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Remembering Robert Kennedy: A Conversation with His Biographer.

Jack Newfield wrote the highly acclaimed 1969 book "Robert Kennedy: A Memoir by Jack Newfield." (Dutton) This Sunday, The Discovery Channel will air a 3-hour documentary co-produced by Newfield. The series is based on his book.

21:41

Other segments from the episode on June 4, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 4, 1998: Interview with Jack Newfield; Interview with Maxwell Taylor Kennedy.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 04, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Robert Kennedy
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today, we're remembering Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated 30 years ago just after winning the 1968 California presidential primary. He died on June 6. A little later in the program, we'll hear from his youngest son Max. Our first guest, journalist Jack Newfield, traveled with Kennedy from November of 1966 until the assassination.

Newfield was covering Kennedy for the Village Voice and writing a biography which was published in 1969. Newfield has just adapted that book into a three-part documentary series which debuts Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

During Kennedy's political career, he was chief counsel to the Senate Rackets Committee, campaign manager for his brother Jack, attorney general, U.S. Senator from New York, and a presidential candidate. Jack Newfield says that Robert Kennedy wasn't like other politicians. I asked what made him different.

JACK NEWFIELD, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK POST, AUTHOR, "ROBERT KENNEDY: A MEMOIR": I guess it was the capacity to grow and change. He's one of the few politicians -- and he was just a politician. He wasn't a religious figure or intellectual or an artist. He was a politician.

But he -- his capacity to change and grow and listen to people and be moved by personal experiences and be open to new ideas and to reconsider his own positions and philosophies is what made him so unique to me. 'Cause I think most politicians get worse when they're in power; become more compromised; more cynical; more jaded; more conservative; more trapped in the office.

And he was the opposite. He became more radical in office; more willing to reconsider what he thought about Vietnam; what he thought about race and class. And he was so, I think, devastated by his brother's assassination that it opened him up intellectually and emotionally to whole new worlds; to, you know, months after his brother's murder, he rarely went to the office as attorney general. He stayed home all day. He would read Aeschylus and Shakespeare and Camus and Emerson.

And he had never thought who he was until his brother was killed. I think he just thought his job was to be the enforcer; the hatchet man for his brother. And whatever his brother's goals were became his goals and whatever his brother's politics were became -- it became his job to implement them.

GROSS: You had about, I think you say, 150 hours of conversations with Robert Kennedy while you were writing your book on him. I'm sure you talked with him about the impact of his brother's assassination. And I'm wondering if you talked with him about why he decided to get deeper into politics after his brother's death. I think a lot of people might have decided to leave politics if their brother who was president was assassinated.

NEWFIELD: I think he, in that period of six to eight months where he was basically non-functional, like a wounded animal; not really in this world all the time, I think Bob considered teaching, going into journalism, running a foundation.

But I think in the end, that family obligation to continue his brother's mission; to pick up his brother's fallen standard became predominant in his thinking and he was convinced in August of 1964 to resign as attorney general and run for the Senate in New York, in which was -- in what was a very difficult election against a decent, moderate Republican named Kenneth Keating.

But I think it was to continue the mission that swayed his thinking to remain in public life; to remain in politics; that Kennedys are not quitters; Kennedys don't give up; I'm not going to be chased out of the public arena by the specter of assassination. And I think he became very fatalistic and in some ways perhaps reckless about his own safety and security when he did get back into politics, 'cause he never had any security with him that was armed. He never -- there was no Secret Service protection.

He and I would ride on the shuttle between New York and Washington, and there was nobody with him. But I think he dealt with that -- the murder of his brother -- with this kind of fatalism and a kind of Camus-like view that life is absurd; you can't control fate and destiny; if my brother was killed with Secret Service protection and all the law enforcement protection available, no one is -- no one can protect me. If my number is up, it's up.

And I think he went through life with that attitude after Dallas.

GROSS: Did you ever challenge him on that?

NEWFIELD: No, I think it was a -- first, it was very hard to talk to him about anything involving his brother's death. For years afterwards, he couldn't even read newspaper stories about the Warren Commission Report or Jim Garrison's investigation in New Orleans. Only by the middle of '67 could he have a conversation or read a newspaper or news magazine story that dealt with Dallas. It was such -- it was like an amputation to him that was raw and unbandaged; the loss of his brother.

I know that in -- with three of his closest aides in 1967, he did talk to them about who might have killed his brother and he wanted them to look into it, although he couldn't emotionally handle doing it himself. He did ask either Frank Mankiewicz (ph) and Richard Goodwin to become experts on the various investigations. And he did tell Goodwin and Mankiewicz that he thought organized crime was behind his brother's murder, and we do have one soundbite from Goodwin repeating that conversation he had with Bob in '67.

GROSS: How do you -- how compatible do you think his personality was with the life of a politician?

NEWFIELD: I think he had aspects of his personality that were not so compatible. He had his deep streak of black Irish melancholy and he was occasionally depressed. He loved, you know, privacy and just being able to stay home and read on a Sunday afternoon. He did not enjoy the crummy little rituals of politics; of glad-handing local county leaders, or chatting up potential contributors.

That -- he -- until he became senator, he was the guy in the backroom. He was the manager. He was not the racehorse. And I think he did not have the kind of amazing glibness that President Clinton has or most politicians. He stammered and stuttered and his hands trembled behind the lectern. And he was not your normal conventional politician in a lot of aspects to his personality. But I think he forced himself, once he decided that he had to remain in politics, to adapt and adjust to the rules of the game.

GROSS: What do you think his greatest accomplishments were?

NEWFIELD: I would say number one as attorney general, recognizing the dimensions of the organized crime problem in this country; breaking the back of the mob; cleaning up the Teamsters; prosecuting Jimmy Hoffa at a time where that was controversial; was considered anti-union in some circles -- Hoffa was kind of a romanticized outlaw in some quarters.

But I think he targeted the biggest crime bosses in the country for prosecution -- Carlos Marcelos (ph), Anta Traficante (ph), particularly Sam Giancana -- at a time when the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the Mafia didn't exist. There is no Mafia.

And Hoover would not assign agents to investigate organized crime, which I think Robert Kennedy from his years as counsel to the McClellan (ph) Committee understood that I think in 1960 was the absolute zenith of the mob's power in America. They controlled Las Vegas casinos, unions, a lot of white collar industries and leisure. They had a big control in the record industry, in boxing. And he saw this and his work laid the foundation for the RICO statute.

And I think his second great accomplishment was in the last -- probably the last eight weeks of his life -- after Martin King was killed -- to see that he had this moral, historical obligation to try to fill the vacuum created by Dr. King's murder, and to become the tribune of the poor and the powerless, which he did increasingly so during the '68 election.

And then third, his gradual recognition that the Vietnam War was wrong and unwinnable and draining immense resources out of our cities; and that his own brother had been in error, which he does admit in the speech we show in the film, in thinking the Vietnam War was winnable. And I think willingness to oppose the war, admit his own and his brother's error, and risk everything in a run for the presidency to stop the war -- I think -- I would say those are his three longest-lasting and distinctive accomplishments.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Jack Newfield. He wrote a 1969 book about Robert Kennedy which he's adapted into a three-part documentary series which premiers Sunday on the Discovery Channel. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with journalist Jack Newfield. He co-produced a three-part documentary on Robert Kennedy for the Discovery Channel. Newfield covered Kennedy and traveled with him for the last two and a half years of Kennedy's life.

When you were following Robert Kennedy on his presidential campaign, did you think he was going to win?

NEWFIELD: I did not actually think he was going to win until like the last half hour of his life, with that last night in California. He had lost the Oregon primary the week before, partly because he opposed -- he supported gun control in a state with a lot of hunters which, given the events recently in Oregon 30 years later, has a certain irony. But he had lost in Oregon. Everything was riding on California.

He had a win in California and the same day there was a primary in South Dakota, which is the state Hubert Humphrey was born in, although he later became the senator from Minnesota. And that night -- the last night of his life -- he not only won California by 5 percentage points, he also won in South Dakota.

And about a half hour before he went down to the ballroom to claim his victory, he had a phone conversation with Mayor Daley of Chicago, and Mayor Daley all but promised to throw the Illinois delegates to Bobby at the convention in August of 1968.

And I think he said to me and Pete Hamill at that point: "Daley is the ballgame and I think we have Daley." And then one of the most moving things for me was the night before his funeral, I went into St. Patrick's Cathedral with a group of friends that included Tom Hayden who was then a leader of Students for a Democratic Society, and was organizing the protests at the 1968 convention.

And I was asked to stand vigil at the casket at some point in the middle of the night. And Mayor Daley was there and he -- he and I, who did not admire each other, were both standing over the casket of Robert Kennedy. And tears running down our cheeks, and Tom Hayden, who was further back in St. Patrick's -- I could hear him crying.

And then 10 weeks later, when the Democratic Party was almost destroyed by the armies led by Tom Hayden in the street, and the Chicago police working for Mayor Daley -- I thought back to that moment -- that Robert Kennedy was the only possible person who could have unified Mayor Daley and Tom Hayden and myself behind one candidacy; and that those riots and violence never would have happened if Bob had not been killed.

And I think if he had been nominated, he certainly would have defeated Richard Nixon. And that's a gigantic fork in the road -- to get Richard Nixon instead of Robert Kennedy.

GROSS: Where were you when Robert Kennedy was murdered?

NEWFIELD: I was in the fifth floor of the hotel. I was watch -- he had -- he went downstairs and I wanted to avoid the crush of people. And John Lewis, who's in the film and is a close friend of mine who is now a congressman from Atlanta -- he and I stayed behind to watch the victory speech on TV in the suite on the fifth floor that Bob had just vacated. And we watched it on television in the hotel. And then we ran downstairs when we realized that shots had been fired.

Later that night, me and John and Cesar Chavez went to the hospital, which is where it hit me that this -- this was Robert Kennedy's coalition and people like Chavez and John Lewis were now orphans in history; that I felt Robert Kennedy's presidency would have been the logical climax of the 1960s; that everything that had happened for eight years was pointing towards Robert Kennedy's presidency to end the Vietnam War.

And it was just aborted in front of our eyes. It was, as Marshall Gans (ph), who was an organizer for Chavez, says in the film as Robert Kennedy's -- the gunshots rang out and you knew what happened. He said: "I could feel history slipping through my fingers."

GROSS: Has there been any information about Robert Kennedy that has surfaced in the years since his death that have led you to reconsider your evaluation of him as a political leader or as a man?

NEWFIELD: Not in any large way. In doing this film, I spent a lot of time investigating the plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the one plot in particular that angered Robert Kennedy -- the hiring of the Mafia by the CIA to assassinate Castro. And...

GROSS: The same guys who he had been prosecuting were the guys the CIA had hired, like Sam Giancana.

NEWFIELD: Right. Yes. And -- but I'm convinced that he did everything in his power to stop that, 'cause he was outraged by it. He had created this feud with Frank Sinatra by moving President Kennedy's stay in Palm Springs from Sinatra's house to Bing Crosby's house because Giancana, the crime boss of Chicago, was staying at Sinatra's house. He hated Giancana. He told his assistant John Siegenthaler (ph) to redouble the efforts to get Giancana when he found out the CIA had paid him and Traficante money to murder Castro.

So, I think that what he did in that case was honorable -- to try to stop the plots. Although I think the CIA lied to him and told him the plots involving the Mafia were over. And in the film, I chose to go on camera myself and to criticize Robert Kennedy for the wiretapping of Martin Luther King. And I say it was indefensible then and it's still indefensible now. But I knew that in 1968.

GROSS: Let me get back to Giancana for a second. John Kennedy was alleged to have had an affair with Giancana's lover, so I can't imagine how Robert Kennedy would have felt about that. He had to know.

NEWFIELD: Oh, he certainly did know. I think Hoover made it clear to him and -- by mid-'62 that President Kennedy and Sam Giancana were sharing the same mistress.

GROSS: So what did Robert Kennedy make of that? It was -- did you talk to him about that ever? Do you know?

NEWFIELD: No. Well, nobody knew about Judy Exner until the Church Committee hearings in 1975. I certainly did not know and nobody knew about it while Robert Kennedy was alive. It came out eight years after he was dead.

GROSS: Is this something that troubles you or that you'd really love to hear him...

NEWFIELD: It doesn't trouble me, but I'm very...

GROSS: ... talk about?

NEWFIELD: ... curious to know how -- how he dealt with it and what he said to his brother.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

NEWFIELD: But I mean, there were all of these rumors about Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

NEWFIELD: I looked into it as much as you could and I didn't -- at the end, I decided not to get into something that was unknowable. There were allegations that Robert Kennedy was in Malibu the night Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, August 4, '62. If that had been true, we certainly would have put that in the film.

And I did a lot of research and I -- the LAPD had done a confidential report to investigate whether that was true. And they proved there were no -- Robert Kennedy the night of Monroe's death was giving a speech to the bar association in San Francisco and there were no helicopters rented or -- that went from San Francisco to L.A. People who were with Robert Kennedy that night said he never -- he was in San Francisco all night and went to church in the morning at 6:00.

So I think there is a lot of interest and a lot of mystery, but some things are just unprovable if you really have a standard for truth and knowledge beyond rumor.

GROSS: What was Robert Kennedy's lasting effect on you?

NEWFIELD: Well, one, he just educated me a lot about integrity in public life. And he became -- for me, he is the standard by which I think all politicians should be judged. I don't think any -- I think people who were born after 1968 should not think that Carter or Bush or Bill Clinton or Al Gore is the highest standard for public service.

I think they have to see someone like Robert Kennedy, and his degree of principle and integrity and capacity for growth and sense of humor and lack of hubris and willingness to be transformed by experience. I think you have to see Robert Kennedy before you can really measure this generation or the next generation of candidates who want your vote.

GROSS: Jack Newfield -- he co-produced the documentary "Robert Kennedy: A Memoir" which premiers Sunday night on the Discovery Channel. Newfield is now a political columnist for the New York Post.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jack Newfield
High: Jack Newfield wrote the highly acclaimed 1969 book "Robert Kennedy: A Memoir by Jack Newfield." This Sunday, The Discovery Channel will air a 3-hour documentary co-produced by Newfield. The series is based on his book. This Saturday, June 6, marks the 30th Anniversary of Robert Kennedy's death. Newfield is a political columnist for The New York Post. In 1962, He was a charter member of Students for a Democratic Society and was a founder of the "Dump Johnson" movement in New York in 1967.
Spec: History; Deaths; RFK; Media; Television
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Robert Kennedy
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 04, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060402np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Make Gentle the Life of the World
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Max Kennedy never knew his father well. Max was three when Robert Kennedy was assassinated 30 years ago. He died on June 6, 1968. Now, Max Kennedy has edited a book of his father's speeches and favorite literary quotations, called "Make Gentle the Life of this World: The Vision of Robert Kennedy."

He hopes it will show that although his father was known as a tough attorney general, powerful senator, and brother of a president, his inner life was deeply connected to his favorite books of literature and philosophy.

We invited Max Kennedy to talk with us about his father. Max writes in the introduction to his book that he felt some trepidation at the task of spending so much time thinking about his father. I asked him why.

MAXWELL TAYLOR KENNEDY, SON OF RFK, EDITOR, "MAKE GENTLE THE LIFE OF THIS WORLD," JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: My father was killed obviously when I was a very little boy. And I would say that his absence was probably the greatest factor in my life. And obviously a -- that was a painful and an aching absence for me. And while I've dealt with many of the issues surrounding that, I think it's something -- the death of a father is something that is very difficult to deal with at any stage in a life.

I remember reading in a novel by Umberto Eco that -- he had one sentence in this novel where he said: "there's no use getting over the -- there's no use figuring out how to deal with the death of a father, because you'll never have to deal with it again." And I think it's -- it was just, you know, a lot of reading this stuff and thinking about him was sort of delving into grief and to some extent suffering. And that's a hard thing to do.

There was a -- when I began this project, I was trying to think of whether to do it or whether not to do it. And I read a translation of a poem by a German poet. And I came across a couple of lines from the "Dueno Elegy" (ph) and it said: "how dear you will be to me then, you nights of anguish. Why didn't I kneel more deeply to accept you, inconsolable sisters; and, kneeling, lose myself in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain."

And that poem really helped me to kind of see the value in delving deeply into this stuff. I mean, there -- there's -- I think the Bible says that pain is the touchstone to spiritual growth. And I felt that I had a real opportunity here in sort of diving deeply into this.

GROSS: In your new collection of your father's speeches, you have something that he said on the death of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. And I thought this would be an appropriate thing for you to read as we get close to the anniversary -- the 30th anniversary of your father's assassination. Would you read an excerpt of this for us?

SOUNDBITE OF PAGES TURNING

KENNEDY: Sure, I will. These words were spoken -- I don't know if you know, Terry, but my father was scheduled to speak in Indianapolis that evening. And while he was on the plane, he got word that Dr. King had been shot and was going to die. And the word -- this announcement had not been made public, so it fell to my father to announce -- to give this terrible news to the people of Indianapolis.

And he was scheduled to speak in what was then called the ghetto, and as his escort drove into one of the poorest areas in the city, the police who were escorting him pulled away and refused to drive in. My father's car continued, but the car carrying his speech followed the police officers. So, he found himself that night in this very poor area with no speech.

And he started by saying: "I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens and for people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight." And at that point on the recording, there's a terrible gasp from the crowd.

And then my father picks up again and he says: "Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings. And he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

"For those of you who are black, considering the evidence there evidently is, that there were white people who were responsible, you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and with a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country and great polarization -- black people amongst black; white people amongst white -- filled with hatred toward one another.

"Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend. And to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, with compassion and love.

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

"But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times."

And then he quoted from memory his favorite poet, Aeschylus. And he said: "my favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: 'in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

And he finished that speech by asking the people there to go back to their homes and to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King and also to say a prayer for the United States. And the remarkable thing is that night there were riots across the country. I think there were riots in 186 cities and town in the United States. And Indianapolis was quiet.

GROSS: Max Kennedy, did that speech give you any clues on dealing with your father's assassination?

KENNEDY: Yes, I think it definitely did. It's really a remarkable speech. I think that when a violent act occurs like that, the temptation is immediately to respond with hatred and with anger and with a vengeful heart. And the lesson that my father tried to give is to -- the old Christian ethic, which is to try to respond with love. And in fact, I took the title of this book from something he said later that same night at that same -- in that same speech.

He said to this incredibly poor audience, who had every right to be unimaginably angry, he went back and he quoted the ancient Greeks again, which I think is a remarkable thing, and he said: "let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago -- to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world."

And I mean, in the final analysis, my feeling is that this world could still use a lot more gentleness.

GROSS: My guest is Max Kennedy. His father Robert Kennedy died 30 years ago this Saturday. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Max Kennedy. He's edited a book of his father Robert Kennedy's speeches and favorite literary quotations, called Make Gentle the Life of this World.

Max Kennedy, you were three when your father died. I'm wondering what you thought about as you watched your son become the age you were when your father died, and that age was three.

KENNEDY: Well, I thought a lot about my father during that time. And I thought about myself and what I was like. And I thought often of what it would be like for that little boy to lose his own father and what it must have been like for me to have this. I mean, for him, I -- when a child is three and a half years old, the father is an incredibly important force in their lives. And to have that yanked away and disappear, I thought very often and long about that.

GROSS: Do you have first-hand memories of your father? Or are your memories mostly through what you've seen and read since his assassination?

KENNEDY: Well, I was three and a half years old when my father was killed. And I do have certain vague memories that you would expect from someone who's that young. I don't -- I would rather not speak of -- I would rather not talk about them specifically.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. That's fine.

KENNEDY: But I remember being with him and that's the most important thing.

GROSS: You describe yourself in your new book as having built a life somewhat independent of the Kennedy mystique. And I'm wondering if that's very difficult to do?

KENNEDY: Well, I said "somewhat" so...

LAUGHTER

... so I think it is hard to do. I don't think I was trying particularly hard, though. All that I meant by that was that I have -- I've avoided to a large extent being in any way in the public eye. And I'd spent much of my career as an assistant -- serving as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, where my name mattered very little. You know, in the courtrooms and certainly the defendants had no idea that it was a -- Robert Kennedy's son who was prosecuting them.

GROSS: Did -- did your father's work inspire you to go into law?

KENNEDY: Definitely it did. Definitely it did. I was also very inspired by my brother Bobby, who's an environmental lawyer in New York State. So, I think Bobby was probably inspired by my father and I looked at his example and loved what he did.

GROSS: You wrote a magazine article for Doubletake about how in 1992 after graduating law school, you joined the DA's office in Philadelphia and you write: "I believed that my enthusiasm and hard work and good intentions would make a difference. I believed that the law would make a difference. And then I was assigned to the juvenile unit." And you conclude in the article that the juvenile justice system doesn't work.

Would you give us a kind of very compressed version of your critique of the juvenile justice system the way you witnessed it?

KENNEDY: Sure. There's been in the last decade an explosion in juvenile crime, and an explosion in the seriousness of the crimes committed by juveniles. I think in 1965, there were two juveniles arrested in the city and county of Philadelphia for narcotics offenses. And in my last year at the DA's office, there were just over 9,000. And they're -- the system is just completely not set up to deal with that kind of an explosion.

And so, the juveniles that should go to treatment are kept home. And the juveniles who should be locked up are sent to treatment. And so the treatment programs can't work or don't work and many, many juveniles are left on the streets to commit more crimes because there's not room in the system to deal with them.

GROSS: I think, you know, when you're an idealistic person and you're working in a dysfunctional system, you have two choices and it's really hard to choose between the two. One is: "I have to leave. This system isn't working." And the other is: "this system isn't working. I am idealistic. I must change -- I must stay and change it. I must try to fix it."

Was it a very difficult decision for you to go, rather than to stay and try to change the system?

KENNEDY: It was extraordinarily difficult. That's a very perceptive question. You must have had some experience with this personally. It was one of the most difficult decisions that I've made in the last 10 years and I have so much respect and admiration for my co-workers who have stayed on there and dedicated their lives. Because I think they really do make an incredibly important difference to the victims of crime.

On the whole and in the great balance of the crimes being committed, we made very little difference. But in the lives of a victim, who's come in and had the defense attorneys against them and the -- the, you know, and had this terrible crime committed, they have always at least one friend in the courtroom and that's the prosecutor.

GROSS: So what was -- when you did the math about whether you should stay or whether you should go, what kind of led you to make the decision that you'd go?

KENNEDY: Well, finally I was very lucky in the end because my wife was offered a teaching position at Harvard University. So, I had a very good reason to leave.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

KENNEDY: Otherwise, I may well have continued there for a very long time. So, I count myself lucky for my wife's good employment.

GROSS: You know, your father said in one of the speeches that you quote "there is no greater need than for educated men and women to point their careers toward public service as the finest and most rewarding type of life." Did those words ring in your ears when you were trying to figure out what to do?

KENNEDY: That's funny.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Just like one more thing to make you feel guilty.

LAUGHTER

KENNEDY: Yeah, it's -- there's another quotation in this book from Aristotle which -- it's Aristotle or Plato, and it says the old Greek definition of happiness is a -- is the full use of one's powers in a life affording them scope. And I think that's kind of another way of defining happiness or fulfillment.

And for me, I think that we really -- I really learned from my older brothers and sisters and from my mother that a -- that the important thing in life was to be fulfilled. And I have discovered after trying numerous different careers that the -- that fulfillment comes most easily from a life that is involved in public service.

It's simply the most fun way for me to live my life. And that's why I do it, not out of some sort of sense of obligation or filial piety or this kind of thing. And I think that's what my father I'm sure would have wanted. And I know it's what my mother would want.

GROSS: What kind of work are you doing now?

KENNEDY: I'm actually starting a new job in the fall teaching at Boston College and running an institute at Boston College which is developing teacher training programs for inner-city high schools to improve the science curricula in the poorer neighborhoods in Boston.

GROSS: Well, that relates to juvenile justice in the sense that, you know, trying to help kids before...

KENNEDY: Well, that's exactly right.

GROSS: ... there's a problem.

KENNEDY: The -- the -- we're trying to get the young people in the inner-city neighborhoods involved in the outdoors. And I can tell you that there was not -- I prosecuted more than 1,000 juveniles in Philadelphia and not one of them had ever been to any kind of a park outside of the city. And there's enormous opportunity to experience the outdoors in Boston and that's one of the things we're going to try to do. So.

GROSS: Did you ever consider entering electoral politics?

KENNEDY: From time to time, the idea of running for office enters my head, but I usually push it out very quickly. And I know that for the next several years I'm going to be extraordinarily busy teaching and working at the Watershed Institute of Boston College. So, I -- I heard my brother Bobby say the other day: "I have no plans and I have no plans to make plans." And I kind of like that.

GROSS: My guest is Max Kennedy. His father Robert Kennedy died 30 years ago this Saturday. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Max Kennedy. He's edited a book of his father Robert Kennedy's speeches and favorite literary quotations called Make Gentle the Life of this World.

As you know, your generation of Kennedys has been very closely watched by the press and by the public, and there's been articles with headlines like "Third Generation of Kennedys Has Been Scarred by Drugs, Death, Alcohol, Sexual Improprieties and Marriage Problems." Do you think that there are different pressures facing your generation than your father's generation?

KENNEDY: Well, the first thing to remember is that I come from an extraordinarily large family. I have something like 30 cousins -- first cousins on my father's side alone. And the vast majority of them are living productive, full lives. They're raising children in states all around the country.

They're doctors and they're lawyers and they're practicing public interest law, and -- some of us are teachers. And we're all, I think, all of my cousins are contributing in some way to their family and to their friends and their neighbors, and to some extent to their society whether they're raising children or producing in some other way.

And I think that every family in America has individuals who go through difficult times. And I think almost everybody in their life at some point goes through a difficult time. And the thing is in my family, when someone has a challenge that they're dealing with, it often makes its way into the press and it's those kinds of things that make headlines, rather than the balanced life that I see among -- amongst my cousins.

GROSS: Max Kennedy, I'd like you to choose something from the new book you've edited of your father's speeches, and -- something's that particularly meaningful to you.

KENNEDY: This is a passage that my father wrote, I think, in 1967. And the reason that I chose it is I've been asked recently a lot about the private lives of public figures. And this quote brings to mind the issues that I think I'm most concerned about with the private lives of public figures. Obviously, it was difficult for most of my brothers and sisters to share my father, growing up, with so many others.

And the interesting thing to me is in 1967, a group of medical doctors went and traveled through Appalachia, which was an area of the country that had been widely ignored, especially by national politicians. And when they came back, they found extraordinary -- they found an awful lot of malnutrition -- you know, children who were going to bed hungry and even starving. And there was -- there was really no response for them. They were unable to even get an interview with anyone in the administration. And they were unable to speak with any of the senators who were dealing with those kinds of issues.

Finally, one of them got my father's telephone number at home and he called him on a Saturday. And -- and he -- my father invited him over and they began to talk. And by that evening, my father had called 13 or 14 other senators and begun to write legislation; and spoken with the various cabinet officials who would be involved with it.

And I'll tell you what he said about it. He wrote this in a speech soon after that. He said: "There are others from whom we avert our sight. Some of them are in the hills and hollows of the Appalachians. That is proud land and these are proud men who have rallied to the nation's flag at every hour of danger."

"But the deep mines are closing and the jobs have gone, leaving men without work -- many of them crippled by the accidents and disease that lurk down in the mines; their land a ruin of strip mines and stinking creeks. Their children are ravaged by worms and intestinal parasites. They eat bread and gravy and sometimes beans. And as one of them says when another child is born: 'we just add a little water to the gravy.'"

And I think that as a result of those efforts, the food stamp program was born. That's how food stamps were created, and these children, you know, first began to get decent nourishment. And to me, it's incredibly interesting, you know, how a man who comes from a life -- from a family that's extraordinarily well-to-do, who could spend his Saturday doing almost anything, would choose to meet with these doctors, and then sit down and create a plan and get legislation through so that children do not have to suffer as much in this country.

GROSS: Your father Robert Kennedy was assassinated 30 years ago. Are anniversaries particularly difficult for you? Or do they offer a particularly good time for reflection?

KENNEDY: Well, I think both. I think good times -- I think reflective times are often very difficult times. And certainly, these kind of anniversaries bring up the aching of his absence. But, I don't think any of us would want it any other way.

GROSS: What do you mean?

KENNEDY: Well, well I don't think I would want to live a life in which my love for my father was such that, at least on certain days of the year, I didn't feel an aching for him.

GROSS: Max Kennedy, I want to thank you very much for joining us.

KENNEDY: Thank you so much for interviewing me, Terry.

GROSS: Max Kennedy has edited a new book of his father's speeches and favorite literary quotations called Make Gentle the Life of this World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy.

Max was three when his father was assassinated. This Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of his death.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
High: Maxwell Taylor Kennedy is the youngest son of Robert F. Kennedy. He has edited a new collection of his father's private journal entries called "Make Gentle The Life of this World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy." Max Kennedy, as he is called, has written stories for the Santa Monica News, and for the magazines Doubletake and Conde Nast Traveler. He also served as a prosecutor in Philadelphia. He lives in Boston.
Spec: Family; Robert Kennedy; Books; Authors; Deaths
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Make Gentle the Life of the World
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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