Yesterday Deadline‘s Anita Busch reported that Bruce Dern has been cast as the stroke-sidelined Joseph P. Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, a feature based on the Ted Kennedy-Mary Jo Kopechne tragedy, which happened on July 18, 1969 — two days before the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Chappaquiddick will begin shooting just after Labor Day. John Curran (Tracks, Stone) will direct from a BlackList script by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. Jason Clarke and Kate Mara are playing Ted Kennedy and Kopechne; Ed Helms (??) is portraying Kennedy confidante/advisor Joe Gargan. The producers are Apex Entertainment’s Mark Ciardi and Campbell McInnes.
Could someone please send me a PDF of the script?
Kennedy, the multi-millionaire founding father of the Kennedy clan and orchestrator of the mystique going back to the 1920s, suffered a stroke in 1961. It left him half-paralyzed, in a wheelchair and for the most part unable to speak. With the help of therapy he gradually recovered some mobility (he was seen walking with a cane in May of ’64) and limited speech functions. But by July of ’69 he was 81 and near the end. He died on 11.18.69, four months after the Chappaquiddick incident.
It therefore seems curious that Busch, presumably going on information provided by someone at Apex, is describing the elder Kennedy’s involvement in the tragedy as “key.”
She writes that Mr. Kennedy “still ruled with an iron fist,” notes that Ted called him after the dike bridge incident, and explains that the senior Kennedy “at first thought it best to come up with a story to save his son’s Presidential ambitions.” That’s news to me but okay.
Busch’s version further claims that the paterfamilias “quickly called in trusted Kennedy advisors including William MacNamara” — Busch may be referring to Robert McNamara — “Teddy Sorenson” (the former JFK speechwriter was always called Ted, not “Teddy”), and Sargent Shriver and created a war room in the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port to help control the story in the press and to run damage control after he realized the family couldn’t hide the incident.” That’s also new information.
I’m not saying Busch is incorrect or that the Chappaquiddick screenplay has invented this “war room” stuff, but I’ve done some reading about the Chappaquiddick tragedy over the years and I’ve never heard of McNamara, Sorensen and Shriver having the slightest involvement in the affair, much less at the behest of the frail, ailing Joseph P. Kennedy, who at that stage in his life probably regarded shifting from his wheelchair to the toilet as a “key” accomplishment.
The most horrific aspect of the whole ghastly event was the inquest testimony of John Farrar, the diver who recovered Kopechne’s body. He testified that Kopechne did not die from drowning but suffocation, based upon the posture in which he found the body and its position relative to the area of an ultimate air pocket in the overturned vehicle. Farrar also asserted that Kopechne would likely have survived had a more timely attempt at rescue been conducted.
“It looked as if she were holding herself up to get a last breath of air,” Farrar testified. “It was a consciously assumed position. She didn’t drown. She died of suffocation in her own air void. It took her at least three or four hours to die. I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call. But he [Ted Kennedy] didn’t call.”
Farrar reportedly changed his testimony somewhat when he was quoted by People magazine as saying Kopechne “lived for at least two hours down there.”