Finally, the once and future Kennedy

September 25, 1996|By Mike Littwin

I'M LOOKING AT the Kennedy wedding picture. I can't take my eyes off the picture. I'm entranced by the picture.

And, all the time I'm looking, all the time I'm entranced, I can't help wondering -- because it's the '90s and Camelot was a thousand years ago -- if it wasn't some kind of setup.

Walk through this with me, if you will.

You've got the biggest wedding since Chuck and Di (if you don't count Michael and Lisa Marie, which, technically, you probably shouldn't).

They hold the ceremony in virtual privacy on an island off the Georgia coast. (The National Enquirer had a boat -- this is true -- circling the island, but it was shooed away by the Kennedy security folk.)

Because the wedding is held in a news blackout, the Kennedys are able to release select information about the ceremony, which is heavier on symbolism than a Lord Byron poem.

For example:

The groom is wearing his dad's watch and his mom's favorite flower.

The wedding takes place in a simple one-room church built by slaves.

And Uncle Ted does the toast (of course), invoking the memory of Jack and Jackie.

All the symbolism is, well, symbolic of everything the Kennedys are supposed to be. And occasionally are.

If you consider that the wedding is so private that even most of the Kennedy cousins aren't invited, you could see -- is this too Oliver Stonish for you? -- how it could be a setup.

Because here's the thing: How in God's name could anyone be so cool, so suave, so sexy, so romantic, so damn Kennedy-like to kiss her hand. And that's the one picture -- the only picture -- they send out for the world to see, as if to say, yes, Camelot lives.

You could see a publicist at work, except, as Bob Dole would tell you, publicists aren't that good.

You could see a publicist telling John (what do you call him, Jr.? John John? Just plain John?): "You know what'll drive the old ladies nuts? You know what'll have the young girls swooning? Take her hand. Kiss it like you're Lancelot and she's Guinevere. There won't be a dry eye in the house."

Except you know, somehow, that nobody needed to tell this Kennedy how to charm the world. It comes naturally.

Not all the Kennedys have this advantage. If you're looking for charm-deficit, you can start with Ted Kennedy and not stop till you get to William Kennedy Smith.

In fact, many of the young Kennedys have had trouble dealing with being Kennedys. Their lives were too public. The expectations were too high. We watched them stumble through the awkward stages of youth. And even if a couple of them have made it into Congress, you know they didn't get there unburdened.

JFK Jr., like his father before him, never seems to have any burdens.

He should have.

He should have gone through that whole rebellion thing. How do you live up to a father who isn't even a father, or even a man, but a legend? What choice do you have except to wear nose rings and spike your hair?

The more we know about the original JFK, the greater his legend grows. It's as if his flaws enhance him. I don't understand it either, except the same thing happened with Elvis, who died and became Jesus in a jumpsuit.

Instead of rebelling, JFK Jr., who hasn't really accomplished anything much in his still-young life, has constructed his own legend.

For JFK Jr., it starts at the funeral when Jackie prompts him to salute at his father's grave. There wasn't a dry eye in the house that time either.

Then his mother pulls John John from sight. If he has an awkward age, we never see it. There are only the briefest glimpses of him growing up. One day, he simply emerges, god-like, into a full-blown hunk. One day, he's just there, branded by People as the sexiest man in America.

If he fails the bar exam three times, we don't think less of him.

If he runs around with models and actresses, we still don't think less of him (although you wonder what Jackie must have thought).

When he starts his own new-style political magazine, which has little going for it except his name, we figure he's growing up.

Then, at 35, he gets married.

Look at the picture. The bride, Carolyn, is nearly as handsome as the groom. She's carrying flowers in her left hand, and there he is -- James Bond-like, Sir Walter Raleigh-like -- kissing her right hand.

I remember another picture. I just saw it in Life's 60th anniversary issue. It was from, I think, 1953. Jack and Jackie are on a sailboat, just the two of them, and the wind and the sea and the photographer.

It was sexy and, at the same time, it was something more. The photo spoke of a youthful and athletic and damn good-looking America, brimming with possibility.

We fell for it then.

We fall for it now.

The French have it right. Nothing really does change.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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