Few people still think first of bootlegging money when the name "Kennedy" is mentioned, though this is still the most common explanation for the family's initial wealth. Fewer still remember the stock pools, insider trading, and what today would be called outright securities fraud perpetrated by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. during the 1920s. Ironically it is the later, not the former, for which there is the most compelling evidence, and the former, not the later, that remains the most prominent figure of legend.
Bootlegging, with images of blacked out yachts quietly slipping alongside hidden east coast docks, unloading gin barrels in the dark of the night is far more romantic than insider trading. Still, for Joe Sr. it was the insider trading stuff that got him both the first most difficult boost on his fortune, and also the Chairman of the SEC position, which he held from 1933. Asked why someone with such a checkered past was worthy of such an appointment, President Roosevelt replied, "It takes a crook to catch a crook."
All this suggests to me that, at least in the United States, there is a certain romance associated with the rebel, the underdog. Legitimacy is not so difficult to re-earn. Claus von Bulow might have said it best. "In America, it is fame that is important." I suppose this might account for the recent resurgence in takeovers, and to greater extent, greenmail as recent news from the Wall Street Journal on Carl Icahn's Disney assault suggests. (wsj article, subscription required).
I have written before about the resurgence of the likes of Michael Milken. It would seem that greenmailers are back in vogue too, this time in the form of the old raiders and hedge funds (the new raiders). Well, back in vogue except that now we call them "activist shareholders."