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Joseph Patrick Kennedy Biography

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Joseph Patrick Kennedy was a very successful banker and film executive, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1888. Considered by many to be America's version of the "royal family," the Kennedy's of Boston, Massachusetts have enjoyed triumphs and seen tragedy during the 20th century. As the family patriarch, Joseph Patrick Kennedy instilled values of commitment to public service, determination to succeed, and loyalty to family.

His father, Patrick Joseph, was a prosperous saloonkeeper. Patrick also was active in Boston politics, as Irish ward boss, a five time state representative, and state senator. Kennedy's parents were anxious for their son to succeed, however in the Boston social environment of the time, success was difficult to achieve for people of their Irish-Catholic background. It was Kennedy's mother, Mary Augusta, who decided that her son should be called Joseph Patrick rather than Patrick Joseph, after his father. She feared that "Patrick Kennedy" sounded "too Irish." Mary Augusta believed that in elitist Brahmin Boston, being Irish and Catholic would obstruct entry into "better" society.

Mary arranged for her son to work for a millinery shop, delivering hats to affluent women. She instructed her son that, if asked his name, to reply simply "Joseph," so as to avoid drawing attention to his ethnic background. Both parents were aware that entry to the higher levels of Boston society dictated that Kennedy mix with those outside his Irish community. They sent their son to Catholic schools for his early education, but when he was older he attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University, to be educated with Boston's elite Protestant families.

Although Kennedy made a few friends at Harvard, especially among the minority of Irish students there, and was popular with young Irish women, Kennedy never was accepted by a majority of the students---anti-Irish, anti-Catholic sentiment was strong. One friend warned Kennedy to be very careful in his behavior because Boston Brahmins were watching for any sign that would justify their prejudices. Kennedy's determination to ingratiate himself with the socially prominent Protestants was viewed by some as distasteful and pretentious. He was never invited to join any of Harvard's "better" clubs. Friends indicated what they felt was one of Kennedy's more commendable qualities: his faithfulness to the tenets of his religious upbringing. His Catholic faith was important to him and he attended mass regularly.

Kennedy was extremely financially shrewd. He showed an entrepreneurial spirit and an appreciation for money at an early age, and held a number of jobs as an adolescent, including candy vendor, newspaper merchant, and play producer. He also performed jobs for Orthodox Jews, whose faith prohibited them from working on their holy days. During his student days at Harvard, he and a friend bought a bus and began operating sightseeing tours. Kennedy negotiated with another tour operator to share working hours. He was successful at this, earning $5,000 over the course of several summers.

In 1914, two years after his graduation, Kennedy accepted a job as president of Columbia Trust Company Bank. At 25 years of age, he was the youngest bank president in the United States. During that same year, he married Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of Boston's mayor. Kennedy and Rose bought a small home in Brookline, Massachusetts, and started their family. In all, they had nine children: Joseph Jr., John (Jack), Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert (Bobby), Jean, and Edward (Ted). Several of his children went on to develop distinguished political careers, including two U.S. senators and one U.S. president.

Kennedy supported his large family through numerous successful business ventures. He joined an investment banking firm, bought a chain of New England movie theaters, gained control of a film production company, bought and sold many properties in New York, invested in the stock market, and controlled the Somerset Company, a franchise on Scotch whiskey and British gin. All of these ventures proved profitable. He may have earned as much as $5 million in only three years from his motion picture work. He earned $8.5 million when he sold the alcohol franchise, which he had purchased for $118,000 just 13 years earlier. Kennedy constantly made a substantial profit on the properties he bought and sold.

Kennedy's career as a motion picture executive earned him high regard from some observers. He was sensible enough not to meddle with a company that already was profitable. In 1926, Kennedy's company FBO produced 50 films. In Hollywood, Kennedy became friends with many distinguished actors, Gloria Swanson among them. He became her adviser, consultant, and lover. Swanson named her adopted son after Kennedy. Their relationship lasted several years, but was broken off abruptly, according to Swanson, because she "questioned his judgment" and "he did not like to be questioned."

Although his work as a motion picture executive meant that he was repeatedly away from his wife and children for long periods of time, Kennedy's concern for the physical and emotional welfare of his children remained constant.

Kennedy's own political involvement began in 1932, when he supported the Democratic presidential nomination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He worked as campaign contributor, lender, and fundraiser. In return, President Roosevelt rewarded him with the position of first chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission, a decision that was not popular in some circles. Still, Kennedy did a thorough and honest job at his post. Despite his wish to become secretary of the treasury, Roosevelt appointed him chairman of the Maritime Commission. Kennedy eventually resigned; weary of dealing with unions and ship-owners. In 1938, Kennedy was appointed ambassador to England. During this sensitive period preceding World War II, Kennedy made a number of unfortunate mistakes. He was an isolationist, and gave speeches that implied agreement with policies designed to appease Hitler. He announced plans to resettle 600,000 German Jews in other parts of the world, a strategy he had not discussed with President Roosevelt. There also was speculation in some newspapers that Kennedy was thinking of a run for the Presidency in 1940, speculation that irritated Roosevelt, although Roosevelt may have planted the story. Amidst mounting pressure, Kennedy was forced to resign his post in 1940.

Kennedy's life was fraught with tragedy during the 1940s. His eldest son Joseph Jr., was killed in action during World War II. His favorite daughter, Kathleen, was killed in a plane crash four years after the death of her husband and his son Jack was seriously wounded



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