Proving truth is stronger than fiction
Biographical reporting has given way to supposition, guesswork and, in case of
THE Kennedys, that most contradictory clan of American Dreamers, have been appearing in print with disturbing regularity of late - and they have also become associated with one of the most alarming trends in literature.
The trend, that is, towards supposition, guesswork and even fiction in what was previously the realm of biographical reporting.
The past year has brought a slew of books in which reality, or at least documented fact, has served as little more than a launch pad for flights of titillating fantasy.
Joe McGinnis' The Last Brother came under attack because the author chose to ''invent'' thoughts for Senator Edward Kennedy - the subject of his book. Despite his not having interviewed the senator, McGinnis acknowledged he had ''written certain scenes and described certain events from what I have inferred to be his point of view''.
The danger here is one of the ''cry wolf'' variety. Invent a mundane thought for a real-life character and it assumes the same value as a truly significant thought: thus, when McGinnis promotes the Mafia-conspiracy theory of John F. Kennedy's assassination through a scene in which bed-ridden Joseph Kennedy admits he may have lost his son because of a deal he struck with the Mob many years earlier, the reader is tempted to take it with a hefty pinch of salt.
Then there are the oceans of salacious copy devoted to Marilyn Monroe and her involvement with the Kennedys. Another new release, CRYPT 33: The Saga of Marilyn Monroe - The Final Word, blames her death on the Kennedys. It follows books which have blamed her doctor and the Mob. Last year, four psychics interviewed her ghost and that of Bobby Kennedy in an attempt to supply another answer.
All of these projects assume tremendous dignity, though, when compared with Michael Korda's The Immortals. This is confusingly plugged as ''the fictional story of three legendary lives - the truth about Marilyn, Jack and Bobby''.
The fictitious truth, eh? Well it reads like a potboiler with Monroe and JFK sharing raunchy sexual encounters in hotel rooms, Bobby getting involved with her, too, and the narrator, public relations guru David Leman, describing choice cameo appearances by the likes of Jimmy Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Kennedy, Arthur Miller and Laurence Olivier.
Korda, who edited the McGinnis book, has, of course, come up with a feasible representation of recent American history, but there remains the disturbing nature of the way in which he has done it.
His book has obviously passed all the necessary legal tests but it still leaves an unsavoury taste. I guess you can't libel the dead, but neither does it seem right to make them jump through hoops.
Mind you, ''Jack'' Kennedy probably wouldn't have been able to do this because of his back problems, which Korda repeatedly details. However, it didn't stop the president enjoying the sort of sexual romps with Norma Jean that are usually reserved for Jackie Collins flesh-o-rama paperbacks. In fact, that's where the book's greatest disappointment lies.
Being too young to have known anything of the man during his life, I had always presupposed JFK possessed a God-like quality (you know, all that ''do you remember where you were when you heard he was killed?'' reverence). But rather than describing a manwho gave a generation hope, Korda has JFK come across as a degenerate. He whinges constantly about political foes, treats his glamorous wife atrociously (sailing off with a girlie on his yacht when she suffers a miscarriage) and blatantly exploits Monroe for his own sexual ends.
The Monroe ''character'' comes across as being charming, Bobby pathetic and Joseph ''the ambassador'' as a tyrant. That much is to be expected, and in fact proves rather boring given Korda's Clancy-esque love of the cliche.
Every now and then, however, an episode captures the imagination. Monroe's difficulties with Olivier while filming The Prince and The Showgirl make for hilarious reading, Jack Ruby is described as a sweaty mess, and Hoover's sexual proclivities receive the usual nudge nudge, wink wink treatment.
Overall, though, it is an uncomfortable book to read. If you want exotic sex, wheeling and dealing, and scandal, you can turn to any paperback. If you want eye-clawing bitchiness of a biographical bent, read Kitty Kelley.
But what to do with a book that claims to have brought ''the stories that no one dare disclose . . . to life'' when it certainly isn't real life? It leaves one wondering how long it will be before someone comes up with ''Fergie lovingly cradled his taut buttocks as she chewed hungrily on his toes. 'Need some more sun oil, John?', she purred . . .'' The Immortals ? Drop the ''t'' Korda and it may be more appropriate.
The Immortals, by Michael Korda (Pan, $72).