The Biggest Kennedy Myth
In an exclusive excerpt from ‘Last Call, his history of Prohibition,’ Daniel Okrent writes that long-held beliefs about Joe Kennedy’s bootlegging business are bunk.
On September 26, 1933, the same day that Colorado became the 24th state to ratify the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, the 45-year-old Joseph P. Kennedy was aboard the S.S. Europa, bound east with a younger friend and their wives. Their primary destination was England, where the seeds of Prohibition’s most enduring legend were about to be planted.
The younger man was an insurance agent named James Roosevelt. As he was also the eldest son of the new president, he was, said the Saturday Evening Post, “something like an American Prince of Wales.” Kennedy’s fondness for his 25-year-old shipboard companion was such that he sometimes referred to himself as Roosevelt’s “foster father.” During their stay in London, one or the other of them met with Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and two of his eventual successors, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. Together they had lunch with the managing director of the Distillers Company conglomerate. If Joe Kennedy wanted to open political doors or commercial ones, he could have done worse than travel with the son of a president.
One writer, citing an interview with Al Capone’s 93-year-old piano tuner, actually has Kennedy coming to Capone’s house for spaghetti dinner to discuss trading a shipment of his Irish whiskey.