The Kennedy family enjoys something close to royalty status in the United States. They are praised, lionized, and in many cases, mythified. Even John F. Kennedy’s presidency is referred to as Camelot, a moniker ripped right from Arthurian legend. But behind the polished and glossy veneer are some shocking truths. The following is a list of ten facts that shine a spotlight on the dark side of the Kennedy family legacy.
10. Strict Upbringing
Similar to her husband, matriarch Rose Kennedy became obsessed with their family’s image. This resulted in John and the other Kennedy children having a very strict upbringing. For instance, if they acted up during dinner, Rose would punish them with a ruler or rod. She also forbade them from eating certain foods, keeping a close eye on their waistlines. To make matters worse, she manipulated their emotions, forcing them to keep their feelings in check. They were never allowed to cry, regardless of any tragedy. Rose even remained meddlesome later in life, criticizing John’s Boston accent and Bobby’s hairstyle during their respective presidential campaigns.
9. “The Missing Kennedy”
Rosemary Kennedy was the eldest child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Born in 1918 with a learning disability, her family often kept her locked away from the public to avoid being associated with so-called defective genes. As she matured into adulthood, Rosemary continued to struggle and would often break down into tantrums. Fearing for the reputation of the Kennedy name, Joseph forced her into a mental facility in New York without the family’s knowledge where a doctor performed a prefrontal lobotomy on her. Rosemary spent the rest of her life at the facility, unable to speak or walk, until she finally passed away in 2005. She is known as “the missing Kennedy” because her story remained relatively secret for decades.
8. The Other Forgotten Sister
Born in Massachusetts in 1920, Rosemary’s younger sister Kathleen Kennedy is also largely forgotten. Nicknamed “Kick” due to her spirited and rebellious nature, she went on to marry William Cavendish, Protestant heir to the Duke of Devonshire and the most eligible bachelor in England at the time. As it turned out, such a marriage was an insult to her devout Catholic family. Even though they had been quite close, Kathleen’s father shunned her. Only Joe, the eldest Kennedy child, showed up to the wedding. Four months after the ceremony, Cavendish perished while away at war. In 1948, at the age of 28, Kathleen tragically died in a plane crash. Due to her supposed religious betrayal, she remained shunned, ostracized even in death.
Even though it is not widely known, Joseph Kennedy was an anti-Semite. Before the Second World War, he supported the efforts to appease Hitler, which included the relocation of the Jewish population in Europe. In an interview in 1944, he blamed the Jews for their own plight, claiming that they spent too much time complaining about their struggles and not enough time attempting to solve them. He even told Harvey Klemmer, a former aide, that Jews “stink” as a human race. This blatant anti-Semitism would later influence his eldest son Joseph Jr., who wrote a letter to his father in 1934 saying that he found the Nazis’ dislike of the Jews “well-founded.”
The Kennedy men were notorious for remaining unfaithful to their wives. Joseph had a string of affairs, a habit which was later picked up by his son. John’s rumored mistresses include Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, a handful of other actresses, sex workers, an intern, and the exes of a CIA agent and a Chicago mob boss. Jackie was blasted by many who viewed her as naïve, but in truth, she largely put up with her husband’s infidelity because of matriarch Rose Kennedy. Rose taught Jackie to accept John’s wild sexual appetites as she herself had ignored Joseph’s.
It has been reported that Jackie wanted to separate from John as far back as 1956, long before he became president. Aware of his daughter-in-law’s intentions, Joseph unscrupulously offered her a one million dollar bribe to stay with John. While this could be seen as an act to save his son’s marriage, it was also a means of protecting the reputation of the Kennedy legacy, a mission that Joseph always appeared to be on.
4. Electroshock Therapy
Even though she was convinced to ignore John’s infidelity and chose not to file for divorce, Jackie decided one night to take a stand. In 1957, her husband returned home after spending time with his current mistress. Understandably upset, Jackie confronted him. Both were drunk and the conversation quickly turned into a very heated argument. Viewing her hysteria as a sign of depression, John called an ambulance to escort Jackie to Valley Head Psychiatric Clinic in Massachusetts where he had her committed for a week. At the clinic, she received three rounds of electroshock treatment.
3. Cuban Cigars
What many people do not know is that John F. Kennedy rivalled Winston Churchill as a cigar aficionado. Before signing a trade embargo on Cuba, ultimately setting the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis, John ordered 1,000 of his favorite cigars. Only after they arrived the following day did the President sign the embargo, officially putting it into effect, and making any trade with the Caribbean island illegal. This not only demonstrates John’s hypocrisy, but also his willingness to exploit his privilege and position merely to satiate a vice.
2. Car Crash
In 1969, Ted Kennedy, the youngest of the nine Kennedy children, crashed his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island after leaving a party at Martha’s Vineyard. Ted swam free of the wreckage, but his sole passenger, 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, was unable to do the same. Trapped in the vehicle, she drowned. Despite his alleged attempts to save her, Ted did not report the accident for ten hours. As punishment, he only received a two-month suspended jail sentence. He remained an active member of the American Senate for the next forty years.
1. Sexual Assault
Between 1983 and 1988, William Kennedy Smith, John F. Kennedy’s nephew, was accused of sexual assault by three women; however, it was not until 1991 when he was actually charged of rape. Smith argued that the sex between himself and his accuser Patricia Bowman at his family’s estate in Palm Beach was consensual, but the other accusations put his claim of innocence in doubt. Regardless, Smith was a Kennedy, a man with a powerful last name and strong familial connections, both past and present. On the first day of his trial, the judge disallowed the testimony of the three other women. In the end, it only took the jury 77 minutes to come to a decision. Smith was found not guilty.
About the Author
Nathaniel Whelan has an M.A. from Carleton University and a diploma in Professional Writing from Algonquin College. When he is not serving coffee at his local Starbucks, he can be found reading, writing, or buried under a pile of LEGO. He currently lives in Ottawa with his partner and pet cats Goose and Loki.
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