KEN'S THIRTEEN DAZE; the Hollywood Movie 13 Days, Starring Kevin Costner, Shows Irish-American Ken O'Donnell as the Hero of the 1962 Cuba Crisis. Puzzled Historians Say the Alcoholic White House Aide Was Just an Assistant to President JFK

Sunday Mirror (London, England), March 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

KEN'S THIRTEEN DAZE; the Hollywood Movie 13 Days, Starring Kevin Costner, Shows Irish-American Ken O'Donnell as the Hero of the 1962 Cuba Crisis. Puzzled Historians Say the Alcoholic White House Aide Was Just an Assistant to President JFK


Byline: EAMONN O'HANLON

HOLLYWOOD movie star Kevin Costner is on collision course with bewildered historians over his portrayal of an Irish White House aide at the heart of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Costner plays Kenneth P O'Donnell, a member of the so-called Irish mafia which surrounded President John F Kennedy, in the $80 million political thriller 13 Days.

The movie attempts to recreate the nailbiting 13-day standoff between the United States and Russia - over the Soviet's planned missile shipments to Cuba - as the White House battled to save the world from nuclear annihilation.

The story is told through the eyes of O'Donnell, who first met the Kennedys while playing in college football with JFK's younger brother, Bobby, and shows him as one of the president's closest confidantes in the unfolding drama.

But scholars have blasted the prominence given to Massachusetts-born O'Donnell, who rated only two lines in the 700-page official history of the missile crisis. They argue that his most important role was managing JFK's appointments diary.

Eric Alterman, a specialist in American political history, claims one reason for this "rather odd historical rewrite" might be that the film was partly funded by O'Donnell's son, Kevin, a Scientologist and Internet tycoon.

"We see O'Donnell, played by Costner, saving the Kennedys from themselves and the world from self-destruction," Mr Alterman said.

"One minute he is bawling out the President for going soft on Commies, the next he is roughing up another senior White House aide for suggesting the same.

"The film takes countless liberties with the documentary record."

KENNEDY historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said: "Kenny was an admirable man, but he had nothing to do with the Cuban missile crisis."

Political science professor Michael Nelson of Rhodes College, in Memphis, also waded into the row, saying: "You come away thinking that President Kennedy could never have made his televised speech to the nation and Robert Kennedy would have flubbed his presentation of the administration's crisis-ending compromise to the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, if O'Donnell hadn't pulled them aside for pep talks."

Much of the movie is based on 100 hours of O'Donnell's personal diary tapes, which were handed over to the movie's producers in 1997 by 57-year-old Kevin - founder of the American Internet company Earthlink.

Kevin later bought a controlling interest in the movie's production company and worked as an adviser on the set, but is not listed in the credits and denies distorting his father's role in the crisis.

"I'm a minority stockholder in the company," O'Donnell said. "Nobody's going to spend $ 80 million as a favour to me. . . . That movie would have been made no matter what I said.

"I'm a businessman, my background is computers and I was moving into motion pictures because I was more and more interested in content - what the Internet will deliver to subscribers in the future.

"My involvement in the film was almost incidental, I didn't put a penny into it."

The movie's Australian-born director Roger Donaldson has fiercely defended Costner's portrayal of O'Donnell, who he argues was closer to the Kennedys than any man alive.

"Certainly we have a star playing a man who lived a pretty ordinary life," he said. "that's what was interesting about it to me.

"Ken O'Donnell lived in the suburbs and had five kids in a fairly modest house - I actually visited the house.

"Yet he was friends with two of the most powerful men in American history."

O'Donnell, who died in 1977 aged 55 from the effects of alcoholism was born into a working class Irish American family, but excelled at school and managed to win a place at Harvard University where he read law while rubbing shoulders with the emerging elite of 1950s America. …

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