2/6/12 - john f. kennedy's father

In today's excerpt - young Joseph Kennedy, who was father to President John F. Kennedy and the architect of his ascendance. Before he gained his final fame as President Kennedy's father, he had gained outsized fame of his own, becoming one the the world's richest men, and being appointed as Ambassador to Great Britain and founding Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Known as a sharp, devious, and ruthless businessman with a larger-than-life personality, he made his fortune in movies, liquor, and real estate. He was widely believed to have been a bootlegger, though his real fortune more likely came from liquor distribution deals struck as the U.S. emerged from Prohibition. Joe Kennedy's own father was P.J. Kennedy, who started as a Boston stevedore and worked his own way to power as a State Senator and member of his city's powerful Board of Strategy:

"The arrival with­in a year of Joseph Patrick Kennedy delighted th ambitious mother, [Mary Augusta Hickey Kennedy], who conspicuously favored her enterprising single son over her subsequent two daughters. In later years Joe Kennedy was fond of telling reporters that he grew up 'on the mud flats of East Boston,' but in fact he spent his boyhood in a well-staffed four-story townhouse on Webster Street, a prime site over­looking the booming harbor.

"His mother coddled Joe, reminding him often that his uncle John, an M.D., had matriculated at Harvard; she curtailed his aptitude for deviltry with 'the Hickey look,' a protracted, unsettling glance of disapproval. By the time the tall, scrappy redhead graduated from Boston Latin he exhibited the bearing that was to cow so many, the long feral face, marked by full, demanding, rather brutal lips reminiscent of his son Jack's and an apprais­ing stare that modulated as the situation required to reflect sardonic disap­proval or mock astonishment or abrupt, terrifying displays of anger. Mame's baby was already in the habit of dealing with the world with a scion's disdain.

"At the exacting Boston Latin School his academics were indifferent, but his cocksure, wisecracking personality ultimately commanded a following. He was a quick study. He found that he needed a great deal of pocket money and scrambled around the neighborhoods peddling newspapers, raising pigeons, even lighting the gas lamps and stoves of the orthodox Jews on Saturday. He was a gung-ho baseball player, twice captain of his team, an accomplishment made easier by the additional year it took the slapdash scholar to graduate.

Joe's hauteur was already starting to raise hackles. 'The trouble with you, Joe,' the baseball coach at Boston Latin told him, 'is that your father holds political office. Everybody's been toadying to you for years and you think you're better than the other boys.' There was a reprimand here, but also—coming from these Protestants—the suggestion of an ethnic slight. When finally Joe did graduate, Kennedy's yearbook inscription predicted that he would arrive at fortune 'in a very roundabout way.' Allowing for Kennedy's background, deviousness was to be anticipated.

"A similar quirky performance played through at Harvard. He started out expecting to specialize in history and economics. Naturally quick with num­bers, Joe found accounting too demanding, and in the end would drop enough courses to wind up majoring in music, which became a secret, life­long outlet for the pent-up financier. Eager to advance socially, Kennedy made it his business to room in the Yard with two of the obvious class lead­ers, the All-American Bob Fisher and the Philadelphia Social Register blue-blood Robert Potter. Kennedy wangled his way into the Hasty Pudding and the less prestigious Dickey and Delta Upsilon but got nowhere aspiring to the better, socially restricted final clubs. A classmate would remember the loudmouthed youngster as 'an unctuous, totally unabashed social climber.' He was already pursuing Rose, the mayor's sprightly daughter, behind her disapproving father's back.

"Most unnerving of all, he failed to snag a berth on the varsity baseball team. A passable fielder, Joe ran, by one report, 'like an ice wagon.' Then, just before the all-important Yale game, the star who had beaten Kennedy out for first base, Chick McLaughlin, approached the coach and prevailed on him to put Kennedy in for long enough to earn his Harvard H. It would develop that McLaughlin intended to apply for a license to run a movie theater once he graduated; several associates of P.J. had taken Chick aside and made it clear that, if McLaughlin hoped to get his license, Joe would have to letter.

"There was a lesson here the graduating senior never forgot. Things didn't just happen; intermediaries made them happen, normally behind the scenes. Having taken this in, Joe Kennedy was primed. 'Joe was the kind of guy,' one of his teammates divulged to biographer Richard Whalen, 'who, if he want­ed something bad enough, would get it, and he didn't care how he got it. He'd run right over anybody.' "


Burton Hersh


Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America


Basic Books


Copyright 2007 by Burton Hersh


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