Friday, 23 December 2011



With the campaign over I kept a personal promise to Marina and flew to Dallas. Though it was against every instinct in my soul, I said I would save her marriage to Lee, and my contacts within the Democratic Party would assure the success of my plan.
The bungalow was now a museum to Jane Fonda. Outside was a huge sign reading, FAIR PLAY FOR JANE.

Inside pictures of Jane in every conceivable pose, stills from her films: “Getting Straight”, “Zabriskie Point”, the anti-Kennedy war thriller “M*A*S*H” (she, of course, played the repressed Nurse Hoolihan), “The Raspberry Statement” (famous for its marvelous soundtrack by composer Wild Man Fischer), and the pro-“Shippie”, “Alice’s Floating Restaurant” with its famous pro-Zionist song lyrics, “You can get anything you choose/At Alice’s Restaurant for Jews.”

Marina was in emotional shambles.
“It get much worse, Norm. He call me Jane in close encounters.”
“What time does Lee get home from work?”
“Lee work till eight. School just start two months ago. Lots of returned books.”
“Well, at nine your troubles will all be over.”
Marina hugged me and cried chokingly on my shoulder.
“He make fun of me all the time,” she sobbed. “He say he wish I was Negro. Then I be Black Russian. I no get it. He laugh.”

Lee came home at eight as Marina said and was thrilled to see me. But all he could talk about was Jane Fonda and the work he had done in her behalf. At nine, my friend, Senator Tom Hayden of California arrived with his new bride, Jane Fonda. When Lee first saw Jane he practically melted.
“Your highness,” he said, “How I’ve waited for this moment.”
“Lee,” she answered. “I dearly appreciate what you’ve done for me. Because of you I’ve landed my first serious role. I will be playing, not just playing, starring in a film called ‘Klute’. My first starring role,”
She kissed him and Lee turned beet red.
“May I offer you some borscht?” said Marina, trying to make her presence felt. “Lee hates the stuff, but he is my husband, you know.”

“No, thank you, dear,” said Jane. “But I’d like you to meet my husband. Tom and I married yesterday. I wanted Lee to be the first to know. Even the press hasn’t gotten wind of it yet.”
Lee sulked the rest of the evening. The next day the sign on the lawn came down as did the pictures in the living room one by one, followed by the bedroom and ending with the last still from the semi-classic, “Candy”, in the bathroom beside the shower stall.

I had saved one marriage and decided to initiate another. It wasn’t the most romantic place for a proposal, but I asked Marilyn to marry me in Abe Zapruder’s new film studio. She accepted without hesitation, and Abe broke out the schnapps to celebrate.
I phoned the President with the announcement. I wanted him to be the first to know, even before my parents.
“Norm” he said, “I’m only here two more months, but I’d like, as my last Presidential act, to be the host of a White House wedding.”
“Me, married in the White House?”
“I think it’s rather appropriate,” he answered. “And tell the Sitzmans not to worry about the costs. I can get the hall wholesale, and I’ve got a great caterer who owes me one. Oh yes, he’s Kosher.”

What a wedding it was. First we went to City Hall for the license. There I had a double ceremony. Lee and Marina were finally wedded legally with Marilyn and I. Though I considered Lee as best man, the President was, naturally, my final choice, though Marina was a maid of honor.

After the ceremony, the fun began. First the President made a toast. “I’d like to raise a toast to a man whose fate is intertwined with mine and Norm’s. This man was to be blamed for my murder. But Norm prevented my premature dismissal from life, and Lee became a great soldier and true patriot. Everyone, please rise. I toast Lee Harvey Oswald.”

With great emotion I stood up, took a sip of wine which the President accosted from my lips. He threw the wine glass into the punch bowl and said, “Until a hundred and twenty,” and then the show began.

First, Marilyn was photographed in her lovely bridal gown, designed by Abe Zapruder and photographed by him. He had sold the dress factory and begun a business that today is common: the filming of weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and special occasions. Little did Marilyn realize when she first bought him the Bell and Howell 8mm camera where it would all lead.

Then the entertainment. The President had gathered a group of the finest popular Jewish musicians of the time. Jan Peerce was our cantor of the ceremony, but in the evening he invited such Jewish musical stars as Leslie Gore and Neil Diamond to perform as well as Jewish bands such as Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin and the Doors, and for the quiet moments guitarist Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield serenaded us with their acoustic guitars while the guests ate and conversed.
The President invited only two representatives from television, both Jewish: Barbara Walters of CBS and the soft spoken Mike Wallace of ABC. They made me a national figure, and because of this Marilyn appeared on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan. But her sweet demeanor never changed with fame and some minor notoriety.

But the beginning of 1969, just a week later, brought in the Reagan era, and my life in politics slowed down considerably. But there were moments here and there.
For instance, the ex-President was to receive an honorary PHD from Yale University and asked me to write an appropriate speech. I wrote the now famous lines which the President delivered with such great timing: “Now I have the best of two worlds: a Harvard education and a Yale degree.” It was hard to say, but reports were that the Harvard crowd laughed harder at the delivery.

By an odd coincidence, three of us Democratic survivors went into sports. Hubert Humphrey headed a group that bought the Minnesota Vikings in 1969. Humphrey hired a Minnesota coach who had been a winner in Canada, named Bud Grant. Grant lured former Rose Bowl star, quarterback Joe Japp, from his team in Western Canada, and tightened his defensive front four, later called the Purple People Eaters. While that line consisting of Eller and Wrong Way Marshall, so called because he once picked up a fumble and ran it for a touchdown in the wrong end zone, stopped all opposition running attacks, Kapp, though he could never throw a ball properly, kept hitting wide receiver Gene Washington for touchdowns while fullback Oscar brown sent shivers down the spines of league defenders. Humphrey had created a dynasty.

Meanwhile, the Kennedy brothers bought the Boston Bruins, their local hockey club. After acquiring Phil Esposito, a journeyman center from the Chicago Black Hawks and placing him on a line, with former hacks Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge, had created the greatest line in hockey history. Bobby Orr, their new defenseman, teamed up brilliantly with his partner, Don Awrey, and average players such as Dallas Smith, Pie Face Mackenzie and 52 year old Johnny Bucyk, became inspired by the smell of victory. The Kennedys also produced a winner.

And I was chairman of the new board of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. I moved back to Detroit where I hadn’t lived since student days, to be closer to my family. I participated in Jewish organizations, and one decided to honor former Tigers star, Hank Greenberg with some sort of honor. One thing led to another and we funded the new Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Detroit. I hosted the opening ceremony when I personally inducted Sid Luckman, my distant cousin Sandy Koufax, Dolph Shayes, and the deceased boxer Benny Leonard into the Hall. A year later I inducted Maxie Rosenbloom, Red Auerbach and Canadiens owner, Sam Pollock, into the exclusive fraternity of great American sports legends. Though no Europeans were to be inducted, Canadians were since there is very little difference between our and their culture, and we share teams in the same professional leagues and sports.

Of course, this led to my appointment as the chairman of the Jewish Cultural Hall of Fame in Los Angeles. I personally inducted the great comedians Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, George Burns, Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges into the Hall of Greats. Tony Curtis inducted the late Clara Bow, John Garfield and Paul Muni in the acting field while Sophie Tucker inducted the late Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice into the vocal section.

But politically this was a hopelessly slow period for Democratic Presidential politics, and I have little to report. Bobby spent a year in Mexico claiming he ate, of all things, mushrooms and communed with a wise Indian philosopher. He returned politically refreshed and won a Senate seat in New York, though he set up residence there only six months before and hated the place. He preferred Oregon or Colorado, but there were no political openings in sight there, and New York was expediently chosen as his new home.

I got off the hook personally when Earl Warren, after spending two years investigating the Teamsters, declared that “Teamster activities are guided by one man and one man alone, Mr. Jimmy Hoffa. After extensive and exhaustive study we have found Mr. Hoffa to be an exemplary citizen, and any charges of misdeeds are entirely unfounded.” President Reagan dropped all charges against him, and Jimmy took over the reins of the Union until his disappearance six months later. Of course, two years later his body was discovered in many pieces at the bottom of Miami Harbor.

Life was not easy for President Reagan. After the patrol boat Pueblo was seized off the North Korean coast in the spring of ’69, Reagan ordered the bombing raid of Pyong Yang and all the crew members were murdered by the angered victims of the raid.
General Westmoreland, who was supervising the tragic retreat from Vietnam, demanded a landing on North Korea by sea and an attack from the 38th parallel. Reagan rejected the idea and Westmoreland took his views to the press. Reagan had no choice but to fire his wayward General, and he appeared before Congress uttering his immortal observation that “Old soldiers don’t die. They just quietly fade away.”

Westmoreland had the noisiest fading away in history, attacking Reagan’s weaknesses at rallies, ticket tape parades and suppers. He cut into Reagan’s popularity tremendously to our great amusement and joy. 1972’s prospects brightened as Reagan completed Kennedy’s hated retreat yet refused to accept responsibility for punitive action against the “Pueblo massacre.” Already Salinger suggested as a future campaign slogan, “Remember the Pueblo.” But as a sloganeer, Salinger was not respected by the Kennedys. As John once told me, “Do you know what he once suggested as a slogan for my programs? The New Frontier. Can you believe that cliche? After the New Deal he has the nerve to try and rehash something as dumb as the New Frontier.” Actually, my slogan, the Great Society, was the one that stuck within the administration, though the public at large took no notice of the catchy coinage.

Reagan, himself, was no great sloganeer. He plagiarized Kennedy’s Inauguration question, butchered it in fact, reflecting the new mood in America. At his first State of the Union Address he said, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for yourself.”

Reagan turned out to be quite a political novice. During his presidency he had received small gifts from supporters, a stereo from bobby Baker, some fertilizer for his ranch from Bill Sol Estes. Then when the press blew these incidents up he was embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal, resolved only when it was discovered he had taped his Oval Room conversations and had to hand over these tapes to a Senate investigating committee, though one tape had a mysterious gap of eighteen minutes apparently caused by his secretary pressing on the erase pedal while she was peaking on the phone. The damning conversation, now called the “smoking gun,” went as follows:
Baker: Ron, the speakers give a (expletive deleted) sound. Listen to this Connie Francis disc.
Connie Francis: Lipstick on your collar told a tale on you.
President: (unintelligible)
Connie Francis: Lipstick on your collar said you were untrue.
Baker: (unintelligible) woofers, (unintelligible), tweeters.
Connie Francis: Bet your bottom dollar, you and I are through.
President: (unintelligible) How much is it?
Connie Francis: ‘Cause lipstick on your collar.
Baker: (unintelligible) dollars.
Connie Francis: Told a tale on you.
President: (expletive deleted)
Baker: That’s the going rate.
Connie Francis: Yeah, told a tale on you.
President: Alright. I’ll that the (expletive deleted) deal.
Connie Francis: Mmmmm. Told a tale on you.

Further difficulties arose in his Presidency. The space program suffered a major setback as Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon said, “This is one small step for mankind, whoops,” and was never heard from again as he sunk into the lunar quicksand. Soviet unmanned flights were sending back more information, cheaper and without the loss of astronauts, and Reagan was caught in his own Sputnik-like controversy. Bobby, grabbing on the weakness, began speaking of a “rocket gap” with the Soviets, a phrase I humbly take credit for.

Two diplomatic failures also marred the Reagan Presidency. In a last gasp effort at international prestige, Reagan sent a stuttering college professor, Henry Kissinger, to China to try and mend fences there. Two days after his arrival, Kissinger was arrested for spying and still languishes in Chung Chu prison despite intense diplomatic efforts to free him.

And of course, there was the Kirkpatrick episode. A democratic intellectual, Jean Kirkpatrick, was appointed Ambassador to Uganda. Invited one evening to a dinner at the Presidential Palace of Idi Amin she disappeared and was rumored to have been eaten by the President and his cabinet.

Criticizing Reagan became a media passion. On a television interview Reagan was asked by meek Mike Wallace who his favorite president was. Reagan said Wilson because of his unbending principles. Perhaps a noble choice, but the press compared Reagan to Wilson, a weak politician who got none of his grand plans to work, and the image stuck.

Then came the disastrous interview. Gay Liberation was new to America, but led by Walter Jenkins it became a potent issue. Gay, an underground codeword for queer, started flexing its political muscles and affecting mayoral elections on the West Coast. Reagan agreed to be interviewed by Playboy, a magazine founded in the fifties, propounding antiquated liberal sexual views, but kept alive by a combination of tradition and an aging readership. The interviewer asked Reagan where he stood on gay rights, and he gave a typically political answer, neither for nor opposed. He said though he himself felt lust in the heart occasionally for some men that his strong sense of morality prevented him acting against his better nature.

Naturally he was attacked both for his admission and for agreeing to be interviewed by such a lurid magazine. And on this point I must agree with the media. It is beneath a President’s dignity to appear in the same magazine as half-clothed nubile young women. Marilyn was especially upset by this breach of the sanctity of the Presidency.

But Reagan had his moments. It was he who suggested a Cuban team in the American Baseball League, and it was at his urging that freed insurgent Fidel Castro agreed to coach the team. And it was their victory over the Mets in the 1970 World Series that cemented Cuban-American relations.
And the shrewd futurist prepared a new candidate for ’72. Reagan kicked off the opening of the ’70 Super Bowl won by the Buffalo Bills over the Kansas City Chiefs. Preferring to go with the winner, he invited Jack Kemp over Len Dawson to a personal dinner highly publicized by the media. He claimed Kemp was highly articulate and a natural leader. How funny is fate. Had the Chiefs won, it could have been Len Dawson sitting in the Senate and vying for a future Presidency.

It is a peculiarity of American politics that athletes who get in the news get into power. Inspired by Joan Kennedy’s example, two women swimmers, Sharon Wichman and Kaye Hall accepted their gold medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics by holding their fists in the air in the feminist salute during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, and instead of being punished now sit in the California Legislature, and U.S. Congress, elected by a misguided but activist female constituency. And even entertainers like Reagan himself are at an advantage. Pat Paulsen, a star of the hilarious, though anti-Kennedy Smothers Brothers Show, took a joke write-in candidacy where he declared his opponent to be a “known heterosexual,” into a genuine house seat.

Yet one can never find a formula for success in American politics. Bob Beamon is a loser. At the ’68 Olympics he broke both legs in the long jump event, yet today he is the first black mayor of Wichita, Kansas. There is just no simple explanation for voter preference. Once the media makes the public aware of a person even a good, though losing, try can be an attribute

By 1970 the philanderies of Michigan Senator Jim Royal had become rumor and then confirmed. A Senate seat was going to be open, and the Michigan Democratic Part tried to draft me to run for it. Though pregnant with our first child, Marilyn encouraged me to run for it, but I had to speak to the Kennedys first. They were my benefactors, after all.

A meeting at the Chappaquidic home of Teddy was arranged. It was very peaceful there. Teddy’s two children took their swimming lessons from their able teacher, Mary Joe, while the meeting took place. A surprise guest arrived, William Randolph Hearst II. While his daughter and her friend, Squeaky Fromme, splashed in the pool with Mary Joe and the Kennedy children, high politics as being decided. Hearst came to say his Detroit paper would back my candidacy unconditionally. That meant a lot of votes.

But the Kennedys had mixed feelings about the candidacy, and John was violently opposed to it.
“Reporters start looking into candidates,” he said. “Things are discovered, other things are revealed. It can be embarrassing,” he said.
“But, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide.”
“You think you have nothing to hide. You don’t know what you have to hide.”

I didn’t understand the implication that Bobby made the final statement. “John, we have something good for us in the future. Let’s say I try of ’72. Norm here would carry on the line so to speak. I couldn’t ask Teddy to be my Vice-President. That would look ridiculous . But Norm here would be a very good candidate if he’s been an acceptable Senator.

For some reason that ended the discussion. I would be running against Bill Milliken with the blessings of Hearst and the Kennedys.
The fight against Bill Milliken was touchy, but I came out the victor. I was a good Senator, though not a controversial one. I was loyal and voted with my Party. But I knew that ’72 and the Vice-Presidency was my objective. Bobby had to win.

There was a lot of objection to Bobby at first. He was considered ruthless because of the way he harassed the now-martyred Jimmy Hoffa. Previous to the New Hampshire Primary it looked like the Presidential candidate would be Ed Muskie. But an odd event occurred. Thinking he was one of the gang, he called a group of French Canadians “Canucks.” The Manchester newspaper, a proud and independent journal, called Muskie a racist and made attacks on his wife’s character. On a snowy evening, Muskie broke down in tears before the TV cameras.
“Look, my wife’s not perfect. Some nights, I mean some days, she can be, she can be, I mean, sometimes she’s a bit, but over all, she’s…”
And then the tears flowed unabashedly. He was through, and Bobby was in. No one was prepared for Muskie falling to pieces, and we were there to pick them up. The years in Mexico and the years in New York had prepared Bobby for his task, and what a candidate he was.

The Republicans had chosen Vice-President Agnew as their candidate. Though Agnew would not have run had Reagan decided to, the Pueblo massacre and public dissatisfaction with his lack of reprisal led to his resignation speech on the eve of the New Hampshire Primary. He swore on national television that he would seek peace with North Korea, and he would not seek nor accept the candidacy of his Party.
Angew’s main rival was General Westmoreland, but heisted Pentagon documents, edited by former State Department official, Daniel Ellsberg, and published in the Los Angeles Times, revealed Westmoreland’s role in the retreat from Asia. The General was shown to be a party to deceit of the American public and far less resolute than his public image revealed. Agnew’s reputation for scrupulous honesty won him the nomination.

But Agnew could not live down Reagan’s failures. Even with the burden of a Jewish Vice-President, Bobby won thirty-eight states and the Presidency. Marilyn was so proud the night we won. She would be Second Lady and our son, Aaron, twelfth child.
It was at the Inauguration that my life finally made sense to me. Of course it was a busy time for all of us. On the podium Rod McKuen read one of his lovely pieces of poetry, and the new coach of the Cuban baseball club, Che Guevara, a former guerilla who recanted revolution in favor of money, gave a moving speech recounting the closer ties between his country and our since the first Kennedy Administration.

Then Bobby gave his speech and for the first time in almost a decade, I played no role in its content. But I was Bobby’s major theme. He stated that for the first time a Jew and the son of Holocaust refugees was Vice-President of our great Republic, and if evil or unfortunate fate held sway that I would lead the nation. He spoke of my experience as a rebirth, and that was to be America’s experience under his administration—a rebirth. That was the label that stuck with him through his successful years as President.

Just before the Inauguration Ball Bobby and John called me into a private study in the White House. John was first to let me know.
“Norm” he said, “I’ll be blunt. You’re my brother.”
“Well, sir,” I replied, “I’ve always felt close to you, and I appreciate…”
“Norm,” Bobby interrupted. “In 1939 Golda Meir spent time in London as representative of the Jewish Agency there. My father, Joseph P. Kennedy, met with Golda on many occasions. She was soliciting American support for the concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As it turns out they had what today we call a fling. Perhaps more than that. From the letters we have in our archives we believe he genuinely loved her.”
“You’re not trying to say…”

“Norm,” said John. “You are the result of their liaison. You were born on a kibbutz in Palestine in 1940. Your foster parents had escaped to Palestine from Germany but found life there too difficult. Golda made a search. She wanted a couple who applied both for adoption of a child and a visa to America. When your foster parents were located and interviewed, both you and their visas were granted. Golda took care of the adoption, my father arranged the visa.”

“Why didn’t she just raise me?”
“You weren’t her husband’s child, and my father could arrange your successful future.”
“You mean I’m Vice-President by his manipulations?”
“No. Here’s where the gods intervened. Golda used her friendship with Jimmy Hoffa to get you started in life with a good job. You preventing my assassination was divine intervention. But when it took place we spared no effort in furthering your career. Don’t forget, in 1963 you were not ready to be a Presidential advisor. You were inexperienced, and your talents were not really apparent to anyone. You’ve grown as we expected from a Kennedy.”

I sat down, my face blanched. Then came the documents. The letters between Golda and Joseph, my adoption papers, the letter from Joseph to the Immigration Department recommending, demanding, the immediate acceptance of my parents’ visas. There was no doubt. I was the Kennedys’ half-brother. What could I do? I hugged my new family.

My parents have since departed. They knew their son only as their prodigy who would someday become President. Time has passed, and I will always be Norm Mandel to my wife and children and President Mandel to the American people. But as far as John, Bobby and Teddy are concerned, I am now President Norman Kennedy Mandel. 


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