I was in London when the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination hit the front pages of the British press.
On November 22, 1963, I was only a few months away from what proved to be the best and worst year of my life: 1964.
Why the best?
I’ll save that for later, for a happy ending to this article.
Why the worst?
My sudden happiness in the Spring of 1964? It frightened a few seminally important Brits in my life at the time.
The faculty of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts successfully insulted my efforts as a young actor. Showered their contempt so completely on me that I’d become basically what they obviously wanted: a successfully humiliated, young, American acting student.
“Mist-ah Mo-ri-aahhh-ty! You sounded like Donald Wolfit on an off-night!!”
This compulsively acerbic instructor obviously didn’t like Donald Wolfit, even on a good night.
The oldest and international training maxim in the book: “Let’s break them down before we build them up again!”
I miraculously found a divine escape from the ridicule erupting out of these down-their-noses, British snobs: my elation, following a mystically liberating trip to Florence, Italy.
My reappearance after Spring Break, so alive and so vibrantly in love with God?!
It so disturbed them that they moved to have me committed.
I naïvely helped them by blithely signing myself into The Priory. Nothing could frighten me then!
There, at the very hospital that had delivered 40 to 50 electro-shock treatments to the legendary baritone, Paul Robeson,
I spent the summer receiving 10 electro-shock treatments, driving me into a general but understandable distrust of life in general that subsequently lasted for a decade.
Why did I so frighten these Brits?
I was too elated over my discovery that, indeed, God not only exists but that The Almighty is the only Divine Intelligence that can possibly help anyone with anything of any importance.
Now that dreadful experience in England and the assassination of John F. Kennedy seem profoundly interconnected for me.
Why and how?
I was a born Rebel Without a Cause! Destined, as a young man, to be an overly educated James Dean because of a hypocritically Conservative, police surgeon father who sent me to a Jesuit High School and an Ivy League College.
Why was my father hypocritical?
He was a Conservative police surgeon who helped my mother have two abortions when abortions were illegal. This I learned of at 11 years of age.
Later, after JFK’s death,
I was informed that JFK’s father, Joe Kennedy Sr., was an anti-Semitic, Nazi sympathizer.
Fathers and sons!
Because of the Catholic Church’s Concordat with Hitler and my personal experiences while filming the television mini-series Holocaust, I found “Joe,” the Nazi-loving parent of John, Robert and Teddy Kennedy, to be the same kind of inherited “heavy load” that I had faced with the loss of two of my siblings by abortions ordered by my own father.
Ireland’s belligerent love affair with Hitler, in defiance of England, and my father’s defiance of the Catholic Church’s stand against abortion, and the Catholic Church’s Concordat with Hitler?!
The unrelenting question of my youth: Who’s telling the truth around here?!?!
The Kennedy Family’s history was as much a defining mirror for myself as it is proving to be a defining moment for the entire identity of the United States.
Why have all these questions returned so insistently?
I recently saw Ethel, the documentary biography of Ethel Kennedy, wife of Robert Kennedy.
While not a child of the Kennedy’s, Ethel Skakel Kennedy now seems to carry the heart of what the Kennedy family means to the world: despite all “outrageous fortunes,” all “whips and scorns of time”?!
The Kennedy fortitude!!
And, in particular, Ethel Kennedy’s rock-like endurance.
The Mother Teresa-like depth of her Catholic faith!
Despite the once generous smile and 99 months of pregnancy – or perhaps because of those 11 births and 11, infinitely long bouts of motherhood – Ethel Kennedy now strikes me as the Greatest of American Mother Superiors.
No, I am, as a lapsed Catholic, not the least bit impressed by Catholic, clerical celibacy. I believe it provokes as many problems as it seems to cure.
Ethel Kennedy, were she not such a devoutly fierce but obedient Catholic, could very well create an order of married and singularly liberated nuns that would be the envy of all the Sisters of Mercy in the world, including the rock band of the same name.
As an introduction to the Kennedy’s, I had the privilege of Pat Kennedy Lawford’s friendship for too short a time. She had become one of the major contributors to Potter’s Field, my theater company in New York City. I welcomed her advice and the warmth of her hospitality when we were fundraising.
At her home in the Sutton Place district of Manhattan, I felt quite overwhelmed by the Kennedy memorabilia adorning the walls, tables and desks of that apartment.
At a Pat Kennedy dinner party, when seated across from Norman Mailer, I broke all bounds of diplomacy. Mailer had this idea that I should play Rudolf Giuliani, a Republican I disliked and politically opposed at the time.
I’m still not a fan of Giuliani but he does play, if you can stand the hockey metaphor, a good “enforcer” or “goon” for the bruised and battered Republican Party.
I am now an increasingly avid fan of both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
However, with Norman Mailer’s suggestion that I play the Mayor of New York at the time, I threw my napkin at him and it hit the author rather forcibly.
He stared at me in mild shock and said, “That hurt!”
I said, “I intended it to.”
The rest of our meal together was eaten in silence.
My favorite Mayor of New York at the time was David Dinkins, the man that Giuliani, with the invaluable help of The New York Times, had ousted.
My wife and I had dined with Mayor David Dinkins at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, became more informed of his life and his political objectives and I became a proud supporter of his reelection. He was, is and I believe always will be one of the high points of American political history, both as a mayor and as a patriotic ex-Marine.
Where was Ethel Kennedy during all of this?
Raising her children.
Eleven children, out of which her daughter Kerry impresses me most. Not only because she’s wonderfully unselfconscious about her good looks but her remarks about the train trip to Washington carrying the dead body of her father were pure Kennedy strength… Ethel Kennedy strength!
I also, though I know not why, tear up blissfully every time Kerry says, “Mummy!”
“Unless you become like little children,” said our Lord, “you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven!”
Kerry shares with us the bittersweet elation she felt at the sight of those standing thousands, transfixed in mourning along the side of a train track. They had become human fountains of grief over what had, by then, grown into a mountain of tragedy. Her father had represented the best of America with every fiber of his existence, including his death.
A Trinity of Crucifixions: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Three of our best and greatest Americans as sacrificial lambs.
For Kerry, however, this pilgrimage must have been an awe-inspiring glimpse of her father’s power, his ability from the grave to make the entire United States of America his own impressively shattering love affair.
He was the third major victim of assassination and he was the youngest of them all.
Possibly the most promising of them all.
As this documentary’s camera captured the thousands of Americans lining the railroad track all the way from New York to Washington, paying homage to Robert Kennedy’s voyage to Arlington National Cemetery, those Americans of all races, creeds and colors revealed to Kerry Kennedy what her father had done!
The eternal mark he and his brother John had undeniably left upon the deepest corners of the American soul.
Meanwhile, as we cut back to Ethel Kennedy’s version of things, we are encountering with her and within her a Catholic faith in God and in Life and in America that leaves no room for sentimentality. It’s the faith we can only read about in the lives of George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, John and Robert Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King!
Rory Kennedy, the last of Robert Kennedy’s children to be born, reached the earth six months after her father’s death. All she really knows of Kennedy parenting is what her mother brought to her out of memories and memorabilia.
Rory Kennedy’s vocation as a documentary filmmaker seems divinely ordained. No one in the world aside from Rory Kennedy could tell such a soul-rattling tale from within a singularly tragic corner of American mythology: the Kennedy Family.
Robert Kennedy, following the death of his brother John, grew increasingly solemn and somewhat isolated from his family and friends. He immersed himself in literature, the ancient Greeks in particular. His public quote from Aeschylus defining the horrifying price of “wisdom” was, I’m sure, a central inspiration to his eventual decision to run for the Presidency.
When that decision led Robert Kennedy into the same, insane vortex that his brother John had been caught in, what facts within both their deaths defined not only the meaning of America but also the inevitable identity of America’s most mortal enemies?
That question, I hope, will be most fully answered in Part 8 of my series on The History of World War III,
to be published eventually in newswithviews.com
Suffice to say, the still contentious questions of Oswald’s Communist connections
to the assassination of JFK, plus the Islamic rage
connected to the assassination of Robert Kennedy now spell the defining ingredients to the growing American nightmare we endure in this second decade of the Third Millennium.
Now what’s happened to that happiness I promised you at the end of the Kennedy Definition of America?!
Michelangelo of the Catholic Agony and the Ecstasy!!!
I don’t call my autobiographical memoir of enterstageright.com An Ecstatic Loneliness for nothing.
It was there in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence, Italy, that I awoke to the infinite possibilities awaiting me in the fruits of not merely an American careerist’s life. No!
It was the bone-shaking power of creativity breathing within a Renaissance Spirit!
Yes, the naked perfection of it all.
Now, however, after the following four and a half decades of Life’s own agonies and ecstasies?
After watching the progress of arts and artists from Renaissance perfection through the romanticism and nihilism of French Impressionists and Parisian surrealists, Wagnerian imperialists and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Communists?
When finally making peace with the contrasts between
the staggering success of Pablo Picasso and the excruciating tragedies in the life of Vincent van Gogh?
Somehow Ethel Kennedy’s stoicism and her heroic acceptance of God’s will and not her own?
These demonic forces and yet divinely symmetrical resolutions within Life reinforce my belief, born passionately in Florence during the Spring of 1964, that life is Perfect!!
Life is the very Perfection our Lord promised us if, indeed, we “become like little children.”
Only then, said our Lord, can we, as God’s children, “enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
The dark realities of that Perfection, such as the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, inevitably demand a stonily resolute exterior if your Catholic commitments are serious.
No American face living today can more fully reflect American courage than the countenance of Ethel Kennedy.
With her determination, the prayer candles she lights could very well summon the angels.
If anyone or anything hears Ethel Kennedy’s prayers first, it’s God.
If The Almighty didn’t desert America and the Free World in World War II, He certainly won’t abandon his favorite children in World War III.
As the young David overcame Goliath and his whole army, the Ecstatic Loneliness of individual freedom and individual responsibility in America will defeat any collective lie that Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and the Progressively Marxist New World Order can throw at us.
What therefore do we see in the face of Ethel Kennedy?
An ecstatic loneliness.
There is no more blissful seriousness than that.
No greater promise of eternal life.