Elisabeth Moss to Play Woman With an Intellectual Disability in Rosemary Kennedy Biopic


The Kennedys were the epitome of 20th century American royalty, influential in everything from politics to fashion. Whether they were loved or hated, everyone talked about them. One Kennedy that was rarely in the public eye was President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy, who had an intellectual disability. Now, Rosemary’s life will be on the big screen in a biopic, “A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy,” with Elisabeth Moss playing the title role.

Rosemary’s intellectual disability was thought to be the result of a lack of oxygen at birth. A nurse held Rosemary in the birth canal for two hours while they waited for the doctor delivering her to arrive. This effectively deprived her of oxygen, which is now known to cause conditions like cerebral palsy.

When Rosemary was in her early 20s, she rebelled by running away from the convent her parents put her in and was prone to “mood swings.” When she was 23, Rosemary’s father had a doctor perform a prefrontal lobotomy on her. After the procedure, she was unable to talk or walk and was put in a psychiatric facility and later a residential facility where she lived until her death in 2005 at the age of 86.

After the lobotomy, it would be 20 years before Rosemary saw any of her family members. It was only after her father died that her mother came to visit. Members of the family claim to have not known where she was, though Rosemary’s father knew where she was located.

The U.S. performed more lobotomies of any other country, according to Wired. Around 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the U.S., mostly between the late 1940s and early 1950s. Rosemary’s procedure occurred in 1941.

The movie is based on letters Rosemary left for her family, wanting to connect with them. Though it would seem her life led her siblings and other family members to advocate for people with disabilities, mention of Rosemary in their work for people with disabilities was essentially nonexistent.

Her father, Joseph Kennedy, began a foundation to help people with intellectual disabilities and their families in 1946, but there was no mention of Rosemary. The foundation was named after his eldest son who died in WWII, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. instead of Rosemary.

Her sister, Eunice, founded the Special Olympics in 1968 but dismissed the idea that the Special Olympics had anything to do with Rosemary. Even Eunice’s son, Timothy Shriver, said the “movement and cause were not about his aunt,” The New York Times reported in 1995. Shriver did, however, say that his aunt did influence his decision to become involved with the Special Olympics. Anthony Shriver, another of Eunice’s sons, founded Best Buddies International. Her brothers, JFK and Ted, both influenced policy related to the American Disabilities Act.

Like many actors chosen to play disabled roles, Moss does not have an intellectual disability. Twenty percent of Americans have a disability, but less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability, and 95 percent of those roles are played by able-bodied actors, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Header image via Twitter.


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