House of strangers


The rich “are different from you and me,” novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. Legend has it that fellow author Ernest Hemingway responded, “Yes, they have more money.” In other words, not so different as we may have imagined.
The same might be said of people who become famous for reasons other than wealth. Those who know them intimately occasionally reveal details supposed to indicate celebrities are, indeed, just like us. The State Journal’s Kay Harrod gave us a glimpse of the inner workings of the Nunn political family as related by her neighbor, Jennie Nunn Penn, and others close to the circle. They chose to share personal memories in response to “Revenge for Real, Politician Kills Fiancée,” broadcast last week on ABC’s “20/20.” The network news feature, in their view, was less legitimate documentary than lurid docudrama.
The focus of the show was the story of Steve Nunn, Penn’s brother and the son of the late Republican Gov. Louie B. Nunn. The younger Nunn, a former state legislator and government administrator, is serving a life sentence for murdering Amanda Ross outside her Lexington condominium in 2009 following a tempestuous relationship in which she had been granted an emergency protective order because of domestic abuse.
Penn charged the ABC production inaccurately portrayed the Nunns, relying on sources who weren’t even close to the family, and said political motives may have been behind the stories that were told.
She acknowledged that Steve Nunn had a drinking problem and violent tendencies. However, she refuted the description of their father as an abusive parent. Steve Nunn, according to his sister, was the one who physically attacked Louie Nunn on one occasion.
The governor’s daughter complained that the TV show sensationalized the story by presenting the family as one accustomed to privilege and luxury. From her perspective, their upbringing in Glasgow was “about as normal as it gets.” Their time in the Governor’s Mansion, during which Jennie and Steve graduated from Frankort High School, was less typical of a conventional home life but even then, she said, the children lived outside the social whirl in which their parents inevitably got caught up as Kentucky’s first couple.
Others agreed with her criticism of the TV special. Billie Moore, widow of Todd Moore, Louie Nunn’s commissioner of aeronautics, questioned the depiction of the governor as a womanizer. She recalled Beula Nunn was amused at the attention her husband drew from younger women but Moore also said Louie Nunn was deeply devoted to his wife. The marriage did have its troubles, however.
Perhaps the Nunn family was indeed no different from myriad others, high and low, who’ve had ups and downs and had to balance the conflicting demands of public and private responsibilities. Sibling differences boiled up and angry words passed between father and son – but such things happen in many, if not most, American homes.
Those of us on the outside must accept that  we can never really claim to know any of the celebrities we follow in the news every day. Even if coverage sometimes makes them seem as familiar as our own families, public figures –including the transient residents of that Beaux-Arts mansion off Capital Avenue – remain forever strangers to the majority of us, and no TV exposé or “tell-all” book can ever alter that reality.

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