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Jackie Kennedy holds son John F. Kennedy, Jr., born November 25, 1960, 16 days after his father, John F. Kennedy won the presidential election. He was nicknamed "John-John." Three years later on his own birthday, John F. Kennedy, Jr., would salute his father's coffin at his funeral.

Jackie Kennedy holds son John F. Kennedy, Jr., born November 25, 1960, 16 days after his father, John F. Kennedy won the presidential election. He was nicknamed “John-John.” Three years later on his own birthday, John F. Kennedy, Jr. would salute his father’s coffin at his funeral.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-1994) is remembered for many things, her fashion statements, her redecoration of the White House, her brave young face at the 1963 funeral of her slain husband President John F. Kennedy. There were many things she cared about. But what mattered to her most in life was raising her two children, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg), to be good people. She said:

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

She wanted so much for her children to lead normal lives. But, in the aftermath of JFK‘s assassination, it proved to be an impossible dream. She tried to continue living in their Georgetown home but tour buses added it to their route and reporters mobbed them on their doorstep. The crowds were too much to bear.

“The world is pouring terrible adoration at the feet of my children,” she’d once confided to her decorator Billy Baldwin, “and I fear for them, for this awful exposure. How can I bring them up normally?” (1)

Jackie ended up moving them all to New York where, to her dismay, she discovered her children weren’t being invited for playdates and parties by their school friends. It turned out that their parents were intimated by the Kennedy children’s fame.

Jackie Kennedy, wife of then-Senator John F. Kennedy, reads a bedtime story to daughter, Caroline, at the family home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. Jackie Kennedy loved books and passed this joy on to her children. September 13, 1960

Jackie Kennedy, wife of then-Senator John F. Kennedy, reads a bedtime story to daughter, Caroline, at the family home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. Jackie Kennedy loved books and passed this joy on to her children. September 13, 1960

In the post-JFK years, Jackie wasn’t just mobbed by tourists and reporters. The beautiful and charming young widow was besieged by male suitors, among them author Philip Roth, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and director Mike Nichols. Jackie’s friend and White House advisor Letitia Baldrige said that, even in the pre-JFK years, “she [Jackie] had more men per square inch than any woman I’ve ever known.”

Jackie Kennedy Onassis with husband Ari Onassis on June 5, 1969, at New York's Kennedy Airport

Jackie Kennedy Onassis with husband Ari Onassis on June 5, 1969, at New York’s Kennedy Airport

By 1968, Jackie’s most serious – and unlikely –  suitor was Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, “Ari,” for short. Whereas Jackie was cultured, sleek, and classy, Onassis was short, paunchy, and often rumpled and vulgar. Plus, he was 23 years Jackie’s senior. The Kennedy clan despised him. JFK’s younger brother, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, who was running for president that year, urged Jackie to break off her relationship with Onassis. She promised him that she would put off talk of marriage until after the presidential election.

Then, on June 5, 1968,  just moments after winning the California primary, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Jackie was devastated – and terrified.

I despise America,” a distraught Jackie told a friend. “If they are killing Kennedys, my children are the No. 1 targets. I want to get out of this country.”

She did, on October 20, when, in a small private ceremony, she wed Ari Onassis on the Greek isle of Skorpios. She was 39; he was 62. (1)

Readers, I’ve written several posts on the Kennedy family. Scroll down the sidebar to the right: Categories – Kennedys. Among them are:
“How to Be Jackie O”
“Did Jackie Love Bobby Best?”

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guest blogger Loise King Waller

guest blogger Loise King Waller

The Kennedy Legacy

by guest blogger Loise King Waller, B.S. Political Science, summa cum laude, Boston University; J.D., University of Texas School of Law

From Joseph Kennedy‘s ambassadorship to England at a time when we were on the brink of WWII, the Kennedy family’s fate has, for better or worse, been inextricably linked with our nation’s. Although John Kennedy was young and untested when he took office in 1961 as President of the United States and presided over defeat at the Bay of Pigs, he finessed the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis and successfully avoided a nuclear showdown between the superpowers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have been passed without the initiative of his administration.
 
JFKs Attorney General, brother Robert Kennedy, courageously took on the mob, at great peril to himself and his family. His efforts to enfranchise minorities and mobilize antiwar sentiment during his ill-fated run for the presidency piqued the conscience of America.
 
Most people would agree that although he was not a perfect human being (who is?) Senator Ted Kennedy came of age as a distinguished statesman and tireless advocate of universal healthcare. We need him now. He will be missed.
To read more on the Kennedys on this site, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's 1944 marriage to Billy Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, an Anglican, infuriated the intensely Catholic Rose Kennedy, who refused to attend the wedding. Widowed just four months later, Kathleen fell in love with a very married man, Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, and became his mistress. Rose was further incensed - because he, like Billy, wasn't a Catholic. Over her mother's objections, Kathleen and Peter planned to wed after his divorce. Instead, in a 1948 trip to the south of France, they both died in a plane crash. No one but Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral in Devonshire, England, in the Cavendish family plot. It has been said that Rose Kennedy discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending the service of their sister.

Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary Kennedy, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's lively personality made her a great hit among the British social set. In 1944, Kathleen made what many considered a brilliant marriage to William "Billy" Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, the heir to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. Kathleen became the Marchioness of Harrington. Her mother, however, was incensed that Kathleen would marry an Anglican and refused to attend the wedding ceremony. Only Kathleen's eldest brother, Joe Kennedy, Jr., attended. Then, four months later, Billy was killed in the war and Kathleen became a widow. It wasn't long before Kathleen was back in the social whirl of London parties and country estate weekends, and with a new man - a married man. He was Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam. Kathleen fell madly for him and publicly became his mistress. Rose was furious - but not why you think. She was incensed because Peter - like Kathleen's first husband, Billy - was an Anglican and not a Catholic. Nevertheless, over her mother's objections, Kathleen planned to wed Peter after his divorce, Catholic or not. Their wedding never came about. In a 1948 trip to the south of France, both Peter and Kathleen died in an airplane crash. Still furious with Kathleen, Rose Kennedy did not attend her daughter's funeral and discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending. Only Kathleen's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral service. Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish was buried in the Cavendish family plot in Devonshire, England. There her body remains today.

Factbox: Kennedy Political Dynasty Marked By Tragedy

By REUTERS
Published: August 26, 2009

(Compiled from Web sites by the World Desk Americas)

The lives of Kennedy family members, noted for their extraordinary accomplishments, have also been marked by tragedy, including the assassinations of President John Kennedy and of Senator Robert Kennedy.

Following is a chronology of some of the tragedies that befell the storied U.S. political dynasty:

1941: Rosemary Kennedy, (pictured here), the oldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who was mentally disabled, was institutionalized for the rest of her life after a lobotomy reduced her abilities. She died in 2005.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

1944: Joseph Kennedy Jr., the oldest of the nine Kennedy children, died at age 29 in a plane crash over the English Channel during World War Two while flying a mission.

1948: Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, the fourth of the Kennedy children, was killed in a plane crash in France at age 28.

1963: President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22 while riding in a presidential motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas, at age 46.

1964: Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest in the family, narrowly escaped death in a plane crash that killed an aide.

1968: Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 in Los Angeles at age 42, just after he won California’s Democratic presidential primary election.

1969: Edward Kennedy drove off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. An aide in the car with him, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the accident.

1984: David Kennedy, a son of Robert, died of a drug overdose at age 28.

1997: Another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, Michael, died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado, at age 39.

1999: John Kennedy Jr. along with his wife and sister-in-law were killed when the plane he was flying crashed in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

For more on the Kennedys, scroll down the right sidebar in “Categories – People – the Kennedys.”

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Jackie looking good in a trench coat. What is the Jackie O look? classic and refined

Jackie looking good in a trench coat. What is the Jackie O look? classic and refined

This is the week of what would have been Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ (1929-1994) eightieth birthday. Blogs, magazines, newspapers, and TV programs are celebrating her life and style – particulary her style. She was – and is – a fashion icon. Those of you in doubt of her lasting appeal need only to google the phrase, “the Jackie Kennedy Look,” and see how many sites are dedicated to this ideal.

What is her attraction? Exactly what is “the Jackie Kennedy Look”? Is it a hairstyle? It couldn’t be that; Jackie’s hairstyle over the years changed radically, going from a curly, soft, and cropped bob on her wedding day (shown below)

They were married on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was performed by Archbishop Richard Cushing. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 900 at the lavish reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm.

Jacqueline Bouvier and then-Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy were married on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was performed by Archbishop Richard Cushing. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 900 at the lavish reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm.

to a crisp bouffant at her husband John Kennedy‘s inauguration as the 35th President of the United States (below)

 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Seen here with, at left, then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and, at right, her husband, President Kennedy.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Seen here with, at left, then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and, at right, her husband, President Kennedy.

to a long, loose, and straight un-style when island-hopping with Greek shipping tycoon husband #2  Ari Onassis. (below).

Jackie and Ari Onassis in 1969, Jackie, in a festive summer print, and husband Aristotle Onassis leave an Athens nightclub at 7 a.m. after celebrating Jackie's 40th birthday.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis, in a festive summer print, and husband Aristotle Onassis leave an Athens nightclub at 7 a.m. after celebrating Jackie's 40th birthday, 1969.

Not that Jackie Kennedy’s hairstyles didn’t set fashion trends. Her 1961 inauguration hairdo, the bouffant, defined by the Oxford Dictionary, as [hair] “styled so as to stand out from the head in a rounded shape,” from the French word for ‘swelling,’ swept the nation in popularity. Her short, dark locks were teased, sprayed, and curled by her hairdresser, Mr. Kenneth of Lilly Dache, New York.

When Jackie Kennedy was First Lady (1961-1963), a rumor spread that she wore wigs from time to time, which Jackie’s spokespeople denied vehemently. Unfortunately, though, the rumor was proved true when sister-in-law Joan Kennedy blurted out in an interview:

“You know, Jackie talked me into wearing a wig. She has three of them, and she wears them a lot, especially for traveling. I tried one, but it just felt silly.”

Then, if it wasn’t her hair that defined the Jackie Kennedy look, perhaps it was her clothes. Consider her signature look…

 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy displays her trademark chic - pillbox hat, pearls, and stylish suit

First Lady Jackie Kennedy displays her trademark chic - pillbox hat, pearls, and stylish suit

formal, for day: the pillbox hat, pearls, the three-quarter length sleeves, the boxy Chanel suit jacket with A-line skirt

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at home in the White House. She is remembered for her love for all things French which found expression in her dedicated and loving restoration of the White House.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy at home in the White House. She is remembered for her love for all things tasteful (and French) which found expression in her dedicated and loving restoration of the White House.

 informal, for day: the sleeveless silk sheath accented by a single strand of pearls at the throat

on their way to a dinner with the French cultural minister, April 1962. Mrs. Kennedy wears a gown designed by Oleg Cassini.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy as she was dressed for dinner with the French cultural minister, April 1962. Mrs. Kennedy wears a gown designed by Oleg Cassini.

informal, for night: a fabulous gown by designers such as Oleg Cassini completed by elbow-length white gloves and a clutch bag

But these were Jackie’s looks from the White House years, when she posed, posture perfect like a princess, beaming a happy smile. But then her husband was murdered and Camelot was no more. Her life changed and, with it, her wardrobe.

After she married Onassis, she became “Jackie O” and was photographed strolling the streets of Europe, slumming in casual attire -sexy capri pants with flat, strappy sandals. After Onassis’ death, she moved to New York to become a book editor for Doubleday. When she was seen on the streets, she kept her head down to avoid recognition, ducking the press, hiding behind those ubiquitous, bug-eyed, dark glasses and sometimes concealing her famous head under a scarf.

Jackie O in 1975, the year her second husband Aristotle Onassis died

Jackie O in 1975, the year her second husband Aristotle Onassis died

No, the Jackie Kennedy Look can’t be summed up by pointing to a hairstyle or style of dress – they were too variable.  Granted, whether First Lady, international playgirl, New York socialite, or career publisher, Jackie Kennedy had style, to be sure, a strong fashion sense, showing up largely as a preference for clean, uncluttered lines and simplicity. But she had an indescribable personal quality, too, a  je ne sais quoi, the French would say, a quality that transcended all the changes she made to her wardrobe and hair – the quintessential Jackie O – that keeps us fixated on her well into another century.

What was it that made Jackie such an icon that we still want to look at photos of her, though she has been gone so long?

One need only consult the TV comedy “Seinfeld” for the answer to this little conundrum. In the 87th episode known as “The Chaperone,” character Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeks a job at Doubleday as a book editor, following in the steps of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

 Elaine does not get the job. Read the Seinfeld script below to find out why Elaine was rejected by Doubleday:

New scene – Elaine at her job interview at Doubleday with Mrs. Landis.

LANDIS: Of course, Jackie O. was a great lady. Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill. Everyone loved her. She had such…grace.

ELAINE (gushing): Yes! Grace!

LANDIS: Not many people have grace.

ELAINE: Well, you know, grace is a tough one. I like to think I have a little grace…not as much as Jackie –

LANDIS: You can’t have “a little grace.” You either have grace, or you…don’t.

ELAINE: O.K., fine, I have…no grace.

LANDIS: And you can’t acquire grace.

ELAINE: Well, I have no intention of “getting” grace.

LANDIS: Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.

ELAINE (fed up): All right, all right, look – I don’t have grace, I don’t want grace…I don’t even say grace, O.K.?

LANDIS: Thank you for coming in.

ELAINE: Yeah, yeah, right.

LANDIS: We’ll make our choice in a few days, and we’ll let you know.

ELAINE (stands up): I have no chance, do I?

LANDIS: No. <They shake hands.>

 

Elaine Benes (Seinfeld) has no grace.

Elaine Benes (from TV series" Seinfeld) has no grace. Jackie Kennedy Onassis had grace.

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Jackie Kennedy during the White House years

Jackie Kennedy during the White House years

From USA Today Online, July 6, 2009:

Book: Jackie, RFK had four-year affair

The New York Post, quoting a new book, reports that Jackie Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy had a four-year love affair that began shortly after President Kennedy was killed.

Author C. David Heymann says Bobby was Jackie’s “true love” and that the affair was well known among family members. When Bobby was shot after winning the California presidential primary, Jackie — not Bobby’s wife Ethel Kennedy or his brother Ted Kennedy — ordered that he be removed from a respirator, the book says.

The book, Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story, arrives in stores this month. The Post says it “includes recollections of the steamy affair” from Kennedy family intimates, including Pierre Salinger, Arthur Schlesinger, Jack Newfield, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote and Morton Downey Jr. Heymann told the paper he spent nearly two decades researching the book and had access to FBI and Secret Service files. Tapes of his interviews are available at the SUNY Stony Brook library.

The Kennedy family at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts on the night after John F Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election. Front row from left: Eunice Shriver, Rose Kennedy , Joseph Kennedy , Jacqueline Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy. Back row, from left: Ethel Kennedy, Stephen Smith, Jean Smith, John F Kennedy, Robert F Kennedy, Pat Lawford , Sargent Shriver, Joan Kennedy, and Peter Lawford

The Kennedy family at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts on the night after John F Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election. Front row from left: Eunice Shriver, Rose Kennedy , Joseph Kennedy , Jacqueline Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy. Back row, from left: Ethel Kennedy, Stephen Smith, Jean Smith, John F Kennedy, Robert F Kennedy, Pat Lawford , Sargent Shriver, Joan Kennedy, and Peter Lawford

Among the book’s revelations:

— Six months after JFK’s death, during a May 1964 dinner cruise on the presidential yacht the USS Sequoia, Bobby and Jackie “exchanged poignant glances” before disappearing below deck, leaving Ethel upstairs. “When they returned, they looked as chummy and relaxed as a pair of Cheshire cats,” according to Schlesinger.

— At one point, Ethel Kennedy implored family friend Frank Moore to “tell Bobby to stop sleeping with Jackie.” Instead, Moore told her to find a marriage counselor.

— Shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis — RFK’s rival for Jackie’s attention — once threatened to “bring down” Bobby by going public with details of the affair. “I could bury that sucker,” Onassis said, “although I’d lose Jackie in the process.”

The New York Daily News reports that the book already is generating criticism:

“It’s a new low, and you just wonder how far people are willing to go,” Laurence Learner, author of The Kennedy Men, The Kennedy Women and Sons of Camelot told the paper.

“[Heymann] is just trying to make a buck. Yes, Bobby and Jackie had a relationship as friends, but [the romance] is a total exaggeration. I feel sorry for Heymann,” he said.

 

To read more on Ethel Kennedy, read “Mama Remembers Ethel Kennedy.”

To read more on Jackie Kennedy Onassis, click “How to be Jackie O” and “Why Jackie Kennedy Married Ari Onassis.”

 To read more on the Kennedys, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace

 As I mentioned in my recent post, “President Barack and Michelle Obama Give Queen Elizabeth an IPod,” the Obamas have visited Buckingham Palace and met with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. As the two couples mingled with other diplomats in London for the Group of 20 Meeting, First Lady Michelle Obama reached out and touched the Queen on her back. The Queen responded warmly, wrapping her right arm around Michelle’s waist. Those listening to the two women say that the Queen remarked on how tall Michelle is. They also were looking down and talking about their shoes.

Everyone’s buzzing about this historic moment: Michelle Obama touched the Queen! Royal protocol demands that no one touch the Queen. Even her royal consort, Prince Philip, must walk several paces behind her when the two are in public.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and General Charles DeGaulle at a dinner at Versailles, France, June 1, 1961.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and General Charles DeGaulle at a dinner at Versailles, France, June 1, 1961.

All this attention to the Obamas and their first visit to  Europe as the First Couple takes me back to 1961 when President John Fitzgerald and Jacqueline (pronounced JAK LEEN’) Bouvier Kennedy made a state visit to France. Jackie Kennedy mesmerized the French with her style and elegance. She spoke fluent French and boasted a paternal French bloodline (Bouvier). Jackie was so charming that she even won the heart of President Charles DeGaulle, a man not easily conquered. At a dinner at the Elysee Palace, DeGaulle talked extensively to Jackie, then turned to President Kennedy and said,  “Your wife knows more French history than any French woman.”

Jackie Kennedy so upstaged John on their trip overseas that the President joked, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” Upon the Kennedys’ return to America, their popularity soared. The American public – and the rest of the world – had fallen in love with Jackie. To this day, she remains an American idol.

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Carolyn King Waller

Carolyn King Waller

Lisa: Carolyn, today let’s dish on Ethel Kennedy. What were you telling me about her anger?

Bobby Kennedy California Primary Victory Party at the L.A. Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968, the night of his assassination

Bobby Kennedy California Primary Victory Party at the L.A. Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968, the night of his assassination

Carolyn: She loved Bobby so. She urged him to run for the presidency in 1968 and then, of course, he was assassinated. Jackie (Kennedy) had said that the same thing that had happened to Jack (murder) would happen to Bobby, but Ethel wouldn’t listen, and Jackie was right. But Ethel was the chief component in having Bobby run. She was extremely ambitious for Bobby. When Bobby started to run, Jackie said, “Oh, we’ll be in the White House again!”
And Ethel said, “Who is this we?”
Ethel’s anger was displaced when Bobby died. She was more Kennedy than Kennedy. Kennedys were always told not to show anything but courage to the outside world. Ethel couldn’t show the world that she was in private anguish over the loss of her beloved Bobby after he died. So she had displaced anger that she vented on her oldest sons: Joseph, Bobby Jr., and David – David had a drug problem but that had a lot of reasons to it. Bobby Jr. and Joseph got the worst of her wrath.
She pretty much let those kids run wild. She made them not want to be at home because she was raging. They became homeless in Hyannisport and Hickory Hill. They didn’t have a place to sleep at home. She sent them away the summer Bobby died. They were unwelcome at Ethel’s house. Some of the Kennedy elders kept their children away from Ethel’s kids because they were so wild. Ethel lived an unexamined life.

Lisa: Explain.

Carolyn: She never said I’m so angry, I’m so sad. She whaled into her older sons. She beat them with a hair brush. She sublimated her sadness. She had a black rage. For example, years earlier, when she found out that (actor) Paul Newman had become a supporter of Kenneth Keating of New York, a rival of Bobby Kennedy’s, she got mad. On a pretext, she invited Paul to play a friendly game of tennis with her.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman

LaDonna Harris witnessed the match:
“From the moment they got on the court, Ethel wouldn’t let up on Paul. Ethel has an unhealthy kind of competitiveness, a masculine kind of meanness. She told him he was a lousy player. She teased him nonstop….He just didn’t know how to deal with it. He finally walked off the court. He had tears in his eyes.” (1)

Carolyn: Ethel had a quirky sense of humor. She used live frogs for centerpieces at her dinner parties. People got pushed into swimming pools at her parties.

Bobby and Ethel Kennedy

Bobby and Ethel Kennedy

I think she called Lyndon Johnson Uncle Cornpone. I think she looked for weaknesses in others and then hurt them with it. I think the whole point here is that Ethel had displaced anger, her early years – she grew up in an atmosphere of too much liquor, bad upbringing – they let them run wild. They drove fast. Had a lot of money. She was ruthless. Bobby, too. But he was kinder. He liked children and animals. But not Ethel. She was cruel. Bobby was spiritual. He had a good side; he was a fine father. His kids somewhat fell apart when he died because they needed his nurturing. Bobby was the nurturer; that’s it.

(1) Oppenheimer, Jerry. The Other Mrs. Kennedy. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994)

To read more on the Kennedys on this site, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

I’d fully intended to move away from the subject of insane asylums and talk about a cowgirl from Oklahoma by the name of Lucille Mulhall. But I cannot in good conscience leave the subject without telling what I’ve learned about the barbaric brain surgeon responsible for Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, the operation that permanently incapacitated her at the young age of 23. Rosemary had been acting in an agitated behavior, according to her father, Joseph P. Kennedy, throwing fits and showing interest in boys, and he sought an operation to settle her down. Two doctors were in the operating room that day in 1941: Dr. Walter Freeman, the director of the laboratories at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., together with his partner, James W. Watts, MD, from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Freeman was obsessed with finding a cure for mental illness. In the day before psychiatric drugs, mentally ill patients were shuttered away in institutions like St. Elizabeth’s. Shock therapy, pioneered in the thirties, though not completely successful, had effectively reduced some psychiatric symptoms in agitated patients, rendering them calmer for a time following treatment. Psychiatrists like Dr. Freeman wanted to find the locus of mental illness of the brain. They understood that there were regions of the brain and were looking for surgical answers instead of just locking people up for life. Freeman, however, was not a surgeon but a neurologist. He was wildly ambitious and longed to achieve the lasting fame of his grandfather, a pioneer brain surgeon, once the president of the American Medical Association. Freeman was determined to find a procedure that would root out the defect in the brain that he believed responsible for mental illness.

Freeman discovered the work of a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz who had performed a radical new operation on a group of 20 mental patients. By taking small corings of their brains, Moniz asserted, it had been possible to rid a third of these patients of their symptoms. Moniz didn’t explain why this worked. He had a crude notion that people “who are mentally ill are sort of obsessed, he called them fixed ideas. And that these fixed ideas probably resided in some way in the frontal lobes.”

Along with Dr. Watts, Freeman began to perform lobotomies, or surgeries on the frontal lobes. After several operations, Dr. Freeman called his operation a success. According to Edward Shorter, Medical Historian, “Freeman’s definition of success is that the patients are no longer agitated. That doesn’t mean that you’re cured, that means they could be discharged from the asylum, but they were incapable of carrying on normal social life. They were usually demobilized and lacking in energy. And they were that on a permanent basis.” Many had to be retaught how to use the toilet. They were definitely not the same persons they were before the operation.

Why didn’t the medical establishment stop Drs. Freeman and Watts from performing this radical and untested procedure? This was back in the day when it was considered unethical for doctors to criticize their peers – plus, Dr. Freeman manipulated the press in his favor. He proclaimed he’d found a cure for mental illness. Soon he was receiving glowing reviews. The Washington Star called prefrontal lobotomy “One of the greatest surgical innovations of this generation.” The New York Times called it “surgery of the soul,” and declared it “history making.”

It gets worse. Freeman decided that there was a simpler way to get into the brain than through the top of the skull, as he had done with Rosemary Kennedy. He decided that the skull was thinner behind the eye and that he could make an incision there with an ice pick. Freeman “would hammer the ice pick into the skull just above the tear duct and wiggle it around.”

transorbital lobotomy

transorbital lobotomy

He began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, hawking this new procedure which he performed with a gold ice pick, and training other doctors in his methods. He even performed a few lobotomies in hotel rooms. Before he was stopped and the lobotomy discredited, Walter Freeman had performed over 3,500 lobotomies. His medical license was revoked when one of his patients died during a lobotomy. Nevertheless, he continued to tour the country in his lobotomobile, visiting his former patients, until his death from cancer in 1972.

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Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

I’ve been thinking about the very different lives of reporter Nellie Bly and Rosemary Kennedy. Although over fifty years separated these women, both found themselves at the age of 23 at the mercy of mental health “professionals.” Nellie Bly placed herself in a dangerous lunatic asylum as an investigative journalist because she was desperate to land a job in a world that didn’t welcome female professionals. How else was an uneducated woman to earn a living in 1887?

Bly was the thirteenth of her wealthy father’s fifteen children, her mother being her father’s second wife. When Bly was six, her father died, failing to make specific provisions for Nellie, her mother, and her two brothers. Like many other great women, Nellie Bly (like Annie Oakley) took it upon herself to find a way to take care of her family. She ran a boarding house with her mother and marveled that her uneducated brothers were able to find jobs as clerks and drummers yet, because she was an uneducated woman, she could only aspire to be a chambermaid or washer-woman. Thus it was Nellie’s poverty and the absence of a father that lead her to have herself committed, at the age of 23, to an insane asylum.

But the converse was true of Rosemary Kennedy. Rosemary landed in a mental institution because she was rich and had a father. She had the misfortune to be born “mildly mentally retarded, into a family dominated by her driven and ruthlessly ambitious father,” Joseph P. Kennedy. Rosemary had been living in a convent to keep her out of the public eye, but, as she developed as a young woman, she had begun sneaking out to see boys, and Kennedy was worried that she might damage his famous family’s reputation.

Rosemary Kennedy (back) (1918-2005), with sister Jean and brother Robert

Rosemary Kennedy (back) (1918-2005), with sister Jean and brother Robert

In an attempt to settle her down, her father, without telling his wife, used his money and powerful connections to arrange for his 23-year-old learning-disabled daughter Rosemary to undergo experimental brain surgery, one of the first prefrontal lobotomies ever performed. The operation took place in 1941, but, according to the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “something went terribly wrong.” Rosemary emerged from surgery not better, but far worse. She regressed to a state of helpless infancy and was confined to a mental asylum for the rest of her life until her death in 2005. Nellie Bly’s story, though, has a happy ending. She walked out of the asylum a free woman and an international celebrity.

To read more on the Kennedys on this site, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Releasing Lunatics from their Chains (Robert-fleury)

Releasing Lunatics from their Chains (Robert-fleury)

I was recalling something my grandmother told me about a “field trip” she and her sister Maurine took to Austin, Texas, back in the 1920’s. Both Grandmother and Aunt Maurine were young and single, living in Lufkin, Texas. They had heard all about the state lunatic asylum and wanted to see it for themselves. I think they were hoping to spot a flesh and blood lunatic. The trip was a real highlight.

The two took the train all alone from East Texas to Austin to visit the asylum.

 “It’s lucky they weren’t captured,” says my sister Loise.

I’ve seen the maps of Austin from those days. The important buildings are marked, including the University of Texas, the State Capital, and the State Lunatic Asylum.  True, the Lunatic Asylum was a garden spot and people other than my relatives were drawn to it for good reasons. But I think novels like Jane Eyre give us an insight into attitudes toward the mentally ill. They were weird, scary, and dangerous.

Evidently the Texas State Lunatic Asylum was ahead of its time in its compassionate approach toward the mentally ill. The asylum movement in America and Europe at that time “strived to provide a healthy diet, exercise, fresh air, adequate rest, a strict daily routine, social contact, and a kind but firm approach,” according to the website of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services (1). No longer flogging the patient or tossing cold water on him, the treatment for the mentally ill in the first half of the twentieth century was still far from humane. 

Rosemary Kennedy

Rosemary Kennedy

In 1941, Joseph Kennedy authorized a frontal lobotomy for his beautiful special needs daughter Rosemary, who was proving to be a bit of an embarrassment to him when she tripped curtseying to the Queen of England.

According to Dr. Watts, a surgeon assisting in the lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy: 

“We went through the top of the head, I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made a small incision, no more than an inch.” The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut brain tissue. “We put an instrument inside,” he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman put questions to Rosemary. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing “God Bless America” or count backwards. … “We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded.” … When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.” (2)

1. http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhhospitals/AustinSH/ASH_About.shtm

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Kennedy

NEXT: Stunt reporter for THE NEW YORK WORLD Nellie Bly writes TEN DAYS IN A MAD-HOUSE

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