I never met Sen. Edward M. Kennedy—the closest I came to having anything to do with him was publishing Joe McGinniss’ book about him, which, if nothing else, taught both of us just how sharply the Kennedy family and its enablers could react to anything they construed as criticism, which probably ought not to have come as a surprise to either of us.
I never met President Kennedy, either, though I admired him. I did meet Sen. Robert Kennedy, and it taught me something about political charisma. In the 1960s, my then-wife and I used to rent a big house at Dark Harbor, Maine, for the summer, and I used to fly up on weekends from New York City (Northeast Airlines, via Boston, to Camden, Maine, on the “mainland,” as Dark Harbor residents dismissively referred to the rest of the United States and Canada). Houses at Dark Harbor were referred to as “cottages,” however big they were, and most of them were huge and old, with a whole floor upstairs in the attic filled with small rooms for the servants. As for the summer residents, they tended to be elderly, WASP, and rich, and included Douglas Dillon, President Kennedy’s secretary of the Treasury and an ambassador to France, and others similarly well-connected, though for the most part, Republican rather than Democratic in politics.
Sailing was one of the main attractions of Dark Harbor, and almost everybody there joined in the weekly races, including myself (modestly, as a member of Peter Tompkins’ crew, which was like sailing with Captain Bligh). Anyway, at the weekly Saturday evening cocktail/barbecue party at the Dark Harbor Yacht Club that followed the race, there was this large crowd of casually well-dressed people (wearing the kind of clothes Ralph Lauren would later make popular before he himself even existed as a fashion influence) knocking back drinks in noisy camaraderie. There was a broad staircase leading down from the entrance into the big room in which drinks were being served, and all of a sudden there was a collective gasp, an intake of breath, and everybody looked toward the top of the stairs, as of course did I.