Icons / May 2016

Rakish Dynasties: Joe and John F Kennedy

The story of this American establishment dynasty’s rise is so good, it’s criminal.

Joseph Kennedy Sr’s father Patrick was the quintessential American rags-to-riches success story, parlaying savings from work as a stevedore into the ownership of a saloon, then another and another and another, rolling the profits into a whisky importation business, holdings in coal mining and banking, and a political career as a state senator and Democratic party power broker. Raised in privilege, enjoying the fruits of his father’s entrepreneurialism, Joe Kennedy was certainly no self-made man.

A ‘made man’, though? Now, that’s more like it.

Numerous credible contemporary sources suggest that Joe bootlegged, insider-traded, defrauded and stock-manipulated his way to becoming one of America’s richest and most powerful individuals. Key among them, mid-century American mob supremo Sam ‘Mooney’ Giancana, who called Joe Kennedy “one of the biggest crooks who ever lived.” According to ‘Double Cross’, the biography of Giancana written by his brother Chuck and nephew Sam, the paterfamilias of one of the 20th century’s most famous political dynasties was the Cosa Nostra-approved boss of Boston’s illicit liquor network during Prohibition, a protégé of mafioso Frank Costello.

“(Joe) Kennedy’s ties to the underworld intersected at a hundred points,” the book relates. “Besides making a fortune in bootlegging, Kennedy had made a financial killing in Hollywood in the twenties — with the help of persuasive behind-the-scenes New York and Chicago muscle. When Prohibition came to a close, as part of a national agreement between the various bootleggers, Kennedy held onto three of the most lucrative booze distributorships in the country — Gordon’s gin, Dewar’s and Haig & Haig — through his company, Somerset Imports.”

No mere whisky-slanging ‘street’ gangster, the Harvard-educated Kennedy was also a prolific white-collar criminal. “According to Mooney, Joe Kennedy — along with such industrialists as General Motors founder William Crapo Durant, and John David Rockefeller, Jr. — had been given prior knowledge of the coming stock market crash in 1929.” Giancana went so far as to say of the cabal’s involvement in the crash, “They made it happen. They figured out how they could get even richer. Shit, old man Kennedy made over a million bucks sellin’ the market short before it fell. They manipulated the whole fuckin’ thing.”

Amusingly, Kennedy, the king of the dodgy stock pump’n’dump and insider short, was tasked by President Franklin Roosevelt (whom the Giancana book charges received millions in campaign funding from the mob via Kennedy and others) with chairing the new Securities and Exchange Commission — where, as a clued-up ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, he proved highly successful policing the very same practices he’d built a gigantic fortune upon just a few years beforehand.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.