One of the features of aging past ninety is accumulating many stories to tell. Perhaps fewer are left alive to challenge insignificant details.
"Joe, I don't want to offend, but I can't help wondering how, how in the world you got to know Joseph Kennedy? It seems so unlikely that a Philadelphia Quaker would ever run in the same circle with such a notorious swashbuckler. How did you meet him?"
The question was pondered, and then agreement nodded. Quakers don't hold with guilt by association, don't fear to be seen in anyone's company, for a purpose. There is that of God, they say, in any man. But my friend's serious nod acknowledged the matter might be thought by some to be strange. "Well, you know I spent much of my time dealing with bankruptcies and receiverships. During the Depression, there was quite a lot of need for that work. One day, the Chemical Bank called me up and said they had come into the problem of Universal Picture Studios out in Hollywood. They asked me to draw up a plan of reorganization for them, as a consultant. I agreed to do so, but it worked out that the stockholders didn't get much out of it. That's very often the case, I'm afraid."
"The Chemical Bank eventually called me up and said they were going to get a heavy hitter in to sell the plan to the stockholders because some were rebelling at the terms. Chemical was kind enough to say it was an excellent reorganization plan, but it just wasn't getting agreement."
"So that's how I found myself in New York when they brought in Joe Kennedy, who listened quickly to me general plan, and they wanted to know just who was the main problem. William Randolph Hearst was mainly it, because of his association with Miriam Davies the movie star. So he told me to get my hat and coat, we were immediately going out to San Simeon, which is certainly a beautiful place.
Sitting at the table at the League, my only possible contribution to this sort of conversation was that I had once paid fifty cents to walk through San Simeon, which is certainly a beautiful place.
"Well, then, you know that dining room with the enormous fireplace, and a big oaken table with a dog crawling around under it. I suppose that's still there. We sat down to dinner with Miriam Hopkins seated at the end, playing hostess, and on her right side, there was Joe Kennedy, the guest of honor. I was seated down below the salt somewhere and watched them all get drunk. There was an awful lot of noise and hubbub, and everybody just seemed to be having a wonderful time."
"Suddenly, Kennedy jumped up, knocked his chair over backward, and shouted out, "Goddam Dog!". Everybody shut up for a minute, but he got his chair back up and sat down. In a few minutes, it was as noisy as ever. The whole thing was ignored, whatever it was."
"Except by me. Coming home on the train when we were alone, I said, Mr. Kennedy, just what was that business about the dog?' "Well,' sez he, 'that women ran her hand up my thigh, so naturally I grabbed her back. And then the goddamned dog bit me!"
I have since reflected on this story and it somehow seems to me Joe Kennedy later bought the studio himself, although maybe I am wrong. It would certainly have been cheap enough. And he later got involved with some other actresses, although perhaps this wasn't his first introduction to the world of glitter since how else would he have been able to invite himself to dinner at San Simeon on the spur of the moment?
Or maybe there is another end to the story, conveyed to me through the medical grapevine. It was that after Kennedy had his eventually fatal stroke, he spent two years constantly repeating a single word. The word "No".
Originally published: Wednesday, October 03, 2018; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 16, 2019