The Twisted History of Joe Kennedy

Here are the notes from today's episode: 

Joseph P. Kennedy

*    Notorious Adulterer

*    Marlene Dietrich & the Lady Sharing Kennedys

*    Had His Daughter Lobotomized & Didn’t Tell His Wife

*    He Made a Fortune during Prohibition

*    Made a Fortune from Insider Trading

*    Was an Unabashed Anti-Semite

*    He Claimed That Democracy Was Dead

*    Accused of Being a Nazi Sympathizer

*    Friend of Joseph McCarthy

*    Allegedly Rigged the 1960 Election among Others

*    Patrick Joseph Kennedy

Had His Daughter Rosemary Lobotomized & Didn’t Tell His Wife

Joseph Kennedy did many questionable things in his life but forcing his daughter, Rosemary, to have a lobotomy in 1941 was one of the worst. Rosemary was a playful and energetic girl but became more rebellious and undisciplined as she neared adulthood. Rosemary was prone to the occasional violent mood swing and would routinely sneak out of the convent in Washington D.C. where she was educated. As well as falling short of the high standards of family, Joseph believed that Rosemary’s recklessness could damage the political ambitions of his sons.

Although Rosemary was diagnosed as mentally handicapped at the time, it is far more likely that she was depressed. With the right medical expertise, it would have been possible to calm Rosemary down and help her enjoy a fruitful life. Instead, the ruthless Joseph wanted her out of the picture for good, so he authorized a lobotomy. She was only 23 years old at the time and was being forced to undergo a dangerous form of ‘treatment.’ As at November 1941, only 80 lobotomies had been performed in the United States, 80% of them on females.

Dr. Walter Freeman used ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of people who had apparently undergone the procedure. There is every chance that Freeman lied about the pictures, but it was enough to persuade Joseph to give his consent. Dr. James Watts carried out the procedure with Freeman in attendance. Rosemary was strapped to a table, numbed with Novocain, and mildly sedated because she needed to be conscious during the surgery so she could respond to Watts’ commands. The front of her head was shaved, and the two doctors operated on her frontal lobe. The surgeons asked her to sing ‘God Bless America’ and estimated how far to cut based on her response. When she became incoherent, they had gone far enough.

Just like that, any spark of intelligence Rosemary possessed was extinguished. The terrible procedure was an utter failure as the unfortunate woman’s intelligence was reduced to the level of a two-year-old. Rosemary was now incontinent and unable to speak or walk properly. She became the archetypal ‘madwoman in the attic’ and was kept out of sight. Even Joseph’s secretary said that Rosemary’s name was never mentioned. With this ‘problem’ out of the way, Joseph could now help one of his sons become President. He had the influence, and he certainly had the wealth; not all of which was gained legally.

He Made a Fortune during Prohibition

By 1957, Joseph Kennedy was named as the 12th wealthiest man in America according to Fortune magazine. There is a great deal of speculation, and mystery behind how he made so much money. Joseph joined Hayden, Stone & Co, in 1919. The job paid a handsome salary of $10,000 a year, but this was only the beginning for Kennedy who had already worked as a bank manager at Colombia Trust Bank. His position afforded him the unique opportunity to learn about the stock market and more importantly, to make a lot of money in the process.

For all his stock exchange wizardry, there is a strong suggestion that he earned a significant sum of money by bootlegging liquor during prohibition. He was never caught of course, and most of the evidence against him is anecdotal. For instance, classmate Richard Whalen said that Joseph supplied all the liquor for the class’ tenth reunion in 1922. Raymond Wilkins was another classmate and said Kennedy brought the liquor in via boat.

One of Meyer Lansky’s lieutenants, ‘Doc’ Stacher, said that Joseph was involved in the hijacking of a whiskey shipment that had been sent to Boston from Ireland in 1927. 

According to Conspiracy in Camelot, Joseph once attempted to ship his bootlegged whiskey through Detroit without the requisite underworld permissions. The Jewish ‘Purple Gang’ ordered his assassination, but Joseph was able to get his contacts in Chicago to cancel the hit. He was relieved but now owed a debt to Frank Costello. When Costello called in the debt, Joseph refused, and another contract was put on his life.

On this occasion, he escaped with the help of Sam Giancana but he owed the mob boss a significant debt. Costello later told writer Peter Haas that he was in the bootlegging business with Joseph Kennedy. To put Kennedy’s reputation in perspective, Giancana once described him as “one of the biggest crooks who ever lived.” Bootlegging liquor wasn’t the only illegal venture that helped Joseph grow his fortune.

He Made a Fortune from Insider Trading

There is no doubt that Joseph Kennedy was an extremely bright individual with a strong work ethic. He was the youngest president of a bank in America at the age of 25, and he knew how to make money from the markets. Had Joseph played fair, he would probably have become a multi-millionaire but he wanted it all, and he wanted it as soon as possible. That’s why he became involved in the nefarious practice of insider trading.

He specialized in using this information to help drive down the price of stocks or to increase the price artificially. One of his earliest ‘successes’ came when the principal stockholder of the Pond Creek Coal Company, Galen Stone, confided in him. Stone told Joseph that he was selling his huge interest in Pond Creek to Henry Ford as the great industrialist was planning to expand his already huge empire.

Never one for half measures, Joseph borrowed an estimated $225,000 and purchased shares in Pond Creek at $16 apiece. Once news of Ford’s imminent acquisition reached the newsstands, the price of Pond Creek shares rocketed to $45, and Joseph sold his stake for a profit of $435,000; which became $210,000 after he repaid the loan. He began to make obscene sums of money in ‘stock pools’ while other unfortunate investors were financially ruined.

While the Great Depression led to chronic unemployment, poverty, and suicides, Joseph Kennedy used stock market manipulation to increase his impressive fortune. During the stock market crash of October 1929, Joseph made millions of dollars by short selling. There is a suggestion that he helped to manipulate the market into crashing. 

It is not that far-fetched a theory given his knowledge of the markets and complete lack of morality. With a fortune available to back up his political ambitions, he was able to make large contributions to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign in 1932. With his foot in the door, Joseph became very powerful, but his dubious political affiliations resulted in more controversy.

He Was an Unabashed Anti-Semite

Joseph became the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom in March 1938, and things got off to a fine start. The other diplomats were terrified of him, and the British press were clamoring to learn more about the Kennedy family. By this time, Adolf Hitler was threatening war and Joseph had no desire to see his nation involved. He favored the appeasement strategies of British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and had no faith in Britain winning a conflict with Germany.

According to Harvey Klemmer, who worked with Joseph at the Maritime Commission, Kennedy was a casual anti-Semite. He apparently said: “Individual Jews are all right, Harvey, but as a race, they stink – Look what they did to Hollywood.” During a fiery meeting with German ambassador, Von Dirksen, Joseph said: “They brought it on themselves.” Although his views softened after the Kristallnacht attacks, Joseph hoped the Nazis could be bought off to ensure that America did not have to enter any war.

Joseph allegedly had a plan to ship every Jew in Germany to Africa, or to a British or American colony. Roosevelt shut the idea down, but Kennedy refused to change his stance on Jews. It is notable that he wasn’t particularly interested in the plight of the Jews. His main hope was that the Nazis wouldn’t follow through on their awful plan because of a fear that public opinion in America would turn against Hitler.

Joseph’s later attempts to clear his name were a complete disaster; none more so than a 1944 interview with two journalists by the name of Joe Dinneen and Lawrence Spivak. He began his defense thusly: “It is true that I have a low opinion of some Jews in public office and private life.” He went on to say that despite his obvious dislike of them, he didn’t think they should be wiped off the face of the earth. Kennedy concluded by saying his dislike was colored by his business dealings with them.

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