It’s good to be the king (or the ambassador)

Jpk-67097973903I've just finished reading 'The Patriarch', a fascinating book about Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the scion of the legendary Kennedy Clan.

Written by David Nasaw, who has also penned profiles of William Randolph Hearst and Andrew Carnegie, the Kennedy biography paints an unvarnished picture of a driven, manipulative, diabolically clever, wildly carousing, but, ultimately, loving family man.

Contrary to public opinion, Papa Joe (as Hollywood sex goddess, and lover, Marlene Dietrich, called him), didn't make a dime selling bootlegged whiskey. Instead, he was simultaneously a master stock manipulator (whose personal net growth skyrocketed during the Great Depression) AND a Hollywood movie mogul, who cashed in big time when the industry switched from silent to talking pictures.

From there, Papa Joe came to FDR's attention who, knowing that no one knew more about insider trading and fraud on Wall Street, appointed Kennedy to be the first Securities & Exchange Committee chairman.

Later, Roosevelt named Papa Joe the first Irish-American to be ambassador to the Court of St. James. It was in this latter post where The Patriarch fell from grace. He not only supported British P.M. Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policies towards Hitler, but pleaded with FDR NOT to provide ANY support whatsoever to England after that island nation stood alone against Nazi aggression. He was subsequently recalled, and forever painted as a cowardly defeatist.

As we all know, Joe began a second career by stage managing his son, Jack's, rise to The White House in 1960. Three years later, though, Kennedy was stricken by a massive stroke that left him physically crippled yet mentally alert (in fact, he lived long enough to learn about the assassinations of both Jack and Bobby).

The Patriarch was a complicated, compartmentalized and deeply flawed, if fascinating man. For example:

– He kept a Roman Catholic priest on a monthly retainer. The priest's job was to hear J.P. Kennedy's confession after each, and every, fling, thereby “wiping the slate clean” with god.
– He kept the powerful New York Times Editor Arthur Krock on a monthly retainer to help write his speeches as well as edit his book AND son Jack's ('Why England Slept'). Krock also wrote glowing columns about 'The Ambassador' throughout the 1930 and '40s. So, in effect, the top Timesman was a Kennedy shill.
– He kept a drop dead gorgeous French woman on retainer during his annual summer visits to the South of France. Her duties: to serve as his personal caddy on Joe's daily rounds of golf. The author quotes Joe in letter to a friend describing Amy as “…the most gifted caddie the golf world's ever known.”

As Mel Brooks said in his portrayal of the Sun King, Louis XIV, in 'History of the World: Part One, “It’s good to be the king!” Or the ambassador, if you were Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.

As for his wife, Rose, she believed to her dying day that Joe had been a faithful, devoted hubby. Of course, the Patriarch provided her with an opulent, pampered lifestyle that would have made the toga-wearing, hard partying former Tyco CEO, Dennis Kozlowkski, green with envy.

I highly recommend 'The Patriarch'. It's a great read for any PR professional interested in learning how powerful men and women can control the media. It also provides tremendous insight into how and why Jack and Bobby became the men they were. Finally, the tome reinforces the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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