A Candid Christopher Lawford Kennedy at the Ritz (the Right Ritz After the Wrong One)

For someone who speaks about the vital importance of “emancipating himself” from his family and who doesn’t even speak to many family members these days, author Christopher Kennedy Lawford sure has a lot to say about the benefits of being part of Camelot.

Lawford, the only son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia “Pat” Kennedy, showed up to the Georgetown Ritz today to be interviewed by Washingtonian Editor-at-Large Carol Joynt, who moderates Q & A Café apart from her magazine duties. The lunches are typically loaded with old school socialites, women who lunch and retirees looking for something to do. Sometimes the room is sparse. Today it was bustling. A Kennedy — even a socially removed one — can still draw a decent crowd.

Joynt begins by razzing Lawford for showing up at the wrong Ritz. Hey, it happens. Talking to Lawford is like talking to someone loaded up on an enthusiasm steroid. Whatever project he has worked on, he’s off to the next and wants to tell you his plans and thoughts for the next decade. Thankfully he’s not stiff about it. For instance, he speaks of a book he’s working on about understanding women: “And then I read Lolita and thought, what’s the use?”

Joynt, in her own subtle way, knows how to go for the jugular, at least the jugular for a room full of socialites who don’t want to see anything get too uncomfortable. She drops a big name and tells Lawford she ran into Maryland’s former Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend the other night, who told her, “It’s one thing to write things about yourself, it’s another to write about your family.” The interviewer wants to know how the Kennedy clan reacted to his writing so many books over the years, the clincher being his memoir, Symptoms of Withdrawal. His next book was Moments of Clarity, which chronicled a variety of addicts. His current book, Symptoms to Live is a day at the beach compared to the memoir.

“It’s the last thing I intended to do, quite frankly,” Lawford tells Joynt of being an author. But Lawford is a little like V.P. Joe Biden in that he’s “frank” about everything, so it isn’t saying much.

Lawford’s first anecdote of the afternoon is one that shouldn’t make patrons fall sleep in their gazpacho and encrusted salmon adorned with fried crisps. In 2005 when the memoir came out, he recalled, he had plenty of recovery. But it was also the year he separated from his wife and the year he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. His career was also taking a nosedive.

“I was 15 years sober and was like, this is it?” he told a rapt audience. “I was wandering around ranting in my bathrobe wondering what had happened to my life.”

Chuckles all around the room.

He went on, addressing Joynt’s question. “The worst thing you could do in my family was write a book unless it was Profiles in Courage or about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nobody thought I deserved to write a memoir. I didn’t realize how cathartic it would be. Nobody knew what to do with me.”

Aunt Jean (i.e. Jean Kennedy Smith, daughter of Joseph and Rose) had a teensy problem with him writing his memoir, namely that he was writing it at all. “After I got the contract, I got a call and I knew why she was calling. Everyone tiptoed around it.” He said a cousin called and asked if he was writing a book. “There was a long pause … and he said, about what?”

Jean wasn’t thrilled about it. “She said, ‘We’re all really nervous.’” Lawford asked, “Who is ‘we all?’” She replied, “Well, Teddy is very nervous. He’s nervous you’re going to create a culture of alcohol.” Lawford didn’t try to ease her mind. “I said, he doesn’t have to worry about that. That was in Ireland 2000 years ago.”