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Bobby Kennedy Tells a Joke

Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Albany, New York on September 19, 1964 (Credit: Albany Times-Union)

Living in the long public shadow of John F. Kennedy, his younger brother Robert, had a difficult time. Robert was the thoughtful, less “spur of the moment type”, than his elder brother, and at the start of his public career, was not known for memorable public speaking. Words did not come easy for one who pondered meaning, tense and expression.

In September of 1957, Robert F. Kennedy visited Albany, New York to deliver a speech at the New York State Democratic Party Dinner. New York Democrats were a rough and tumble sort – an odd collection of Machine politicos who made their bones on the streets far from Cambridge. He was filling in for his brother, who was recovering from an illness.

Kennedy knew that the crowd was expecting his more famous brother, and recognized that the challenge of managing audience expectations would be difficult. In order to smooth his acceptance, he told a joke. The transcript of what he said is preserved in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. When he spoke to loyal Democrats that evening Robert Kennedy said:

“I realize that I am not alone in this problem of not getting through to others. It is said that when Cecil B. DeMille was filming The Ten Commandments overseas, he was most anxious to capture on film a particularly spectacular and costly scene. 50,000 men, horses and chariots were to rush at each other for five minutes at a cost of $100,000 a minute, and with costumes and props that could never be replaced. To make certain of getting it all, he ordered three separate cameras to grind – one on the battleground itself, one up on a specially constructed platform above the battle, and a third, equipped with telescopic lens, way up on a hill far across the river from the scene.

The signal was given, the horses charged, the battle raged, it was truly a spectacle to behold. DeMille turned excitedly to his first cameraman. “I’m afraid there was too much smoke and dust, Mr. DeMille,” he said. “My film won’t show anything.” He looked up to camera No. 2. “I’m sorry, Mr. DeMille,” said this one, “but the platform shook and jammed the film right at the beginning. I didn’t get it.” Desperately DeMille shouted and waved over to the figure on the hill across the river – “Paddy, Pad-dy!” and the reply came drifting back: “Any time you’re ready, Mr. DeMille!”

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