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KENNEDY: Bobby’s Last Crusade O’Connell & Company virtually
By Augustine Warner
Early morning June 5, 1968, I got up to head down the hall to the bathroom of our family home and noticed the lights were on in our TV room.
That was strange because I had gone to sleep after Robert Kennedy claimed victory in the California presidential primary and announced: “On to Chicago.”
My father wasn’t happy because he had run and lost in the New York primary to be a delegate for Eugene McCarthy to the Democratic National Convention.
I walked into the TV room and found my father watching the screen.
He told me Kennedy was shot right after his victory announcement and Dad just stayed watching.
That was a crazy time, just months after Martin Luther King had been murdered and people were dying daily in Vietnam, sometimes by the dozen.
If you think that can’t be, a college classmate was one of 18 Marines killed when his chopper was shut down.
David Arrow’s “Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade” is a look at what might have been.
As Daniel Lendzian’s Bobby tells the story of that spring, in color virtually, and he delivers the campaign speeches, in black and white, you realize how eerie it is in 1968 to hear views and promises and demands I heard last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, calls for economic change, racial reconciliation and a look inwards at ourselves
Kennedy arrived late in the presidential primary, which centered on McCarthy challenging President Lyndon Johnson over the war.
McCarthy led a youth crusade heavily made up on young people from some of the great colleges, many of whom, as Kennedy noted in a speech in the show, were exempt from the draft and Vietnam.
That means the war was the focus of the Kennedy campaign until the night Johnson ad-libbed his announcement he wasn’t running, throwing the presidential campaign and our newspaper city room into chaos.
At that point, the campaign began to shift from the war overseas to the violence at home, perhaps driven by what Kennedy saw the night Martin Luther King was killed, the rioting and the fires.
The senator began to campaign in groups usually ignored in presidential campaigns and the campaign caught fire in endless campaign rallies.
These were impromptu rallies, the old-fashioned speeches from the rear platforms of passenger trains and speeches standing on a car and there were the open top car motorcades through minority neighborhoods.
Here, the son of a bigoted and very rich man, known for having a murdered president brother and being an ally of the demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy turned into a figure calling for a very different America, pointing to the world illuminated by Michael Harrington’s “The Other America.”
It all came together in California, as momentum built across the country, making it very likely that Kennedy would be the Democratic candidate against Republican Richard Nixon.
It all fell apart in the kitchen of LA’s Ambassador Hotel, with Kennedy fatally wounded.
You can listen to Lendzien’s speeches and realize how prescient the candidate and his young speechwriters were about the future of their country and look back over a half-century at what happened.
The young people in countless demonstrations last year probably had never heard Robert Francis Kennedy speak but would have immediately understood what he was talking about.
That’s why “Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade” is so fascinating, a man recognizing what might be and campaigning for it.
Lendzien’s Kennedy accent is a little shaky, as was the senator’s, blurred by growing up in Bronxville and working in Washington.
Still, it’s the message and the history and that’s pointed and poignant.
The show was taped in the landmark Saturn Club on Delaware Avenue and that’s effective as a setting, along with the signs and balloons of a campaign.
Mary Kate O’Connell does a strong job of moving the camera around, never dropping into just letting Lendzien stand and stand, opera’s “park and bark.”
The TV editing is a little rough, although I’ve done it and it isn’t easy.
That’s all why “Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade” should be on your computer screen, a look at the past and the present and wonder.
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