Many incredible world events happened during my 30-year career as a newscanchor/reporter. The Berln Wall came down and capitalism came tumbling in. O. J. Simpson’s murder trial, the lengthy Korsech stand off in Waco, Hurricane Katrina, Tienneman Square, The Gulf war of course, September 11th and all the world changing procedures and processes that became commonplace afterwards..
I might have covered them by proxy, from safety of a studio a thousand miles away, but when you report on a story long enough, you come to know the characters. Even the terrain where the stories happen.
I felt that way about John Kennedy, JR’s.plane crash. From an age perspective, I fall between John and his sister , Caroline. I grew up with them, basically. I have vague memories of them frolicking in the Oval Office. But their mother’s desperate need for privacy kept them out of the limelight for most of their our childhood. I saw even less of them after Jackie married Onassis. Years went by and I don’t remember hearing or seeing a thing about either sibling, then all of a sudden, John John as he was called as a child,had grown up into a very handsome man. And his photos were everywhere.
In 1994, I was assigned to cover the Houston Rockets NBA finals match up with the New Year Knicks, not covering the game per se, but doing whacky slice of life, fish out of water stories in the Big Apple. But I went to Madison Square Garden for one of the playoff games and with my media access badge, I could go almost anywhere. So, I was standing near the corner of the court and sitting mere feet from me in his courtside side, is John By God Kennedy.. He had on a a white button down shirt, sleeves rolled up and he was drinking a beer from a plastic cup. Like an Everyman, but trust me, he wasn’t. He was probably one of the best looking men I’d ever seen. Like a Shiele portrait. Security told me to step back which I did, and that ended my 13 second relationship with John John. .Fast forward five years.
I was sad to learn John’s plane had been reported missing and it was apparent to everybody even though it was never mentioned on the air, that all three passengers were dead. John, Carolyn and her sister, Lauren were flying to Martha’s Vinyard for the wedding of John’s cousin’s Rory Kennedy, a documentary producer with whom Ethel was pregnant when her husband, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy assassinated. But the Kennedy family knows a lot about death. JFK was killed in Dallas, two family members killed in plane crashes in the 1940’s. Teddy had the deadly crash at Chappiquidic. He didn’t die, but his passenger did. Major scandal. Several Kennedy cousins (the third generation) died various reasons, from illness, a drug overdose and playing football while skiing and catching a 30 yard pass while slamming into a tree. The Kennedy family has to have grieving down to a science.
I remember doing a few stories on John’s marriage to Carolyn Bessette. Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed. We all know the stories about the lusty Kennedy men and as far as that goes, she was typical Kennedy female fare, blond haired and blue eyed. I really didn’t think that much of her. I mean, she was attractive—-it’s not as if John John would marry a dog. She was petty, from a well to do family and of course, she was as mandatory, a Catholic. Other than that, it was just another Kennedy wedding.
But it wasn’t until I watched a documentary on the 15th anniversary of the plane crash that I actually noticed Carolyn…almost as if for the first time.
That lead to me becoming a voracious reader about all things CBK. You rarely hear or see anything about the couple anymore, but I’ve kept her memory very much alive this past year.
If she were alive, I’d love to have a beer with her at some hole in the wall. I don’t know how I know this , but I firmly belive that underneath the wealthy private school girl demeanor, the designer clothes, the tony NYC address, the upper crust balls, the cotillions, high dollar fund raisers, the forced magazine smiles that never seemed all that easy for her to make. I just somehow know She was a fairly regular girl who probably didn’t brush her teeth every night and wore unwashed jeans from time to time and farted and burped and laughed at the even the dirtiest jokes.
So, in getting to know Carolyn, first by photos, I thought she was prettier as a younger woman. She did some modeling early on and she wore well what was left of her baby fat.
Then she got a job doing PR for Calvin Klein and as the story goes, John came in for a his bespoke suit fitting. They met and fell in love and maybe a year later, they had a small, secret marriage on an island off the coast of Georgia.
They went to Turkey on their honeymoon and upon their return, John escorted Carolyn out of their TriBeCa apartment, dressed in a sleek brown pencil skirt and black boots, in front of hordes of photographers and camera people, and he begged them to give her her space. The new Mrs. Kennedy was new to all this media hullabaloo. Did they oblige? Oh, hell no.
She was photographed doing everything, everywhere from attending galas to picking up dog doodoo after walking their dog, Friday. And you could tell it bothered her. The gorgeous clothes, the pretty long blond hair, piercing blue eyes and long, coltish legs couldn’t hide the “I’m so annoyed look!”. She was hounded. Hunted. Stalked. And absolutely miserable I would imagine. And not only that, her father in law, a much loved president assassinated in such a public way. Her late mother in law was a style and fashion icon. It was almost a blessing they both died before her relationship with John began, but their ghosts still haunted her. The media made sure of that. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been had she been forced to be a perfect show pony in front of her in laws, much less the surviving Kennedy clan.. Carolyn was pretty snd probably poised and mindful and tactful, but a show pony? Nope.
I suppose that’s why I began to appreciate her. John had inherited a lot of money from his mother and from the Kennedy side. As his wife, Carolyn had had all that money, too….all that access to excess, yet she didn’t seem like a snob. Her friends and coworkers would tell great stories about her kindness and humanity…..sometimes demonstrating all of these virtues even while wearing a $5000 vintage Valentino gown and uh, that’s in 1998 prices.
Her Patrician profile kind of tells it all. See the above photo for proof. It was a perfectly linear as if honed by hand. She would have been an artists’s dream. Definitely not Dora Marr.
Then, there were rumors flying around that the marriage was in trouble. She had affairs, he had affairs. She and her fashionista friends were doing a lot of cocaine, a habit which John apparently abhorred. He wanted kids, she didn’t. They were separating one minute, divorcing a week later, recommitting their vows the next day. It seemed to be a circus inside a carnival ( and one of those thirty traveling kinds) within a circus. Chaos and tumult at every turn. For John, it was no big deal. He was raised with cameras thrust in his face. But did he fully understand how absolutely foreign this life was to Carolyn? Was he frustrated at her inability to cope?
As the years progressed, I can remember seeing Carolyn looking very pale and thin. Her face had gotten very angular, hollow. She was pale. People Magazine published candid shots of the couple walking along New York streets, she looked perfect….even in jeans and little make up , but it was the fact that she and John were holding hands or her arm tucked around his, that almost seemed staged. They didn’t look happy and again, keep in mind, that’s Just a very unprofessional opinion.
That said, I’ve probably seen every photo and every video short of the private things the family has and would certainly never release to the world. I’m ordinarily not an obsessive person, but when I find someone who interests me for whatever reason, I’ll read everything I can about them, study every photo and video and these days, one can enter someone’s paycheck by readings every twitter entry, Instagram story, Facebook and Vimeo video. Narcissism and smart phone filters make this kind of sleuthing so much easier. You see all their entries and can tell so much about that person.
But I digress.
Carolyn seemed unemotional in most post marriage photos. I never met her, never know her heart or soul, so , anything I say is a presumption, but I doubt she would have taken constant selfies, posed with an archaic book and some foreign coffee drink posting it somewhere and calling it her daily breakfast routine. She had every reason to be pretentious, but I don’t get the feeling she was. Perhaps as emotionally skewed as she might have been, she seemed to be the real deal. Not a poseur.
And with Carolyn, I began to realize it wasn’t that she was just married to JFK, Jr., I was more curious about Carolyn’s life under the microscope of being in this man’s life, which also means being in his big dynastic family. Her fish bowl existence, all the articles about her good hair days, weight loss rumors, there was this bombardment of her self esteem that she might not have been strong enough to fend off. Reading all things truly credible and all things completely incredible, I surmised that life for,Carolyn despite all the Kennedy perks, couldn’t have been easy. I got the sense that Carolyn became very tightly wound after getting married. Life had become a prison and freedom, or what little she had, always had to came at a price. Not unlike Princess Diana,but then again, doesn’t one have an idea of what one is getting into when marrying royalty, be it British or even an American version?
If all the authors of all the books and articles are to be believed, there were abortions, affairs, public arguing, depression, and a separation right before the plane crash.
Like I said, obsession isn’t in my lexicon, not in the classic sense. I studied Carolyn Bessette Kennedy not to immulate her—-hell, she was almost six feet tall, I’m practically that in width. But I know what her favorite parfum was, what her favorite Bobbi Brown eye shadow was and that she liked Bud Light and had large feet, but knowing these things only increased my curiosity. The sullen eyes told me a whole other story. I’m not obsessed with CBK, I still feel sorry for her and her life, cut too short.
When she married John John, she married the handsome man AND the media, the gossip mongerung and a very wealthy and mythic family that doesn’t like nonconformists to their ways and means. I feel as though there exists a secret Kennedy Code. It is a flawed family and almost as Scotch Guarded as the Clintons.
Where’s the happiness in this?
What did that chunky little Italian host of that show all about the seedier, tragic side of Hollywood say at the end of each show on E!??
“Fame–ain’t it a bitch.”
Carolyn, I’m somsorry that tag line became your reality.