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Thread: New Book Exposes Ethel Kennedy as Poor Mother, Cheapskate and Racist

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    Default New Book Exposes Ethel Kennedy as Poor Mother, Cheapskate and Racist

    Since Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination on June 6, 1968, his widow, Ethel, has been his torchbearer. Unlike her late sister-in-law, Jackie, she never remarried, never sought a path or identity that was hers alone. She held herself up as the martyr, the good Catholic widow left to raise 11 children alone, the empress of Hickory Hill.
    She was content to be the other Kennedy widow, the domesticated antidote to the glamorous, globe-trotting Jackie.
    Today, Ethel Kennedy is 87, the clan’s de facto matriarch — a dubious position given the neglect shown toward her own children.

    In his new book, “RFK Jr: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream,” author Jerry Oppenheimer delves into Bobby’s upbringing — or lack thereof — to understand why the scion of our greatest political family has never accomplished much. Oppenheimer contrasts Bobby’s upbringing to that of John F. Kennedy Jr.
    “John, after his father’s death, was brought up by a controlling and domineering mother, but one who obsessively looked out for his care and well-being,” he writes. “Bobby, after his father’s death, was essentially given up by his angry, widowed mother.”

    Problem Child

    Ethel Kennedy met her future husband in December 1945 on a ski trip with her college pal Jean Ann Kennedy, Bobby’s little sister. Ethel was 17 and smitten.
    “Her only interest was the Kennedy family,” Oppenheimer told People magazine in 1991. “The Kennedy name, what Bobby could do in the future, what the other Kennedys were doing, what Jack’s future was. She just gave her life over to them.”

    They married in June 1950, and by July 1951, their first child, Kathleen, was born. Ethel spent much of the decade pregnant, but that didn’t stop her from traveling extensively with Bobby in pursuit of his political future.
    The children, Oppenheimer writes, were afterthoughts. Bobby, the third eldest, was a sensitive boy who turned to animals for company. There was little adult supervision.
    “It was incredible,” a former nanny told Oppenheimer. “There wasn’t anybody to say, ‘Don’t do that.’ It was hard to control them.”
    Ethel was 40 and three months pregnant with her last child, daughter Rory, when her husband was assassinated. Bobby Jr. was 14, and one week after his father’s funeral, the family celebrated his brother’s 13th birthday. Bobby slipped laxatives into everyone’s drinks as a prank.


    “Just leave home!” Ethel yelled at him. “Get out of my life!”
    She often used such language with him. “Her moods could swing drastically,” Oppenheimer writes, and soon after, she “literally beat Bobby with a hairbrush.”
    Modal TriggerRobert Kennedy, Jr. and mom Ethel at his father’s funeral in 1968Photo: WireImage

    Unable to cope with her grief — let alone her children’s — Ethel shipped Bobby off to a series of boarding schools, each less prestigious than the last, each forced to expel the namesake son of a martyred political icon.
    Bobby wasn’t even 15 and was already using drugs heavily. He insisted each school allow his pet falcon to stay in his room. He formed a gang, The Hyannis Port Terrors, and one of his favorite practical jokes was bumping the fender of a passing car, having a pal collapse in the road, then yelling, “You’ve killed a Kennedy!” He once spat in a cop’s face.

    Ethel did nothing. She was sealed off in her McLean, Va., estate. Only her dead husband, his legacy and her privilege as a Kennedy widow existed. Nothing Bobby did got her attention for long, and that attention was usually negative.
    “I never witnessed a civil conversation between Bobby and Ethel,” one of RFK Jr.’s ex-girlfriends told People in 1984.
    When Bobby was arrested for buying pot in 1970, Ethel threw him in the bushes. “You’ve dragged your family’s name through the mud!” she yelled.
    “Almost anything could trigger a fight between them,” another family friend said. “She would scream at him for 10 or 15 minutes without letting up and tell him to leave, which he did. Later, it would be like it never happened.”
    ‘Horror Hill’

    In his 1994 biography of Ethel, “The Other Mrs. Kennedy,” Oppenheimer writes of her “uncontrolled rage” and the abuse that extended to her household staff. Her brother-in-law Peter Lawford was shocked when Ethel berated a new maid for going to throw out some old scraps of paper.

    “You stupid n- - - -r,” Ethel yelled. “Don’t you know what you’re doing? You’re destroying history. Get out of my sight! You’re fired.”
    One of Ethel’s secretaries, Noelle Fell, told Oppenheimer she was surprised by such outbursts.
    “She would say things like, ‘Those black people are stupid,’ ” Fell recalled. “I really don’t think she liked blacks or Hispanics. She couldn’t stand it if they didn’t speak English.”
    One such maid, who brought sanitary pads when Ethel asked for face cream, got a hard slap in the face. She quit on the spot.



    Such high turnover contributed to the deplorable conditions at Hickory Hill, which staff dubbed “Horror Hill.” Bobby had left behind a huge turtle, which defecated everywhere, as did the family dogs. A soiled rug, a gift from the shah of Iran, ended up stashed in the basement. The dogs pooped under the table during dinner parties.
    “No one would dare say anything to Mrs. Kennedy, who tried to cover up the mess with her foot,” Fell told Oppenheimer. “But everyone could smell it.”
    Yet Ethel could be abusive when it came to her kids’ messiness, according the 1984 People article. “If your room wasn’t clean,” said a friend of her son Joe, “Ethel would have you walk up and down the stairs carrying whatever you’d left on the floor 50 or 100 times.”


    By now, Bobby was rarely home. Kicked out of two boarding schools, he was accepted by a day school in Massachusetts. Ethel farmed Bobby out to friends of a Kennedy hanger-on. She never called, not even on his birthday.
    “I never knew Ethel,” Joanne Brode told Oppenheimer. When Brode first met Bobby, he seemed like “a bird with a broken wing. He was trembling and skinny and looked really like a sad, lonely kid who’d been through hell.”
    Bobby rarely spoke of Ethel, but one night, while Brode was talking of her own mother’s instability, he opened up, she recalled.
    “I can identify with that,” he said. “My mother’s totally irrational and totally controlling.”


    The ‘Cesspool’

    In 1979, while studying law at the University of Virginia, Bobby met Emily Black. He was seeing other women, too, but it was Emily he proposed to one year later.
    According to Oppenheimer, her family, Midwestern and middle-class, was star-struck by the Kennedys. Then Black’s parents were informed that they would be paying for the wedding.
    Ethel offered to host the rehearsal dinner at the fanciest local restaurant her assistant could find. The bill came to $8,939.80.
    Short by nearly $6,000, Ethel promised to pay the rest. Two years passed without payment. On April 20, 1982, the restaurant’s owner, Rudy Fisher, sent a letter to Hickory Hill. “In these trying times . . . we need the cash flow to pay our suppliers,” it read.


    No response.
    He threatened to go on TV and “tell the world what a bunch of cheapskates the Kennedys were.”
    By September, Fisher was paid in full. He later said a Kennedy family member told him “it should have been a privilege to serve the Kennedys, and you shouldn’t be charging for the dinner at all.”
    Though Ethel’s wealth was vast, the bulk of it was tied up in trusts, so she just billed the Kennedys.
    In “The Other Mrs. Kennedy,” Oppenheimer wrote that dinners were often thrown out, with Ethel changing her mind at the last minute. Each month, she spent thousands of dollars on clothes.
    The Kennedy accountants begged her to scale back and would call and visit. After every visit, Fell recalled, Ethel would “go on a rampage and start pacing the whole house, going, ‘Look at this waste!’ . . . But that very night she would have caviar and lobster.”


    The Kennedys finally limited their financial contributions, and Ethel resorted to selling off the children’s horses. Posey Dent, a friend, arranged to buy them and drove to Hickory Hill. She couldn’t believe what she found.
    “Two of the children’s favorite ponies, Geronimo and Atlas, were in terrible physical condition,” Dent told Oppenheimer. “Either they were fed too much, or they were not exercised . . . They were both lame.”
    Ethel would borrow pieces from antique dealers, then return them after parties. She’d buy fine things in bulk — china, clothes, towels — use them, then return most everything damaged and unwashed.
    That entitlement extended to her children. In 1992, after running over a neighbor’s foot, Bobby refused to settle for damages. “The guy’s a real f- -k,” the plaintiff’s attorney said. “He just had this attitude of ‘Shove it up your ass.’ ”


    Ethel said nothing, just as she did in 1973, when her son Joe left his brother David’s teen girlfriend paralyzed after flipping his Jeep. In 2005, Joe said it was time for him to stop making payments to her.
    David died of an overdose in 1984. Another son, Michael, made headlines in 1997 for having an affair with his teen baby sitter. Months later, he died playing football on skis, hitting a tree. In 2012, Ethel’s son Doug was caught on camera kicking a nurse in a hospital elevator. (He was acquitted.)
    In 1994, Bobby divorced Emily. His new girlfriend, Mary Richardson, was six months pregnant. His marriage to Richardson was tumultuous, and in 2012, she committed suicide. That year, his sister Kerry stood trial for driving while drugged on a Westchester highway. (She was acquitted.)
    Through it all, Ethel has rarely spoken publicly, although she often shows up in court to support her troubled brood. After all, her response to scandal, Oppenheimer writes, is “circling the wagons to protect the cesspool.”

    Inside Ethel Kennedy’s cruel neglect of her troubled kids | New York Post
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    A friend of mine knew Bobby Jr., he really is an entitled jerk.

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    I've always heard the worst about Ethel. They say she was broke up at Jackie's funeral. Probably felt guilty for all the backbiting she did. I think that they do think that they are American royalty...
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    I always got the feeling off Ethel that she thought her fertility was some badge of superiority. As though by producing massive amounts of Kennedys, she was on par with or better than the stylish, glamorous Jackie and the beauty Joan.
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    I have never really paid much attention to the Kennedy's other than the public face and maybe a little bit about Jackie's childhood - so I find this rather surprising. However, as I read the last few paragraphs I do recognize many of the names from being in the news and not realizing they were all RFKs kids. I think so many are simply referred to as Kennedy cousins in print that I never put them together.

    How tragic that 11 kids were left to "not be raised" - it sounds as if about half of this clan are troubled - wonder how the other half are doing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Laurent View Post
    I always got the feeling off Ethel that she thought her fertility was some badge of superiority. As though by producing massive amounts of Kennedys, she was on par with or better than the stylish, glamorous Jackie and the beauty Joan.
    Dropping babies like the alien queen...but her cheapness and use of slurs against people of color on her staff has been known for years - her status as a Kennedy protects her from censure. I'm surprised one of those maids didn't sucker-punch her.
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    I notice she doesn't highlight her Skakel roots very much and acts as though she popped into being fully formed as a Kennedy. Considering what a nasty piece of work Michael Skakel seems to be, I wouldn't much notice, except she pops up to defend every Kennedy accused of anything.
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    I used to be obsessed with Michael Skakel after I read books about him. Dominick Dunne wrote a fictional one that was very close to the real story.
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    It's like she turned herself into a life support system for a uterus...
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    Really surprised by none of this. She always seemed like a miserable human being, but got a pass.

    Say what you want about Jackie, but she did right by her children.
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    Caroline and John-John both went through that "Don't you know who I am?" phase, but they quickly got over it. Caroline keeps her business to herself. I have heard that her husband Ed Schlossberg is a bit of an asshole though.
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    Reading about the Skakels and about RFK's kids, I have gotten the overwhelming impression of a bunch of rich, emotionally troubled, un-monitored kids running amok. It blows my mind that someone would father/birth 11 kids and then spend so little time with them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MohandasKGanja View Post
    Reading about the Skakels and about RFK's kids, I have gotten the overwhelming impression of a bunch of rich, emotionally troubled, un-monitored kids running amok. It blows my mind that someone would father/birth 11 kids and then spend so little time with them.
    i guess you didn't grow up around many hyper-fertile catholics?

    i knew lots growing up. technically am one but my parents were heathens. in my experience, catholic parents with buttloads of kids are either all about the gestapo like parenting, heavy on the discipline and hard work, or they just breed like rabbits and then had the older girls raise their siblings and pretty much let the kids run wild. this tended to be the case for the wealthy and/or opus dei ones. it's also typical opus dei - part of their ideology is that parents aren't all that involved in the kids upbringing other than taking them to church a lot and telling them they'll go to hell if they sin.
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    ^^So kinda like the Duggars? lol
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    Quote Originally Posted by sputnik View Post
    i guess you didn't grow up around many hyper-fertile catholics?

    i knew lots growing up. technically am one but my parents were heathens. in my experience, catholic parents with buttloads of kids are either all about the gestapo like parenting, heavy on the discipline and hard work, or they just breed like rabbits and then had the older girls raise their siblings and pretty much let the kids run wild. this tended to be the case for the wealthy and/or opus dei ones. it's also typical opus dei - part of their ideology is that parents aren't all that involved in the kids upbringing other than taking them to church a lot and telling them they'll go to hell if they sin.
    Oh, man, I knew so many it was unreal. During my whole childhood, across the street and one house down was a family with 9 daughters and 2 sons. The mom had been widowed during the Vietnam war. For the most part, they were a great family, but I don't remember a lot because the youngest was my age. Pretty sure they were Irish catholic.

    I went to school with another guy who was one of 10 kids. Irish catholic and it was like 8 boys and two girls. The parents seemed very hands off. The boys had divided up at some point into two factions who didn't like each other. The dad owned a huge moving company, and we used to tease my classmate about being rich, which he hated. I guess, it's hard to feel rich when you have to share your mansion with 9 siblings.

    My wife had a coworker from an Irish Catholic family with 11 kids. The only thing I remember him describing was that at dinner time it was so crowded that some kids were eating on the stairs.

    My boss/friend married someone who was one of 11 kids in a German Catholic family. Half boys and girls. I met the mom and dad and they seemed very mellow, and all the kids (except for maybe on) are very close.

    But the common denominator on all the above families was the nobody ever seemed to have gotten into the kind of trouble that the RFK kids did.

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