Read an Excerpt
NemesisThe True Story of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O, and the Love Triangle That Brought Down the Kennedys
By Evans, Peter
The Blood Trade
Were one to ask me in which direction
I think man strongest,
I should say, his capacity to hate.
-H. W. Beecher, 1813-1884
Robert Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis met for the first time at a cocktail party given by the English socialite Pamela Churchill* at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in the spring of 1953 -- the year Jacqueline Lee Bouvier married John F. Kennedy.
Pamela Churchill was a shrewd networker long before the term had been invented, and her guest list had been drawn from the elite of the American establishment and the world's richest people. Daughter of an English baron, and the former wife of Randolph Churchill -- the drunk-ard son of the British prime minister -- Pamela, who would become the model for the elegant tramp Lady ma Coolbirth in Truman Capote's Answered Prayers, knew the great and near great of five continents. It was said that for legendary amounts of money, she had slept with many of them.
She had known Bobby since 1938, when his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the American ambassador to England. She and Bobby's older sister Kathleen were debutantes together in the last London season before the start of World War II, and had remained friends until Kathleen's death in a plane crash in 1948.
Onassis was not such an old friend. Since Pamela's ex-husband Randolph had introduced them in the South of France several months earlier, however -- an introduction that Onassis said had cost him £2,000 (some £40,000 in today's currency) -- the Greek shipping millionaire had become a close one (her lover, he said; not so, she protested, although her veracity in such matters was as questionable as Onassis's). Onassis was far too earthy for her tastes, Pamela told friends. An unmistakeable arriviste, he possessed a volatile temper, especially when he'd had too much to drink, and his habit of smashing plates and making scenes in restaurants offended her English sensibilities.
Although Onassis was attracted to Pamela's world, and knew he would be accepted more easily if he adopted the elegant dress, language, and manners of their class -- much as his brother-in-law, Stavros Niarchos had done -- he refused. "I won't play the hypocrite for anyone," he told his young, English-educated wife Tina, daughter of the 1930s shipping king Stavros Livanos, when she tried to break him out of his Greek chrysalis and repackage him as an English toff.
Nevertheless, Pamela Churchill was a practical woman, and it was clear that her interest in Onassis had been rekindled -- and her sense of tolerance restored -- by the news that he had just bought the principality of Monaco. More precisely, hiding behind a maze of Panamanian fronts, he had acquired SBM, a moribund property company that owned an Edwardian pile of real estate in Monte Carlo, including the casino, the yacht club, the Hotel de Paris, and about one third of the principality's 375 acres.
Situated between the oil fields of the Middle East and the markets of Europe and North America, Monte Carlo was a perfect base for Onassis's operations. The climate pleased him, the social life met with Tina's approval, and the principality was tax free.
Overnight, Onassis had become famous; suddenly, everything he did was news. His wealth, as well as the hints of something undisclosed about his past, made wonderful copy. More than just another rich Greek, this small, dark, sybaritic figure with sensual heavy-lidded eyes was recognized in the street. Women began to proposition him as if he were a movie star; he took to wearing dark glasses and engaged a public relations man. Reporters dubbed him the "king of Monaco" (a tabloid ennoblement that did not go down well with Rainier, the prince of Monaco). He gave interviews on how to handle women: "I approach every woman as a potential mistress," he said. "Beautiful women cannot bear moderation; they need an inexhaustible supply of excess."
But his love affair with the media was not entirely motivated by ego. His cultivated image as a mysterious but magnanimous rags-to-riches tycoon also "sanctioned his sharp deals," in the words of one American aide.' And no deal had been sharper than his acquisition, five years earlier, often U.S. surplus T2 tankers. Because of their size and strategic significance, the ships had been forbidden to foreigners, but at $1.5 million each, they had been an irresistible purchase for Onassis, and with the help of a U.S. corporation fronted by three American citizens, he easily circumvented the exclusion clause and bought them.
Robert Kennedy also became front-page news for the first time in 1953. And if the 1950s were not to be his glory years, as they were for Onassis, they were unquestionably heady ones.
Small and more Irish and intense than his brothers, with a psychology coiled tightly as a spring, after graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1951 Kennedy took a job in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. Assigned to menial legwork on tax-fraud cases in a district office in Brooklyn, he quit after only a few months to work on his older brother Jack's senatorial campaign. After Jack was elected in 1952, though, twenty-seven-year-old Bobby felt stranded, a lawyer with no courtroom experience and no certain way to turn. His father suggested that he join Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, an offshoot of a low-profile committee on government operations, which McCarthy had turned into a power base for his notorious communist witch-hunt.
Although not yet his own ism, McCarthy was already notorious and dangerous. No politician of the age, said the writer Richard Rovere, had "surer, swifter access to the dark places of the American mind. "5 Although he had never been able to prove his charge that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department, McCarthy continued to use...Continues...
Excerpted from Nemesis by Evans, Peter Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.