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Joseph McBride

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  1. Joe Kennedy's anti-Semitism and isolationism and appeasement and defeatism are so thoroughly and authoritatively documented it seems unnecessary to have to add to that historical record. If FDR were here, he could spend weeks giving us the details. Pointing this out is not an attack on his sons, obviously; it helps show how far they came in reaction against him and on their own, even if they also depended to some extent on his influence and largesse. JPK's lavish and dubious spending in West Virginia and elsewhere in the 1960 campaign is also abundantly documented (check out the meaning of the euphemism "walking-around money," etc.). Hubert Humphrey, by the way, understandably was quite bitter about this at the time, since he was sparsely funded. JFK had to overcome considerable and not irrational liberal skepticism in 1960 to get the nomination; Richard Leacock, one of the cameramen on PRIMARY and a longtime leftist, told me the crew were for Humphrey (whose liberal bona fides were then celebrated, before he sold out to LBJ) until the crew started watching JFK in action and realized he was a genuine liberal, even if, as Leacock claimed, in JFK's bellicose Cold Warrior speech at the April 3, 1960, rally I attended in Milwaukee ("We can see the campfires of the enemy burning on distant shores," etc.), JFK was "declaring war on Vietnam." (Robert Drew seems to have been a Kennedy partisan from the start, but the crew were the skeptics.) Discounting Eleanor Roosevelt's skepticism about JFK's liberalism, which Kennedy had to work hard to overcome, serves no useful historical purpose and misses a major point in JFK's evolution and rise to power. There's no point in either hagiography or hatchet jobs against JFK or RFK or even Old Joe -- that distinction is "the fallacy of false alternatives" anyway. A nuanced history of the family is what is valuable. No president has ever been perfect: not Washington, Lincoln, FDR -- it's an almost impossibly demanding job for any human being -- and JFK should not be immune from analysis and criticism for his flaws, even while we praise and admire his many virtues. Though some of JFK's campaign rhetoric was boilerplate to convince voters he was as tough as the hardcore anti-Commie Nixon, to disregard it is a distortion of the record. Yes, JFK was on the right side of history about colonialism from the early postwar years, but he had a way to go to escape more fully from the Cold War mindset of the early 1960s, which we see in his evolution from the Bay of Pigs through the Cuban Missile Crisis and beyond. Ignoring that complex process or oversimplifying the record is not particularly helpful in understanding that period and the pressures he had to resist and try to overcome that led to his assassination. John Newman's book JFK AND VIETNAM documents thoroughly the complexities of that process, and his more recent volumes are also enlightening. The Richard Condon novel WINTER KILLS is an intricately witty satire of conspiracies and the "wilderness of mirrors" into which people and a nation can fall while enmeshed in them or in trying to unravel them. I find the film version (necessarily) less nuanced but still a sharp and often painfully hilarious black comedy along the lines of DR. STRANGELOVE; surely it hardly needs pointing out that the film is not meant to be a docudrama about Joe Kennedy but instead is a very dark satire along the lines of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, one of the truly great films of the 1960s. Condon's 1959 novel THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is a brilliant and prescient book that has a lot to say about our political system, media propaganda, and national neuroses/psychoses. I would continue to defend Richard Whalen's solid biography of JPK, even if more discoveries have been made in the past decades and some areas of JPK's life remain opaque and even if Whalen may not pass someone's ideological litmus test. And I'd like to see specific proof (if it exists) that the disturbing quote from Truman about JPK maligning FDR is (allegedly) fabricated. Michael Beschloss's first book, KENNEDY AND ROOSEVELT: THE UNEASY ALLIANCE, remains illuminating as well. There has not been enough written about Joe Kennedy Sr., even though he himself was responsible for the first two Kennedy books, THE STORY OF THE FILMS and I'M FOR ROOSEVELT (I found a copy of the latter in a used bookstore for $1.25). The title of that book proved to be rather ironic as time went on.
  2. Joe Kennedy's record as a businessman remains a matter of some dispute and suffers from ambiguity and/or a lack of full information on some areas (e.g., the claims of bootlegging, which are distinct from his record as a legal importer of liquor). Richard J. Whalen's biography THE FOUNDING FATHER paints a convincing picture of a ruthless businessman who at the very least cut ethical and legal corners; he did have positive qualities, such as his early backing of the film business (the first Kennedy book is a collection of pieces about a serious conference on films he sponsored at Harvard in the 1920s). JPK was well-known as a major manipulator of the stock market (not necessarily criminal) to the extent that FDR appointed him the first SEC commissioner because he knew how all the levers were pulled; he did an exemplary job in that position, much to many people's surprise. But JPK's record appeasing the Nazis and defeatism about England's chances of winning the war is abundant and shameful. Anyone who tries to deny it is shutting his eyes to the indisputable record. It was a source of great friction with the British and with FDR, who finally eased him out of his position as ambassador to the Court of St. James's, where he was causing great damage to the relationship and the war effort. His sons had to live that down, which caused them a lot of problems. JPK remained embittered and, according to Truman, referred to FDR as "that crippled son of a bitch who killed my boy Joe." JPK's record of funneling great sums of money into JFK's campaign for president in the primaries (especially West Virginia) was so blatant and dubious and well-known that JFK had to publicly joke about it to defuse the issue (as he so adroitly could do with sensitive issues; e.g., his quip to reporter May Craig's demand about why he wasn't doing more for women's issues). JFK had to carefully keep his father at arm's length during the fall campaign and his presidency, though he still took some of his father's advice behind the scenes. JPK was also a big defender of Joe McCarthy, another albatross JFK had to deal with; that family friendship and his father's rightwing McCarthyite views caused JFK great difficulties with Eleanor Roosevelt (for example), which he had to defuse to get the nomination. So let's not whitewash old Joe. Or indulge in Kennedy family hagiography at the expense of the more complex historical record.
  3. I agree this needs to be weighed. And that Joe Kennedy was shady. We need to know the social backgrounds and contexts from which potential presidents emerge. Some escape the negative aspects of their backgrounds; some do not. But if we don't know these people's histories, we are in for continuing unpleasant shocks.
  4. O'Rourke's mother is a stepdaughter of Fred Korth, a member of LBJ's Texas machine (including during the time of the stolen 1948 US Senate election) as well as a leading figure in the military-industrial complex, a Vietnam War profiteer, and the disgraced center of the TFX scandal. When I pointed this out, I got some flak from people who apparently don't want to know the backgrounds of potential presidents they might want to vote for. We saw how that worked out with the Bush family. Most Americans still don't know most of their actual background, which includes two U.S. presidents (Poppy Bush of the CIA and Franklin Pierce) and one unelected usurper who occupied the White House for eight years.
  5. I knew Monroe's publicist, Rupert Allan. He was a sophisticated man who also represented Princess Grace and many other important figures in the world of show business, including European filmmakers. When I asked him what he knew about her death, he told me a story I have never seen printed anywhere. He said that when she was in the New York hospital with her "miscarriage" during her pregnancy by Arthur Miller, she was suicidal and thinking of jumping out of a window in her hospital room on the eighth floor. She looked down and saw a woman in a green dress waiting at a bus stop. She thought if she jumped she might land on the woman and kill her, so she changed her mind. For what it is worth, Rupert did not think Marilyn was murdered. He thinks she accidentally ingested too many pills mixed with booze. He said she liked to have a lot of small bottles of Champagne around her bedroom and would guzzle them and lose track of what she was doing. He said he thought that happened that night. He said she had told him she was upset because she had been called and invited to a party at Peter Lawford's beach house. She learned in the call that a couple of prostitutes would also be coming. She felt she was being regarded as in the same category as those prostitutes, which greatly bothered her. So Rupert thought she was distraught but did not consciously kill herself. I don't doubt his veracity about her mental state and what she told him (I knew him well), but the pills were not found in her stomach by Dr. Noguchi in the autopsy, which casts doubt on Rupert's theory of her death. She had mental problems (George Cukor thought she was mad) and engaged in risky behavior but was also mistreated by various men and her studio. I think there is ample evidence of other activity going on around Marilyn that week and on the fatal night that could add lethal details to the story. Some details remain murky.
  6. In regard to the still unconfirmed allegations of a dead Secret Service man in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, it was reported by Seth Kantor that a source told him "they even have to die in secret."
  7. I do a short version of a "course" on JFK and the assassination when I teach Film and Society in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University with an emphasis on Films about American History. It's a history course/film course. Since most students are taught little about American history these days, I make it my mission to do so. One student called out, "I didn't know this was going to be a history course!" Well, yeah. I discuss many other important issues in American history and films relating to them, including ones that lie, such as ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and deconstruct those. I devote two weeks to JFK and the assassination. I am pleased that the students are deeply interested in the subject and have open minds, unlike most people of my Baby Boomer generation. We always have good discussions and questions and papers as a result. I show PRIMARY (which I am in) to discuss how JFK was our first television president and how it shows the moment when politics and entertainment blended (the April 3, 1960, rally I attended in Milwaukee). I read from Norman Mailer's 1960 piece on JFK and discuss how prescient it was. With it I show parts of Alexandra Pelosi's JOURNEYS WITH GEORGE to show how far things have degenerated. I sometimes show other material about TV and history. The following week I show Groden's DVD version of the Zapruder film (I run the first three times) and then discuss its alteration and the other issues surrounding it and the gunfire and the coverup. I show the twenty-one-minute segment from Stone's JFK analyzing the Z film and reconstructing the events of that day (pointing out how rare it is for a film to analyze another film in detail and how accurate Stone's film is in most particulars). And I show excerpts from RUSH TO JUDGMENT to provide the filmed testimony from dissenting witnesses such as S. M. Holland and Acquilla Clemmons (those have a tremendous effect on the students). I sometimes show parts of BLOWUP and WAG THE DOG to discuss film alteration and microstudy. I want them to become critical of the media and to understand how they are being manipulated and how they need to study multiple sources and documents and books to draw their own conclusions. When I teach a section of this course on Films on the Media, I do similar weeks on JFK and the assassination. I sometimes show the great documentary CRISIS: BEHIND A PRESIDENTIAL COMMITMENT, which provides a rare look behind the scenes and is more dramatic than most historical docudramas. It would be good to teach a whole course on the subject of JFK and the assassination, but I haven't done that yet. One of my colleagues devoted a whole semester to Stone's JFK and each week discussed a different aspect of film's technique and content. That sounds like a fascinating idea.
  8. I tried buying it early on Kindle, but it wouldn't download.
  9. He had a 59% approval rating at the time of his death. His highest approval rating, ironically, was after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
  10. The report of the dead Secret Service agent remains a mystery. I write about it in my book INTO THE NIGHTMARE.
  11. David must get awfully tired of spewing his baseless 1964-vintage clichés about the case but probably closes his eyes and thinks of his regular checks.
  12. Because he didn't own a gun. Because he admired John F. Kennedy. Because he was infiltrating the plot for the FBI (so he thought). Next question?
  13. The Washington Post (mirabile dictu) did run an excellent, fair, and respectful article on the Lisa Pease book and her arguments in it.
  14. In addition to the FBI documents, there is this from Anthony Summers: "Officer J. B. Hicks was on duty in the relevant office until after 2:00 A.M. [November 23] and is certain Oswald was not arraigned at 1:35." According to Tippit researcher Larry Ray Harris, when Oswald was arraigned at 7:10 p.m. on November 22 on the charge of murdering Tippit, he angrily exclaimed, "That's ridiculous!" And I write in INTO THE NIGHTMARE, When I asked [Detective James] Leavelle why the Tippit killing seemed to take precedence over the presidential assassination in terms of early arraignment, and when I told Leavelle about the FBI report saying that Oswald was never arraigned for the shooting of the President, the detective made a revealing admission: "Now, the thing was, the Captain [Will Fritz, the head of Homicide, who was running the interrogation of Oswald] asked me if I had enough to make a case on him for the Tippit killing. And I said, 'Oh, yeah, I got plenty on that.' . . . I had him identified by about three or four people. And so Cap said, 'Well, go ahead and make a tight case on him in case we have trouble making this one on the presidential shooting.' So that was one reason he was arraigned early on the Tippit shooting. But I was thinking that we also arraigned him somewhere down the line on the shooting of the President. But I wouldn’t swear to that offhand.”
  15. And Oswald was never arraigned on the charge of killing Kennedy, only on the charge of killing Tippit.
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