The 2009 death of Edward Kennedy was not so much the conclusion of a remarkable 47 year career in the Senate, as it was the end of a chapter to a story that goes back over 100 years. Monday, February 15th, PBS will re-air “American Experience : The Kennedys,” a three hour presentation to begin at 9 pm. First shown in 1992, this portrait of America’s most celebrated political families provides great insight into how the Kennedys captured the imagination of an entire country for several generations. “The Kennedys” utilizes film archives, newsreel footage and private Kennedy home movies to help tell the saga, as well using taped interviews with over 60 family members, personal friends, historians, as well as political allies and adversaries. Actor Stacy Keach provides the narration.
It was Joseph Kennedy, born in 1888, who put into place the foundation of what would eventually amount to a political dynasty. Joe Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald in 1914, and started a family of nine children in Brookline, Massachusetts. Kennedy rose in wealth and power, conquering both Hollywood and Wall Street. Turning to politics in the late 1930’s, Joseph Kennedy began to dream of eventually becoming the first Roman Catholic President, and that goal seemed within reach when he was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt as the ambassador the Court of St James in 1938. Newsreel footage of the day reflects Joseph Kennedy’s popularity, no doubt enhanced by his large and rambunctious family. Unfortunately, his public relations savvy abandoned him when he commented to a reporter, at the outset of World War II, that democracy might be over in Great Britain. This isolationist view put him out of step with the Roosevelt administration’s strong anti-fascist stance and when the remarks were publicized, Joseph Kennedy’s political future was over.
His presidential dreams shattered, Joseph Kennedy tried to live his ambition through his sons, concentrating his efforts on second oldest son John after the 1942 death of the eldest, Joe Jr., who was killed while flying on a secret mission for the U.S. Navy. With father Joe pulling the strings, John F. Kennedy enjoyed one political success after another, culminating in his election in 1960 as the country’s 35th President. However, despite their father’s influence, the “The Kennedys” demonstrates that John F. Kennedy, (as well as brothers Robert and Edward) had a mind of his own, and each brother carved out his own political identity.
Although much of the Kennedy story, including the assassinations of both John and Robert, is already well known to most Americans, this PBS documentary goes well beyond familiar territory, giving us fresh perspective to a subject we only thought we knew.