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A different JFK Jr. emerges in memoir by assistant

Being famous since birth both charmed and besieged John F. Kennedy Jr.'s tragically short life. Growing up with immediate recognition, endless shouts on the street and never-ending demands for his time and attention taught Kennedy to stay poised as he moved through the maelstrom that surrounded him.

Things were a bit different for RoseMarie Terenzio, a young woman from the Bronx who grew into a key role as Kennedy's assistant, publicist, occasional spokeswoman, friend, confidant and counselor for the last five years of his life.

From the day she began work as his assistant, her life changed enormously. "We were together almost all day, every day," she writes. "And working for John opened doors to places I never imagined I'd ever enter... John and I were as close as family, and like family, we got on each other's nerves."

How Terenzio and Kennedy met is so cute that you can picture it on the big screen. She's working at a public relations company run by a man who knows Kennedy, whose occasional visits to the office spark outbreaks of giggles and flirting among the female staffers.

Terenzio is more aloof. Her boss hires Kennedy and gives him her office without telling her. When she arrives at work one day to find him and "his butler" boxing up her possessions, she goes ballistic. "Maybe you can get away with this everywhere else you go, but not here!" she snaps.

But of course, he does get away with it, so she gives him the cold shoulder. One day he greets her nicely, then flashes a rude gesture. After a round of calling each other "stupid" and "loser," all is well.

When the public relations firm dissolves, Kennedy hires Terenzio to be his assistant, and as he starts up the magazine George, she moves into the center of his work world, assembling his schedule and fending off endless demands.

Those are heady days. Terenzio takes calls from Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando, and reproduces in her book the fax in which Madonna, a onetime paramour of Kennedy's, turns down his request to dress as his mother for George's cover. "Dear Johnny boy," writes Madonna. "Thanks for asking me to be your mother but I'm afraid I could never do her justice. My eyebrows aren't thick enough for one ..."

The cover was actually more provocative than Madonna as Jackie would have been -- Drew Barrymore dressed and coiffed as Marilyn Monroe was when she sang "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy's father. JFK Jr. was "blasted for the cover," Terenzio writes, but he replied, "If I don't find it tasteless, I don't know why anyone would."

Terenzio's book illuminates the brash confidence and willful certainty that Kennedy developed to stay functional in a world of people who acted nuts when they saw him. But things were more difficult for Carolyn Bessette, who is stalked and insulted by paparazzi seeking to photograph an ugly reaction.

Early on in the book, Terenzio uses the word "intertwined" to describe their lives, although it's clear that that word falls far short of reality. With constant phone calls to Bessette in which the women discuss Kennedy's mood and plans, it's more accurate to say that three people are living one life, and the life is Kennedy's.

There are both low and high points in Terenzio's personal and professional interactions with her boss. When Kennedy neglects to show her the cover of the first George, she is devastated, but Bessette admonishes him and he apologizes. In moments of entitled jerkdom, he also speaks roughly to her in the office.

But she clearly relishes memories of an almost romantic dance with Kennedy during the magazine's Christmas party. "I felt like a princess," she writes, and Kennedy turned on the charm, kissing her hand, thanking her and saying, "I appreciate everything you do for me. You're my best friend."

The last part of the book is difficult to read. Terenzio writes that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, feeling ignored, was refusing to go to Rory Kennedy's wedding in Hyannis. Terenzio says that with Kennedy's approval she talked Carolyn into making the trip July 16, 1999. The Kennedys and her sister, Lauren Bessette, all died when the plane Kennedy was flying crashed into the ocean.

Terenzio happens to be staying in the Kennedys' Manhattan apartment that weekend and spends much of the night talking on the phone. Finally Carole Radziwill, wife of Kennedy's cousin Anthony Radziwill, gets through on a second line and shares the harrowing news that the plane is missing.

Terenzio ends up staying in the apartment for the next week, accepting condolences. Eventually she is asked by Caroline Kennedy to pack up the couple's possessions. The magazine folds, and Terenzio, who has lost much more than her job, falls into a deep depression.

That may be the answer to the big question -- why write this book 13 years after the couple's deaths? -- which is never addressed. Perhaps Terenzio is responding to more sensational books that have been written alleging serious marital problems, even a separation, and drug use. In any case, this book serves well as a definitive expression of her dedication and devotion.

Anne Neville is a News staff reporter.


Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Live, Love and Loss

By RoseMarie Terenzio

Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

247 pages, $25