The Road Now Taken

updated 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HIS HANDS WERE THRUST DEEP IN the pockets of his long gray coat, and it was all he could do to keep his teeth from chattering on this subzero morning along the bank of the East River. But John F. Kennedy Jr. seemed determined to project the family charm in his on-camera debut, hosting Heart of the City, a six-part documentary on New York City's unsung heroes that is airing this month on WNYC, a local PBS affiliate. "Hello, I'm John Kennedy," he began, and the absence of the middle initial and the "Jr." were conspicuous. America's favorite son was letting the world know that from now on he is no one's heir apparent, but simply his own man.

Hosting Heart of the City is, friends say, part of a larger process of reassessment for Kennedy, 33. Since leaving the Manhattan D.A.'s office last July, he has moved away from the pinstriped world of law and politics toward a looser, roller blades-and-sweats kind of lifestyle. "I don't think he had the potential to be a great trial lawyer," says one state supreme court judge before whom Kennedy appeared as a prosecutor several times. "His passion lies elsewhere."

If it doesn't lie in television (where Kennedy was deemed "a natural" by Heart of the City executive producer Jacqueline Leopold), quite possibly it may be in publishing. JFK Jr. has not forsaken the family business entirely; he is planning to launch a political magazine with Michael Berman, a friend and New York City public relations executive with his own political connections who has for the last five years been executive producer of the While House Easter egg roll. The two have already enlisted Esquire design director Roger Black and are consulting with Esquire's editor, Ed Kosner. When Kennedy visited Kosner in March, smitten staffers found a million excuses to pop into the editor's office, says the magazine's publicity director, Peter Vertes. And when Kennedy left the building, Vertes reports, "every woman stuck her head out the window and watched."

They can look, but they can't touch—because Kennedy's on-again, off-again relationship with actress Daryl Hannah is very much on. Two weeks ago the couple spent a long weekend in the Cayman Islands, where they rented a bungalow and swayed to calypso and reggae at a local street festival. They have also taken in an Aerosmith concert in Manhattan and attended an off-Broadway show with John's mother, Jackie. And they have moved in together again after reportedly splitting last fall, renting a penthouse condo on Manhattan's Upper West Side while awaiting renovations on John's downtown loft. Friends speculate that Daryl, a compulsive neatnik, may-have finally made peace with John's slovenly ways. "You'd go into the apartment they used to share and John's clothing would be strewn all over the place," one acquaintance says. "Then you'd look in the closet and there would be Daryl's clothing, all perfectly lined up: combat boots, ripped jeans, caps."

Even if Kennedy gets domestic, in some ways Hannah will always have to share her hunk. Olga Bloom, 75, a retired musician featured in one segment of Heart of the City for staging affordable chamber-music concerts in an old coffee barge under the Brooklyn Bridge, was a typical willing victim of the Kennedy allure. "He was very attentive when I spoke," says Bloom, who between takes on that frigid day huddled in the protection of Kennedy's sheltering arm. "A young man is not always so thrilled about what an old lady is saying at any moment, but he was. That's my luck—to meet a young god when I'm 75 years old."

JUDITH NEWMAN
MARIA EFTIMIADES in New York City

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