Posted Monday, July 13, 2009, at 5:20 PM
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the subject of Teddy: In his Own Words , an HBO documentary debuting tonight, has had a fascinating life. Sadly, aside from the aging senator’s off-camera narration, the 90-minute film doesn’t tell us anything new about it.
As everybody knows, Kennedy is the last of the offspring born to two legendary Massachusetts Irish families. By the 1970s, former prohibition era bootlegger and WWII ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald (daughter of Boston political boss, " Honey Fitz ," parents of 9 enormously attractive children ) had seen their oldest son shot down in combat, a daughter die soon after in an airplane crash, another son, a president, and then another, a presidential candidate, shot and killed by political assassins. Another daughter suffered from mental illness. The other three daughters married powerful men and their last child, a son named Teddy, was elected to the U.S. Senate at age 30.
Though prone to world-class bodice-ripping drama in his personal life, Ted Kennedy devoted his professional career to supporting the rights of the less fortunate.
Interspersed with predictable sailboats off Hyannis Port, the HBO documentary has lovely archival footage, including a seemingly teenaged Bill Clinton introducing the handsome, dark-haired Kennedy at a 1970s healthcare panel. For me, a lifetime observer of all things Camelot (as a teenager I collected magazine covers of Jackie), the HBO material offered a satisfying meal of Joan Kennedy’s bouffant blonde flip, young Ted’s apologies for leaving the scene of an accident at Chappaquiddick, and countless other images of the sort I remember fondly from the front of Look and Life Magazine .
But the film, produced by HBO documentary doyenne, Sheila Nevins, and Peter Kunhardt, who 2 decades ago made Emmy-winning "JFK: In His Own Words," was unfortunately deadened by hagiography and lacked both humor and passion, qualities its subject possesses in abundance. The predictable compendium of Kennedy adversities and triumphs made me long for a closer look at both the flawed man of enormous appetites who grappled with great personal challenges and the hero of public policy who may well live to see his most dearly held goal, universal healthcare , as his legacy for the next century.