Edward Moore Kennedy, named for a man described by one biographer as Joseph Kennedy’s “whoremaster,” never really stood a chance of becoming anybody but Edward Moore Kennedy. Camelot courtiers nevertheless continually try to turn bawdy Prince Hal into heroic King Henry V. But like mixing Shakespeare with Lerner and Loewe in the same mixed-up metaphor, the effort forever fails.
The latest rehabilitation project for the late senator who could have once (or twice or thrice) benefitted from rehab comes from Hollywood and it goes by the working title Chappaquiddick. Mark Ciardi, who registered a 9.37 earned-run average in the majors but enjoys a somewhat better record as a producer of sports movies, told the Hollywood Reporter: “You’ll see what he had to go through.”
Does the producer of Chappaquiddick not know that Mary Jo Kopechne was a “she”?
The little that Ted Kennedy “had to go through” in terms of consequences during his formative years foreshadowed what he put Kopechne through on July 18, 1969.
His chief accomplishments in his young life included gaining readmission to Harvard to score a touchdown against Yale after an expulsion for cheating, spending the Korean War as an Army private in Paris, and evading police in a nighttime, 90-mph chase on neighborhood Charlottesville streets ironically during law school.
Ted Kennedy’s first paid job, save for his stint in the army, came with his election to the United States Senate. Before he supported himself for that office, he failed to cast ballots in 13 of the 16 elections in which he could vote. Tellingly, his older brother appeared on the ballot upon the three instances in which he entered a voting booth.
“He was my baby,” Rose Kennedy recalled of her youngest, “and I tried to keep him my baby.” She succeeded. Even the unserious man winning a serious office prevented maturation.
After finishing ninth in a regatta of 31 boats on the eve of Apollo 11’s lunar landing, Kennedy downed rum-and-coke after rum-and-coke at a peculiar party of married older men and unmarried younger women. Despite the imprudence of driving without a license after drinking, he commandeered his chauffeur’s keys, and despite the impropriety of taking a young single woman for a midnight ride, he got behind the wheel.
More caddish behavior followed.
After he drove Kopechne off a bridge, the senator went to bed rather than for help from the authorities. He called the hotel manager to complain of a noisy party. He called his lawyer. He called his political lackeys. He called his German mistress. He didn’t call the authorities.
Ten hours or so after the accident, and following the discovery of his upside-down car with a dead woman inside at the bottom of a shallow waterway, Ted Kennedy finally entered a police station.
“She didn’t drown,” reported the diver who rescued Kopechne’s lifeless body from Kennedy’s Oldsmobile. “She died of suffocation in her own air void. It took her at least three or four hours to die. I could have had her out of that car in 25 minutes after I got the call. But he didn’t call.”
It’s difficult to see all that on the cutting room floor. Such omissions, after all, would certainly make for a less interesting film. National Review’s Jim Geraghty, believing that no amount of whitewashing can make Ted Kennedy look clean, remains skeptical of the movie’s propaganda value. He asks, “how do you tell the story of Chappaquiddick and not make Ted Kennedy look like the world’s biggest jerk, a man who should have done jail time?”
That’s a fair point. But a Hollywood capable of making a hero out of the Rathergate scandal’s namesake in the movie Truth, and inspiring numerous competing online Jedi religions, surely could pull off a Jedi Mind Trick in Chappaquiddick.
The movie deserves reviews after, not before, it receives a screening. But reading its producer discuss what Senator Kennedy “had to go through” despite seven reelections and no jail time does not inspire confidence in the forthcoming film.
Reinhold Niebuhr greeted Ted Kennedy’s 1962 entry into public life as “an affront to political decency.” Hollywood’s envisioned postscript to Kennedy’s career also fits that description.