- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Reading this book is like looking through a window inside another window at a mirror that may or may not be reflecting a true image. In other words: caveat emptor.

C. David Heymann is the big-box store of Kennedy family taletellers. He began in 1989 with “A Woman Named Jackie,” took a short Kennedy break to write “Liz: an Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor,” and then got back on the bandwagon full time, writing four Kennedy family books in five years: “RFK,” “The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club,” “American Legacy: The Story of John & Caroline Kennedy,” and now comes “Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story.”

The premise of the book is that following the assassination of President Kennedy, the president’s widow and his brother the attorney general had not just an affair, but a true in-love-with-one-another relationship that lasted from 1964 until 1968, and only ended because the practicalities - and pragmatism - surrounding Robert Kennedy’s doomed quest for the presidency of the United States took precedence over matters of the heart.

Mr. Heymann did not always write about celebs. His first two biographies were of Ezra Pound and then, in “American Aristocracy,” James Russell, and Amy and Robert Lowell. The early volumes didn’t exactly leap off the shelves, but all that changed with his next book, “Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton.” That was 1986. Three years later, he began chronicling the Kennedys, and, with the sole exception noted above, has been at it ever since, to great commercial success, if something less than critical raves.

Much of the negative criticism centers on Mr. Heymann’s practice of relying on secondary and even tertiary quotes and what some see as his over-reliance on well-known, usually respectable sources who are no longer with us. Both practices are part and parcel of “Bobby and Jackie.”

More recently, the author stirred up a controversy by saying that John Kennedy Jr., whom Mr. Heymann said was his friend and drinking buddy, told him his wife and her sister, all three of whom were killed when Mr. Kennedy’s plane went down on approach to Martha’s Vineyard, had badgered him into making the flight in order to drop off the sister at a wedding. New York gossipist Cindy Adams, one of the first to run with the story, later said she’d been given a bum steer by her source, Mr. Heymann.

According to Mr. Heymann, the Jackie-Bobby affair was common knowledge, and he uses quotes from any number of well-known, well-placed people, both in and out of the various circles of the various Kennedys, to back up his claim.

Color me skeptical. Mr. Heymann’s methodology does not inspire confidence. Time after time, a damning statement comes to us circuitously, such as his noting that one maid told him what another maid had told her (that’s what I mean by windows and mirrors). Another thing that seriously bothered me was that long quotes from several of the few people I actually knew just didn’t sound like them. I knew Kennedy family intimate Art Buchwald only slightly, but I did several long interviews with him decades ago and, as I recall, he favored a punchy, abrupt style of speaking (much like his writing), but in this book he sounds almost professorial.

The one Kennedy insider I did know well was the late Pierre Salinger. He hired me to help with a major magazine article on the 20th anniversary of Mr. Kennedy’s death and in the mid-1990s, we worked for over a year on “P.S., A Memoir.”

In the hundreds of hours we spent in conversation, over the phone and in person, he never sounded the way he sounds in this book. And for him to tell Kennedy stories out of school, which he allegedly did to Mr. Heymann, strikes me as completely out of character.

And I simply cannot believe he would use a crude, locker room term in talking about Mr. Kennedy, the man he devotedly served as press secretary. Finally, there’s the way the author documents his reporting. Although the book is 226 pages long, the actual text ends at page 183. Next come two pages of acknowledgments, followed by eight pages of notes, and then a 21-page bibliography (and a 10 page index).

There is a lack of specific dates, or any dates for that matter, of the author’s interviews with such important figures as Mr. Salinger, Ben Bradlee, William Manchester, Kenny O’Donnell, Jean Kennedy Smith, Ted Sorensen, Peter Lawford, Janet Auchincloss, George Plimpton, Clark Clifford, and Truman Capote, to name just a few of the sources he lumps together at the end of the notes for each chapter.

Right up front, Mr. Heymann states that he can now prove his thesis (hinted at as far back as 1989) thanks to the 2007 release of “a set of previously unavailable reports and briefs prepared by the Secret Service and the FBI, released to me under the Freedom of Information Act “[c]overing the years 1964-1968 when the liaison took place …” But the first time he cites them in the notes, he writes, “While several of the Secret Service files referred to in this chapter are currently available through the National Archives, the majority are not; they were shown to the author by a confidential source.” It’s enough to give a historian fits.

Mr. Heymann is a sprightly writer who can move his narrative along at a brisk and quite readable pace. But in “Bobby and Jackie,” the problem is what he does, not how he does it. He strings innuendo after innuendo, some downright smarmy, to the point where the reader - at least this one - feels uncomfortably voyeuristic.

c John Greenya is a Washington-area writer.

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