Very Different and Very Famous American Families with Disturbing Secrets
By Daniel Ferszt
Before ships ever started sinking due to loose lips, Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Could Mr. $100 bill’s principle ever apply to family secrets? Traditionalists would argue no; there are some lines that are simply not crossable.
KoldCast TV’s crime drama The Syndicate introduces us to a family known to bend these rules. Their family business is serial killing, and they’ve been at it for decades. One of the children, Nathan, now a well-adjusted adult, lives in London where until recently he had killed in partnership with his biological brother Jamie. However, when Jamie is killed in a car accident, Nathan cannot adjust to working alone, feeling the loss of his brother greatly.
Then he meets Rhys. Young, inexperienced and eager to learn the business, Rhys evokes the big brother in Nathan. When Nathan agrees to take Rhys under his wing, he risks breaking Kanye West’s golden rule that has kept the family business operating for years:
“Look, you tell me you ain’t did it then you ain’t did it.
And if you did, then that’s family business.”
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From conventional to downright scandalous, all families seem to harbor their fair share of secrets. A look at America’s most rich and famous families proved that Ben Franklin’s wisdom beat out Yeezy’s. Attract a little heat and the secret’s out!
The Kennedys – Affair(s) to Remember
Ah the Kennedys, an everlasting wellspring of drama. Beginning with Joe Kennedy, it was revealed that the family patriarch was having an affair with finance-seeking Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson on his trips away from his wife, Rose Fitzgerald. Years later, his son Joe II would have his twelve-year marriage to Sheila Rauch secretly annulled by the Vatican. Non-existent wife Rauch would not even find out until 1996, three years after the Congressman already remarried.
Michael Kennedy had an affair with his 14-year-old babysitter; Ted Kennedy’s nephew suffered rape alligations, while wife and mother Kerry Kennedy had a long-term affair with a married man. The most notorious secret would of course belong to President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Bobby; the men shared Marilyn Monroe in a love triangle that came to light after the legendary starlet’s death. Numerous conspiracy theories even connect the brothers to her demise.
The Crawfords – Mommie Dearest
In 1936, actress Joan Crawford was considered one of MGM’s marquee names. Things would improve further when she left for Warner Brothers to play the role of a lifetime in Mildred Pierce (1945). The film landed Joan an Oscar for Best Actress and her Hollywood reign continued until 1952. After that, things rapidly slowed down until 1970, when she all but disappeared from the public eye.
Joan Crawford would see fame once again, only this time posthumously. After discovering she was cut from her mother’s will, Joan’s adopted daughter Christina released a scathing book entitled Mommie Dearest. The bestseller depicted her mother as a promiscuous alcoholic who had multiple affairs and couldn’t care less about her four children. The book also explained how Joan would abuse them during her drunken rages, sometimes using wire hangers. In 1981, Mommie Dearest was adapted into a movie starring Faye Dunaway, and became an instant hit at the box office.
The Rockefellers – Slippery Business
Known as one of the most powerful and politically connected families in America, the Rockefeller dynasty planted its seeds in oil over 140 years ago and has continued to grow its staggering wealth in the banking and real estate industries. Several philanthropic foundations were also established in the Rockefeller name. The empire’s beginnings are a notch less admirable.
In 1849, William Rockefeller was forced to move his family from upstate New York to the Pennsylvania border due to allegations of rape. He uprooted them again to Cleveland, Ohio and two years later married Margret Allen, beginning his secret life as a bigamist. William’s son John would later establish Standard Oil and become a billionaire; however he would be accused of running a monopoly and his life would be tainted with business scandals.
His son and successor John Jr. spent three years in a sanitarium out of the public eye. Nelson Rockefeller was named president of Rockefeller Center, became governor of New York and later rose to become vice president to Gerald Ford. It was rumored that he died from a heart attack while having sex with his mistress. You know what they say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The Jacksons – Smokin’ Joe
The moms of Toddlers and Tiaras should learn a thing or two from their veritable god, Joe Jackson. Never a candidate for Father of the Year, Joe nonetheless managed to mold five of his nine children into music superstars. The Jackson Five went on to sell over 100 million albums worldwide and eventually spawned the solo career of Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop. Then it was drugs, abuse, public nudity and court cases that seemed to keep us interested for decades instead. In her 1991 autobiography, La Toya Jackson accused her father of mental, physical and sexual abuse, just before posing for Playboy.
Two years later, Michael confirmed that his father was a monster on the Oprah Winfrey Show while defending himself against accusations of pedophilia. Michael became increasingly eccentric, turning his house into an amusement park and dressing his kids in strange masks. He eventually died of a drug overdose at the untimely age of 50. Michael’s younger sister Janet, arguably a Queen of Pop in her own right, will be forever remembered for her 2004 Super Bowl half-time performance, where she “accidently” flashed her right nipple to 90 million viewers.
The Kuklinksis – Cold as Ice
Richard Kuklinski, who was once known to his New Jersey neighbors as a kind family man, would become the subject of a 2006 bestselling book, The Iceman. Kuklinski was worthy of the exposé because he was actually a brutal mafia thug and contract killer. Known to his associates as “The Iceman,” Kuklinski would freeze his victims’ corpses in an industrial grade freezer, then immediately thaw them out, confusing the time of death. He confessed to murdering over 200 people over the course of his career, even claiming responsibility for the slaying of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa.
However, Kuklinski would never harm women or children, and would often bring presents to children in hospitals and throw block parties for his neighbors. His inevitable demise came as a surprise to everyone who knew him as just an average citizen.
Obscure American Families with Promising Secrets
Not all secrets are dirty. The otherwise unknown Grace Groner lived in a small home in Lake Forest, Illinois until she passed away at the old age of 100, leaving a $7 million scholarship fund to Lake Forest College. Matel Dawson Jr. was a Ford Motor Co. forklift operator in Detroit who donated $1.3 million to various schools and nonprofit groups by the time he passed away at age 81. No one had a clue that either of these seniors had acquired such wealth.
Famous, infamous, or toiling in obscurity, we all have our secrets. In the end nobody really knows what takes place behind closed doors.
Daniel Ferszt is a working screenwriter and copywriter for web and print. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he is recognized as a leading authority in raising kids with brown hair.