The Kennedy Legacy

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Rory and Ethel for Vogue

Ethel Kennedy at home in Palm Beach with her daughter Rory Kennedy, a documentarian, and her grandchildren Zachary, four; Georgia, nine; and Bridget, seven.

Rory’s children are three of Ethel’s 35 grandchildren.

Portraits of her famous clan line the walls of Ethel’s living room

For anyone suffering Kennedy fatigue, think again. Ethel, a documentary about Bobby Kennedy’s 84-year-old widow made by her eleventh and youngest child, Rory, (who was born after her father’s death) is a grand surprise. What may be lost in objective distance is amply compensated for by the laugh riot of Ethel’s escapades recounted by her children, and illustrated with a treasure trove of archival photographs and family movies. Ethel, who hasn’t given an interview for 35 years, talks bluntly to her daughter about her experiences, beliefs, and times of unspeakable grief, before gamely moving on. Megan O’Grady interviews mother and daughter in Vogue’s July issue. Ethel airs on October 18 at 9:00 p.m. on HBO.

Photographed by Bruce Weber

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RFK feared Mafia would blind his children in acid attack

Robert F Kennedy feared his children would be blinded by the mafia in an acid attack as revenge attack for investigating them, his widow has revealed.

Speaking out for the first time in 30 years, Ethel Kennedy said that her late husband was anxious they would be targeted as retaliation for his probe into mafia racketeering.

He saw a report about an American journalist who had been blinded in an acid attack by the mob and feared they would do the same to him.

The disclosure will add to conspiracy theories that the mafia may have been responsible for Kennedy’s death.

He was shot dead by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968 but speculation has raged that his crusade against the mob whilst serving as U.S. Attorney General may have be the root of his demise.

Mrs Kennedy, 83, said that her husband was scared after New York Post journalist Victor Riesel was blinded in an acid attack because of articles he had written about the mob.

‘We were told they were going to do the same with our children,’ she said.

Eldest daughter Kathleen, one of several siblings also interviewed in the film, recalls, “We couldn’t leave [school] with the other kids at the end of the day. We had to wait in the principal’s office to be picked up.’’

The documentary “Ethel,’’ which will play on HBO later this year, offers an extraordinary look into the private lives of a celebrated family that was at the center of some of the most famous events, triumphant and tragic, of the 20th century.

Asked about her husband’s 1968 assassination, Ethel says to her filmmaker daughter: “When we lost Daddy …” then stops, pain written on her face.

The family credits devout Roman Catholic faith with getting them through almost unendurable losses. Following the assassinations of her brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, and her husband, Ethel later lost two of her 11 children — one from a drug overdose and the other in a skiing accident.

“I wake up every morning and I think of Daddy [Robert] up there with Jack and [their older brother] Joe and my parents,’’ Ethel tells her daughter Rory, the youngest of her and Bobby Kennedy’s 11 children. A noted documentary filmmaker, Rory was born six months after her father was fatally shot after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.

“When the rest of the world was grieving,’’ her mother told the children their father was in a wonderful place, says Kathleen Kennedy. “Her faith is so strong — that’s caused her to get through everything [including] losing [sons] Michael and David.’’

As Ethel puts it: “Nobody gets a free ride. “You have your wits about you and dig in because it might not last.’’

When JFK appointed his brother as attorney general, his outspoken sister-in-law quickly emerged as one of the more colorful members of the extended Kennedy clan.

At one point, she was charged with horse theft — then a hanging offense in Virginia, where the family lived on a farm — after she rescued a neighbor’s maltreated horses.

Ethel was acquitted, but JFK asked her to tone down her famous parties — after press reports of a soiree where “all the members of his cabinet were thrown in the pool,’’ Ethel’s son Joseph Kennedy recalls.

After JFK was assassinated, Ethel says, “It was like Daddy lost both arms. It was just six months of blackness.’’

The documentary includes extensive home-movie footage of the family that’s never been shown publicly — including a striking image of a stricken Bobby Kennedy sitting in quiet contemplation on the side of a road.

According to Ethel, it was very difficult for her husband to seek office for the first time, successfully capturing a US Senate seat in New York in 1964.

“Whereas Jack was a born orator, nothing came naturally to Daddy, he had to struggle for everything,’’ she says.

Rory Kennedy says HBO, where she’s made films about AIDS and human rights issues for more than a decade, had long urged her to do a film about her family, but she resisted.

“It’s not in my comfort zone, and I assumed my mother wouldn’t want to do it,’’ Rory tells The Post. “But she sat down with me for five days and answered every question in the book.’’

One of her favorite stories is that when Robert was attorney general, Ethel would take the older kids to watch sharpshooters in the basement of the FBI building (the bureau fell under Robert Kennedy’s jurisdiction).

Kathleen says in the documentary, “One day she noticed a suggestion box. She took out her signature red pen, wrote, ‘Get a new director’ and put it in the box.’’

Rory Kennedy — who will be joined by her mother and about 25 other family members for the premiere in Park City, Utah — adds that longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, no fan of his nominal boss Robert Kennedy, quickly discovered what happened.

“By the time [Mom] got to my father’s office with all the kids, Daddy had already gotten the note from an irate Hoover,’’ she says.

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Ethel: The movie, by Rory Kennedy

It would have satisfied even the most voracious history buffs if Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, had enlisted her mother’s perspective simply as a fresh angle on the Kennedy years. But ETHEL is so much more. Intimate, humorous conversations and never-before-seen images from the family troves uncover an enthralling story of a vivacious, authentic heroine whose transformation from rambunctious Republican firecracker to savvy Democratic campaigner to socially conscious single mother of 11 arcs definitively as her husband’s drama unfolds.

The film’s power surfaces as Ethel’s unique value system and the intrinsic connection between the family’s private and public lives come into focus. Tales of the young brood attending Senate hearings, of heartfelt letters RFK wrote as a way of incorporating them into momentous political occasions, and of each child’s assignment to a social-justice mission reveal the respect and love that fueled Ethel’s household—a microcosm for what this country can be. Ethel Kennedy stands alongside her husband as a beacon of integrity and hope. - C.L.

Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Rory Kennedy has made more than 30 documentaries covering topics ranging from the global AIDS crisis, human rights, and domestic abuse to poverty, drug addiction, and political corruption. Her film, American Hollow, premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and earned Kennedy an AFI Award as well as Primetime Emmy Award and Independent Spirit Award nominations. In 2007 Kennedy produced and directed HBO’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding nonfiction special. Along with documentarian Liz Garbus, she is cofounder of Moxie Firecracker Productions in New York.

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