CultureWatch — The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy; The Mysteries and International Negotiating of Midsomer Murders and Kidnap and Ransom
In This Issue: David Nasaw does not ask his readers to like Joe Kennedy. He does not hold back on the damning stories of deceit and unbridled ambition. As the author of the biographies of both Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst, he's familiar with both those character qualities. Midsomer Murders has a new detective and although still loyal to John Nettles we're getting used to his somewhat pricklier cousin, actor Neil Dudgeon. Kidnap and Ransom has the plot and setting that intrigue as well as the attractive Trevor Eve.
Reviewed by Jill Norgren
The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy
By David Nasaw; c. 2012
Published by Penguin Press; Hardbook; ebook; 868pp.
The Kennedy Family at Hyannis Port, 04 September 1931. L-R: Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Jean Kennedy (on lap of) Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (behind) Patricia Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (behind) Rosemary Kennedy. Edward Kennedy was not born yet. Photograph by Richard Sears in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
In 1938 the thirteen year-old daughter of actress Marlene Dietrich, Maria Riva, met fifty year-old Joseph P. Kennedy. Afterwards she observed that he was “kind of rakish,” adding, “for a man with such a patient little wife, who had borne him so many children, I thought he flirted a bit too much.” Kennedy probably would not have disagreed with this judgment; it was, after all, an image the handsome and stylish but often inappropriate patriarch sought to cultivate.
Some years ago Jean Kennedy Smith and Edward Kennedy invited historian David Nasaw to write this biography of their father. Nasaw, the well-respected biographer of Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst, agreed, with the proviso that the Kennedy family grant him “unfettered access” to Joseph P. Kennedy’s papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library as well as unrestricted permission to cite any document that he read. Nasaw spent six years conducting research and interviews. Although there may have been material outside of the Kennedy library that he did not see, The Patriarch, more than eight-hundred pages in length, creates a portrait based upon papers “seen by no one else.” For this reason, Nasaw contends, this new portrait “may bear slight resemblance to the ones that have appeared up to now in print or on film.”
Born in 1888, Joseph P. Kennedy grew up in easy circumstances. His father, Patrick Kennedy, was a powerful East Boston ward leader and businessman. Joe attended Boston Latin where he was popular and successful. At Harvard College, however, he found that being an Irish Catholic made him “the odd man out.” This identity followed him after graduation. He sought a place in a major Boston bank but discovered that such positions were reserved for “proper Bostonians.” For the rest of his life Kennedy both traded on his Irish Catholic identity and suffered because of it.
In 1914, Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of the mayor of Boston “Honey Fitz,” married Joe Kennedy. By this time Joe was an expert on bank regulation and president of an East Boston bank his father had helped to found. Rose later wrote that throughout their marriage she took care of the management of their home, while never inquiring or being told anything about her husband’s business. Joe wanted to have “comfort and peace and love …. he didn’t want a cocky wife or a complaining wife.” She had been brought up with these values and approved of them. For his part, Nasaw writes, Joe Kennedy “had pledged to faithfully love and support [Rose] and the children they might have together …. What he did not intend to do was give up being a ‘ladies man’.” And he did not.
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