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Kennedy's father--also named Anthony, though everyone called him Bud--was one of those men in the middle who made Sacramento hum. A lawyer and lobbyist by trade, Bud Kennedy built his family a new home in the state capital when little Anthony was 5 years old. A lifetime later, the Justice vividly recalls the day. He was bursting with excitement because Bud promised him a ride on the moving truck. They had just gotten under way when a neighbor rushed into the street, waving a dish towel to flag them down with urgent news. It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Pearl Harbor was in flames.
The cataclysmic events that followed scarcely touched Kennedy's new world in Land Park, a neighborhood that his boyhood friends describe with words like idyllic and magical. He grew up watching The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder in 14 matinees at the Tower movie theater and walking with his brother and sister to grade school a few blocks from home. He attended Mass on Sundays at the nearby Holy Spirit Parish church and romped with pals he remains close to more than 70 years later.
There was swimming at the whites-only Del Paso Country Club--except during the frequent and fearsome polio outbreaks--and the Kennedy home bustled with neighborhood children. Though the family wasn't exactly wealthy, there was plenty of money for "a drum set, pinball machine and a one-armed bandit. The whole thing was all devoted to stuff for the kids to do," says John Hamlyn, one of Kennedy's Land Park friends. The future Justice was no athlete and joked about being thin, says another of the gang, David Dozier, but there was nevertheless a closet full of bats and balls, and Bud hung a basketball hoop over the garage. In sum: "There were all kinds of horrible things going on in the world: World War II, the Korean War, McCarthyism, the atom bomb," recalls Joe Genshlea, a Kennedy friend. "But the life we led as kids was just great."
What he lacked in athleticism, the young Kennedy made up for in brains. "If Tony has a persona, it's that he was a great student," Genshlea says. "When we were reading classic comics, he'd read Shakespeare." Didion admits there was a trace of pretentiousness about the boy, who was always the bright star in his mother's firmament. He could be judgmental in church. "Growing up, he was really super Catholic," says Hamlyn. "He and I were altar boys together, and I can't count how many times I would say something, or I was going to do something, and he would say, 'That's a sin.'"
By fourth grade, Kennedy was so bored in school that his father brokered an astonishing arrangement to make him the state legislature's youngest page. If Bud Kennedy did not have enough pull of his own to make that happen, he had a colleague who certainly did. Artie Samish, the boss of Sacramento, was a huge man with an even bigger personality, a 300-pounder who knew how to throw his weight around and bragged that he controlled the California legislature like a puppet. And he did until the law caught up with him. Bud defended him in 1938. In the '50s, Samish went to prison on tax-evasion charges.