case the last 500 books about John F. Kennedy aren't enough, another
to historian Robert Dallek, we now know the King of Camelot was
a sick man from his early years. As well, his highness jousted with
a White House intern.
titled his new biography an An
Unfinished Life, which should dispel any doubts about its
was always sickly. During a pre-publication publicity gig on NBC's
"Dateline," Dallek revealed that Kennedy nearly died when
he was 30, one of three times before 40 that he received the last
rites of the Catholic Church. This belies the popular myth about
the hale and hardy Hercules of Hyannis.
Kennedy's famous back problems did not begin with his exploits on
the PT 109 during World War II. He was lame long before that. By
the time he was in the White House, he was a dope fiend of Presleyian
proclivity. He was on 10 medications simultaneously, took up to
nine daily injections for pain, went to different doctors to get
different drugs, and was secretly hospitalized nine times after
"successful" back surgery. Pain often prevented him from
putting on his shoes and socks and ascending the stairs to Air Force
One. They hauled him up in a cart.
these infirmities, his sexual prowess was legendary, which is where
the intern comes in. According to an AP report on the book, Kennedy
took the 19-year-old along on trips, and not for dictation.
surprise there. You just wonder whether she contracted the sterilizing
venereal disease the cad carried around for 30 years.
a reader concludes, Dallek's reaction to the fruits of his research
whether covering up his ill health was a sign of Kennedy's will
power or dishonesty, Dallek burbled this cagey answer on "Dateline:"
"I would say there's a third way to look at it, which is my
way. Yes, was heroic and strong, but he had flaws. You see both
sides of it. You strike a balance."
"balance" leads to Dallek's conclusion about Kennedy's
zipper problem. "There were lots of women," Dallek told
a newspaper. "The real question is: Did it distract him from
his job as president? I think it really didn’t."
this man is kidding. Of course it "distracted" him. Kennedy
slept with an East German spy, as well as a bevy of prostitutes
procured by underlings serving as pimps. A distraction? Read The
Dark Side of Camelot, by Seymour Hersh, and you'll learn
Kennedy's satyriasis wasn't just "distracting."
Accurate Is He?
likely fatal. Like Hersh, Dallek reports that a brace stopped Kennedy
from ducking after Lee Harvey Oswald's first shot struck the president's
neck. But "Dateline" erroneously attributed the brace
to Kennedy's celebrated back, which Dallek did not correct.
Dallek's book says, Hersh revealed the truth: Kennedy wore the brace
because he ripped a groin muscle when he slipped during some poolside,
the introduction to his book, Dallek says he wants to "penetrate
the veneer of glamour and charm to reconstruct the real man,"
not to "debunk" him.
One leads to the other.
columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send
him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record
in Harrisonburg, Va.