Paul Levy

Loved and lost | 2 June 2016

JFK’s charming, rebellious younger sister defied her parents and captivated the English aristocracy. Two biographies, by Paula Byrne and Barbara Leaming, show how it all ended in tragedy

Kathleen Kennedy and her elder brother JFK were the grandchildren of upwardly mobile Irish Catholic immigrants. John F. Fitzgerald, ‘Honey Fitz’, became mayor of Boston, and Patrick J. Kennedy was a saloon-keeper and failed senatorial candidate who sent his sons to Harvard. ‘Kick’ was the fourth child, nicknamed for her ebullient personality, but born just as her mother, Rose, was thinking of leaving her serially unfaithful husband, Joe Kennedy Snr, who made his huge fortune from Hollywood studios and booze. Kick spent her early years schooled at, and confined to, convents, except when the whole family escaped to Hyannis Port or Palm Beach.

So when her father managed to wangle the post of Ambassador to the Court of St James from President Roosevelt in 1938, moving his nine children to London, Kick felt liberated. Thanks to her social-climbing parents and her own charm, she was taken into the bosom of the British aristocracy. This gum-chewing, plain-looking all-American girl, and her older sister Rosemary, came out in the London season of 1938, when Kick was hailed as debutante of the year. Three years later, fearing that the cerebrally challenged Rosemary would be subject to sexual predators, Joe and Rose arranged for her to have a frontal lobotomy, which left her in a vegetative state until her death in 2005. The curse of the Kennedys had struck; and Kick’s own story was almost equally sad.

Paula Byrne’s Kick details the life of one of the few members of this family who has not yet been subjected to the biographer’s beady eye. It is bad luck that her enjoyable, relatively sober book was pipped at the post in America a month earlier by Barbara Leaming’s tawdry Kick Kennedy.

Kick fell utterly in love with ‘Billy’, the Marquess of Hartington, heir to the dukedom of Devonshire, and a Cecil on his mother’s side.

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