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The family has been the source of news stories from the early 1900s through today, their success never straying far from their misfortune

By Sam Gillette
April 21, 2020 02:44 PM
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JFK and Jackie Kennedy at their wedding
Credit: Bachrach/Getty

James Patterson applies his writerly skills to real-life history in the new book The House of Kennedy, re-telling the political clan’s rise and fall and rise again (and fall again) with novelistic style.

While some of the bigger moments are well known, because they changed the course of American history — such as President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, his brother Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s murder five years later on the presidential campaign trail and their brother Sen. Ted Kennedy’s role in a fatal auto accident in 1969 — Patterson also revisits some surprising and lesser-known anecdotes involving the family.

Joseph P. Kennedy, the son of a Massachusetts lawmaker, and his wife, Rose Kennedy, had nine children. Four of them were killed too soon, and a fifth was debilitated for life by a lobotomy in her early twenties; while three of the sons went on to central roles in national politics.

The family was the source of news stories from the early 1900s through today, their success never straying far from their misfortune.

“In July 1969, [son] Ted Kennedy wonders aloud if a ‘curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys,’ ” Patterson, 73, writes in the prologue of the book, which draws on factual information and previous biographical research for a story told in you-are-there present tense.

The specter of a family “curse” is an undercurrent throughout The House of Kennedy.

“From Joe Sr.’s death in November that same year to nearly three decades later in July 1999,” Patterson continues, “when Jack’s son (and heir apparent to America’s version of a royal family) John F. Kennedy Jr. meets his own terrible fate, tragedies continue to haunt the House of Kennedy. ‘The Kennedy Curse’ is an idea that endures.”

Keep reading for revealing moments in the book, which published last week.

Robert F.Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Jean Ann Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy, Rose Kennedy, Patricia Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy, Joseph P.Kennedy Jr, 1931
The Kennedy family in 1931
| Credit: Everett/Shutterstock

Jackie Kennedy knew a relationship with JFK would involve ‘heartbreak’

When journalist Charles Bartlett and his wife in 1952 decided to bring Joe Kennedy’s son John — then a young senator nearly a decade away from the White House — together with Jacqueline Bouvier, a writer for the Washington Times-Herald, the matchmaking worked.

But, even in the beginning, the future first lady knew that the relationship would cost her. (The late president was known for his affairs — even after his marriage.)

“This latest meeting takes root, and Jackie later says she determined of their relationship, ‘Such heartbreak would be worth the pain,’ ” Patterson writes.

Referring to the future president by his nickname, Patterson writes, “On Jack’s part, Lem Billings suggests he found Jackie ‘a challenge,’ and ‘there was nothing Jack liked better than a challenge.’ “

Together, the couple would go on to win the White House, lose two babies and raise two more, Caroline and John Jr., before the president’s assassination.

A widowed Jackie Kennedy then forged ahead to protect her husband’s legacy, married the wealthy Aristotle Onassis (two decades her senior) and raised her two young children.

She was 64 when she died of cancer in May 1994, five years before John Jr. died with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, in a plane crash.

The House of Kennedy James Patterson
Credit: Little Brown

President Kennedy had aspired to be a journalist

It was John’s older brother, Joe Jr., who was groomed from birth to become president, according to The House of Kennedy. He didn’t dream of entering politics — instead, he hoped to become a journalist.

But that all changed when Joe Jr. died during a mission in World War II.

“In March 1945, [Jack] receives a medical discharge from the Navy, then signs on with the Hearst newspapers as a special correspondent,” Patterson writes. “Politics ‘is Joe’s business,’ Jack would tell his cousin Joe Kane, Joe Sr.’s nephew and political adviser. ‘I want to go into the news business.’ “

He continues: “But with Joe Jr.’s death in August of 1944, the political mantle is passed to Jack, or as Jack put it, ‘[The] burden falls to me.’ Joe Sr. has issued his latest orders, and Jack would not be destined for journalism. ‘It was like being drafted.’ “

Jackie had a few words for Marilyn Monroe, her husband’s suspected mistress

For decades, many in the Kennedys’ orbit believed that Marilyn Monroe had affairs with both John and his brother Robert, whom everyone called Bobby. Then she died — suddenly — of a barbiturate overdose at age 36, and some suspected that the Kennedys were involved because she had become a “liability,” according to Patterson’s book.

“What happened to Marilyn Monroe is one of the great mysteries of the 20th century,” the star’s biographer James Spada told PEOPLE in 2012, ahead of the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death.

Though Spada said he didn’t believe there was any proof that the Kennedys were responsible, he said “it was pretty clear that Marilyn had had sexual relations with both Bobby and Jack.”

“Monroe has become a dangerous liability, going so far as to phone Jackie with the declaration that she was to become the second Mrs. Kennedy,” Patterson writes in The House of Kennedy. “Journalist Christopher Andersen reports Jackie responding, ‘Marilyn, you’ll marry Jack, that’s great. And you’ll move into the White House and you’ll assume the responsibilities of first lady, and I’ll move out and you’ll have all the problems.’ “

Monroe had reportedly been threatening to hold a press conference divulging her relationships with the two brothers before her death. Rumors of an affair with President Kennedy were spurred in part by her sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for the commander-in-chief at his 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, just months before she died.

RELATED VIDEO: Body of Robert F. Kennedy’s Granddaughter Found 4 Days After She Went Missing with Son in Canoe Accident

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From left: Robert Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy in May 1962
| Credit: Cecil Stoughton/Time Life Pictures/Getty

JFK Jr. talked of ‘f——‘ family ‘curse’

In the spring of 1997, Michael Kennedy, a son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, shocked his family and the country when his longtime affair with his children’s 19-year-old babysitter was discovered and then investigated. Michael ended up losing his wife, Victoria, who divorced him and he entered a treatment facility for his addiction to alcohol.

But that didn’t stop him from reaching out to his teenage lover, with whom he maintained contact.

According to The House of Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his friend Stephen Styles-Cooper decided to visit Michael while he was in treatment. John Jr. was shocked when he realized Michael was still in love with the erstwhile babysitter and became angry when Michael showed them a picture of the teen he’d stowed away in his sock.

“‘This is the girl you’re going to hell for?’ Stephen Styles-Cooper recalls John Jr. exclaiming, pronouncing her ‘just a kid’ and taking the photo away with them when they leave,” Patterson writes. “On their four-hour-long trip back to New York City, Stephen says John seems ‘shut down,’ remarking, ‘I couldn’t tell if he was angry, hurt, sad, confused . . . or what.’ ”

The author continues: “Whatever’s going through his friend’s mind, Stephen is surprised by what happens as they finally part: ‘[He] looked at me and said three words I never thought I’d hear coming from him: ‘F—— Kennedy Curse.’ ” (For this scene, Patterson drew on a 2019 Kennedy biography from J. Randy Taraborrelli.)

That December, Michael — who told friend Larry Spagnola he hoped to reunite his family — died in a ski accident in Aspen.

“The great tragedy is that Michael was left fatherless at 10, and now his own children are left fatherless,” family friend Phil Johnston told PEOPLE at the time. “I don’t think there are any words anyone can say to make that better.”

The House of Kennedy is on sale now.