• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

HBO's "Ethel"

E-mail Print

Emmy Award-winning documentarian Rory Kennedy – Ms. Kennedy won Television’s top trophy of achievement for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special for her 2007 HBO film, “Ghost of Abu Ghraib” – has now created a most moving celluloid account of her mother, Ethel. Titled simply “Ethel,” the film is an account of Ethel Kennedy’s life and times.

Married to Robert Kennedy in 1950, Ethel Skakel, unlike the Kennedys, comes from a self-made family. Her father George (her mother was named Ann Brannack Skakel), was a working man who did well in 20th century America. Founder of the vastly profitable Great Lakes Carbon Corporation, George achieved the archetypal American dream of personal success and capital abundance. Like the Kennedy’s, however, the Skakels were devout Catholics.

Indeed, Ethel met Jean Kennedy, sister to Robert, at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. Ethel liked Robert from the start. Robert, however, had an eye for Ethel’s sister, Patricia. Robert and Patricia dated for two years, until Robert journeyed to what was then called Palestine to report on the emergence of Israel as a sovereign nation. When he returned, he reconnected with and eventually married Ethel.

Though Ethel’s family were staunch Republicans, the apolitical Ethel worked, along with Robert and the entire Kennedy clan, for John Kennedy’s first congressional campaign in 1946. In fact, Ethel had written her college thesis on JFK’s erudite first book, “Why England Slept.” Soon her political inclinations had shifted. Not only had Ethel become an active Democrat, she had also become an articulate political advocate. Unlike Robert, Ethel enjoyed the rigors of campaigning.

In 97 minutes we review a meaty slice of American history as seen through the experiences and perspectives of Ethel Kennedy. Not only do we glimpse the family’s jubilation at JFK’s winning election after election – from a congressional seat in the 1940s to the United Sates Senate in the 1950s and on to the presidency in the 1960s – we also share in the loss and grief that has long been the flipside of the Kennedy  legacy. We also witness the intensity of RFK’s successful campaign for one of New York’s U.S. Senate seats in 1964, and we feel the family’s despair in the aftermath of his Quixotic presidential bid in 1968; it’s a subject that to this day the 83 year-old Ethel can barely speak on.

Rory is the eleventh child born to Robert and Ethel. Ethel gave birth to Rory six months subsequent to RFK’s assassination in June, 1968. So, of course, Rory makes use of testimony from seven of her siblings– including, the oldest Kathleen (who was once lieutenant governor of Maryland); Joe (a former U.S. Congressman); and Bobby, Jr. (an environmental activist).Their memories are precious, being both personal and historic (two of Ethel’s sons – David and Michael – have died, in 1984 and 1997, respectively). Stories like the one about President Kennedy having to phone Ethel to warn her to not allow cabinet members to be pushed into RFK’s home swimming pool during gatherings are delightful and humanizing tidbits that allow us to feel like we’re listening to tales from our own family lineage. After all, though the Kennedy’s were our first family for only 1,000 days, they are forever etched in our minds as the closest thing that America has ever had to a royal family.

“Ethel” is currently in limited theatrical release and is scheduled for broadcast on HBO Television later this year. Check local listings.



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.