Monday, February 11, 2008
Personal Asides: More Readings from the Book Grace and Power
These selections are from a book written by a Kennedy admirer, if you pleasenot somebody who put it together for Regnery or Crown publishers. Sally Bedell Smith is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a longtime JFK follower.
1. Let it not be forgot/ Jackie Produced Camelot. The first conclusion you draw from the book Grace and Power by Sally Bedell Smith is this: what we know as the JFK legend came from Jackie Kennedy, starting with her bullying Teddy White to compose the essay in Life magazine which Teddy White felt was far too sentimental but he wrote it anyhow. Camelot has been the indelible impression that has carried through four decadesso the little lady knew what she was talking about. The Camelot that we are on the verge of returning to with Barack Obama with white-haired patriarch, alcoholic now-on-the-wagon and adulterer who chickened out after the drowning of a young girl in his car when he swam away and didnt call the cops, Teddy Kennedy thundering his endorsement still has resonance because of Jackies enduring image creation.
2. We Kennedys Dont Die with Riff-Raff. The snobbery. Ineffable snobbery of Jackie is laced with her undeniable charm at other times. . She told Nellie Connally that she was glad Jack had `died in the company of a man like John Connally . We could have been riding with some little mayor from somewherethen his death would not have been so noble. Fitting. How would you like to by shot to death in the company of, say, the mayor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa? P. 457.
3. Take that Mon Cher Charlie! At the funeral she told Charles deGaulle in impeccable Farmington School French how much Jack wanted to be such a good friend of Frances and yours and you never allowed it, and now its too late. Thats your guilt trip, De Gaulle. Somehow I think after having been critically wounded at Verdun in World War I and captured, then as leader of the Free French fighting with Eisenhower, Montgomery, Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin, tussling with river Gen. Henri Giraud who wanted to snatch his command from him, having been deposed as prime minister and returning to power, sacrificing Algeria and keeping Britain out of the Common Market, he was not totally destroyed by Jackies censure. P. 455.
4, The Massage not the Message. That afternoon they stood together on the platform at the Hyannis armoryas beautiful a couple s had ever entered the presidency [sic]. At six feet and 165 pounds, he looked bronzed and vibrant, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. Like a TV anchorman he had a big headhis hat size was an `unusually large 7-5/8. His thick chestnut hair (a source of vanity, pampered by secretaries who routinely administered scalp massages) Huh? Ive had many secretaries in public and corporate employment since 1961 and never had anyone who routinely administered scalp massages when I got tense (much less my wife). Where did I go wrong? P. 5.
5. The Disappearing Act. She had broken an engagement to John Husted, a New York stockbroker with a proper social pedigree [sic] after she began seeing Jack Kennedy. `All I ask is someone with a little imagination, but they are hard to fine, she had told her sister, Lee, a year before her first evening with JFK. It is having an open mind that counts. But the marriage had nearly fractured in its first few years as Jackie endured the political wifes persistent loneliness, aggravated by what Lem Billings described to Doris Kearns Goodwin, the authorized Kennedy biographer, as the `humiliation she would suffer when she found herself stranded at parties when Jack would suddenly disappear with some pretty young girl. So much for the open mind. I would do that only oncedisappear with some pretty young girl--and I would be not divorced but maimed forever beyond the redemption Cicalis could supply. P. 6.
6. Yes, On Reflection, We Should Keep J. Edgar. Should J. Edgar Hoover be retained as head of the FBI? JFKs advisers counseled yes. But waitin the case of Hoover, Kennedy had little choice. The FBI director enjoyed extraordinary leverage over him that was tantamount to blackmail. For more than a year in the early 1940s, the agency had conducted surveillance of a lover of JFKs named Inga Arvad who was a suspected Nazi spy. The statuesque Danish divorces had kept company with Hitler and some of his deputies Even after JFK had been alerted to the FBI bugs and wiretaps, he had continued his assignations. JFKs defiance was a measure of his penchant for personal risk and the degree to which he was besotted by the sexiness of a woman four years his senior Heedless of risk and susceptible to blackmail here and abroad. Just want you want in a dashing president, no? P. 11.
7. Feeling Much Better, Thanks! During the transition, `Todays Health, the magazine of the American Medical Association, issued an upbeat report on Kennedys `superb physical condition based on the opinion of his doctors as related by Bobby Kennedy The report was guilty of serious omissions, including his problems with colitis, cystitis, neuritis, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and post gonococcal and nonspecific urethritis, a venereal disease. Oh is that all? Gonococcal urethis a variant of dormant gonorrhea which produces swollen testicles, a burning and great difficulty in urination. Nor were there references to his periodic confinements at Mayo and Lahey clinics for mysterious pains and fevers during his adolescence or the nine times he was hospitalizeda total of more than six weeksfor a variety of gastrointenstinal and urinary tract infections in his first term as senator. Similarly ignored was the osteoporosis that severely weakened his lumbar spineworsened by injuries on the Harvard football field and in the navythat led to three difficult operations. The second and third of these procedures, in 1954 and 1955, had kept Kennedy out of the Senate for nine months as he recuperated in Florida.
The most troubling evasion was Kennedys affliction with Addisons disease diagnosed when he collapsed during a trip to England in 1947. Addisons is a disorder in which the adrenal glands fail to produce two crucial hormones: cortisol which regulates the immune system; and aldosterone which maintains blood pressure. Many of Kennedys symptoms over the years including weight loss, fatigue and a yellowing of the skin (which once moved columnist Joe Alsop to say JFK looked `rather like a bad portrait by Van Gogh) were typical signs of a gradual adrenal glad degeneration. His critical illness in Englandnausea, severe pain, weakness, fever and vomitingresembled a classic `Addisonian crisis. Why didnt the AMA catch this? Oh, yes: the facts were related to them by Bobby. Addisons meant Jack was highly vulnerable to infection as well as a potential breakdown of his circulatory system. But while Kennedy couldnt be cured he could be treated with cortisone which he took in varying formspellets inserted under his skin, injections and pillsfor the rest of his life. When asked by Press Secretary whether he had Addisons he said, I dont have Addisons disease and I dont take cortisone. Pp. 32-33.
8. The Pills Made Me Do It! Joe Kennedy even had supplies of the medicine placed in self-deposit boxes around the world in case of emergency. The medication eliminated the symptoms but had side effects including insomnia, restlessness, facial puffiness and depending on his hormone levels heightened or diminished sexual desire. Equally dangerous was the fact that any severe stress, such as his back surgery, could trigger a potentially fatal Addisonian crisis. By the age of 40 Kennedy had been given last rites four times. P. 33-34.