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My Night During an Assassination

11/17/2006 12:17 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF

RFK ZSpinThe movie "Bobby" has deep personal meaning for me. I was at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

Rewind to March 16, 1968. I was a senior at Cleveland High School in Los Angeles. Senator Robert Kennedy announced he would run for President. I loved politics back then and had never been more excited. I immediately found out which muckamucks were running the campaign in Southern California. I contacted them and made a convincing case that they should create a organization called High School Students for Kennedy and that I was the guy to run it. They agreed and installed a phone in my bedroom -- it was the bomb. I organized car washes, airplane washes, fake primaries at high schools which all the local media covered. But more than anything, I really believed passionately in Robert Kennedy, because he had electricity. No one could stir people's emotions like him.

On June 4th, I went to the Ambassador for the victory party. It wasn't certain that he'd win but it sure seemed like he would. It was an amazing night filled with hope. People felt like the country, which lost its way in Vietnam, could come back in a big way.

About an hour before Kennedy took the stage, I somehow went up a security elevator -- I don't remember if I was invited or not, but I ended up on the floor where Kennedy and company were watching results. I didn't see Kennedy, but I remember leaving and Ethel bumped into me as we both entered the elevator. She kissed two of her kids goodnight and then Rosie Grier appeared. Grier is the former football star/Kennedy stalwart who one hour later would subdue Kennedy's assassin.



We all rode down together and victory was in the air. It was exhilarating.

I can't describe the events that followed. How could someone that vibrant and important be standing at a podium one second and dying in a pantry the next? It was too much for a high school student to process. I do remember a feeling I've never had before or since. I think I was capable of killing Sirhan Sirhan that night; at least I would have tried.

The events changed my life. I never connected with politics that way again. But it changed someone else's life more. That fall, I became a freshman at the University of California at Santa Barbara. There was a girl in my poli sci class who was also a big Kennedy supporter. She was also at the Ambassador that night. She wore a polka dot dress. When Kennedy was shot, she ran out of the ballroom and for weeks there were press reports that "the girl in the polka dot dress" may have been an accomplice to the assassination.

She was profoundly affected by assassination and her own drama. Sometime in the mid 70's, I heard she had taken her life. Too much to bear. So sad.
76 COMMENTS

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1.

We, are not amused.    

jio[-j[-

2707 days ago
2.

Brendan O'Connor    

In 1968, the US was in the 4th or 5th year of a war in which it was attemping to support a proxy state that was nominally attempting to plant the American idea of democracy half way around the world. The President at the time was fixated on the idea that if America didn't stop our enemies there that we could well be fighting them here next. So he could only say that America had to stay the course.

That President lost his party's first primary in New Hampshire to Eugene McCarhy, a US Senator previously virtually unknown outside of his home state.
A few weeks after that defeat, Bobby Kennedy entered the race for the nomination. At first, I saw him as an opportunist. But sometime around the end of April, I felt I began to understand Bobby Kennedy's essential message which I understood, from the stump speeches, to be:

I am only one man, give me your heart and your hands and together we can change America into the ideal one we see in our minds.

Not much substance perhaps, but Ghandi would have approved. If we were confronting a dark and sinister outer world, the way to confront it was to walk to the light...the primary way to fight evil was to ignore it and to become a beacon and banish evil to the dark, isolated corners. Most politicians, if they delievered that message, would have been laughed at or ignored. But Bobby, though short of stature, was big of heart, and charismatic so many of us believed his messianic challenge. If this is the government of the people, as Lincoln said, we young Americans were ready to do our part, to become some of the "people". Citizenship for us would be more than being drafted to go to war. The US would hear our voices too.

By winning the California primary, Bobby Kennedy secured the pledge of a majority of the delegates to the Democratic Convention. 1968 was a transition year for America's political partys from the old style conventions dominated by regional "kingmakers" and today's tailored for TV dog and pony shows. If Bobby had a majority going into the convention, then the party platform would have been his as well as the agenda of the US after his election in November.

So when Bobby stood at the podium at the Ambassador, he was carrying so many hopes for the future. We all knew that the next dawn would be brighter and the skies would be clearer for years to come...then he turned and walked back into the pantry......

What Bobby had cant be bottled or put in pills. You can write about it, but the feeling is very difficult to recapture. But all of us who felt it would love to feel it again. At his funeral, his now besotted brother, Senator Edward Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw:

Other men see the world and ask "Why?", he saw the world as it never was and asked "Why not?"

2692 days ago
3.

Betty    

I recall the magic of the Kennedy Era. They were exciting, fairly young, at least in comparison to President Harry and Ike, and good looking. They did have us convinced that they cared and that the USA needed them. I recall the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized that they had feet of clay. Mob connections, drugs, women, and booze. I don't think all of the stories are true, but enough of them to accept the fact that it was all an illusion. The one good thing we got out of the Kennedy Era was Jackie and the wonderful work that she did not only restoring the White House, but in preserving it.

2690 days ago
4.

PinkCorvette    

Excellent article. I think all of us have experienced an event that changes us forever. I know I have. My brother took his own life in 1999 and I'm still not the same. I was this person before he did what he did and after I was this different person. I feel sorry for the girl in the polka dot dress. I still feel sorry for myself!

2687 days ago
5.

DebbyDoo    

So many of the comments posted by the obviously young and uninformed are discouraging to me. They have no idea what the time of JFK, RFK, MLK meant to our country and it's citizens. These were men who brought hope to a young generation that things could be different. They have no idea what it was like to not be able to go to certain movie theatres, restaurants, neighborhoods if you were white and your friend was black. They have no idea what it was like to read in the headlines that three college students were murdered because they were trying to register people to vote. They have no idea what it was like to have scores of your friends drafted and sent off to a losing war and come home in body bags or come home changed forever. It is because of those life experiences that most of us shared in the 60's that made the loss of those men who seemed to be the light out of the darkness excruciating. I wonder if the young and uninformed were forced to put down their video games and were drafted into the military to serve this country, if their comments would have more substance and appreciation for what other's have done to allow them to live their lives as they are doing now.....sitting in front of a computer and participating in a name calling competition and certainly not a discussion. Put your computer to work young people.....Google anything and everything about what your country was like when these men were alive......you were spared those terrible times, but if you choose to ignore the lessons...the past will become your future.

2681 days ago
6.

Sally Wieck    

#9 Gen-X - you voiced concern "stop living in the past - today is all we've got." Believe me, honey, today is BECAUSE of what happened in the past. We should never, never forget the actions and policies set in place by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and all the others in the past who set the course of how you can move forward at this time. You quote 9/11 - that is also in the past, but we damned well better never forget it.

2681 days ago
7.

BR    

Mr. Levin - your story of rise from Valley Boy to Internet fame has got to be worth something. As for your take on politics - it almost feels like the climate is markably similar today as it was back then - are we primed for another RFK to knock our socks off and give us hope once again???

2677 days ago
8.

Bob    

Sirhan was the patsy. Thane Cesar, his "guard for the night" popped Bobby point blank. Coverup continues nearly 40 years later. He and Jack Kennedy had their faults but they both would have done great things for our country! Instead, the cowards that perpetrated these crimes have benefitted all of this time.

2659 days ago
9.

charles    

Excellent article and story It was slightly before my era but not by much I never knew rosie greir was there and helped subdue sirhan sirhan I'm deeply saddened by your story of the girl in the polka dot dress I cant but help wonder what would've happened to you 2 if bobboe had lived..

2657 days ago
10.

tmz is fat    

"it was the bomb" ....... ????

2711 days ago
11.

Peggy Archer    

Wow. Although I'm not old enough to have been there, I've worked in the Ambassador many times and have been into the kitchen on the spot where he died. Even years later, a sadness surrounded the space.

Poor Bobby.

2711 days ago
12.

JASON    

That is really sad. I can't even imagine what that situation would do for me.

2711 days ago
13.

Lu    

Wow Harvey It kinda cool be part of history. It's just a shame it an event that's so horrible.

2711 days ago
14.

racer    

yeah, i believe 'it was the bomb' as far as being in the middle of the kennedy aura back then, which is what he's referring too i believe. Not the fact that an assassination took place...

2711 days ago
15.

flippy    

While its never good for someone to get shot and killed I often wonder why the Kennedys were liked so much. They were as bad if not worse thwn the politicians of today. Corrupt, adulterous, drunks, addicted to drugs etc..What they did was not as reported like it is today but between the women in the whitehouse, the payoffs from the mafia Joe Kennedys illegal rise to power..Why are they made out to be better than others...Just wondering..

2711 days ago
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