Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
The HBO documentary Ethel, on the life of Ethel Kennedy and directed/produced by daughter Rory Kennedy, premiered at Sundance in January. At that time, documentarian Rory Kennedy spoke at length with Deadline about the project. At today’s TCA, Rory and Ethel appeared together on a panel on the 100-minute documentary, which premieres October. 18. On the Ethel panel, Rory did most of the talking, much of it on the subject of persuading her reticent mom to get on board with the project.
But perhaps through making the documentary, Ethel Kennedy, 84, has apparently gotten a little more used to talking about herself: At the panel, she offered revealing comments about her family life, raising children and her commitment to humanitarian causes.
On dinner and the difference between her family and her husband’s: “Well, the Kennedys were very organized, and dinner was always served at 7:15. If you were a minute late it really wasn’t worth it. In my family, you never knew when dinner was going to be. It took a little getting used to, a little discipline, to move between the two families.”
On what philanthropic cause she would have chosen had she made it to the White House: “I don’t go into that area at all, but I imagine at this moment it would pretty much be the same thing that our family does now, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. We get very involved in human rights all over the world, 27 countries, intensely, including our own farm workers in upstate NY who are treated like slaves.”
On what has lent her quiet strength: “What a nice question thank you. There was nothing really very quiet about our family growing up, it was a little helter skelter … it’s embarrassing, uncomfortable to talk about, but I’d say faith had a lot to do with being able to get through everything, it was very comforting. When we lost Bobby, I would wake up in the morning and think: ‘He’s OK, he’s in heaven, he’s with Jack and a lot of my brothers and sisters and my parents. It made it very easy to get through the day, thinking he was OK.”
On parenting: “If there is a formula … I really don’t know what it is. I just think we were very fortunate and I’m so proud that they really are each involved in helping somebody in need. We had a Sunday evening tradition at meals in which everyone going around the table had to tell something about what was going on in the world. It was an adult conversation, and they responded beautifully. I think there was a little rush just before dinner to read the paper and find out what the heck was going on, but I think it helped make them aware that there are a lot of people out there who don’t live the way they live and need help. “
Finally, Ethel Kennedy found herself asked to squelch a rumor that she had set up grandson Conor Kennedy with Taylor Swift. She was asked if Swift would become a Kennedy: “We should be so lucky, “ Ethel cracked. Rory jumped in to explain that her two girls went to a Swift concert and met Swift. “That’s what started it all,” Rory said. “We love her. She’s awesome.”