We Answer The Critics Who Say: “Caroline Kennedy Is Being Spoiled!”
The cabinet members and advisors sitting in conference with President Kennedy at his Palm Beach retreat last December 29 realized the tenseness of the meeting—even before JFK ordered no outside interruptions. The President’s medical-care bill had been voted down by the 87th Congress and he now wanted to make sure it passed in the next session. Suddenly there was a scream followed by the sound of a little girl crying. John Kennedy bit his lower lip, turned and stopped the conference. “Take care of Caroline!” he shouted.
The nurse hurried over to Caroline Kennedy, who had been told to play with her new Christmas toys and not bother her father. Instead she went running through an adjacent patio, where she slipped and fell.
A half hour later JFK was listening attentively to Anthony Celebrezze, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, discuss Medicare. Suddenly the President’s head bolted sideways as a door opened. This was, he had insisted, a closed meeting.
“Daddy, I want . . .” Caroline began. Her father cut her off sharply and told her to change into her bathing suit, go swimming and leave him alone. And he meant what he said this time.
What punishment the President or Mrs. Kennedy decided for their energetic daughter’s misbehavior will remain a secret.
Nevertheless, I immediately began investigating around Washington for proof to answer those critics who say that Caroline Kennedy is being spoiled. I wanted to find out just how spoiled five-year-old Caroline Kennedy—who not only realizes her father is President of the United States, but curtly remarks, “He’s a good politician, too!”—really is! If she is.
Caroline’s nurse talks
The only non-relative who can reveal the mystery is Maud Shaw, Caroline’s nurse, who lives in the White House. She is under rigid orders to never mention Caroline publicly. But Miss Shaw, who is British, flew to England for a three-week vacation recently and cautiously discussed Caroline’s conduct with relatives.
“Little John Kennedy, Jr.,” Miss Shaw remarked, “is no trouble at all. But Caroline certainly keeps my hands full!”
“Is Caroline fidgety when you read her nursery rhymes?” Miss Shaw was asked.
“Nursery rhymes!” Miss Shaw repeated. “Caroline doesn’t want to hear any nursery rhymes or bedtime stories. Wants to hear about astronauts. One time she refused to go to bed. Said she had to wait till John Glenn came down from the sky.”
There is at least one high-ranking government official who looks more disapprovingly at Caroline’s behavior and attitude. When the Kennedy family was aboard the yacht Honey Fitz, Caroline kept stuffing herself with grapes. Uncle Bobby—Attorney General Robert Kennedy—looked irritably at Caroline as she spat seeds on the deck around him.
The State Department laughingly maintains that Caroline makes their foreign policy job even rougher. More than one foreign minister has been asked by Caroline. “Why don’t you have any hair?”
Most VIP’s simply laugh at Caroline’s humor. There was one chief-of-state, however. who did not think she was funny, and even JFK appeared embarrassed. Last fall the Presidential policy of welcoming chiefs of state at the airport was switched to the more elaborate south lawn of the White House. The first man to receive the twenty-one-gun salute was Ahmed Ben Bella, premier of Algeria. It was a vital meeting that could have eased the strained relations between the U.S. and the newly independent African nation.
Ben Bella, his face solemn, stood rigid during the ceremony. Suddenly President Kennedy’s face flushed. Caroline and the twenty children who attend her kindergarten class on the third floor of the White House had disobeyed the teacher’s orders and were standing on the balcony mimicking the Algerian premier. Caroline squealed and yelled, “Attention,” “Eyes Right,” “Forward March,” and “Boom. Boom.”
The kindergarten teacher isn’t the only person who cannot control Caroline. Skilled veteran secret service men have been given the slip by the little blonde who tells you she doesn’t like people bossing her. Caroline’s most evasive performance came last September when three secret service agents were assigned to guard Caroline while the first family were aboard the destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy, watching the America Cup Race.
Caroline and a seven-year-old boy were playfully scampering around on the same deck where the President was sitting. An agent borrowed a lighter from a colleague, lit a cigarette and looked up suddenly to discover that Caroline was missing. The guards searched frantically. Caroline, however, was not on the deck.
Caroline was discovered finally on the next level talking to a sailor. When the secret agent took Caroline by the hand, she said, “How would you like somebody following you around all the time?”
She enjoys the challenge
Caroline, it seems, not only prefers her own way but enjoys the challenge of breaking away from superiors. “She loves adventure so well.” one guard has said, “that she is liable to jump over the side of the boat and try swimming in the middle of the ocean.”
The guard’s evaluation is no exaggeration. Caroline’s desire for adventure nearly caused her to drown shortly before she was four years old.
She was attending a birthday party in Bethesda. Maryland, for one of her cousins. The mothers told the children they could go swimming in the backyard pool. But Caroline changed into her bathing suit faster than everyone else did, including the older children, and ran into the shallow end of the pool.
She grabbed a surfboard and began to paddle. She splashed out to where the water was four and one half feet deep, a foot over her head. Then she started to stand up on the surfboard but flipped over. Caroline could not swim then. One of the mothers, Mrs. William Saltonstall, dove into the water fully dressed and grabbed Caroline after she had already gone under. Caroline was not disturbed by the fact that she almost drowned. She wanted to “go back in swimming.”
“And, anyway,” Caroline asked, “what was that lady doing in the water with her clothes on?”
Even Caroline’s room in the White House has been fodder for her critics. Since the President’s residence is supposed to be America’s most formal building, Mrs. Kennedy has decorated a lavish room for Caroline. It is pale pink with white woodwork, and pink-flowered curtains. She has a junior-sized bed with a canopy lined in pink ruffles.
Nevertheless, a nurse says Caroline is not too neat with her toys, and keeps the room fairly cluttered. Famous people around the world bring Caroline dolls when they call on the President. When she was younger, she enjoyed tearing them apart, so she was only shown the dolls until she outgrew that phase.
On March 6. 1961, President Kennedy became so irritated at the dolls scattered all over a room that he bent down to pick them up. He hit his head on a corner of a table, suffered a cut and had to wear a bandage for several days.
Caroline’s room is also a miniature pet shop. Once when Mrs. Kennedy showed the children’s rooms to visitors, they found Caroline’s two ducks swimming in a bathtub. Shortly afterwards, Caroline led a search through the spacious White House for her two hamsters, Debbie and Billie. The President was displeased by the incident, fearing the furry rodents might run across the feet of visiting dignitaries and frighten them.
Caroline has a habit of kissing cats and thinks nothing of wandering into formal gatherings and asking the prime minister or first lady to “kiss Tom Kitten.” Once when Caroline was scolded by a nurse for taking the cat into a closed section of the White House, she returned and sought attention by trying to do a few somersaults.
“Too much attention . . .”
Caroline’s famous parents have made her the best-known little girl in American history. Any time her hair style is changed, it affects the American style. You have to go back to the youthful days of Shirley Temple or the kidnapped Lindbergh baby to read about anyone who attained a fraction of Caroline’s publicity, past president’s children included. Other children lived in the White House—but they never captured the public’s interest as cute Caroline has.
When the Kennedys moved into the White House, they realized Caroline, then three years old, would be subjected to heavy publicity. No one in Washington, however, ever expected Caroline to reach today’s popularity. Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy emphatically maintained that she would do all she could to prevent her daughter from being photographed and, thus, spoiled.
“Too much attention is bad for her,” Mrs. Kennedy has said. “And I don’t want her raised by nurses and secret service men. I want to raise Caroline normally, and we treat her that way. It’s how other people treat her that’s important. She’s recognized and that’s a strange thing at her age. It’s sad, pretty sad, when she’s only fear. And her cousins—she plays with them and they’re older—tell Caroline about seeing her picture in papers.”
And so the First Family worked toward Mrs. Kennedy’s intentions. Shrubbery and flowers were planted around the White House fence to prevent photographers with long range lenses from taking informal pictures of Caroline at play. When a couple of newspapermen attempted to photograph Caroline at ballet school. Press Secretary Pierre Salinger threatened to bar them from press conferences for following the President’s daughter.
“Caroline,” he insisted, “is going to have her dancing lessons in peace.”
Those who know Caroline and her parents answer Caroline’s critics by saying she is not spoiled, she’s simply precocious. She is brimming over with “vigah” and curiosity, eager to learn everything she can about this fascinating world. Not many five-year-old girls could look out a White House window, notice a line of marching pickets and ask, “Mother, what did Daddy do wrong today?” Not many little girls—she was only four then—could analyze a painting of her father on the cover of Time magazine and observe, “Daddy, where did you get such spooky eyes?”
The President’s daughter has a bright, alert mind, far beyond her years. Caroline can, for example, carry on conversations with practically anyone.
When she first moved into the White House, she discovered the telephone switchboard and began calling her grandparents and cousins around the nation. (This even caused a White House spokesman to answer charges that Caroline was spending taxpayers’ money to play on the phone by announcing that the long-distance operator always puts Caroline’s calls on President Kennedy’s credit card. The White House operators now have orders not to place any more long-distance calls for Caroline—unless the President or Mrs. Kennedy approves it.)
Caroline answered the White House phone recently. “I’d like to speak to Mr. George Bundy (Mutual Security Advisor),” the caller said.
“This is Caroline,” she answered. “Wait, I go get him.”
Although Caroline had never met Bundy, she broke into a presidential meeting, pulled Bundy’s sleeve and said, “Telephone for you.”
Caroline always keeps phone messages straight. Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln, who has been JFK’s personal secretary for ten years, attests to Caroline’s advancement and behavior. “I can say she’s a sweet, well-mannered little girl,” Mrs. Lincoln tells you. “Never any bother when she’s around. Oh, she’ll drop by my desk and ask if I’ve seen ‘Daddy.’ ”
Caroline is not the first child to be fascinated by the White House telephone. Another was ex-President William Howard Taft’s son Charles. Now sixty-five, he describes one of his boyhood memories: “When I was ten or eleven years old, the switchboard operator at the White House even let me answer the phones when she ate lunch.”
A beloved woman who also raised children in the White House, the late Eleanor Roosevelt, said of Caroline, “She’s a problem, sure. In her position, her behavior is embarrassing to a President. Regardless, you don’t have to talk down to her like most children. She can carry on a conversation if she wants to.”
President Kennedy himself commented on Caroline’s popularity and conduct. “Caroline didn’t have any trouble adjusting to the White House,” the President said. “She loves it. She likes to talk, too, and I’m afraid one of our problems is that she would hold press conferences if we didn’t stop her.”
And so we say to the critics of Caroline Kennedy, yes, many of the reported incidents seem to indicate that this child does not behave exactly like the little girl next door. But that’s the problem. The child next door—no matter how many loving relatives dote on her—does not have her every bit of mischief reported to an eager world; she is not stared at and pointed at and photographed every time she goes to church. Her cute sayings stay within the family circle. She is her daddy’s girl and her mother’s pride and joy—not the property of an entire country of which her father is, during the formative years of her life, the Chief-of-State. Caroline spoiled? It looks like it, often. But with a father who believes in the strong discipline traditional in his family and a mother who insists, “I want to raise Caroline normally,” Caroline can’t help but grow up to be a credit to her parents—and to the nation that would love to spoil her.
—BY BETSY CULLEN
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE DECEMBER 1963