Examining the life of John F. Kennedy without first understanding his family background would be a little like trying to read a book but starting in the middle—you'd be missing half the story. The Kennedy clan, known for its good looks, riches, Irish Catholic roots, and an almost pathological tendency to womanize (check out Joe Sr., Teddy, and Jack for more on that subject), has held a coveted spot in the American consciousness for nearly fifty years. If the United States had a royal family, it would surely be the Kennedys. Together, John F. Kennedy and his siblings—all nine of them—managed to serve as one U.S. President, two Massachusetts senators, a New York senator, a Massachusetts congressman, a U.S. Attorney General, the founder of the Special Olympics, and a U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Had the lives of the two most promising Kennedy children—Jack and Bobby—not been cut short through assassination, the siblings' list of political achievements would undoubtedly be even longer. The Kennedys are a family with a predilection for politics, public service, and philanthropy, having donated both time and money to social service foundations, educational institutions, and civil rights campaigns.
But let's forget all that for a second. Another big reason we find the Kennedys so intriguing is that that the stories of their lives rival even the best soap operas. Days of Our Lives is kid's stuff compared to the real-life drama of John F. Kennedy and his family. From the contentious 1960 presidential election to JFK's dalliance with Marilyn Monroe to Jack and Bobby's tragic deaths to Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick incident,the history of the family has been a mixed bag of glamour, success, corruption, hope, and (oftentimes) overindulgence. After John F. Kennedy's death, his presidency was dubbed "Camelot," a reference to the regal and romantic backdrop of the King Arthur tales. In the eyes of many, JFK and his family came to symbolize a sort of American Camelot, one filled with young, beautiful, intelligent, and near-mythic individuals. But as we will see, that's not the whole story.