Author James Spada on John Jr. and Caroline Kennedy
James Spada is the author of a biography about John F. Kennedy's children, "John and Caroline: Their Lives in Pictures." He has won international acclaim for his best-selling biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Princess Grace, Katherine Hepburn, Jackie Onassis, and others. Also a photographer, Spada has had three one-man shows in New England.
CNN: Welcome to CNN.com Newsroom James Spada. Thank you for joining us today.
JAMES SPADA: Thank you very much. It's my pleasure to be here.
CNN: The Kennedys have been the subject of many books. Why this book about John Jr. and Caroline?
SPADA: I think the Kennedys are endlessly fascinating to begin with. And then when John died so tragically, I really wanted to present a pictorial record of his life. But I felt that I should also include his sister Caroline, because they were like America's children, and we watched them grow up. And I thought that a book about the two of them would be twice as interesting as a book just about John.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think that JFK Jr.'s death has changed how the other Kennedy children see their futures (such as Max Kennedy's dropping out of the congressional race in Boston, or Kathleen Townsend's forthcoming run for governor of Maryland?)
SPADA: I don't think his death changed anyone's ambition to be in politics or not be in politics. What I hope it may have done is make them a little more cautious about flying and participating in dangerous sports.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr Spada, what was John Jr.'s highest achievement?
SPADA: I think it would have to be the publication of George magazine. This was his brainchild, and he worked very hard to make it a reality. There were a lot of skeptics when he began, because a general circulation magazine about politics -- everyone thought it would be a flop. But John was able to make it a success.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Did he not have a reckless streak?
SPADA: I wouldn't say reckless, but I'd say he was a bit of a daredevil. He seemed to be pretty fearless. He enjoyed doing things that were exciting and physically challenging, like paragliding, piloting small aircraft. But that's something that goes back to his childhood in the White House. I have pictures of him at the controls of Air Force One, pretending to be Flight Captain John. So, his interest in aviation began at a very early age.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How does Caroline deal with the incredible sadness of being the sole survivor of her family? And how does she protect her children from celebrity?
SPADA: Apparently it was very difficult for Caroline initially. She and John were very close. She was really devastated by his death. The Kennedys have a way of overcoming tragedy and adversity, and Caroline has done that. As far as her children are concerned, she keeps them out of the limelight as much as possible, and she's trying to raise them to be normal children, just as her mother Jackie did with her and John.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Isn't it true that much of the "Kennedy tragedies" are at least in part, self inflicted? JFK Jr., for instance, ignored pleas from his instructor not to fly solo because he was not ready. What are your feelings on this?
SPADA: Well, I think that John, as I said, was pretty fearless, and felt more confident in his abilities as a pilot than was perhaps justified. But I don't think it serves any purpose to blame anyone for John's death, including John. I think it's best to just remember him for the very attractive and nice man that he was.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is your book a biography or just a book of pictures?
SPADA: It's a book of pictures with a biographical text. There are 250 photographs in the book, most of them never published before, and they cover the lives of John and Caroline from the times of their christenings up to John's death in 1999, and then continuing with Caroline up to the year 2000. I think that with these 250 very intimate photographs, and the biographical captions that go along with it, readers of this book will get a real understanding of what these people were like.
CNN: What are some of your favorite photos in the book?
SPADA: I have so many favorite photographs, but a couple stand out. One is a photograph of John at the age of three, snatching a doll from Caroline during a play session in the White House. There's a wonderful shot of Caroline pushing John on a swing, and in the background, there's the White House, which was their home, and in many ways their play house. Then there's a great shot of Caroline walking her pony, Macaroni, with her father along the West Wing portico. There's a shot of John at about 13 or 14, biting his cousin Maria Shriver's hand during a photo session in Moscow, and Maria's letting out a wail. There's a picture of Caroline blowing a bubble at her graduation. Just any number of other shots that will give you really intimate glimpses into these two people.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Spada, how is it that John's sister Caroline seems to be able to escape so much of the paparazzi, while he and his wife were unable to?
SPADA: John was pretty much the star of the family, between the two of them. He had movie star good looks. Caroline is a very attractive woman, but she's not as beautiful a woman as John was handsome a man. John also made himself available to the media, and even to the public, to a much greater extent than Caroline ever has.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do you feel about making the Kennedys (or anyone else for that matter) into royalty figures in America? Forcing America to see them as royalty, different, or special?
SPADA: I think if they are looked upon in that way, it was something that started when they were in the White House. It's not something that the media created or is perpetuating. I think it's just that people continue to be fascinated by this family and these two people. One thing I found remarkable as I was doing this book, is that the photographs that I've collected really show these two people as human beings, very typically playful little children. They both went through awkward adolescences, as we all do, wearing braces and experimenting with clothes and hair styles. They just show an every day quality in this book that kind of belies their exalted position in terms of their wealth and their glamour.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: I've heard that John and Carolyn were going to split up.
SPADA: There were always rumors about trouble in the marriage, but many people who knew them will tell you that they were very much in love. And in fact, there are so many pictures of them in the book kissing and hugging, it's pretty clear that they were very much in love.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How does the rest of the Kennedy family rate your book?
SPADA: I sent a copy to Caroline and to Senator Kennedy about a week and a half ago. I haven't heard anything back yet, but I'm very hopeful that they will like the book, and see it as the tribute that it was intended to be.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are you the man who went through all the negatives and found pictures that were not published?
SPADA: Yes, that's me! I did research at the Kennedy library, and in newspaper files, at photo agencies, and yes, I do go through thousands of negatives, because many photographs are never printed. It's very tedious work to go through all those negatives, and most people don't want to do it, but it allows me to find many hidden treasures, and present my readers with photographs that they've never seen before.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Did you have the cooperation of the Kennedy family?
SPADA: I didn't have full cooperation, but I was given access to a closed file at the Kennedy library. That was because I had worked as an intern for Senator Ted Kennedy back when I was in college, and also published a quarterly political magazine that was entirely devoted to Senator Ted Kennedy's activities. So, they remembered me from that, and felt that I could be trusted. I was very grateful for that.
CNN: Any plans for your next project?
SPADA: Right at the moment, I'm writing a full scale biography of Julia Roberts. That will be published in the fall of 2003.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
SPADA: Just that I've been really pleased that everyone who has seen the book so far has expressed amazement at how many photographs in the book are new to them. That's very gratifying, because I worked very hard to make that so. As I said, anyone who reads this book will come away with a much more intimate understanding of the kind of people that JFK, Jr. and Caroline Kennedy were.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Jim Spada.
SPADA: Goodbye everyone. Thank you for taking part in this. I enjoyed it, and hope you did, too.
James Spada joined the chat via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, July 16, 2001.
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