News A Letter from Rosemary Kennedy: IN PRE-PRODUCTION

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Elisabeth Moss To Play Rosemary Kennedy


“The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss has scored the title role in the feature “A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy” from filmmaker Ritesh Batra (“The Sense of an Ending,” “Our Souls at Night”).

The film will tell the little-known but haunting story of the eldest sister of President John F. Kennedy, a developmentally challenged but vibrant beautiful woman who spent a lifetime hiding from public view and ended up being institutionalized (and suffering a botched lobotomy) because of her father Joseph Kennedy and his political ambitions.

The film is based on personal letters illustrating her wish to connect with her family and how her story became a catalyst for change. Nick Yarborough penned the Black List spec script with the film to be produced by Moss, Jason Michael Berman, and Kevin Turen.


Rosemary Kennedy in 1938, three years before her lobotomy, ready to be presented at Court.

Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy (September 13, 1918 – January 7, 2005) was the oldest daughter born to Joseph, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and a sister of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.

Rosemary displayed behavioral problems, resulting in less academic and sporting ability than her siblings. Her father arranged one of the first prefrontal lobotomies for her at the age of 23, but it failed and left her incapacitated permanently. Rosemary spent the rest of her life in an institution in Jefferson, Wisconsin, with minimal contact from her family. Her condition may have inspired her sister, Eunice, to initiate the Special Olympics in 1962.


Placid and easygoing as a child and teenager, the maturing Rosemary Kennedy became increasingly assertive and rebellious. She was also reportedly subject to violent mood changes. Some observers have since attributed this behavior to her inability to conform to siblings who were expected to perform to high standards, as well as the hormonal surges associated with puberty. In any case, the family had difficulty dealing with her stormy moods and reckless behavior. Rosemary had begun to sneak out at night from the convent school in Washington, D.C., where she was cared for and educated.[13] Her occasional erratic behavior frustrated her parents, who expected all of their children to behave appropriately, be goal-oriented, and act competitively. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was especially worried that his daughter's behavior would shame and embarrass the family and possibly damage his political career.

In November 1941, when Rosemary Kennedy was 23, doctors told Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. that a new neurosurgical procedure, lobotomy, would help calm her mood swings and stop her occasional violent outbursts.[15][16] (About 80 lobotomies, 80% on women, had been performed in the United States by the time.) He decided that his daughter should have the lobotomy performed; however, he did not inform his wife Rose of this until after the procedure was completed. Rosemary was strapped to the operating table.

"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.

After the lobotomy, it quickly became apparent that the procedure was not successful. Kennedy's mental capacity diminished to that of a two-year-old child. She could not walk or speak intelligibly and was incontinent.

After the procedure, Rosemary was immediately institutionalized.

Archbishop Richard Cushing had told her father about St. Coletta's, an institution for more than three hundred people with disabilities, and her father traveled to and built a private house for her about a mile outside St. Coletta's main campus near Alverno House, which was designed for adults who needed lifelong care.[22] The nuns called the house "the Kennedy cottage".[23] Two Catholic nuns, Sister Margaret Ann and Sister Leona, provided her care along with a student and a woman who worked on ceramics with Rosemary three nights a week. Alan Borsari supervised the team and was able to call in specialists. Rosemary had a dog and a car that could be used to take her for rides.

In response to her condition, Rosemary's parents separated her from her family. Rose Kennedy did not visit her for twenty years.[14] Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. did not visit his daughter at the institution.[25] While her older brother John was campaigning for re-election for the Senate in 1958, the Kennedy family explained away her absence by claiming she was reclusive. At one point, a rumor circulated that Rosemary was too busy working as a teacher for disabled children to make public appearances. The Kennedy family did not publicly explain her absence until after John was elected as President of the United States in 1961. The Kennedys did not reveal that she was institutionalized because of a failed lobotomy but instead said that she was deemed "mentally retarded".

After the death of her father in 1969, Rosemary was occasionally taken to visit relatives in Florida and Washington, D.C., and to her childhood home on Cape Cod. By that time, Rosemary had learned to walk again but did so with a limp. She never regained the ability to speak clearly and her arm was palsied.[14] Her condition is sometimes credited as the inspiration for Eunice Kennedy Shriver to later found the Special Olympics,[14] although Shriver told The New York Times in 1995 that that was not exactly the case.[27] In 1983, the Kennedy family gave $1 million to renovate Alverno House. The gift added a therapeutic pool and enlarged the chapel.

Rosemary Kennedy died from natural causes on January 7, 2005, at the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, at the age of 86, with her sisters Jean, Eunice, and Patricia, and brother Ted, by her side. She was buried beside her parents in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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