'Black Robert' Finds A Role

Although JFK came to depend totally on RFK, for many years he mostly ignored his brother, who was eight years younger. "All this business about Jack and Bobby being blood brothers has been exaggerated," said their sister Eunice. "They had different tastes in men, different tastes in women." JFK regarded his little brother as a gloomy scold--he called him "Black Robert." The two rarely socialized (their wives, Jackie and Ethel, were badly matched), and JFK liked to complain about Bobby's moralizing and prodding. "How would you like looking forward to that high, whining voice blasting in your ear for the next six months?" Jack Kennedy asked a friend, Paul (Red) Fay, before the 1960 campaign.

Only after JFK ran for the Senate in 1952 did he even begin to appreciate his brother's fierce loyalty and political savvy. Bobby was willing to do the hard and dirty jobs for JFK, like telling off lazy political hacks, or handling their intrusive and demanding father. "I don't care whether anyone here likes me as long as they like Jack," he said. RFK revered his brother and wanted to keep him out of the mud. "I don't want my brother mixed up with politicians!" he blurted. (JFK was the "first Irish Brahmin" and RFK the "last Irish puritan," Massachusetts Gov. Paul Dever once observed.)

As JFK's campaign manager in the 1960 presidential election, Bobby terrorized campaign workers, who whispered, "Little Brother is watching you." As attorney general in the Kennedy administration, RFK acted as brother-protector, browbeating bureaucrats who were slow to "get moving" with the New Frontier. At meetings of the Special Group overseeing covert action, he would sit with his feet on the table, his sleeves rolled up, chewing gum, looking bored or sullen, though often asking pointed questions. With a maddening disrespect for hierarchy and official channels, RFK used secret go-betweens, including a Soviet spy to deal with the Kremlin. Debonair and cool, JFK was able to float above the fray.

During the 1960 campaign, TV newsman Sander Vanocur was smarting from a tongue-lashing by RFK when he ran into JFK outside a restaurant. "That brother of yours has no manners," Vanocur spluttered. "Ignore him," Jack said. JFK preferred not to know too much. "I don't know what Bobby does," President Kennedy told a friend, columnist Charles Bartlett. "But it always seems to turn out right."