Under the Black Flag

Burning Down Camelot

One of the more annoying gaucheries of the British tabloid press is that of always referring to the Kennedys as “American royalty.”  Back in 1963, with JFK still alive and in the White House, I escorted C.Z. Guest, a true American patrician, to a Park Avenue party given by Sam Spiegel, producer of Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and other such megahits.  The place was full of Kennedy acolytes and brothers-in-law.  I knew Peter Lawford well, a terrible drunk and a very mean-spirited, unpleasant man who pimped for JFK.  Steve Smith, married to Jean Kennedy, was much nicer but also a heavy drinker.  When I introduced him to C.Z. he said something crude, and she walked away.  When I asked her what he had said, she dismissed it, saying, “What can one expect nowadays from a shanty Irishman like him?”

“What’s a shanty Irishman?” I asked.

“People like the Kennedys,” said C.Z.

Oh, well, that was 45 years ago, when people would say such a thing, as opposed to now, when people think it but dare not say it.  Back then elitism ruled, but now no words arouse the wrath of the mean-minded with greater certainty than the words elite and elitist.  To the envious and the resentful they have connotations of conspiracy, unearned privilege, injustice, and illicit self-enrichment, to the exclusion of everyone...

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