The 16-year-old high school junior from McLean, Va. was looking for an interesting summer job. Last year he’d been reduced to working in a parking lot at a Cape Cod ferry landing. This time he applied to British, Italian and French cruise lines. The labor unions wouldn’t stand for it, the British responded; the Italians simply said no. But the French firm of Croisières Paquet (hoping, perhaps, to attract American tourists in the future) welcomed the young man aboard—even after he explained that he had an artificial leg.
And that is how Ted Kennedy Jr. found himself on the aging but freshly refurbished Mediterranean cruise ship Azur, as assistant to the recreation director. It was his first trip to Europe alone, and Teddy’s reactions were characteristically healthy. “These French girls,” he marveled, spying his first topless bathers, “are really something. We don’t have that fashion in the United States.” (Of course we do—at Truro, only a few miles up the beach from the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port.) At St.-Tropez Teddy met Hubert Michard-Pelissier, best man at Princess Caroline’s recent wedding. “I hear that Caroline has a smashing sister,” he piped up, only to learn that Princess Stephanie is all of 13. “Well,” he acknowledged, “I guess I’ll wait a couple of years.”
The women on board the Azur were smitten by the handsome teenager. “Un beau garçon,” murmured one Alsatian tourist, appraising him across the dining salon. His missing leg, amputated in 1973 to stop the spread of bone cancer, was both tragic and intriguing, the passengers agreed, although some thought he had lost it in a car accident. “Quel dommage!”—what a pity!—said one Parisian. (At stops in Egypt and Israel, Teddy was surprised when “little kids ran up to me and touched my leg. They’d never seen anything like it.”)
But he had no time for pathos. “These things are supposed to last a lifetime,” he said of his battered artificial limb, “but I go through one a year.” He took it off for a scuba-diving lesson in the ship’s pool, gliding through the water with a single flipper. “He’s like a big clumsy albatross hoping around on deck,” said his admiring instructor. “Then he gets into the water—and transforms himself into a fish! And I’ll tell you something else. That boy even smiles underwater. I never saw anyone do that.”
There was a hint of international friction when the Azur’s housekeeping staff first encountered the nesting habits of American teenagers. Kennedy and his St. Albans school friend Adam Randolph, the stewards complained, would either have to clean up their act—or their own quarters. Captain Jean-Marie Guillou had the lads up to his cabin for a gentle keelhauling—but afterward said of Teddy: “I’ve never met a Kennedy before, but if they’re all like this young man, it is easy to see why the family is so exceptional.”
Teddy revealed that his grandmother Rose hoped he would pick up a little French during the cruise. “She has great faith that I’ll become a terrific linguist.” He sounded dubious. By the end of his hitch, however, Teddy was showing off other talents. As part of a staff musical show, he mimed the words to the song Tonight (in English), put on a blazer and boater and joined in a tribute to Maurice Chevalier. The applause was thunderous.
At moments the young man seemed thoughtful beyond his years. “I’m only just beginning to realize what being a Kennedy means,” he admitted. “There are Kennedy haters as well as Kennedy lovers, you know.” And what of the French, he was asked. “They wonder about themselves and what people think of them, don’t they?” he observed curiously. “Everyone’s got enough problems without all of that. I think you should just accept what you are.”