John F. Kennedy Jr. (1960-99)

Figure 1.--John Jr. for dress occasions during the winter months wore a light blue coat with short pants, white short socks, and often strap shoes, usually red.

How far might John Kennedy Jr. have gone? Most Americans from the beginning have viewed John F. Kennedy Jr. as John-John, frolicking with his father in the Oval Office and of course saluting his slain father's casket on his 3rd birthday. Although he was never called this by the family, he was commonly referred to as John-John by an adoring public. (It was a knick name that the press bestowed on him when he was a little boy in the White House. Those enchanted by the John-John idea saw the grown man as a frivolous young fellow floating carelessly on the pleasures of life. In fact, J.F.K. Jr. detested the nickname and was not a man fulfilled by pleasure seaking. Those that knew John were almost uniformily echanted and impressed by him. Even jaded New Yorkers cheered him on during the difficult and all to public efforts to pass the New York bar examinations. John did cherished his privacy and disdained defensive self-publicity. His father lived a life of meaning and drama, a heroic life that spanned less than 50 years. It included the drama of World War II and the tumult of American politics, in many ways leading America into the modern era. His son lived only 39 years wiythout the drama of his father's life. His life sadly was an unfished story. We will never know what John might have done with his life.


John and Carolyn had perhaps the two most famous parents of any 20th Century children. While other famous parents havevfaded into history. The Kennedys and their children continue to enchant America and indeed the world.

John Kennedy (1917-63)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., May 29, 1917, the great-grandson of Irish immigrants. He became one of the most charismatic leaders of the United States when he was elected president in 1961. He was, at the age of 43, the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the presidency. Rich, handsome, elegant, and articulate, he aroused great admiration at home and abroad. His assassination in Dallas, Texas in November 1963 provoked outrage and widespread mourning. His term of office as president was short but launched American on a path of securing basic civil rights for all its citizens and a technology race with the Russians to the moon which was an important element in forging America's technological dominance in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

Jacqueline Kennedy ( -94)

Jacqueline Kennedy was a wonderful mother, both in the White House and afterwars as a widowed single mother. She was determined to maintain her children's privacy in order to make their lives as normal as possible. They were brought up unspoiled, modest, hardworking, well-mannered, friendly to their contemporaries, courteous to their elders. And they had on their own an abundance of vitality, charm and good looks.

The White House Years

John was born in 1960 before the President's inaguration. His earliest years were spent in the White House. There are many marvelous photographic images of him with the President. Jacki did not want a lot if photogfraphs taken of him, part of her desire to shield the children from the limelight as much as possible. When ever she was away, the President would bring in the photographer and the result is some of the most marvelous imnages of presidential kids ever taken. The images show a marvelous relationship between the President and both John and Carloine. One wonderful aufdio moment was when the President was giving his weekly radio message and John came in and started playing with the equipment. The President did his best to get John to be a "good boy" but to little apparent success. John by the time he was 2 years old became inchanted with the helicopters. Not only was it a love of the big, loud machines, but it meant that daddy was coming home. None of us at the could know what this love-affair with aviation would eventualy lead to his tragic death.

Figure 2.--Jacki after the White House years dressed John in British styled clothing, presumably until he was old enough to insist on more American styles. I'm not sure where this photograph was taken, but it looks like about 1965-66. John wears a short pants suit, even in the cold weather.

President Johnson

Although there was no love lost between President Johnson and President Kennedy's brother Bobby, President Johnson in his way was very solicitious to the President's widow. He tried to convince her to take a government job involved in protocol. He would call her on the telephone to see how she was doing. Jacki and the children were invited to the launching of the big new aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, in Newport News, Virginia during 1967. Caroline christened it as President Johnson, John Jr. and Jacki looked on.

Caroline and John

Caroline and John were by all saccounts very close, both as children and young adults. Part of this was no dount to Jacki who raised both to be polite, sensative children. Also the situation the two found themseelves in, especially as John became a little older, must have drawn them together. They bost lost their father in the glare of national television and were at the time the most famous children in the world. Any where they appeared there would be ohotographers attempting to take their phtographs. The experience must have been one only the two could fully understand. It was in someway similar to that of Princes William and Henry, but they were both older when they lost their mother.


We do not yet have information on what John as a boy enjoyed for recreation. We do know that he loved anything to do with flying. No doubt this comes from the helocopter that routinely delivered his father to the White House. John would perk up when ever he heard the helicopter coming. He would also cry and carry on whenever he could not get on the helicopter with his father. As he grew up he continued this fascination with flying and eventually earned his a small plane pilot's license. He also learned to ski at an early age and it was a sport they he really enjoyed.



John was not a great student. His mother chose private schools for him. I do not yet have the details on those schools. His university was Brown. There he was especially interested in theatricals and contemplated a show business career. Javki wasn't at all pleased with the idea. He earned his B.A. in history in 1963. After Brown he went to New York University Law School. Hedid a clerkship at the Justice Department. He then did an internship at Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Philips, Los Angeles.

District Attorney

Kennedy worked for Robert Morgenthau in the district attorney's office. He had difficulty, however, passing his bar examination so he could become a lawyer. Of course being John F. Kennedy, this made news. I'm not sure how he felt about the publicity. New York too his effort to hear and rather than rediculing him, the newspapers were soon encouraging him.

New York

John frequented downtown New York night spots and figured in gossip columns. He was a magically handsome young man, irresistible to women--"the hunk," the press called him. People dismissed him as a charming lightweight. Kennedy Historian Arthur Schesinger writes, " This was his protective pose. Underneath he was an earnest fellow with a high sense of legacy and responsibility. In any case, the Kennedys have always been late bloomers. I once ran into him on the shuttle to Washington. He was going to a meeting at the White House on the problem of access to higher education for boys and girls from the slums. He talked about this with surprising knowledge and enthusiasm."


John grew to be an impressive young man--intelligent, articulate, judicious, persuasive, well defined but never full of himself, exceptionally attractive. He invented his magazine, George as the Vanity Fair formula applied to politics, and he steered the magazine in a resolutely nonpartisan course. He loved the editorial work, loved conducting interviews with everyone from Fidel Castro to George Wallace, loved the variety and eccentricity of American politics. He was not a front man but patrolled every aspect of the job. His staff admired and adored him. But one felt it was a transitional stage for him.

The Future

John seemed to be edging into politics. His father had begun as a journalist; it is not a bad introduction to the American political labyrinth. J.F.K. Jr. cared too much about the state of the nation, especially about the increasing disparities of wealth and opportunity in American life, to live out his life as a spectator. He was a cautious man, methodically feeling his way, but I think he sensed an evident opportunity and acknowledged a dynastic responsibility. He was destined, I came to feel, for political leadership.

Gossip Magazines

Stoical about scandalmongering books about his family and gossip-column misinformation about himself, he was as determined as his mother to protect his personal privacy. That is why he took up flying. When he traveled on commercial aircraft, fellow passengers would ask questions, seek autographs, exchange memories. He understood that they were people of goodwill, and he could not bear to be impolite, but the benign interest of others was a burden. Once he got his flying license, he seemed a liberated man, free to travel as he wished without superfluous demands on time and energy. Nor was he a reckless pilot. The mystery of his death remains.

Everyone has to work through hard questions of identity and self-image; Kennedy had to work through his while trapped inside a brightly lit media fun house with distorted mirrors all around. And so he took advantage of an elaborate system that allowed him to cope: a family that had been through hell in public and knew how to guard its privacy--and to make life as normal as it could be. On his own, he developed a band of fiercely loyal and discreet friends who helped create a secure zone around him, who were always glad to say "No comment," escape with him into the wilderness for another adventure, or indulge his unquenchable love of the outdoors--parasailing, running, skiing, biking, losing himself in individual effort.

That Special Grace

John lived his life with a special grace. It showed through in so many ways. Not so long ago, the day his mother was buried, after the prayers and the graveside service at Arlington, when everyone was starting to leave, young John Kennedy stepped up to the casket of his mother and the gravestone of his father. He leaned forward and stretched toward them and put his hand upon each with a touch that was more like a kiss. It was an act of great physical grace, and love, and maybe it was done in part on behalf of a country that felt as he did--a generous gesture like the one 30 years before when a little boy made a salute.

Tragic Death

It is one more stab at the heart of America. There is an echo of Greek tragedy about the succession of blows striking a single American family. So many Kennedys have been cruelly cut off before they had fulfilled themselves--Joe Jr., my Harvard classmate, killed in the war; John and Robert, cherished friends, assassinated; two of Robert's sons dead; now John's son, the golden boy. It of course did not just strike the Kennedy family. John in an interview explained that he knew that his family often was shared with an entire nation. Few photographs taken in the last have of the 20th Century are more famous than those taken of the President and First Lady and their young children. Perhaps the most famous of all was John saluting his father's caskets. To many Americans, John's untimely death felt like a death in the family.


Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.


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Created: July 25, 1999
Last changed: 3:04 PM 4/21/2005