Living With the Kennedy Family

[living with the Kennedys - part1] Okay, here's the intro section to this part of my life.

A little background: I was in the 7th grade at Southern Jr. High in Somerville, MA during the presidential election of 1960. I remember parading around with a Nixon button on shirt during that time before the election.

My dad, Frank Saunders, worked in a parking lot in downtown Boston and also was a bookie on the side. He used to park the car of a Mr.Ford who was Joseph P. Kennedy's right hand man in Boston. The chauffeur for JPK was thinking of retiring if John Kennedy was elected president. He couldn't take to the idea of all the publicity and stuff that would enter his life if working in the presidential family.

As you know, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon and my father applied for the chauffeur's job and got it. Our lives were about to change in quite a dramatic way and before the school year was over we moved to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, MA.
The chauffeur's apartment was behind the 'big house' or JPK's huge house and it was above the garage. These were small quarters but it did have some great views of the Hyannis Port jetty (which was almost a mile long), the harbor and the Sound. This is where and when I first started playing the guitar.

It was all very exciting for me, especially, when the President finally arrived on the Compound in a helicopter. (I still have photos of that time and will probably put them here)
I was issued a Summer White House pass so I could come and go on my bicycle. Without the pass I was initially left stranded when out riding my bike around Hyannis Port particularly when all the new secret service agents arrived with the president.

The Kennedy family had a lot of boats - a 52' yacht called the Marlin, a couple of sailboats, rowboats and skiffs (some with outboard motors) and a couple of very speedy motorboats. The captain of the Marlin had 2 sons around my age so I befriended one of them, Frank.
My days that first summer were mostly spent fishing on the Hyannis Port jetty (off-limits to the public) and spending time with the captain's son Frank on JPK's yacht, the Marlin. I would often sleep out on the boat moored in the harbor and we mostly fished.

My dad's job wasn't just being the chauffeur for JPK, at least, not at first. He also cleaned the Kennedy's pool, did all kinds of errands and airport runs for the whole family, and learned to run the 35mm dual projectors in the Kennedy private theater. Joseph Kennedy was actively involved in the movie industry so he received all the latest films before they were released at the movie theaters.

It wasn't long before my mother and father had friends and relatives calling us from everywhere wanting to visit us at the Compound.

The Kennedys had a huge family with JPK and Rose as the elders, a number of sons and daughters including JFK and Robert K, and a lot of grandchildren. I didn't have much to do with them, or play with them except sometimes I was on the Marlin on their cruises, staying mainly on the bow of the boat while the rest of the family were in the cabin or the rear. The family also had a lot of dogs (all pedigreed, of course)which I became friends with and they would follow me around in a pack - even on the jetty where climbing was necessary in certain sections.

Because I fished so much I soon became quite good at catching striped bass, bluefish and porgies, not to forget blowfish and sea robins. I would have to walk the same beach that President Kennedy walked on to get back to my house. JFK usually walked the beach alone but many secret service men where hiding in the beach grass and dunes. I often met JFK while carrying a stringer of bass. He usually came over and asked me about fishing.
This was the beginning of my intense love for the ocean and the marine environment which I still have as strongly today.

In the early sixties, the first 707? took off in it's inauguration flight from West Palm Beach airport. This was a big todo - (was it American Airlines?). Anyhow, lots of famous celebrities and media folks were invited including the Kennedy family. Well, none of the members of the Kennedy family decided to go so my mother and I went instead. The plane was filled with the guest celebs (guess what, I really don't know who was on that plane), photographers, magazine people - you know, the media frenzy. The plane was lavisciously? decorated with even some small chandeliers. Lots of great h'oerderves? (yikes, I'm having a spelling block!) and alcoholic drinks. I was a teenager at that time but I was also privileged to drink champagne along with all the celebs. It was a short flight, over the Florida Keys and back again on a sunny, clear day. Just another day filling in for the Kennedys'!

I played with Caroline one summer day in 1963. I was 14 yrs old and she was 6. She came up to me while I was outside near the chauffeur's quarters and asked if we could play. Caroline, at this point in her life, was often excluded from playing with the other Kennedy children.

Well, we didn't exactly play. I offered to show her some ViewMaster slide shows (remember them - 3D?)
I had with my ViewMaster projector. So, that is what we did. I read her the story lines that went along with the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, etc. It was innocent short time together and I felt like her big brother that day. I'm sure the Secret Service knew exactly where Caroline was. I played on the Secret Service softball team and many of the agents knew me pretty well because they spent a lot of time at our apartment hangin' with my dad.

[Kennedy story] I often felt 'out of place' living with the Kennedy family being acutely aware that I was the chauffeur's son and not part of the privileged lifestyle of the Kennedys.

The Kennedys had a stretch of beach at least a few hundred yards long which ended at the Hyannis Port jetty - a 3/4 mile long rock jetty that protected the harbor of Hyannis Port. I walked the Kennedys beach regularly as I was very into fishing off the jetty (which was an incredible treat for me - my own private jetty which nobody was allowed to go on except the Kennedys who never climbed it). Nobody walked or stayed on the beach except the Kennedy family and the secret service who would hide in the beach grass with their binoculars and walkie talkies.

My mother was a beach lover so she would sometimes go the this beach and set out a blanket to get a suntan. She wasn't much for swimming. One day while my mother and I were laying on her blanket on the beach, Robert Kennedy, JFK's brother, walked up to us and asked us to get off of 'his' beach.  Well, my mom isn't one to get 'blown off' so easily and she told Robert that we had been given permission to use this beach by his mother, Rose. Robert shook his head and said he wanted us off the beach once more and then quickly walked away in a 'huff'.  My mom held her ground but later that day called Rose Kennedy and told her about what Robert, her son, had said to us. Rose said she would take care of the matter.

Later that same day we received a call from Rose asking us to meet her outside in a few minutes. My mother and I went out to the main parking area where Rose and Robert were waiting for us. Rose asked Robert to apologize to us for his behaviour on the beach. Immediately, Robert apologized to us, with some difficulty, and said we were welcome to use his parent's beach whenever we liked. Soon as he said that he quickly left. It was a quick meeting and Rose walked back to the 'Big House' and we went back to our quarters, a little house above the garage.

Robert Kennedy never looked or acknowledged my mother or myself all the years we were around him. He avoided us. Some years later, when RFK, was running for president we ran into him, I think in Palm Beach, and he was all smiles, shook our hands and said he was glad to see us.

When the Kennedys were looking for my father they would always stand below our apartment in the driveway and call "Frank, Frank, Frank" and they always seemed to be looking for Frank. My dad really knew how to 'disappear' for long periods.

The only exception to the regular and often irritating 'Frank call' from below was Jacqueline. She would always walk up the metal steps to our apartment, knock on the door and ask if Frank was home. She was quite different from the rest of the Kennedy family. I often saw Jackie swimming nude (sometimes with others) from the Kennedy pier next to the jetty. Sorry, never had the courage to take a photo. I remember joking to my friend, Gene, the captain of the Marlin's (JPK's yacht) son when we would see Jackie- usually when coming back from fishing on the jetty at sunset, "Flat as a board, and skinny as a rail". I didn't appreciate the subtleties of the female form in those days.

Anyhow, Jacqueline Kennedy was always polite to my family and would always say hello which is more than I can say for the rest of the Kennedy family. I ran into Jackie years later in a bookstore in Hyannis - now she was Jackie Onassis. I actually heard her before I saw her and she seemed pretty disrespectful to the employees of the store. I was disappointed with her pompous attitude and quickly left the store.

Most of the time, living with Kennedys was a 'blast' for me. I quickly became an avid fisherman and fished whenever I could. The fishing in both Palm Beach and Hyannis Port was great in those days. Hyannis Port waters had striped bass, bluefish, porgies (also know as scup) and a variety of other fish including the great 'goosefish' - a prehistoric-looking creature - large - like a giant bumpy flounder with a huge mouth of sharp teeth and a little tentacle which it would dangle just below the water in the winter when the geese and ducks were in the harbor. Yes, the goosefish ate ducks and geese whole.
Palm Beach had pompano and amberjacks that you could catch off the beach at times. Man, I loved the amberjack feeding frenzy on the beach. Sometimes these 20 lb amberjacks while looking for sand fleas would get stranded on the beach - flopping around until the next wave came.

Since I was the only person that went on the Hyannis Port jetty besides my friend Gene it was fishing heaven.
I fished so much off the Hyannis Port jetty that I became a landmark for the tourists boats that were always touring the harbor with people trying to get a glimpse of the Kennedy compound (but they couldn't get very close because of the coast guard boats). The boats came often and had loudspeaker where the tour guides would talk about the Kennedys and their homes. Well, they would also acknowledge me sitting on the rocks fishing, asking me what I was catching. I think they thought I was one of the Kennedy children. The Kennedy children or adults rarely climbed the jetty. So, I was usually ready for the tourist boats and when they called to me (from about 100 yards away from the jetty) I would hold up my stringer of fish and sometimes I could here the ooos and ahhhs of the tourists. It was another big ego boost for moi.
The Kennedys had boats I could use - rowboats, skiffs with outboard motors and I also went on JPK's 52 ft yacht the Marlin. I spent a lot of time hangin out on the Marlin with the captain's son Gene. We often slept on the Marlin when it was moored in Hyannis Port harbor - fishing, smoking cigars, reading Playboy magazines and watching shooting stars.

Judy Garland. Famous actress and singer. Famous for her role of 'Dorothy' in the Wizard of Oz.

Judy lived a few hundred yards away 'as the crow flies' from the Kennedy compound. She bought a huge house across from the Hyannis Port Yacht Club and was a frequent visitor of the Kennedy family.

I sat two seats away from Judy Garland one night at JPK's private movie theater. My dad was the projectionist - JPK was sent most films before they were released at the movie theaters.

On this particular night, Judy was inebriated and was very loud and obnoxious - talking, cussing and blabbering away through most of the film. The theater was crowed - think it held 30 to 40 seats. A lot of the Kennedy family was there and they seemed to ignore Judy - being very polite saying things like "Shhhhh!" Possibly some of the Kennedy family and friends left but most seemed to hang in there with Judy. I could smell the alcohol wafting my way from Judy Garland. It wasn't much fun listening to her and sitting so close , but I was too embarrassed to leave the theater.
Judy Garland, at this point in her life (the early sixties) was also very plump and her voice was hoarse. A few years later I saw her on a TV special and she had lost weight and her voice sounded fine. She had also moved away from Hyannis Port.

I taught one of her children one summer, one of the Lufts?, then a young boy, to row a boat at the Hyannis Port Yacht Club which I was a member. I remember he had a hard time of it because he was kind of fragile.

I've often wondered why Joseph P Kennedy hired my father as his chauffeur. JPK had the money and power to hire anybody - a professional chauffeur for instance. I'm reading "Sins of the Father" and found out some new information about JPK. I already knew about his lust for power, his ability to 'crush' people to get what he wanted, his extra marital affairs, and how he only had people around him that he totally trusted or he would discard them quickly. The new info about JPK was that he had strong anti-semetic leanings and thought the jews deserved what they got from the Germans. Wow, those are fighting words! JPK even tried to get his son JFK to use some anti-semetism in his campaign speeches, but fortunately JFK didn't go for it.

So, back to my father and why he got the job for JPK. Of course, JPK knew anything that there was to know about my dad before hiring him... that my dad had a family, was an alcoholic, booked numbers on the side while working at a parking lot in Boston, had extra marital affairs, and was in trouble with the local mafia. He also knew that my father was hard working, had many useful talents, served in the Navy, was a catholic and was very loyal to the democratic party. My personal opinion why JPK chose my father, Frank, was all of the above but in particular- that he liked my dad's cleverness and underhandedness in making money from being a bookie, and my father's ability to make friends and being loyal to them, his allegiance to the Democratic party, and not to forget that Frank was also a Catholic. JPK's wife, Rose was a devoted catholic and spent a lot of time at church. My dad also got the nod from JPK's close friend and advisor in Boston, Johnny Ford. JPK didn't drink alcohol but he made a lot of his fortune bootlegging whiskey.

I saw JPK in his wheelchair almost daily while living on the Kennedy compounds. He was partially paralyzed from 1961 until 1969 when he passed away. All he could say was "NO" and would strike out at people with his good arm because of his frustration in being paralyzed. My father became one of the few people that JPK would tolerate, never striking out at my him. My father became a kind of male nurse for him - wheeling JPK around, taking him into the pool, going on excursions with him on the Marlin, giving him his medicine when JPK had another of his many strokes and helping out the regular nurses which JPK became more intolerant as his health degenerated.




Jacqueline Kennedy, later to be known as Jackie O. taken by me at Squaw Island, Hyannis Port, MA. She has her son with her John John. My dad worked for the Kennedy's, so therefore I was allowed to be one of the privileged few  to be at the helicopter arrival with my 120 camera.









same day....


Here's Joseph Kennedy's 52 ft. yacht, the Marlin, where I spent endless hours in HyannisPort and Palm Beach with the captain's son smoking cigars, fishing, sleeping and hanging out.

This photo of Caroline Kennedy and her brother John was taken by my father, chauffeur (amongst other things) to JPK. 




last updated:
09/27/02 10:13:30 AM