THE BLOG
02/21/2012 11:16 am ET Updated Apr 19, 2012

Stan Kenton & His Daughter Leslie's 'Love Affair'

"I don't know if I ever went to sleep or not. The next thing I knew his massive body was on top of mine. In a rough voice he started to repeat my name: 'Leslie. Leslie. Oh, Leslie.' His hands stroked my body in ways that frightened me. It felt like he was trying to take me into a strange universe--a place where I didn't know the rules. What was he doing? What did he want? What did he expect of me? I reassured myself that it must be OK. After all, he was my father. He was my pal . . . . Then came the pain. . . . Out of here. I'm out of here. From the ceiling I look down at the bed, at the bodies of the two people beneath me, twisted on each other."--from Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-Daughter Relationship, by Leslie Kenton, 2010, Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, A Random House Group Company

Leslie Kenton, daughter of the famous and supremely talented and tortured big band leader and jazz composer, Stanley Kenton, was 11 in 1952, when her systematic sexual abuse at the hands of her father began. The rapes and, eventually, consensual sex between father and pre-pubescent daughter would last for three years. The damage, searing and as toxic as the plume that descended from Chernobyl, has lasted Leslie's lifetime, and will seep out into the lives of her children and their children beyond her.

Incest inflicts damage for the ages.

I have one admission to make before beginning this review of Leslie Kenton's memoir: As an 11-year-old eighth-grader, I was as well the victim of cruel, demeaning, and damaging sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend; the adoptive father of one of my closest friends at our posh Chicago prep school; a physician married to a physician, into whose care I had been entrusted by my parents.

The abuse took place over the course of an entire, meant-to-be-idyllic-for-me summer, when I was invited to spend time horseback-riding and swimming with my school friend at her family's Idaho ranch. My parents were absent. I was isolated on the family compound hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement. The man had unlimited access to me, and I was too terrified to tell my friend, her older brother, or her mother, all of whom I now believe knew what was going on under their noses and, thus, conspired in my victimization.

I was the summer's designated sacrificial lamb, too young to understand what was being done to me; too young, and well-brought-up to fight back against an authority figure: if a doctor does it, if a man-of-the-cloth does it, if a policeman does it, can it be wrong? Children make such docile, delicious victims. They are all but unconscious, unless brought up, hard, on the street. And the street was as unknown to me as abuse of any sort.

I now believe both my childhood friend and her brother were also victims of The Monster, as I came to call him, a man now long dead. I surmise this only from the rage that boiled up in me that summer; a rage mirrored in the eyes of the other children at the ranch.

Perhaps, oddly, I had no idea why I was always angry there. The rage had a life of its own, and surged up and over for no apparent reason. I raged at the doctor, but had no idea why. And then, once my parents had come to collect me, and I, stutteringly, tried to tell my mother that "something" had occurred between me and Dr. B . . . I simply "went unconscious," like Sleeping Beauty, for decades and decades, till the memories welled up, at last, in adulthood, devastating in their detail. Leslie Kenton's story mirrors my own in every detail. . . .

The fans of Stan Kenton and his music, those who worship at the shrine of "Artistry in Rhythm," will not want his image tarnished by his first-born daughter's heartbreaking and nakedly honest memoir.

They will, I know--as it has already played out, on Kenton sites on the internet--blame the victim.

But, before they begin casting stones at this candid and guileless woman, now in her 70s, an accomplished writer who devoted her life to her children, and to writing about health, spirituality and beauty, they should read her memoir. She waited a long, long time to make the details of her life with her father public; and she has done an immense amount of research to "place" the abuse in context; to explain, and document, as well, her paternal grandmother's abuse of Stanley, himself; the abuse that led, she believes, to her own, at her father's hands. Like mother; like son.

What the "Kentonians" should take away from this book, this revelation, first and foremost, is the fact that Leslie loved her father; loves him still. She has faced off with the demons that were unleashed upon and then possessed him; the demons in him that then deflowered the innocent entrusted to his care.

It is apt that the account of Leslie's early life is written without ornament or stylistics, as though penned by a precocious child. Only in the "Appendix" does Leslie Kenton's voice "mature," and the reader come face to face with the mature woman, researcher, and scholar, who emerged from the ashes of the Kenton household. Incest--any severe sexual abuse--can bring about dissociation, derealization, a longing for annihilation, Leslie writes (and I, myself, learned, firsthand). First comes the shock and betrayal; then, the denial; then, the remembrance.

She quotes long passages from the writing of Leonard Shengold, M.D., an expert in the field of incest, and the author, most recently, of Soul Murder Revisited, and then concludes:

"To thrive, each one of us needs adequate gratification and a sense that we are wanted and valued. When a parent looks upon his child as an extension of himself--a thing that exists only to satisfy his needs--a terrible abuse of power is taking place. Because a child cannot escape from this situation, whatever identity she had before the abuse gets lost. This is what happened to me and why I spent so many years in my teens and twenties attempting to manufacture an artificial personality, as well as years after that trying to discover who I really was.

Whenever a parent denies what has happened, he is trying to erase history. To have any sense of identity, we need to know what is real and not real. We have to be able to trust our memories so we can separate them from fantasy. As a result of parental denial, the child learns not to trust herself. And the impotence of the child in the face of her father's omnipotence creates a situation where the father becomes God. . . . Stanley had usurped my soul."

When I returned from Idaho that fall, and began high school, something had gone out of me. I had tried to tell my parents what had befallen me: they swept my attempts at explanation under a family carpet of unknowing, and I was repeatedly sent, for sleepovers, to the doctors' town residence in Chicago.

I clung to my friend and her mother on these dangerous visits, and was never again alone with Dr. B. But, my mind had, in effect, split off the section of memory dating from the summer before: I would deal with it later, much later. . . .

. . . which is precisely what Leslie has done. It has taken her decades and decades to peel away, layer by layer, what obscured the horrors of her childhood. But, diligent researcher that she has become--no accident; something in her psyche sensed she would need these skills--she has the dates, locations and precise venues now "in memory"; the truth no longer obscured or clouded by her need to protect her vulnerable soul and shattered self.

I found her book a true "profile in courage," a myth-breaking portrait of a man much more complex and tortured than many knew. Oh, but so, so many suspected what lay beneath the surface. . . .

Don't blame the messenger, Kentonians. In a way, Leslie is, along with his music, all that remains of Stan. In reality, she is the true, most honest keeper of the Kenton flame, and deserving of respect and encouragement for the act of truth-telling that is this memoir. She was a child mightily sinned against who has yet found it in her heart to love the man who tortured her. It should be a "bag of shells" for those who admire Kenton's musical legacy to embrace his daughter with open arms. It's what Stan would have wanted from his fans--that, and the forgiveness and mercy he could never grant himself.

Myself? My own rage against the late Dr. B, against his daughter, his wife, his son--and my own beloved parents, for turning a blind eye--abides. At the very moment in my life when I most needed protection and shelter, I fell into the hands of a monster. Like the altar boys abused by their trusted priests, I was betrayed. And, unlike Leslie Kenton, I have not got beyond it.

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