American Experience (1988– )
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The Kennedys (Part 1): the Father, 1900-61 



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Episode credited cast:
Stacy Keach ... Himself - Narrator
David McCullough ... Himself / Host


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Release Date:

20 September 1992 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

WGBH See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

Corruption cocktail
14 March 2015 | by GoingbeggingSee all my reviews

"Everyone's against us Irish Catholics."

So Joseph Kennedy believed, although his father had moved up in politics by getting on just as well with the Boston brahmins as he did with the docksiders. But this was Joe's excuse for being frozen-out by the prestige clubs of Harvard, when in fact it was his boorish habits that they had found so off-putting (as the film incidentally fails to take on-board.) And it was this persecution-mania, along with his empty claim to have pulled himself up from poverty, that fed his intense longing to make conquests.

At 25, he made a conquest that was enviable indeed - the Mayor of Boston's daughter, beautiful, gracious, educated, and definitely too good for the locals in the eyes of her mother, who wanted to get her away from the boozy and sloppy ways that her (largely estranged) husband was encouraging her into. But Rose Fitzgerald said yes to the self-styled banker, and thus began the rise of a dynasty, fuelled by the ambitions of a man viewed by many as the biggest crook in America. Whatever his other abilities, Joe Kennedy's chief talent was for sheer barefaced corruption, in a city where it was endemic. (Both his father and father-in-law were up to their necks in it.) Soon the arrival of Prohibition would open up the bootlegging industry, and Joe rushed aboard, along with the mafia, with whom his family would be fatefully entwined for generations. Having backed the stock-market through the Twenties boom, he suddenly got out, a few months ahead of the crash. Then with Prohibition over, he followed the mafia to Hollywood, where he rescued Gloria Swanson's finances in exchange for favours that might be guessed-at.

The new Democrat president, Roosevelt, needed him and mistrusted him in equal parts, sending him to London to get him out of the way. His appeasement of Hitler, and his claim that democracy might even be finished in America, ended his own presidential ambitions (and wouldn't Rose have made a scintillating First Lady). From then on, he would be the puppeteer, trying to manipulate his heirs...

Joe's career-story is familiar enough, but the film sheds new light on the upbringing of the nine children at the palatial Hyannisport compound. Despite his periodic absences, Joe was a devoted father, especially keen to instil the boys with his own competitive spirit. Less well-known is that Rose would often disappear on trips to Europe, leaving Joe to manage the house, which he did, efficiently and without complaint.

Perhaps he realised in the end that he had tried too hard with his children. Eldest daughter Rosemary shows signs of mental trouble, so he uses his wealth to give her a new untried brain-operation that renders her totally incapable. Jack, beset by health problems that were kept from the public, shouldn't be on active service at all, but again Joe buys him a posting to the Pacific, where a distinctly minor (and dubious) incident is blown-up into one of the epic feats of war, in a film shown nationwide, thanks to Joe's influence in Washington and Hollywood. For this reason, Joe Jr., having flown his full quota of bombing missions, and free to return home with honour, now feels he must outdo Jack by volunteering for the disastrous Aphrodite operation, where he gets blown to bits.

I hadn't realised that Jack was considered such an unlikely congressman for Boston (being totally unfamiliar with the city) that the mayor had to arrange for an extra candidate to run, with the same name as Jack's chief opponent - muddying the water, as they say. Or that he was so badly drugged-up at his meeting with Khruschev, that the Soviet leader took home the impression of a weak and irresolute man.

Finally there is no mention that Jackie was actually selected by Joe as a future First Lady, when he was trying to persuade Jack that it was time to get married, and was driven to distraction by the unsuitable mafia-molls that the future president was wasting his time with.

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