Do unto others…

This story first appeared in the April 7, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Apparently, that high-minded platform of empathy in action carries little resonance for celebrities who take the media to task for flagrant intrusions into their private lives, at least when there’s a high-profile, high-controversy role in the equation. Exhibit A: Kate Holmes, aka Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy of the gloriously soap-operatic miniseries “The Kennedys,” now running on the previously anonymous network ReelzChannel.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect that any actress, or at least one whose credentials fall somewhere south of Meryl Streep-land, would turn down the chance to portray a historical figure considered one of the most beautiful, chicest, noblest women of her century. Consideration on the physical plane alone is heady stuff. To be thought a 2011 beauty is one thing; Jackie-worthy, a significant upgrade. Holmes looks exquisite in the role. She time-travels to 1960 to perfection, and appears born into Jackie’s swoop-bang bubble-cut coiffeur. As for her characterization, Holmes plays Jackie not as victim but as a woman of high moral fortitude. When she asks her odious father-in-law if he thinks everyone can be bought, and he answers, “I haven’t met the exception,” she shoots back, “Well, you have now.” Similarly, the morning after the election, when Caroline bursts into her parents’ bedroom calling her father “Mr. President! Mr. President!” (apparently they went to bed before Nixon conceded) Jackie informs him with regal composure, “I’ve had my private humiliations but I won’t have them in front of the American people.”

The fact that “The Kennedys,” originally slated to run on the History Channel, was dropped by the network, which cited a poor fit, was well-reported, as were rumors that Caroline Kennedy lobbied personally for History to back out. It was picked up in February by ReelzChannel and started airing on Sunday night (unfortunately, for those who never get around to watching the Tivo-ed stuff, opposite a saga of another dishy family, “The Borgias”).

If Daddy was a wanton skirt-chaser, Daddy was a wanton skirt-chaser. If Mommy put up with it, Mommy put up with it. If Daddy and Mommy were the president and first lady of the United States, even back in the days when the press looked the other way and the current voracious appetite for tawdry details about the personal lives of public figures could not possibly have been foreseen, the chance existed that some kind of renegade, whether journalist or other knowledgeable person, would break ranks with the reigning decorum and spill the beans.

Public people, fair game. Perhaps, though even now some champions of privacy question just how much of politicians’ personal lives should be available as fodder for public amusement. On one hand, it’s difficult to argue that when the very famous get caught engaging in bad behavior with a level of indiscretion that can only be rooted in arrogance — well, sorry Charlie.

However, even the famous and famously flawed have feelings; so, too, do their loved ones. Holmes’ own marriage has been the subject of endless gossip involving less quaint notions than extramarital affairs. She has from Day One of Tom Cruise’s Oprah’s-couch antics experienced the slings and arrows of invasive, scandal-hungry media. “I do know what is being said in the press…” she told Vanity Fair in 2006. “This is my family, and I care so much about them. The stories are not OK. It eats away at me because it’s just not OK.”

But somehow, playing the much-cheated-upon Jackie, whose daughter and grandchildren are very much around and aware, is. So it’s worth noting that last month, WWD’s Marc Karimzadeh had an interview scheduled with Holmes and her partner, Jeanne Yang, about their Holmes & Yang fashion line. Along with more serious business questions, Marc had a cute Suri query in mind: Does the oft-photographed fashiony tot ever weigh in with opinions of the collection? But upon his arrival, he was cautioned not to mention Suri lest Holmes become peeved.

This is not to suggest that Reelz should have passed on the series, or that this viewer is too lofty to find it engaging television, at least through episode 4. Certainly on-screen personifications of real people in all of their (no doubt exaggerated) imperfection are an entertainment industry standard. Are we all not somehow richer for having experienced Faye Dunaway as that most despicable of Mommy Dearests? Though several rungs down the pop-culture scale, some of us aren’t too proud to admit to having watched Cybill Shepherd as Martha Stewart in a television movie.

In fact, on the sex front, “The Kennedys” presents zero new material. In terms of personalities, through the first half at least, it depicts JFK as a noble, if initially reluctant, public servant; Jackie, the epitome of grace, and Bobby, a saint. It all comes wrapped in savvily controlled camp; from Bobby’s bunny teeth to the over-the-top abhorrence of Joe Sr. (he kisses his secretary in front of his sons — ick), that’s enough to make a familiar, tragedy-riddled true (make that based-on-truth) story plenty of fun. There’s sibling rivalry (Joe Jr.’s jealousy of Jack’s PT boat heroics), time-capsule shock value (Jackie smoking while pregnant) and Cynthia, a campaign worker who could have been called Jessica Rabbit (to JFK on election night: “If there’s anything else you need. I’m happy to do anything.”

And there’s Katie channeling Jackie in all her blue-shifted, pink-suited, pearl-stranded Oleg Cassini glory. She looks divine in every shot. Still, how impressive if Katie had done unto Jackie as she wishes various media outlets would do unto her and left her alone. Instead, she chose the somewhat lower road of high career visibility. I’ve taken the viewers’ parallel path and must admit I’m enjoying the trip.


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