He said all the bad stuff is out there, like Gloria Swanson [with whom Joseph Kennedy had an affair]. Everybody knows the dirt, but if a historian writes this book, he is going to come up with a much more credible portrait of his father than what's out there.
My conditions were firm, and I said, I'm not going to budge. I want full access to everything, including all the papers that are closed to researchers and stored at the Kennedy library. You and your family and your lawyers will see the book when it's finished, not before.
Q: Wow. You were really laying down the law, right?
You don't lay down the law to Ted Kennedy.
I said it's not in my interest to spend five to six years on a book and get to the end and have to bargain with some lawyer to include a sentence I found in a letter. I just said I'm not going to do that.
He said fine.
Q: To some people's eyes, Kennedy comes across as such a villain. Even though you write that he wasn't actually a bootlegger, he was definitely a womanizer and a ruthless businessman and political operative.
Did you find anything that would make the family unhappy?
I don't know what they expected and didn't expect. On the whole, the book is as the senator through it would be. It's much fairer and more balanced than others, and it presents a real-life portrait of a man rather than some villainous caricature.
I undertook it because I saw very quickly that I could use the life of Joseph Kennedy to tell a larger story about the twentieth century. Here's a man who works in shipbuilding during World War I and then is a big stock trader during the '20s boom and goes to the Hollywood as a studio when the silents transitioned to talkies, and then is a Roosevelt confidant, head of the Maritime Commission, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and ambassador to Great Britain.
Q: This is all especially remarkable considering that he was an Irish Catholic. Amazingly, that wasn't even a plus in Boston itself during his early years. How did that play out?
He was an Irish Catholic from East Boston who learned when he got out of Harvard that he was an outsider. He'd have to fight and claw his way inside, and he could trust no one along the way except family members and maybe a couple other Irish Catholics.