Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. built a fortune by the age of thirty, became Ambassador to Britain, and propelled his son into the White House.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a saloonkeeper. He was an ambitious boy who was always willing to work hard delivering newspapers and doing chores for neighbors. After a Catholic education, he was accepted at Harvard. Although he was popular and academically successful at the Ivy League school, he was shut out of some of the more prestigious clubs because of his Irish heritage. He graduated with two burning desires: to become a millionaire by the age of thirty, and to show up the Protestants who had snubbed him.

Kennedy found the perfect wife in Rose Fitzgerald. She was Catholic, and her father was the mayor of Boston. They were married in 1915, and their first child, Joe Jr., was born later that year. Eight more children would follow. Rose raised them with the help of nannies while Joe built a fortune in banking, shipbuilding, and motion-picture distribution. Joe's womanizing was legendary, and he went so far as to have his mistress, actress Gloria Swanson, as a guest at the family's home. Most women were nothing but objects to Kennedy, but he seemed to have had deep feelings for Swanson, begging her to have his child and fantasizing about leaving his wife and children for her.

Aside from Kennedy's legitimate business dealings, most historians agree that he probably ran liquor from Europe during Prohibition. By the 1930's, however, he had enough money that such shenanigans were unnecessary. He was quite respectable then, by the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him as the first Chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in 1934, and later, in 1937, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. In 1938, Kennedy reached the peak of his power when Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to Britain, the first Irish-Catholic ever to hold the post. Kennedy felt sure that he was on the road to the presidency, but problems soon arose.

A staunch isolationist, Kennedy argued for the appeasement of Hitler and wanted the United States to stay out of any conflict that might occur between Britain and Germany. Needless to say, this line was not a big hit with the English people or with conservative leaders such as future Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Kennedy resigned under pressure in 1940, when war became inevitable.

Two of Kennedy's children were killed in the war and its immediate aftereffect. His eldest son, Joe Jr., was killed in a bombing raid over Germany, and his eldest daughter Kathleen, who was estranged from her family because she had married a Protestant, also died in a plane crash.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Rose was having a great deal of trouble with their daughter, Rosemarie. Whether Rosemarie was mentally retarded or simply "difficult" is disputed by contemporary accounts, but whatever her ailment, Kennedy made the tragic decision to allow doctors to perform a prefrontal lobotomy on his daughter. Rosemarie emerged from the operation functioning at the level of an infant. She was placed in a convent in Wisconsin, and presumably Kennedy was haunted by his fateful act.

Joe Kennedy's own dreams of becoming president had died the day America entered World War II, and after his eldest son's death, he focused on the career of his second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. John was a war hero who had no problem getting elected Senator from Massachusetts, but when he ran for president in 1960, against Richard Nixon, the vote was very close and most political analysts agree that Joseph Kennedy's millions made the difference. Kennedy was elated to see his son become the first Roman Catholic president, but shortly after the election, he suffered a series of strokes that left him disabled. In this impotent condition, he was told about the assassinations of his sons John and Robert, and the accident at Chappaquidick that destroyed the presidential aspirations of his last remaining son, Edward. Kennedy died soon after Chappaquidick, in 1969, at the age of 81.

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