The tragic life story of Rosemary Kennedy, the eldest sister of President John F. Kennedy and senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, will be told in a movie titled “Letters from Rosemary Kennedy.”
Written by Nick Yarborough, the film will explore Rosemary’s early years as the black sheep of her accomplished, highly competitive family, through her father's disastrous decision to have Rosemary undergo one of the first frontal lobotomies in the US when she was 23 years old. The botched procedure left Rosemary unable to walk, care for herself, and able only to utter a few words from then until her death in 2005 at the age of 86.
It was announced this week that Emma Stone (“The Help,” “Birdman”) will star as Rosemary.
Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff, author of “The Missing Kennedy” and the niece of Sister Paulus, the nun who took care of Rosemary Kennedy for 35 years, greeted the casting choice enthusiastically, telling People, “Emma’s red hair and skin complexion even resembles Rosie’s. I can’t wait to see Emma’s amazing acting skills as she portrays my dear friend.”
Rosemary was described as "a picturesque young woman, a snow princess with flush cheeks, gleaming smile, plump figure, and a sweetly ingratiating manner to almost everyone she met." Her troubles began at birth, when her mother, Rose, was advised by her nurse to try to keep the baby inside her for as long as possible because her doctor was late for the delivery, leading to oxygen deprivation for newborn Rosemary.
As a child it became apparent that she had some developmental and intellectual disabilities, so she was sent to be privately schooled at a convent in Rhode Island. When her father, Joseph, was appointed US Ambassador to Britain, Rosemary finally caught a break and she thrived in a London convent school. But when she returned to the US, a number of emotional outbursts and her parents’ fears about her sexuality spelled disaster.
In 1941, when Rosemary was 23, Joseph learned of the new frontal lobotomy procedure, which was said to calm hyperactivity in mental patients. He ordered the procedure for Rosemary, despite the fact that only 80 or so frontal lobotomies had been carried out in the US at that point.
In “The Sins of the Father,” Ronald Kessler recounts his conversation with Dr. James W. Watts, who carried out the procedure with Walter Freeman of Wingdale Psychological and Correctional Facility.
"We went through the top of the head, I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made a small incision, no more than an inch." The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut brain tissue. "We put an instrument inside", he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman put questions to Rosemary. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord's Prayer or sing "God Bless America" or count backwards..... "We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded." ..... When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.”
Rosemary was never the same after that. She was first sent to a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York before arriving at the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin. There she lived in a private house her family had built for her, cared for by Catholic nuns. Her family didn’t visit her for two decades, until after Joseph suffered a stroke. Her siblings then strove to make amends, both visiting Rosemary and bringing her to the East Coast for visits. Rosemary was the inspiration behind the Special Olympics and the Best Buddies program, founded by her sister Eunice.
“Letters from Rosemary Kennedy” is Nick Yarborough’s first script. It will be produced by Anonymous Content, the team behind 2016 Oscar winner “Spotlight.”
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