Posts tagged John Kennedy
Posts tagged John Kennedy
After a harrowing overnight flight across the Atlantic and a rain-delayed puddle jumper from New York, Marta Sgubin arrived very late on the evening of September 7th, 1969 in Newport, Rhode Island for her first day of work. Born and raised in Italy, she was to be the governess for the then 11-year-old Caroline and 8-year-old John Jr., the children of Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and the late President John F. Kennedy.
That night, Marta made a bold decision. The family’s dogs would no longer sleep in the shed, she told her new bosses.
"No, those are our dogs, they’ll sleep with me from now on," Marta recalls saying to Jackie’s mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss.
Her immediate spunk was well-received by family, and almost 45 years later, Marta is still with the Kennedys. Past governesses had lasted only a year or so, but Marta has always been unique.
"I’ve never been intimidated," she said. "But I was happy that they chose me."
Marta, who was in her mid-30s when she joined the family, quickly became Jackie’s close friend and companion, transitioning into the family’s cook when the kids grew too old for nannying. She also took care of Caroline’s children, Rose, Tatiana, and Jack Schlossberg, who are now in their 20s and consider Marta a grandmother figure. But Marta’s real baby is the family’s dog August, who she walks around Central Park every morning and affectionately calls “Mama’s Boy.”
An immigrant from a 400-person village in northern Italy, Marta dreamt of leaving her small town of San Valentino as a child to be an actress in Rome. Instead, she would grow up to work as a governess for most of her life, first for the children of a French diplomat family in Paris, and then for the Kennedy children, six years after their father’s assassination. Marta taught herself to speak five languages while living and working in France, Greece, and the US. She also taught herself how to cook, simply by watching chefs hired to cook for the family.
"I’m the opposite of Paula Deen. I use vegetable juices and lean meats instead of butter," she said. "I shouldn’t say it though, because I’d like to go on her show someday," Marta joked.
Marta won’t tell anyone her real age, but is most likely in her late 70s, according to Caroline Kennedy’s younger daughter Tatiana Schlossberg, who joined us in Marta’s apartment last week to learn how to cook her staple truffle risotto.
Marta is marked by her playful sense of humor and her honesty, according to Tatiana.
"She always tells people what she thinks about them, even if it’s not a nice thing all of the time," Tatiana said.
When her nephew had an issue with his visa a few years ago, Marta called up Immigration Customs & Enforcement to tell the agents that they “give America a bad name” and when a man was rude to her last year in a grocery store, she admonished him by telling him that he was an “orangutan, a man of the woods.”
But Marta isn’t all sass. “She’s a saint,” she’s selfless, she’s kind, she’s regimented, and she’s loyal,” according to Tatiana.
Journalist Christiane Amanpour met Marta through her college friendship with John Kennedy Jr. and the two women have stayed very close for more than 30 years, frequently visiting each others’ houses for dinner. Amanpour says Marta’s thoughtfulness and her love for animals has made all the difference when her own dog Mindu has wandered off in the park.
With John’s wife Carolyn (and Friday) on December 25, 1998.
When [Marta] was over at my house for dinner, she noticed that my dog did not have a collar with a name tag. So she took his name and my home phone number, and the next thing I knew, she sent me a beautiful red dog collar with his name and number sewn into it,” she said said. “And thanks to that collar, I’ve found my dog several times after he’s wandered off in Central Park!”
Evidenced by the many generations of people that speak fondly of her, Marta has a great ability to relate to individuals of all ages.
"Today, she’s very fond of my own son, whose second name is John after my friend John Kennedy [Jr.]. It’s great to see how she’s really embraces all the generations. Old people and young people alike feel great in her company," Amanpour said.
Marta has a soft spot in her heart for children, but also for animals, ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, Italy, and now the United States (she became a citizen nine years ago.) Cats and dogs seem are her favorite in the animal kingdom, and she frequently croons to them in languages she’s invented specifically for each one.
She’s given all of the important animals (and children) in her life multiple nicknames. Marta explained that her seemingly-random naming system is simply her way of showing affection and that the names are actually just “whatever words comes to mind.”
Take Donald, for instance, her sturdy Scottish Fold cat who has tiny ears due to a genetic mutation that makes his cartilage crumple over itself. Marta is certain that “he is regal” and feeds him a fresh turkey breast every day. While Donald is his name “on the papers” he also goes by Moose, Mooseboy, Rusticone, Musellon, Palomino, and Puffer.
As for the Kennedy grandchildren, Rose goes by Moma or Lola. Jack by Momo or Lolo. And Tatiana by Lolita, Momina or “The Golden Child.” Anybody and everybody goes by “Ponky.”
Marta says she loves the three grandchildren, who she helped raise, as if they were her own. But there are some things from their childhood, like having to watch cartoons such as Ren & Stimpy with them, that she doesn’t miss.
"[Ren & Stimpy] was disgusting, it was a guy who keeps his eyes on his hands," Marta said. "But the children liked it. All of them. And we all had to watch one program at the same time."
Marta also recalled the trials of raising John Jr., who adored teasing her when he was little. “He was a little rascal, always ready to do something to you, that you didn’t expect. It was mischief.”
As a kid, John once let loose seven black water snakes from the Everglades in the house in order to spook Caroline and Marta. The snakes got into the house’s plumbing system, to Marta’s frustration.
"They were going from toilet to toilet in the house," Marta explained. "When I picked him up from school, he was just laughing hysterically."
Marta loves talking about the happy times — the kids, the animals, and Madam — but there were also very sad times, including the deaths of John Jr. and Jackie. The losses were tantamount to losing a best friend and a child, for her.
"It affected me as much as it affected them. I work for them, but I love them. I love all of them," Marta said. "They were all very dear to me. To lose them was always a big loss. And that you have to deal with by yourself."
But Marta says undergoing hardship has made her closer to the family
It’s not to be together everyday that brings you close. It’s the way that you feel about someone that makes you close, and the hard times you go through that make you close,” she said.
Marta is adored by the many generations of people whose lives she has impacted. When Marta missed her dog Pucci in France, ‘Madam’ gave her a portrait of a long-haired Dachsund and told her that they would have him sent across the Atlantic if she wanted him. When Marta wrote a cookbook in 1998 called “Cooking for Madam” about the recipes she cooked for Jackie, John Jr. wrote the foreword, in which he described her as “part of our family.” Tatiana has a her own way of showing her affection — by imitating Marta’s English.
"I like calling you on the phone and talking as you, and you’re also talking as you," Tatiana said to Marta. "Ayo Ponky!" Tatiana exclaimed, to Marta’s delight. "She’s great. I don’t even have to talk anymore," Marta said.
Christiane Amanpour describes Marta as the “ultimate Italian Mama.”
"You know when you’re around Marta, you’re going to get great love, great care, great friendship… and great food," she said.
WASHINGTON — It’s a rare glimpse of the introspective John F. Kennedy — unsure of his political skills; worried about what he might do if he lost the race; and surprisingly honest about his poor health and his attempts to deceive the press over it.
Three days after he declared his candidacy for the presidency, the man who would leave a near-mythical imprint on America’s political identity seemed decidedly unsure of his own.
That revelation comes from a recently unearthed audio recording made during a private dinner party that the Massachusetts senator and his wife, Jacqueline, hosted in their Georgetown home on Jan. 5, 1960. The tape was given to the JFK Library and Museum in Dorchester last year and was recently discovered by a Brown University historian.
At the dinner party, the recording reveals, Kennedy said he never dreamed of the presidency when he entered politics as a scrawny candidate for Congress in 1946.
“Never. Never. Never,” the future president insisted. “I thought maybe I’d be governor of Massachusetts one day.”
What was irresistible about the decision to seek the presidency, the Harvard alumnus explained to his three guests, was the excitement and challenge of the race itself — “like playing Yale every Saturday, in a sense” — and his unabashed desire to be at the center of the nation’s momentous decisions.
The guests were Newsweek correspondent James M. Cannon and Washington bureau chief Benjamin Bradlee, who later ran the Washington Post, and his wife, Antionette. Bradlee and Cannon were longtime friends of Kennedy and did not report on the conversation.
Cannon’s family gave the tape to the library, and the content will be featured in next month’s Smithsonian magazine. Bradlee did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Ted Widmer, the Brown University historian, said Tuesday that when he came across the tape in his research, “I was just knocked out by it.”
“I thought it was very visceral and immediate, and quite personal. JFK was one of the most successful politicians of the 20th century but he is candid about his liabilities and his inhibitions,” he said. Widmer also said Kennedy’s explanations for why he was seeking the presidency seem strikingly honest.
At one point in the conversation, for example, Kennedy makes another football analogy.
“Johnny Unitas, he might find it interesting to play in a sandlot team, in front of four people, but he’s playing for the Colts, the best team in the United States, for the world championship,” he said. “I’m not comparing the presidency with that, but I’m just saying that, how could it be more fascinating than to run for president under the obstacles and the hurdles that are before me.”
Kennedy “is interested in being at the center of the machinery of government, the center of the action,” said Widmer, rather than seeking the presidency for the lofty goals he outlined in his campaign to secure the Democratic nomination and ultimately defeat Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
The recording portrays a JFK not so sure of himself as he set out on his historic quest, hoping that the electorate sought a new kind of leader who was not necessarily the back-slapping campaigner like his grandfather, the former congressman and Boston mayor John Fitzgerald.
“I think I personally am the antithesis of a politician as I saw my grandfather who was the politician,” Kennedy said. “What he loved to do was what politicians are expected to do. Now I just think that today… . I’d rather read a book on a plane than talk to the fellow next to me, and my grandfather wanted to talk to everybody else. I’d rather go out to dinner.”
He later added: “I had not regarded myself as a political type. My father didn’t, he thought I was hopeless.”
But politics attracted him in part, he said, because the alternatives for someone of his social and academic station were so unappealing.
“If [I] went to law school, and I’d gotten out, which I was going to do [unclear] and then I go and become a member of a big firm, and I’m dealing with some dead, deceased man’s estate, or I’m perhaps fighting in a divorce case … or some fellow got in an accident … or let’s say more serious work, when you’re participating in a case against the DuPont company in a general antitrust case, which takes two or three years, can you tell me that that compares in interest with being a member of Congress in trying to write a labor bill, or trying to make a speech on foreign policy?’’ Kennedy said. “I just think that there’s no comparison.”
Throughout the discussion, Kennedy’s famous flowing public voice is instead choppy and often inarticulate. Also, he sounds uncharacteristically vulnerable.
For example, the possibility of losing the election weighed heavily on him.
“I wouldn’t like to try to pick up my life at 45, -6, or -7, and start after 20 years of being in politics, and try to pick up my life then,’’ he said, adding, “Maybe need a different degree. I mean, it’s like having your leg up to your ankle or to your knee amputated, it’s still disturbing.”
Antionette Bradlee asked Kennedy, who had already written two books, if he might pursue a career in writing if politics didn’t work out.
“No, I couldn’t, because I’ve lost the chance. I mean, I’m sure it takes 20 years to learn to be a decent writer,” he responded. “You have to do it every day.”
When a recently published photo of him as a young man looking sickly came up in the discussion, Kennedy spoke of his personal medical problems, which became known publicly years after his 1963 assassination. Such problems would probably have been disqualifying if known to voters.
“There’s a picture that the Boston Globe ran Sunday, which had the veterans rally [in 1948] … Franklin Roosevelt [Jr.] and I, and I looked like a cadaver,” Kennedy recalled, noting his unusual pallor.
When asked about what was wrong with him, he responded, “Addison’s disease, they said I have.”
He then noted that a reporter “asked me today if I have it.” He denied it to the reporter, saying he was just sun-tanned. “I said no, God, a guy with Addison’s disease looks sort of brown and everything,” Kennedy told his guests, who burst out in laughter. “Christ! See, that’s the sun.”
But natural politician or not, Kennedy said he thought the ingredients to win were not all that complicated.
“You have to be able to communicate a sense of conviction and intelligence and rather, some integrity,” he said.
An American Icon: Jack Kennedy
Kennedy, Before Choosing the Moon: ‘I’m Not That Interested in Space’
The language was, almost literally, soaring. “We set sail on this new sea,” President Kennedy told the country, “because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” We choose exploration, he declared, for ourselves and for all nations. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
And, of course, we found what we sought. We came in peace for all mankind, and we set foot on the moon. In light of our success, that step took on a sheen not only of epicness — Homer, into the heavens’ wine-dark sea — but also of inevitability. A man on the moon, its image plunged into the public imagination 50 years ago, came to symbolize striving and dreaming and insisting with a power that still captivates us today.
So it’s easy to forget how ambivalent Kennedy was, initially, about the space program. It’s easy to forget how ambivalent he was, initially, about space itself. As the president put it, bluntly, in a 1962 meeting with advisors and NASA administrators: “I’m not that interested in space.”
And that was, it seems, a longstanding apathy. When Kennedy was a Massachusetts senator in the late 1950s, Richard Collin writes in John F. Kennedy: History, Memory, Legacy, he and Robert Kennedy agreed to meet the MIT professor and aerospace pioneer Charles Draper at a Boston restaurant. During the dinner, Draper later recalled, the brothers essentially ridiculed his pitch for space exploration — not cruelly, but with the kind of patient disbelief usually reserved for those who hold hopeless dreams. The politicians, Collin reports, “could not be convinced that all rockets were not a waste of money and space navigation even worse.”
That attitude would continue into the Kennedy presidency. Hugh Sidey, Life magazine’s White House correspondent, emphasized space exploration as Kennedy’s weakest area during his first few months in office. The new president understood less about that field, Collin notes, than about any other issue he’d been confronted with when assuming office. And Jerome Wiesner, Kennedy’s own science adviser, confirmed that view: When it came to space, Wiesner said of his boss, “he hadn’t thought much about it.”
If Kennedy wasn’t inspired by space itself, though, he was inspired by political victories. In April of 1961, just months after the president’s inauguration, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture into space. Less than a week after Gagarin’s orbit came the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy, in need of a political victory both for his administration and against the Soviets, turned to his vice president — who, unlike Kennedy himself, had been a longtime space advocate. (“Control of space,” Johnson had put it in 1958, “is control of the world.”) Johnson, at the time, was serving as chairman of a newly reorganized Space Council. Kennedy asked him for recommendations on how to accelerate the U.S. space program — not in the name of heavenly exploration, but in the name of a slightly more earthly goal:
Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the Moon, or by a rocket to land on the Moon, or by a rocket to go to the Moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?
The president asked for a response “at the earliest possible moment.” A week later, Johnson — basing his assessment in part on a Defense Department suggestion that “dramatic achievements in space … symbolize the technological power and organizing capability of a nation” — responded with a five-and-a-half-page memo. It emphasized, among Kennedy’s list of potentially Soviet-shaming projects, the manned trip to the moon:
… As for a manned trip around the Moon or a safe landing and return by a man to the Moon, neither the United States nor the U.S.S.R. has such a capability at this time, so far as we know. The Russians have had more experience with large boosters and with flights of dogs and man. Hence they might be conceded a time advantage in circumnavigation of the Moon and also in a manned trip to the Moon. However, with a strong effort the United States could conceivably be first in these accomplishments by 1966 or 1967 …
The moon, it’s worth noting, was selected with geopolitical as well as technological strategy in mind. And it was selected not by Kennedy himself, but by his space agency. In 1959, NASA administrators were tasked with choosing a space exploration goal that would best utilize American potential in space — and the agency determined that a manned lunar landing would make the most fitting and practical successor to Alan Shepard’s planned orbit of Earth. The Apollo program, true to Kennedy’s rhetoric, was finally implemented not as a proactive measure against the Soviets, but as a reactive one. “Kennedy was interested in space as a symbol of political power,” the historian Dwayne Day writes, “but it was only after the Soviet Union increased the political stakes that Kennedy approved the lunar landing program.”
And it was through a process of negotiation that the program’s timetable was determined. Responding to pushback from NASA, Kennedy would publicly amend Johnson’s aspirational lunar timetable — from five or six years, starting in 1961, to ten. The president had crafted a goal that would serve his political if not personal interest: to go to the moon. And to go “in this decade.” Not because it was easy, but because it was expedient. “The Soviet Union has made this a test of the system,” Kennedy would later tell a group of advisors and NASA administrators. “So that’s why we’re doing it.”
On May 5, 1962, Shepard repeated Gagarin’s accomplishment, becoming the first American in space. On May 25, Kennedy gave a speech to Congress asking the country to commit itself “to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Already, Kennedy’s ideological argument was taking the soaring tinge so familiar in his subsequent discussions of space. “If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny,” he argued,
the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take …. Now it is time to take longer strides — time for a great new American enterprise — time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
From expediency to enterprise. From steps to strides. From earth’s muddy present to its gleaming future. That might complicate the story of aspiration and exploration that we’ve come to associate with Kennedy and with Earth’s earliest forays into space. It might emphasize the way the dullest features of humanity — competition, vindication, pride — helped propel human soles to the lunar surface. Then again, it doesn’t change the impact of the all-too-earthly decisions made those fifty years ago. We chose, either way, to go to the moon. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard.