Friday, June 05, 2009


JOSEPH P. KENNEDY PRESENTS: His Hollywood Years by Cari Beauchamp

Here's a fresh look at the Kennedy patriarch via his years in the movie business, c. 1920-1930. Self- invented as "the world's youngest bank president" (His father was on the board of the bank) Kennedy was smart enough to realize early the profit potential of moving pictures. By the early 1920s he had snapped up distribution rights first throughout New England and later nationally. At one time he controlled FBO-later RKO, First National and Pathe, all major players in film production and distribution. Cari Beauchamp brings a film historian's knowledge of the time, a business professor's understanding of the intricacies of finance and manipulation, both of stock and more importantly, of people.

Kennedy's most notorious Hollywood collaboration embraced the bedroom and the film studio. Gloria Swanson was the undisputed Queen of Hollywood during Kennedy's years as a player. And play they did! With her finances in disarray, Swanson turned to Kennedy for a bailout and fiscal management. Their affair tore the place up! Fifty years later Gloria Swanson claimed that the Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O'Connell, told her to give Kennedy up, that she was "an occasion of sin".
A publicist would run with that today! Business wise the liaison was a disaster. "Queen Kelly" was supposed to be the epic crown to Gloria's career. But director Erich von Stroheim let his porno fed imagination run away with him. Expenses mounted and hours of film were unusable. The project was scrapped with Gloria left to foot the bills. Kennedy went back East.

There's a pattern there. Old Joe goes in for the kill , pockets the profits and leaves others to clean up and pay up. Somehow we can't feel sorry for Gloria. Glamour goes a long way and Swanson didn't appear impoverished when she died at 84. Fred Thompson is another story. A likable, truly nice guy, Thompson was parlayed into an early screen cowboy career. He literally signed himself over to Joe Kennedy and his career died. So did Fred, of a purported aneurysm on Christmas Day, 1927.

Cari Beauchamp's expertise takes us right back to the silent era. We are in on the meetings and in on the affairs and gloat over the take and see Kennedy emerge as a fascinating, brilliant player with no conscience. (The young JFK is quoted, "We lived great in the 1930s. I learned about the depression at Harvard")
You won't put this book down.

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