serious guy, and I'm going to have a serious life.' " In the process, says author John H. Davis (Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir), "he proclaimed himself the leader of the [younger] clan."

At home, John and wife Carolyn, 31, keep a low profile, ducking out of their downtown Manhattan apartment for pizza despite the constant paparazzi presence. When he appeared with a bandaged hand last October, rumors flew that the couple were fighting, but the wound was blamed on a kitchen accident. "They're very happy," says Meier. Now, with his personal and professional life on track, Kennedy may be looking for new challenges. Former JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger, for one, believes, "In the next century, John will go into politics."