By Thomas Mellana, Staff Writer, Greenwich Time
Sometimes association with fame and power can end in tragedy.
At the time of their fatal plane crash, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his bride from Greenwich were flying to the wedding of Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy and his bride from Greenwich.
The connection has not always been a happy one, but for reasons good and bad, America's first family has been tied to Greenwich from time to time - ever since the future president's brother married Ethel Skakel in 1950. Years later, the president's son would marry a Greenwich girl of his own, Carolyn Bessette. All three men would die in horribly premature deaths.
"There have been little cameo players in the drama," said Bernie Yudain, a longtime town resident and former Time Inc. executive.
But Yudain, the former managing editor of Greenwich Time, said the only true relationship between Greenwich and the Kennedys was by marriage.
Going way back, Greenwich journalism mogul Henry Luce was a good friend of Joseph Kennedy, but there is no indication whether the bond drew the Kennedy patriarch to town much, though he would later visit several times because of his new daughter-in-law. Years later, Greenwich resident Alvin Josephy Jr., a recognized expert on American Indians, worked in the Department of the Interior in the Kennedy administration.
Less estimable, perhaps, are more recent associations.
When William Kennedy Smith was accused of rape in 1991, Greenwich High School graduate Michele Cassone became embroiled in the seedy story. A former town resident, Cassone became a fleeting media celebrity by talking about drinking with Patrick Kennedy, now a Congressman from Rhode Island, and his father, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, on the night the rape was alleged to have taken place.
Massive media interest in that case led reporters to Greenwich, where people still whispered about a Kennedy nephew who many believed was responsible for the age-old beating death of a Greenwich teenager.
The 1975 death of Martha Moxley remains among the darkest chapters in the town's history, and an outside connection to the Kennedy clan people would sooner do without. Tommy, and more recently Michael, Skakel, nephews of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, have been named as suspects in the 1975 murder.
"I think the traditional tie to Greenwich is much more related to the Skakel family," said Yudain.
Robert Kennedy's marriage to Ethel Skakel, on June 17, 1950 at St. Mary Church on Greenwich Avenue, first secured Greenwich's place in the Kennedy story. Ethel grew up in the Skakel estate on Lake Avenue and attended Greenwich Academy.
Their friendship began in the 1940s, when Bobby Kennedy began visiting Greenwich to date Pat Skakel, not Ethel. The two apparently weren't a good match. Ethel was a student at Manhattanville College during their courtship. But in his 1994 biography of Ethel titled "The Other Mrs. Kennedy," Jerry Oppenheimer says the two apparently spent much time in Greenwich:
"Bobby was at the Skakels' virtually every weekend now, tutoring Ethel and her Manhattanville chums on American history, despite the fact that he was no Quiz Kid himself," Oppenheimer wrote. " 'Bobby was very helpful when he came into the picture,' recalled Kay Simonson of Waterbury. 'We'd be up there in Greenwich and he'd sit on the couch and we'd sit around him and cram for our tests and essays. It was something we looked forward to. He was a terrific help because he made the subjects so realistic and engaging.' "
The Skakels threw an opulent engagement bash at Lake Avenue for the couple, and 1,200 invitations went out for the wedding, "placing a burden on the tiny Greenwich post office."