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Joseph P. Kennedy: The Mogul, the Mob, the Statesman, and the Making of an American Myth Hardcover – September 11, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Publicity for this bio says that Schwarz (The Peter Lawford Story; Rose Kennedy and Her Family) "reveals for the first time the true story of this larger-than-life patriarch." One wonders how this can be the case, as Schwarz appears to base his book heavily on very loosely referenced secondary sources (he mentions interviews with "invisible" Kennedy staff members, but this is vague). The star witness Schwarz breathlessly announces in his intro-Barbara Gibson, onetime personal secretary to Rose Kennedy-is hardly referenced at all, but then neither is anyone else. Schwarz's 22 chapters have a total of only 92 endnotes. Even more problematic is the fact that Schwarz repeats a number of myths about Kennedy-the majority of them long ago debunked by other researchers and writers. Example: As more than one recent scholar has deduced, Joseph Kennedy did not buy 40,000 copies of John Kennedy's Why England Slept in order to make the book a bestseller. Other small errors compound to make Schwarz's tome annoying for any reader familiar with the Kennedy saga-and there are many. For instance: Joe did not cooperate, as Schwarz implies he did, in arranging for Jack to get posted to the South Pacific theater during WWII. Quite the contrary. Jack (as has been documented in several recent books) had to go around his father's back and over his head to get the assignment he craved. In sum, readers interested in JPK would do better to consult Ronald Kessler's The Sins of the Father, granddaughter Amanda Smith's Hostage to Fortune or Michael Beschloss's excellent Kennedy and Roosevelt. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* As the patriarch of the country's most-scrutinized family, Joe Kennedy received more than a little media attention--much of it salacious--during his life. But with this balanced and scrupulously researched biography, longtime Kennedy watcher Schwarz delivers a man whose complex personality and wide-ranging ambitions never fit within the journalists' simplifying assumptions. In Kennedy's much-publicized, Prohibition-era bootlegging, for instance, Schwarz finds more than a notorious collaborator with gangster Al Capone: he finds as well a shrewd business manager quick to recognize marketing opportunities and adept at finding capable subordinates. Such skills served Kennedy well in his ventures in filmmaking and politics. But appreciation for Kennedy's versatile talents does not blind Schwarz to the dark underside of the Kennedy mystique: the compulsive womanizing, the underhanded stock deals, and the cruel deception of wife and family. Schwarz particularly details the way Kennedy drove and manipulated his son John, whose grave medical problems he helped hide from the public during JFK's drive to the presidency. Yet behind all of Kennedy's exploitative behavior, Schwarz finds a surprising personal insecurity: repeatedly humiliated by WASP prejudice against Irish Catholics, Kennedy never stopped waging a personal war of vindication. A convincing portrait of a giant whose influence still shapes American life. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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joe kennedy was like a character out of mythology - someone who spent his life desperately trying to fit in with and outdo the old money protestants of boston and hating them at the same time.
many truths about the fitzgerald and kennedy families are revealed here. it's shocking to read the degree to which joe and rose kennedy were willing to go to control their image and how hard they pushed their children to be perfect and do what they wanted them to do. there was nothing that joe kennedy wouldn't do to control the image and promotion of himself and his family - he did favors for people all of his life in order to have many people available to call in favors when he needed them. he bribed and threatened whoever he had to.
when a reporter wrote an article about his illegal/unethicn him, thal money-making practices, his philandering, and the embarrassing job that he did as ambassador to britain, joe tried to bribe him, then threateen said he would buy time magazine to stop the publication of the article. instead, he found someone who owed him a favor and/or was willing to be bribed, and the reporter's boss pulled the article before publication. by the 1960's, he was worth about $400 million.
he got the archdiocese of either new york or boston to allow him to add all the money from their collection boxes at the churchs during a period of time to his donation to the church so that he could get a larger tax write-off - and he was only donating for the tax write-off. for example, if they collected $225,000 during that period, joe would give them $250,000 only if they gave him a receipt for a donation from him of the entire amount of $475,000 for his tax deduction - and the church did it because it wasn't technically illegal for them to give him that receipt at the time, though it was illegal for to claim a deduction of more than he gave.
rose kennedy had nannies raising her kids for the most part. all of her kids were afraid of her. she was extremely controlling and hit them with wooden clothes hangers when she lost her temper. she turned her back on one daugther (not because she was going to marry a divorced man), but because she married a british aristocrat who was anglican and not catholic. when he died in the war soon after the marriage, rose told her that she was probably going to hell for marrying a non-catholic and allowed no one to console her daughter. later, when the same daughter died with her fiance in a plane crash, rose forbade anyone from going to the funeral because the man was divorced.
she allowed her husband to find a doctor willing to perform a lobotomy on their daughter rosemary (who had dyslexia and was not mentally retarded) so that they could control her life to the same degree as they controlled their other children. rosemary never accepted their demands completely and was more of her own person. the lobotomy gave her the mental age of 5, caused drooping of her face and body, so they locked her up in a nunnery that specialized in caring for the disabled and rose demanded that no one visit her or speak of her forever, as if she never existed.
hey then experimented with various stories to cover-up what had happened to rosemary, who had been presented to the queen at the british court. eventually, they settled on a story that a troubled delivery caused her to be born mentally retarded, and rose got sympathy and admiration for her support of special olympics. she even received the title of countess from the vatican for her exemplary motherhood and used the title for the rest of her life.
the biggest surprise for me was that joe jr.'s death in a plane accident was a suicide. he went up knowing there was a mechanical problem, said goodbye to his girlfriend first and wrote a will - and no one was pressuring him to fly that day.
there is a ton of information about this family revealed in this book. the most amazing is how much they were able to manipulate their public image.
It isn't clear, however, as to whether the author held these views when he began researching the book or came to those conclusions after studying his subject. The answer to that question would seem to bear heavily on the efficacy of the subject matter he presents. Did the author, for example, pick and choose his data? If so, although it seems highly unlikely, Joe Kennedy may have had some redeeming qualities which went untold. Perhaps he didn't kick his dog.
It is also somewhat disconcerting that throughout the book the author occasionally throws in gratuitous pejoratives seemingly intended to cast aspersions on Joe, although, in light of the evidence, Joe certainly needs none. And, at other times, he tells us what some of those who knew Joe were thinking and lets us know what they thought of Joe. One is left to wonder how he knows, since he rarely references these sources.
Nevertheless, based upon its numerous notes and references, this is a well researched and well substantiated biography of a man who, although extremely wealthy and politically powerful, spent most of his life in the shadows. In later life, he used his wealth and power to give America the illusion of "Camelot," but during his lifetime he did much more than that. During World War I, for example, he dodged the draft. Then, with the advent of prohibition, he used his father's connections in Canada and England to arrange booze shipments for delivery to underworld characters in the United States, such as Al Capone. He never worked as a "bootlegger" in a romantic sense. He never outraced the Coast Guard to deliver the goods. Instead, Joe just made the money. Later, he went to Hollywood where he made his mark and took Gloria Swanson as his mistress. While there, he managed her affairs (business) and lavished her with expensive gifts - most of which were later found to have been paid for with Gloria's own money. (Geez, what a guy!) Then, if truth be told, Joe established and helped run various stock pools aimed at manipulating the stock market to the benefit of the pool members. (This is said to have been one of the causes of the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting "Great Depression.") Later, Joe helped get Franklin D. Roosevelt elected president and, as a result, managed to get himself appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain shortly before World War II. Unfortunately, Joe didn't understand world affairs, seemed to side with the fascists, and never grasped the fact that he was in England to represent the president of the United States, not to express his own views and make more money. So, when the State Department was finally forced to bypass him in the decision making process, President Roosevelt demanded and accepted his resignation. Following the war, Joe had a frontal lobotomy performed on his daughter, Rosemary, ruining her life; then set about furthering his son's, John F. Kennedy's, political career through one nefarious scheme after another. Joe even managed to preclude JFK's being court marshaled for dereliction of duty for letting his PT boat (PT-109) be rammed, causing two deaths, and instead arranged to have JFK cast as a national hero. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bottom line: Those who are more interested in the Kennedy's than I am, and knew a lot more about the Kennedys than I did, may find this book repetitive of previous works. Those who aren't, and particularly those who fell for the Camelot myth, will certainly find it to be a real eye opener, particularly since old Joe still wields some measure of power having tried very hard to mold his sons in his own image.
As I read the book, I thought he made statements that would be considered controversial. But as I read on, and looked at the notes and bibliography, I realized Mr. Schwarz did indeed appear to be well informed. It's oddly written, with some really long sentences and some anecdotes stuck in totally out of any time sequence. If only for the insights into the worlds of politics and Hollywood, it's well worth your time. And it's pretty enjoyable.