Abs-olution

Kerry Kennedy and Arnold Schwarzenegger have the family formula down: Play to win and look good doing it.


Tina Brown
July 11, 2003 1:20AM (UTC)

For tabloid editors and the beach blankets of the Hamptons it was a double boon that the latest round of Kennedy scandals hit just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. After a frowning spring of post-Iraq agonies, we can all use less Saddam and more Gomorrah.

First we have the publication of Ed Klein's bioporn epic "The Kennedy Curse," with its hush-hush unraveling of the marriage of the late John F. Kennedy Jr. and poor, doomed Carolyn Bessette. This has given the tabs an excuse to rerun all those elegant, sexy pictures -- Carolyn dashing from apartment buildings like a gorgeous greyhound fleeing her troubled secrets, John with his softly chiseled hurt handsomeness and his smooth Adonis-like musculature.

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Hard on the heels of Klein's revisionism comes the rather more startling news of the marital Chernobyl of Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy's high-minded human rights activist daughter. Kerry -- mother of three, sister/niece/cousin/aunt of too many to count -- dumps her thrusting politico husband, Andrew Cuomo, for a charmingly caddish lounge lizard, restaurateur Bruce Colley.

Wow! For once, a Kennedy woman behaves like a Kennedy man! A nice revenge for the generations of Kennedy women who have borne their husbands' infidelities and the family's bullyings in stoic silence.

The last time a Kennedy woman showed that kind of spunk was in 1944 -- nearly 60 years ago! -- when JFK's eldest and most spirited sister, Kathleen, known to all as "Kick," bravely defied her piously Catholic mother to marry Billy Cavendish, aka Lord Hartington, son and heir to the Duke of Devonshire. Seven months later he was dead, killed in action, and soon enough she was dead too, killed in a small-plane crash in the south of France in 1948 -- one of the crashes Jackie must have had in mind when, decades later, she beseeched her son not to take flying lessons.

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For the hungry paparazzi who've had nothing to cover but the premieres of bad summer blockbusters, the Kennedy-Cuomo-Colley saga has been a welcome feast of flashy photo ops. There is the nonchalant picture of Colley swinging a polo mallet like some throwback to Scott Fitzgerald's Tom Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby." There's the steamy Kerry Kennedy bikini shot with windswept hair on a boat in Hyannis Port, where she fled for familial support. There is the pained glimpse of Andrew Cuomo stewing alone on a grim vacation with the kids. (Colley, natch, hightailed it out of town. The only disappointing aspect of Kerry's fling is that she seems to want to marry the guy, who is an obvious bad boy. You can tell from the fact his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends all like him.)

The way the scandal has broken provides additional juice. Andrew Cuomo went public first in a gnomic statement from his lawyer that puzzlingly said, without further details, "Mr. Cuomo was betrayed and saddened by his wife's conduct during their marriage."

In Southampton, at a swell annual party on a carpetlike, blazingly green lawn, nobody had much time for the wronged husband. This is not just because the east end of Long Island is Kennedy country -- Caroline, Jean Kennedy Smith and Pat Lawford, another JFK sister, all summer there. It's because Andrew Cuomo broke all the rules of gossip deportment. Maybe his complaint about betrayal was a genuine, uncalculated cri de coeur. But if (as the Hamptons crowd takes for granted) it's a strategy, then it's a colossally dumb one. What can he hope to gain from playing the self-pitying victim? Kennedys don't like losing, so the Cuomo marriage was probably doomed after Andrew's failed gubernatorial run last year; at rallies for Andrew, Kerry had increasingly hogged the mike as his chances faded. As JFK, Bill Clinton, and even Bruce Colley could have told him, women (and the public) prefer a philanderer to a victim.

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Mario Cuomo, New York's distinguished Democratic governor for 12 years, became America's liberal Demosthenes, revered for his eloquence and passion. If Cuomo the younger wants to rise in politics, calling up Bruce Colley and yelling, "Stay away from my kids!" showed only a distressing recourse to a Soprano ambience his classy dad disdained. Thus, the big men of Southampton who cruised the lawn at dusk with their martinis decreed that Andrew Cuomo is not just a loser, he's an asshole.

Hamptons women, meanwhile, focused on the meaning of Kerry Kennedy's front-page from-the-knees-up frontal bikini shot in the sailboat. Who's her trainer? they wanted to know. Those taut abs are awesome, and there's no way that snap was an accident. It was a statement to both those guys, loudmouthed Andy, who was always exploiting her name as well as his own, and craven Bruce, who, the minute the press heat was on, announced, "I love my wife" and split. In Monday's tabs we got another Kerry pic, wearing tiny denim cutoffs. It confirmed what we had begun to suspect: The rest of her legs are just as good. You have to hand it to Mrs. Cuomo. After three kids and 13 years in a grueling political marriage campaigning for a guy who can't get elected, she came up with a graphic, irrefutable way to announce: "This is what 43 looks like!"

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Meanwhile, across the continent, the only Kennedy anyone cares about is the Republican one, future Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opened his campaign by winning the weekend box office in "Terminator 3."

No one will yet admit to wanting to vote for Arnold, but he intrigues and delights for a simple reason: He's a Happy Warrior. Remember when, amid the sullen landscape of young male showbiz, he seemed like the only guy who really enjoyed being a male movie star? Well, he'd enjoy being governor, too, and after the allegorically named Gray Davis, the dismal incumbent, that counts for something.

As usual in West Coast matters, the East Coast media has got it all wrong. The snooty Op-Eds doing omigod-he's-an-actor! outrage? That was tried against Ronald Reagan in the '60s, and look where it got him.

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Tina Brown

Tina Brown's column appears every Thursday in Salon.

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