Joseph Kennedy Sr.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888. His father, Patrick Joseph Kennedy, was a local politician, and later became a banker. Joe’s father was financially successful, so, materially, Joe’s childhood was a comfortable one. However, Joe’s father was a strict disciplinarian, possibly even to the point of abusiveness. As a result, Joe Kennedy was not close to his father; in fact, when his father died, he did not even attend the funeral. He was, on the other hand, very close to his mother; she was very loving, and doted on her only son.

He attended Harvard University and graduated on June 20, 1912. Like his father, he went into banking and was elected president of Columbia Trust at the age of 25.

On October 7, 1914, Joe married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of Boston’s mayor. Through his father-in-law’s help, he became assistant general manager of Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in 1917. This enabled Joe to avoid the draft, since he was holding a job that helped the war effort.

In 1919, Joe became a broker. He was very successful, but he often employed unethical methods in his business dealings.

During Prohibition, Joe worked with organized crime figures, and made a fortune in the bootlegging business.

In the mid 1920’s, Joe turned his business attentions to Hollywood. He bought a firm called Maine and New Hampshire Theatres company and got involved in producing films. Several years later, he produced a film for Gloria Swanson, and began a three-year affair with her.

Joe’s affair with Gloria Swanson wasn’t his first. By all accounts, Rose had a very puritanical attitude about sex - it was for procreation purposes only - so, Joe engaged in a number of infidelities over the years. He had many one-night stands, and a few longer term affairs as well. Besides Swanson, he had a nine-year affair with his secretary, Janet Des Rosiers.

In 1930, Joe left Hollywood and returned to Wall Street for a time. Shortly afterward, he entered the world of politics. He met Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1930, and soon began helping him in Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency. Joe expected to be appointed to Roosevelt’s cabinet after the election in 1932, but because of Joe’s questionable business practices in the past, Roosevelt feared he could be a liability and did not immediately appoint him to any position. Finally, in 1934, Joe was appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1937, Roosevelt appointed him chairman of the Maritime Commission. Not long afterward, Joe became bored with the position, and made it known to Roosevelt that he wanted something better. In 1938, he was appointed as ambassador to England. When the war broke out in Europe, Joe became very vocal in his opposition to the war. His relationship with Roosevelt became strained, and he resigned the position in 1940.

During the 1940’s, several tragedies fell on Joe’s family. In 1941, Joe had his eldest daughter, Rosemary, lobotomized. Rosemary, who was slightly retarded, had been suffering from mental instability, which led to violent mood swings. He had hoped that a lobotomy would calm her mood swings, but instead it left her profoundly brain-damaged and unable to care for herself and was put into a nursing home. Today Rosemary still lives in that home located in Wisconsin.

Then on, August 12, 1944, his son Joe was killed while flying a mission in World War II. And, on May 14, 1948, he lost his favorite daughter, Kathleen, in a plane crash.

In 1945, Joe bought the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, which eventually became Joe’s most lucrative investment. He then began focusing his attentions on his political ambitions for his sons. With Joe’s help, John Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, to the Senate in 1952, and to the Presidency in 1960. At Joe’s insistence, Bobby was appointed Attorney General after the presidential election.

On December 19, 1961, Joe suffered a massive stroke. He was left partially paralyzed and essentially speechless. His condition gradually worsened throughout his final years, and on November 18, 1969, Joe Kennedy died.

From "Sins of the Father" by Ronald Kessler

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