Saturday, April 7, 2018

MARY JO KOPECHNE: A CHAPPAQUIDDICK FOOTNOTE




People of a certain age, myself included, can't hear Chappaquiddick without thinking of Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne and how she died.  Is this history or his story?

After seeing the movie Chappaquiddick, the Kennedy clan is lucky.  Over the years I've heard the stories of how the Kennedy clan becomes a well-oiled machine to protect their own when scandal strikes.  Read Dominick Dunne's A Season In Purgatory: A Novel and you'll understand. Instead, the family was almost nonexistent in director John Curran’s graceful Chappaquiddick.” Only Ted's tyrannical father old Joe, the family patriarch whose gnarly looking body is wheelchair bound from a stroke, was given a few minutes of screen time for the sympathy ploy: he slapped Ted and tried to tell his pathetic son that he'd never be great like his dead brothers.  {sniff sniff}  Ted's long-suffering beautiful wife Joan, who was pregnant at the time and later miscarried, got to tell him to go "f" himself while they were on their way to Mary Jo Kopechne's funeral.  And his mother Rose Kennedy, the family matriarch, wasn't even in the picture.  The beautiful young woman who cared for gnarly Joe appeared in many scenes, including sitting on his bed and holding his hand as they watched TV, and she had several lines of dialogue. And, yet, I have no idea who she was, but she sure wasn't Rose because Rose isn't listed in the extensive credits.

His cousin Joe, however, played a major role as pathetic Ted's conscience.  Joe Gargan was Ted's cousin who felt like his brother. More importantly, Joe Gargan was Ted's lawyer who "was able to slip away without hardly anyone noticing.”  Joe came across as needy, wanting the love of Ted and the family. Yet it seemed to me that he was never considered a true part of the family. He was used, as a lawyer, as someone with connections, as someone who could, and would, clean up Ted's messes. It was Joe and Paul Markham, the State's Attorney General, to whom pathetic Ted turned right after the accident. And according to the movie, it was faithful Joe who was told to get on his knees and hold Ted's cue cards as he read his televised Chappaquiddick explanation from the comfort of the Kennedy home. 

I said that the Kennedy clan is lucky because, aside from veiled references, you don't see the family in action coalescing into their infamous scandal protection mode. They were ruthless and would do anything to save one of their own. And they did.  Instead, the movie eliminated their input and put their team of handlers ~~ lawyers, police, clerks and doctors ~~ into action planning the strategy to protect Ted's political viability. They knew he would never be president, not after the accident, but they didn't see why Ted's senate seat should suffer. And it didn't.

The movie treated Ted Kennedy with kid gloves for the most part. According to the movie, Ted dove underwater and tried to find a way to rescue Mary Jo. When he couldn't, he walked back to the cottage to tell Joe and Markham.  All three men returned to the accident, and Joe and Markham stripped down to their underwear and dove into the water. Their attempts to rescue Mary Jo were futile. Joe begged Ted to report the crime, and Ted said he would.  As far as I can see, the most egregious thing he did, morally speaking, was to wait ten hours to report the accident. He admitted he was driving under the influence with an expired license, both of which are illegal. However, it has been stated that had he reported the accident immediately, Mary Jo could have been saved. I'm not a lawyer so I could be wrong on the legalities of Ted Kennedy's actions, or lack thereof.  Instead, after he left Joe and Markham to clean up his mess, Ted went back to his room at the inn where he was staying and took a bath. Then he called his father from the phone booth outside; can't go through the inn's switchboard, y'know, in case the operator hears.  His father said "alibi," so Ted made certain someone at the inn saw him. Ted asked the man the time ~~ 2:25 a.m. ~~ and told him he was having trouble sleeping.  Then Ted returned to his room and slept. When he awoke, he walked to the police department, and while he waited for the chief he called the Kopechnes to tell them, then he wrote out his statement.  He blamed his "negligence," which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, on his supposed head injury which caused confusion and some memory loss. He did admit, however, that his delay in reporting the accident was "indefensible." 

Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, received a two-month suspended sentence, and had his license suspended for a year.  Judging by the smile on his face, seen as he exited the courthouse, Ted Kennedy was pleased with the outcome of the inquest (January, 1970).  Although Chappaquiddick stuck to Ted Kennedy, like toilet paper to his shoe, he was re-elected again and again, becoming known as The Lion of the Senate for his oratory and influence. Apparently his well known excessive drinking and appalling behavior towards women did not bother his constituency. 

CHAPPAQUIDDICK  4 stars: The movie was very well done: the acting and direction, the location, the pace which some reviewers found slow but I didn't. Even the actors looked like the real people they portrayed. Everything was great ... except the kid glove treatment of Ted's character. Yes, they highlighted his spaghetti spine and his drive to protect himself at the cost of Mary Jo Kopechne. And they touched on his drinking, although I can't recall if they mentioned his womanizing. In my opinion, Ted was treated gently while the family was left unscathed. 

And yet questions remain...

According to the movie, Mary Jo Kopechne was sitting in the front seat next to Ted, who was driving. How did he escape but not her? He could have grabbed her hand, since she was next to him, and pulled her out with him, or at least show her the way. He dove back down to the submerged car, with its lights still on (but not for long), and tried to open a door. Btw, why were the doors and windows closed begging the question again: How did Ted escape?  He banged on the car, so why didn't Mary Jo answer that by banging on the car, too? Or maybe she did? Or maybe Ted never dove down to the car?

Why wasn't there an autopsy? 

There is a new book out called Chappaquiddick Speaks, by Bill Pinney, "a life-long Chappaquiddick resident and former investigative reporter," who "introduces the first new witness who has stepped forward in almost 50 years."  (Pinney self-published his book last July.) I understand that, according to that book, the accident was staged, although I'm not sure why. What was so damaging that Ted was willing to say he was the driver?

Maybe I'm just being cynical, but TMZ has this very convenient story with unnamed sourcesTED KENNEDY: CIA Operative Says TED KENNEDY DIDN'T KNOW MARY JO KOPECHNE WAS IN THE CAR   
"The operative says cops immediately knew the politician's wife was in the car, because she had left her purse on the front seat. The operative says so began a cover-up to protect Kennedy.
A second person, who was close to Ted and the Kennedy family in '69, confirmed the operative's story."
However, this version does answer the question of why Mary Jo was found in the back seat. And if it's true that Mary Jo was asleep in the back seat and Ted didn't know, why not simply say that he went driving and had an accident?

Most of us will never know what happened.

The sad part of this whole mess is that Mary Jo Kopechne is nothing more than a footnote to a philandering drunk's political career. She will be remembered not for her life but for her death.  You can see from the picture at the top that Mary Jo was lovely, but this is the one you should remember, because Mary Jo Kopechne didn't drown, she suffocated.



*****








2 comments:

  1. Excellent review, Kitty. We saw the film tis afternoon and the audible comments coming from others in the theater audience showed no mercy toward "Teddy." He was pathetic, due in large part to his father's refusal to bless his son with his approval and due to the long shadows cast by his older brothers. Teddy was the runt of the litter and treated as such. The one I felt badly for was his cousin Joe Gargan who tried his best to be Ted's protector and ultimately his conscience. He was taken for granted and treated shabbily.

    The film did nothing to change my mind about what happened on that day in July 1969. I grew up n Massachusetts and folks there are still besotted with the Kennedy name. Even now.

    Years ago, I read books about the "incident" that were written after the fact, and it is as obvious now as it was then that there was a huge cover up, with many questions still unanswered. We'll probably never know the true story. Here are a couple of YT vids I watched/listened to last night ahead of seeing the movie today that I probably tell the story as well as any one.

    Documentary --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEOd7AOR6ic

    Diver John Farrar interview --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq7NOTip31o&t=2707s

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the links! I, too, felt sorry for Joe. And like you, this movie did nothing to change my mind. Ted should have gone to prison, not back to the senate. I'll never understand how they could re-elect Ted.

      Delete