by Joycelyn McClurg)
In 1995, John F. Kennedy Jr. introduced the world to his new political magazine with the memorable words, "Ladies and gentlemen, meet George."
Then, with a smile and a flourish, he unveiled the first issue, featuring Cindy Crawford in a powdered wig and men's colonial garb (and a taut bare midriff), posing as the father of our country.
Matt Berman, who oversaw the sexy Crawford cover shoot, was the magazine's young creative director. Now, nearly 15 years after Kennedy died in a plane crash at age 38, Berman is looking back at those heady days and recalling his friend in a new memoir, JFK Jr., George & Me (Gallery Books).
"Weirdly, there are people under 30 who have never heard of George magazine, people I hire and work with," says Berman, 49. "Some of them, sadly, will ask me, 'Was that the president's son?' It's crazy."
Berman writes that he, the "self-conscious, self-deprecating" son of a restaurant supplier, and JFK Jr., the "confident, charismatic" son of President Kennedy, made an unlikely team.
But despite his star power and movie star looks, young Kennedy was a "regular guy," easy to work with and a supportive boss.
"He had this maturity about him. He always had an answer to every question," Berman says. Kennedy was also fun. "He had a great sense of humor. He used it to make friends, to manage us at work. If he was upset with something, it usually was some sort of ribbing or joke. You got the message."
Their collaboration over five years meant cover shoots with the likes of Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore, Claudia Schiffer and Barbara Walters. Berman remembers a particularly priceless session in Malibu where he and Kennedy wrangled Barbra Streisand into posing as flag-stitcher Betsy Ross.
But George's glow had begun to fade by the time Kennedy was killed; the magazine's mix of politics and pop culture, Berman believes, was ahead of its time. A little over a year after Kennedy's death, George folded.
Kennedy's glamorous wife, Carolyn, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, died along with John, who was piloting the small plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha's Vineyard on July 16, 1999.
There were rumors of trouble in the Kennedys' marriage, but Berman says he never saw any evidence they were unhappy, aside from the normal bickering of any couple.
Carolyn, he says, was a friend who liked to hang out in his office. When John would come in to say hello, "it was always very romantic and I'd kind of walk out of the room," Berman recalls with a laugh. Carolyn's icy image was unfair, he says, assumed by a public that saw her unsmiling in photos because she was uncomfortable in such a public role.
"She was a really caring, funny person," he says, "really entertaining, high energy, always with a big, big smile."
The deaths of John and his wife, Berman says, were "devastating," and it was difficult to relive that time in his book. "It threw a lot of us off course for a really long time. It was a huge, huge, healing process."
Berman left George and for several years worked in Paris. He's now a creative director for advertising in Los Angeles.
His friend John would now be 53. Does Berman think Kennedy would have followed in his father's footsteps?
"I always saw John as someone who really lived in the moment," Berman says. "Everybody always thought he'd go into politics, but it was never a real plan. I would hope he would have done that by now if he were living, because the person I knew would be someone that everybody would love to know. He could have done a lot of good for a lot of people."