Excerpt from The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Kennedy Men


by Laurence Leamer

The Kennedy Men
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2001, 912 pages
    Oct 2002, 928 pages

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Steve told Bobby what his father had said, and Bobby thanked his brother-in-law and said nothing. A few days later, seventy-two-year-old Joe sailed for Europe, and that entire year visited the White House only once.

Kennedy's closest White House aides had a fierce, loving loyalty to the president they served and comradely joy in what they were doing. "We had this confidence about ourselves that seems lost from the world of power now," reflected Feldman. "We thought we could do anything. We wrote over a hundred messages to Congress in our first hundred days. Those days were filled with so much excitement and such a feeling of euphoria because we achieved our goal and now we were doing what we looked forward to and you have a superhuman ability when you feel that way." The working atmosphere was one of nonchalance and wit. Sorensen occasionally sent serious memos to Feldman in rhymed couplets, and Feldman, not to be bested, replied in kind.

The humor often had a serrated edge, however, that left its mark. When Kennedy decided to find a place in the White House for his young Boston mistress who had graduated from Radcliffe, he placed her in the office of her former dean. "Kennedy put the knife into Bundy by putting her on the staff," recalled Marcus Raskin, who was only twenty-six years old when he entered the White House to serve as the resident liberal gadfly on Bundy's staff. "And since I was the junior-most person on the staff, she was put to work for me, and Bundy said to me, 'Well, I have a present for you.' I knew something was going on because the president called my office a couple times not to speak to me but to speak to her. So even I figured it out at that point. And eventually she personally told me about it."

The Kennedy humor featured put-downs in which the victim proved his mettle by quickly attacking with an even ruder counterblow. In such matters Kennedy and his friends had decorous limits that Bobby and his friends did not observe. What daring, taunting irreverence was it that allowed Claude Hooton to cable the new attorney general to remind him of the time during the campaign when he and Teddy had salted Bobby's luggage with ladies' underwear (I AM SURE THAT THE ATTORNEY GENERAL HAS NO RETROACTIVE POWERS CONCERNING PERFUMED UNDERGARMENTS INSERTED IN SOMEONE ELSES BAGGAGE). And what of Bobby, who did not fancy himself too powerful or too important to reply in kind: "There is some talk that I might turn the FBI loose on you and Teddy and that would be a full time task for all of their agents."

Bobby was not about to be imprisoned in the dignity of office or to use his exalted new position to distance himself from friends he had known all his life. On the day after the inauguration, Bobby insisted on a football game, even though his old Harvard teammates had only their good clothes. After the football game came tobogganing. The men vied for the high honor of sharing a sled with Kim Novak, the movie star, who wrapped her long legs around her momentary companion. Ethel stood on the sidelines, not amused that her husband was competing for this honor. "I don't understand, Ethel," Bobby said, as he stood holding his daughter Kathleen's hand. "Why can't a father go sledding with his daughter?"

As Kennedy was staffing his New Frontier, he talked to an old family friend, Kay Halle. She was one of the few women who spoke to the president-elect on terms approaching equality. Halle suggested that he should choose more women. He abruptly changed the subject, for as Halle observed, he considered women largely "decorative butterflies and lovely to look at." Kennedy was simply not comfortable being in a room with women who sought to be equal partners in the political process. Women tended to clutter up meetings, forcing a tedious decorum on the manly, often profane lingo of political endeavors. The best way to deal with the problem was simply not to have women present at all.

From The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer. Copyright Laurence Leamer 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, William Morrow.

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