Posts tagged John F. Kennedy
Posts tagged John F. Kennedy
"Jack Kennedy was more the politician, saying things publicly that he privately scoffed at. Robert Kennedy was more himself. Jack gave the impression of decisive leadership, the man with all the answers. Robert seemed more hesitant, less sure he was right, more tentative, more questioning, and completely honest about it. Leadership he showed; but it had a different quality, an off-trail unorthodox quality, to some extent a quality of searching for answers to hard questions in company with his bewildered audience, trying to work things out with their help."
- Robert Kennedy: His Life, by Evan Thomas
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was a very disciplined and organized woman, made the following entry on a notecard, when her second child was born:
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Born Brookline, Mass. (83 Beals Street) May 29, 1917
In all, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy would have nine children, four boys and five girls. She kept notecards for each of them in a small wooden file box and made a point of writing down everything from a doctor’s visit to the shoe size they had at a particular age. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack.
By Carl Anthony
There were minor matters to be resolved and legislative agendas to be initiated. There were new directions she intended to take and a progression of efforts he had already begun. Whether President John F. Kennedy or First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy or both of them would have done all or part of what many journalists, colleagues, staff aides, policy experts and historians presumed or insisted they would have in a second Kennedy Administration, is ultimately a futile matter of regret, hindsight, and speculation. It always proves moot because of his assassination fifty years ago. Killed during what was then only the first preliminary political trip of JFK’s as-yet unannounced 1964 presidential re-election campaign for an intended second term, such assumptions are based on the premise that he would have won.
In no private memorandum or recorded conversations, did JFK document his intended agenda for a second term, which would have begun on January 20, 1965 and ended on January 20, 1969.
Jacqueline Kennedy, however, did.
If was not a diary or memoir but it was in handwritten form (some of which she had transcribed onto typed light blue pages), in responding to my questions, and then as clarifications, corrections, edits and insertions she made in 1989 and 1990 in both margin notes and the various drafts of what became my book First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives & Their Power, Volume 2.
About seven years later, in my role as a contributing editor to George Magazine, I mentioned some of this to her son, the magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief. He wasn’t surprised, he cracked, that she thought that far ahead. A glimpse of some of these intentions and forecasts follow below.
While the book’s topic naturally meant the focus was on the work she intended to purse during the rest of the Kennedy Administration, she also addressed what her late husband had planned to do had his presidency continued beyond November 22, 1963, in regard to domestic legislation and foreign relations.
In fact, she addressed not only JFK’s long-range intentions but what he had planned to do later that very day.
Although she did not specify whether he would do so on Air Force One after they left Dallas or when they arrived in Austin and he had private time to work as an overnight guest at Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch, President Kennedy was scheduled to authorize the appointment of his aide Richard Goodwin to a cabinet-level post for the arts and humanities.
In written response to a question I initially posed, Mrs. Onassis said that “JFK was going to sign a paper naming Richard Goodwin to the first Cabinet Post for the Arts.”
When I later incorporated her quote into my manuscript and she later edited it, the former First Lady inserted the words, “on November 22nd,” extending her quotation.
In her earlier declarations to me she explained how she envisioned the role of the federal governments and the widest purview of just what a Cultural Department at the Cabinet level would entail. In a secondary response, she added, “In a way, the NEA (National Endowment of the Arts) and NEH [National Endowment of the Humanities] have achieved all this.”
The Texas trip marked the initial domestic travel with a political agenda which Jacqueline Kennedy made as First Lady, with or without the President. It was the beginning of an entirely new role she now intended to assume. She said it was only the first of many such trips she would make. In fact, the morning of November 22, she agreed to join the President on a campaign fundraising trip to California scheduled for early December, 1963.
She also planned to begin making joint public appearances with him on day trips from Washington, beginning with the army-navy football game on December 1, in Philadelphia. Despite the one-month mourning period following the President’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy asked that the game be played in his honor and it was, postponed just one week.
Scheduled for the winter of 1964, the President and Mrs. Kennedy were to make a tour of nations of the Far East, including Japan and the Philippines. In an early draft of the First Ladies manuscript, Mrs. Onassis added that “[B]oth looked forward” to that trip and were “even thinking of moving the date up, leaving right after New Year’s.”
Interestingly, despite the great success of her 1962 foreign trips to India, Afghanistan and Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador but official representative of the United States government on her own, Jacqueline Kennedy had no foreseeable intention of making overseas trips without the President.
She was eager to return to India and Pakistan, but this time with JFK.
Scheduled for the summer of 1964, as President Kennedy would have been pursing the formal nomination for another term and seeking to broaden his appeal, was a vacation trip not to his extended family’s Hyannis Port, Massachusetts compound but, as she sparsely phrased it in an early draft, the “Montana mountains.” This might well suggest what JFK anticipated would be a characterization of him by a Republican presidential opponent as an eastern Establishment elitist.
On a later manuscript page, she inserted a lengthy statement to this effect: “The President realized that relations with China would eventually have to be re-established and was considering a trip there in his second term.”
In scrutinizing the manuscript, she removed from it information she documented to be untrue and expounded on what she confirmed was true regarding her own future plans as First Lady.
The most startling of all her intentions for a second term was to go public in her lobbying of federal legislation protecting historical landmarks across the country as she had done privately on behalf of the White House and Lafayette Square.
She also wanted to build a far more substantial collection of historical furnishings for the White House so the point could be reached where it would no longer use loaned items for the state rooms: her misgivings were based on the fact that many collectors who loaned important historical objects would soon enough ask that these be returned and then sell them at public auction, fetching higher prices because these items been displayed in the White House.
Once a greater collection had been built, Jacqueline Kennedy was eager to then “cataloging the entire White House collection.”
Of all her later recollections about what President Kennedy intended to do, the most upsetting to her was what she curiously characterized as a “secret meeting,” with U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge.
Her account suggests that he went into uncharacteristic detail with her about the reasons for this, briefing her fully on the current and unfolding situation.
He would have had two strong reasons for doing this.
First, he was meeting with the Ambassador not at the White House but at their private weekend home “Wexford,” thus intruding on what was supposed to be set aside as time alone with her and their children.
Second, since the time they had first begun dating, while he was a freshman U.S. Senator and she was a newspaper columnist and photographer, he had known of her particular depth of knowledge and nuanced understanding of the delicate situation in Vietnam which, along with Laos and Cambodia, formed the former French colony of “Indochina.” She had begun studying the situation since 1949 while enrolled at the Sorbonne and she also translated French military policy reports for him on the matter in 1953.
It is unclear why the account provided by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1990 contradicts the later publicly reported claim that the meeting was to take place at Camp David.
As the former First Lady specifically amplified my original manuscript account:
“He [JFK] was searching for a way to relieve the ambassador of his duties and to gradually diminish the U.S. presence in Vietnam. JFK had scheduled a White House meeting on this subject for Monday morning, November 25.”
This particular intention of JFK’s, “haunted for years” Jacqueline Kennedy (as her friend, the JFK-LBJ Defense Secretary Robert McNamara put it in our taped interview) because instead of beginning perhaps “to gradually diminish the U.S. presence in Vietnam” on Monday, November 25, 1963, the President was instead being buried at Arlington National Cemetery that day.
In the flood of books and television documentaries released in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, too little attention is paid to the significant role that music played in JFK’s life. It’s worth remembering that musical associations are bound to be some of the first things we think about when JFK comes to mind: Camelot, his friendship with Frank Sinatra, Marilyn’s rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and the like.
Indeed JFK would forever associate pop songs with the two great tragedies of his young life: the deaths of his brother Joe and his sister Kathleen. Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” was playing on the radio in the Kennedy’s Hyannis Port house when the family received the brutal news that Joe had perished in an airplane crash while on a dangerous mission in 1944.
JFK was young congressman in 1948 listening to the Finian’s Rainbow Broadway cast album in his Washington apartment when he learned that his beloved sister “Kick” had been killed in a plane crash in France. The song “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” played as he broke down in tears.
Ted Kennedy wrote in his memoirs that hardly anyone but family and friends knew that JFK had a nice singing voice and that he regularly sang at family gatherings, often accompanied by his mother’s piano playing.
Author Steven Levy recently said this about the music on our iPods: “It’s not just what you like, it’s who you are.” JFK never owned an iPod, but knowing the songs he liked best and understanding why they were important to him can give us insight into who he was.
These were his five favorite songs:
1. "Blue Skies" as sung by Frank Sinatra. “Blue Skies” became one JFK’s best-loved songs when he was a young man, and remained so throughout his life. Composed in the 1920’s by Irving Berlin, “Blue Skies” was popularized by several of JFK’s favorite performers: Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby in the 1930s and Frank Sinatra in 1946. The song captures the optimistic and carefree attitude of the future president. Indeed, in later years Kennedy aides would describe clear blue skies as “Kennedy weather” because of its positive effect on the candidate and the crowds that came to see him. The hope and optimism that JFK inspired in his countrymen as president are reflected in the confident faith in the future reflected in “Blue Skies.” JFK was a huge fan of Sinatra’s music, often playing his albums in the White House. He attended his Sinatra and the Rat Pack’s show at the Sands in Las Vegas in February 1960, and Sinatra re-recorded his 1959 hit. Despite a widely publicized 1962 falling out between the two camps, when Sinatra’s casino license was revoked by the Nevada Gambling Control Board in 1963, JFK tried to help. During a September 28 visit to Las Vegas, JFK asked Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer, “Aren’t you guys being a little tough on Frank?”
2. "I Love Paris" as performed by Les Baxter and his Orchestra. “I Love Paris” is from the Broadway showCan-Can by Cole Porter. “I Love Paris” was another song that JFK loved and another that is associated with a carefree time. In her 1997 memoir Love, JackGunilla von Post detailed her previously unknown affair with JFK. In the book she recounts Kennedy’s visit with her in Sweden in the summer of 1955. She depicts JFK as a sensitive man happy to be away from his public and family obligations back home. Enjoying a bit of anonymity for perhaps the last time in his life, JFK sang “I Love Paris” as they drove through the Swedish countryside.
3. "Camelot" as sung by Richard Burton. Inevitably we must mention the song most associated with the Kennedy legend. Indeed “Camelot” lent its very name to that legend. Most of us will recall that JFK’s name only became associated with the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot in the wake of his death. Camelot was built around the fictional tale of King Arthur and Lancelot. In an interview just a week after the assassination, Jackie told author Theodore H. White that JFK used to play side two of the Camelot cast album before turning in at night. “If Ever I Would Leave You” sung by Robert Goulet was the first song, and “Camelot” sung by Richard Burton was the last. Jack called “Camelot” “the song he (JFK) loved best.” Jackie insisted that this story be included in White’s article, telling him: “They’ll be great presidents again, but they’ll never be another Camelot.”
Indeed, there are many connections that bond Kennedy and Camelot, including the fact that Lerner was a prep school classmate of JFK’s who organized his 1963 birthday show at the Waldorf in NY. Lerner and Loewe graced the cover of Time magazine on Election Day 1960. Camelot opened on Broadway a few weeks later, starting its run exactly as JFK was about to take office, making the show and administration contemporaries.
The sense of loss felt to the public and the association between the song and the show was evident to all asCamelot toured the U.S. in the months after JFK’s death. When the houselights came up following the “Camelot” finale, the audience was often crying en masse.
4. "I Believe in You" as sung by Robert Morse. Less known is JFK’s love of another Broadway show of the era, Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the song “I Believe in You.” JFK saw the show in New York in early 1961 and he had the original cast album in his White House record collection. We know the latter fact courtesy of Mimi Alford, who wrote of her affair with JFK in her 2012 memoir Once Upon a Secret. Alford recalls that JFK loved the song “I Believe in You,” noting that he was especially fond of the way Robert Morse sang the lines about being a “seeker of wisdom and truth.” The show is now forever seen as a Mad Men-era time capsule, rightly associated with the JFK administration.
5. "September Song" as sung by Walter Huston. JFK’s favorite song was undoubtedly the wistful “September Song.” Composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, “September Song” was written specifically for gravel-voiced actor Walter Huston to sing in the 1938 Broadway show Knickerbocker Holiday. Although both Bing Crosby and Sinatra recorded the song during the ’40s, it was Huston’s version that topped the charts after it was heard in the 1950 movie September Affair. In the lyric the older narrator explains to a younger lover that his time is short and he can’t play “the waiting game.” He lists the months of the year as a metaphor for life passing by quickly mentioning “September… November.” At JFK’s inaugural gala in Washington the night before he took office, comedian Jimmy Durante — who had a voice that made Huston sound like Caruso — added a strangely somber (and eerie prescient) note to the otherwise exuberant proceedings when he offered his own version of “September Song.”
JFK’s lifelong friend Lemoyne Billings would later state that by the time he reached his early thirties, JFK had seen so much death and had been sick so often that he began “living for the moment, treating each day as though it were his last, demanding of life intensity, adventure and pleasure.” Many commentators would note that JFK refused to “wait his turn” and was already planning his White House run while still only a first term senator. JFK sang “September Song” at numerous family gathering through the years, sometimes even imitating Huston’s voice as he did so. His close aide Dave Powers later wrote that JFK sang “September Song” after dinner at his family’s Palm Beach mansion on Saturday before he went to Dallas. Powers noted that he sang it “better that usual” that night.
(Source: The Huffington Post)
On Friday’s 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, it’s only natural to dwell on how the tragedy affected the nation. But while we remember and pay tribute to the charismatic 35th President half a century later, it is also relevant to assess the Kennedy legacy and look forward.
The Kennedy family has shaped the politics, news and minds of America. Their power and allure continues with the new generation of Kennedys. JFK’s grandchildren, great nieces and great nephews are making names for themselves in a variety of fields. Read on to learn more about the most recent members of the Kennedy family tree, and why you should expect to see their names in the news.
Jack Schlossberg: The Heartthrob
Relation to JFK: Jack is the youngest child of JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg.
Claim to Fame: Twenty-year-old Schlossberg has recently received attention for his resemblance to his late uncle John F. Kennedy Jr. JFK’s only grandson graduated from the Collegiate School New York as valedictorian and is currently attending Yale. He also made news as an eighth-grader for co-founding ReLight New York, a project which raised money to provide affordable lighting for low-income housing
Joe Kennedy III: The Politician
Relation to JFK: Joe is one of the twin sons born to Sheila Rauch and Joe Kennedy II, who is the son of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy.
Claim to Fame: This Kennedy is the first politician of the sixth generation. Following in the family business, Joe Kennedy III was elected to Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district in 2012, taking Congressman Barney Frank’s seat. The congressman, 33, serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology
Patrick Shriver Schwarzenegger: The Adorable Entrepreneur
Relation to JFK: Patrick is the firstborn son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Shriver is the daughter of JFK’s sister, Eunice Kennedy.
Claim to Fame: While you might recognize Patrick from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent scandals, the 20-year-old has been working hard to make his own name. Patrick started a philanthropic clothing line known as Project 360, which raises awareness about issues like Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Shriver’s son has also done some modeling work.
Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy: The Hipster
Relation to JFK: Kathleen or “Kick” is the second child of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his first wife, Emily Black. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the second son of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy Sr.
Claim to Fame: Many assume that all Kennedys are destined to pursue politics, but “Kick” is one of the first from the family to venture into acting. The 25-year-old landed a role on The Newsroom and has taken method acting classes. “Kick” is also known for keeping it cool in New York City, frequenting pool halls and dive bars.
Conor Kennedy: The Heartbreaker
Relation to JFK: Conor Kennedy is the oldest child of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his second wife, Mary Richardson. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the second son of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy Sr.
Claim to Fame: Eighteen-year-old Conor soared into headlines when he was romantically linked to relationship connoisseur Taylor Swift. The pair briefly dated in 2012, splitting after a few months due to distance.
Bobby Kennedy III: The Artist
Relation to JFK: Bobby is the first son of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his first wife, Emily Black. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the second son of JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy Sr.
Claim to Fame: The 26-year-old descendant made news in 2011 for his directorial debut in theater. His one-act comedic play, ELEW: Life from Infinity featured puppets enacting mythical stories about defending your musical high ground. Aside from this venture, Robert F. Kennedy’s grandson is also known for being photographed in fedoras.
Katherine Schwarzenegger: The Author
Relation to JFK: Katherine is the oldest child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Shriver is the daughter of JFK’s sister Eunice Kennedy.
Claim to Fame: In 2010, at 20 years old, Katherine wrote the book Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who’s Been There and Back. The book focuses on Katherine’s own struggles with her body image and provides advice for other young girls dealing with the same insecurities.
"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."
- John F. Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy’s daughter, Tatiana Schlossberg, represented the family at a memorial site in Runnymede Meadow, Berkshire. Friday is the 50th anniversary of her grandfather’s assassination in Dallas.
John F. Kennedy’s granddaughter honored his memory during an intimate ceremony in Britain on Friday.
Caroline Kennedy’s daughter, 23-year-old Tatiana Schlossberg, spoke solemnly about the popular president’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
She also revealed how she stayed close to the grandfather she never knew.
"For me, my grandfather lives in my imagination, in his words, and in the lessons he has left us," Schlossberg said. "Throughout my life, I have been able to connect with him through the study of history."
But 50 years after his death, the woman is beginning to realize that her grandfather’s story is beginning “to belong more and more to history.”
"Today is a difficult day because it is a reminder of a moment of profound sadness for my family, for America, and for the world," Schlossberg said.
She was the only representative from the Kennedy clan to make a pilgrimage to the memorial site in Runnymede Meadow, Berkshire. But she’s following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Jacqueline Kennedy, who made the same trek in 1965 with her two little children, Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr. The trio met Queen Elizabeth at the site and unveiled a stone tablet and garden dedicated to the president. The British people, through public subscription, had donated one acre of land around the site to the people of the United States. It is the only plot of American soil in the United Kingdom, according to local paper Get Surrey.
On Friday, Schlossberg laid a wreath at the foot of that same stone memorial. The woman, who has inherited Jacqueline Kennedy’s dark brown locks, paused for a moment to read the engraving.
It was a quote from her grandfather’s inaugural address.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” the stone reads.
Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., and Lord Jonathan Hill, the leader of Britain’s House of Lords, were also present at the ceremony.
"I can think of no better place to honor him to tell and remember his story," Schlossberg said. "And to look again, as he would have wanted us to, towards the future."
Schlossberg is the middle granddaughter. She graduated from Yale University and has been working as a journalist at The Record, a local paper in New Jersey.
While Rose has stayed out of the spotlight, younger brother Jack traveled with his great aunt Ethel Kennedy to the Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
Mom Caroline Kennedy has been absent from the 50th anniversary memorials. Obama recently appointed her as America’s ambassador to Japan.
Jack talks about Jack..
JFK grandson John Kennedy Schlossberg speaks at memorial dinner
On Nov. 21, 1963, John F. Kennedy gave a speech in San Antonio. Americans “stand on the edge of a great era,” the president declared, “filled with both crisis and opportunity, an era to be characterized by achievement and challenge.”
Those words might be written off as standard presidential boilerplate, uplifting rhetoric of the sort that Kennedy did so well.
Except that, because of what happened the next day, they can’t be written off. Those words assume an eerie prescience. A new era, gruesome as well as great, followed Kennedy’s assassination. The 1960s, as state of mind and cultural epoch, had arrived.
Kennedy’s death didn’t trigger that era. Demographic trends, economic growth, technological advances, and much else besides combined to produce the upheaval that was the ’60s. But that awful day in Dallas retains enormous symbolic importance as touchstone: marking a boundary between a pre-assassination then and a post-assassination now, a now that in significant ways remains with us.
The shock of Kennedy’s death eventually faded. Shock always does. Yet the confusion and suspicion that followed haven’t. They’ve become part of our cultural climate. We have not only grown accustomed to doubt and skepticism but come to expect them — so, too, with a normalization of violence and expectation of random direness.
As the ‘X-Files’ tagline has it, ‘The truth is out there.’ Dealey Plaza is where ‘out there’ begins.
Phrases like “conspiracy theory” and “distrust of government” were rarely if ever heard prior to Nov. 22, 1963. Soon enough they became commonplace. That a popular ’90s television series, “The X-Files,” would have three recurring characters known as the Lone Gunmen wasn’t necessarily surprising. (They even got a brief-lived spinoff series.) The trio could have as easily been called the Grassy Knolls or the Oswald Patsies. Assassination terminology, with its weird blend of the sinister and casual, had long ago entered everyday vocabulary.
The surprise was the Lone Gunmen being portrayed as eccentric misfits. The great legacy of the assassination is how many people take for granted that the only place to find the truth is outside the public square. Or as the “X-Files” tagline has it, “The truth is out there.” Dealey Plaza is where “out there” begins.
The 50th anniversary brings abundant evidence of the hold Kennedy’s death retains on the popular imagination. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot” remains a bestseller more than a year after its release. It’s the most prominent of numerous books published in observance of the anniversary.
A cable movie adapted from “Killing Kennedy,” starring Rob Lowe as JFK, is one of many television movies and documentaries being shown throughout November. A theatrical film, “Parkland,” was released last month. It centers on events in and around Dallas’s Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was taken after the shooting.
Art exhibitions relating to Kennedy and the assassination are on display in museums ranging from the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover and the Yale University Art Gallery to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and New York’s International Center of Photography. Kennedy understood the camera as few public figures have, and his responsiveness to it contributed even more than his glamorous looks and heroic bearing did to there being so many striking images of him.
Kennedy had excited artists and writers even before he became president. The most famous example is Norman Mailer’s adulatory 1960 essay “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.” And artists and writers, no less than other citizens, responded to the assassination. Igor Stravinsky composed an “Elegy for J.F.K,” with text by the poet W. H. Auden. The architect Philip Johnson designed a memorial in Dallas. Andy Warhol executed silk screens of Kennedy and his wife, of Lee Harvey Oswald, and of related images from Dallas. Books about Kennedy became a small industry.
So intense and varied a response makes perfect sense. It was of a piece with the renaming of public facilities and streets to honor the murdered president. What couldn’t have been predicted is how Kennedy and the assassination would endure as artistic inspiration.
Of course the nature of that inspiration evolved. Piety and grief gave way to disquiet and obsession. The Vietnam War and Watergate contributed to a darkening view of society, as did the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy’s brother Robert. But no other event carried quite the psychic charge that JFK’s death did. When a singer is shot onstage in Robert Altman’s 1975 film “Nashville,” a character tries to reassure the audience. “This isn’t Dallas.” No, it’s not. A dozen years after the assassination, everywhere was.
The most popular television series of the ’80s shared a name with the Texas city. Did the association with Kennedy’s murder no longer matter — or did it matter in a different way? Oswald and Jack Ruby, as individuals, seemed so puny compared to their crimes. (That, too, was part of the sense of dislocation the assassination visited on the culture.) J.R. Ewing, now there was a villain to reckon with.
Oswald is the protagonist of Don DeLillo’s 1988 novel, “Libra.” Seven years later, Mailer devoted nearly 800 pages to him in the nonfiction account “Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery” — this after having published a 1,400-page novel about the CIA, “Harlot’s Ghost,” in 1991. Not surprisingly, the Kennedy assassination figures prominently in the book. Oswald never appears in James Ellroy’s 1995 novel “American Tabloid.” He’d just get in the way of Ellroy’s luxuriating in all the tawdriness (the Mafia especially) surrounding JFK and events leading to the assassination.
For Oliver Stone, the assassination is a kind of creation myth in reverse. Eden became Gehenna just outside the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Stone’s 1991 “JFK” takes conspiracy as a given — but also Kennedy’s absolute virtue. Even though he’s seen in only the briefest of glimpses, Kennedy haunts the movie. By comparison, the way Kennedy’s memory haunts Clint Eastwood’s character in the 1993 thriller “In the Line of Fire” makes perfect sense. Eastwood plays a Secret Service agent who was on duty in Dallas 30 years before.
Our national horror stories subsequent to the assassination at least had redeeming elements: the bravery of soldiers in Vietnam, the way Watergate demonstrated the system worked, the heroism and sacrifice of New York firefighters and Flight 93 passengers on 9/11. Sometimes the redemption takes time to come out, as with the success of Tony Mendez’s hostage-rescue mission, portrayed in “Argo.” There are no second acts in American lives, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said. There certainly are silver linings in American failures, and Americans love finding them. (That’s one reason “Argo” won its best picture Oscar.) Not the Kennedy assassination: There were no silver linings. Even something as basic as conclusiveness would qualify as a silver lining. “We know who did it. We know how he did it. We know why he did it. Okay? That’s that.” Nothing like that was forthcoming.
Kennedy’s assassination was a political act and historical event. Its failure to resolve itself was, and still is, a cultural phenomenon. There have been so many investigations of the assassination, starting with the Warren Commission: by journalists, authors, obsessives, even the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in the late ’70s. The name sounds like the title of a Philip K. Dick novel. The sum of the answers they tried to give, and the further doubts they raised, contributed even more to how what happened in Dallas has ramified than the actual killing did.
That cultural phenomenon has a pair of defining texts, its Old Testament and New: the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission report, with its finding that Oswald acted alone; and the Zapruder film, the 26.6 seconds of 8mm home-movie footage shot by Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder, with its recording of the actual event. One created the post-assassination landscape. The other, as some saw it, offered the promise of revelation, an answer at last.
The Warren Commission report offers the truth, such as it is, handed down from on high. Commission members included the chief justice of the United States, eminent leaders of Congress, and a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
It’s one measure of how vastly the assassination changed the United States that the idea of a past CIA director being part of any comparable investigation now is inconceivable. The truth may or may not be out there, but wherever it is, the CIA is not to be trusted with it.
The report was obsolete the moment it was published, an overdetermined, contradictory, confusing, and often-implausible monument to what DeLillo has called “the endless fact-rubble of the investigation.” DeLillo has likened the report to a nonfiction counterpart to James Joyce’s famously hermetic novel, “Finnegans Wake.”
The Zapruder film has no counterpart. What counterpart could it have? The film’s opaque brevity is as confusing as the report’s numbing immensity and claim to finality. In fact, the report’s attempts to interpret the film are no small part of the confusion, as the commission attempted to explain why the backward jerk of the president’s body didn’t suggest a bullet fired from somewhere other than Oswald’s perch. The phrase “magic bullet” entered the post-assassination lexicon. Yet precisely because of that capacity to confuse, the 486 Zapruder frames possess an ongoing relevance and suggestiveness given to very few works, let alone one intrinsically artless and inexpressive.
Instead of counterparts, the Zapruder film has progeny. Every decade, the British film journal Sight & Sound polls critics for a list of the ten best films of all time. The most recent results, in 2012, named Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” as number one. There’s no need to solicit votes for the most discussed and analyzed film of all time. That would be the Zapruder footage.
For years, the film was impossible to see. Life magazine had bought it from Zapruder, a great journalistic coup — except that it wasn’t. To protect the magazine’s investment as well as for reasons of decency, the film was never shown. But everyone knew about it. It was widely discussed and referred to. Individual frames and sequences were reproduced in Life and elsewhere. It was a kind of like atmosphere: invisible yet everywhere.
Inaccessibility made the Zapruder film seem at once dubious (not seeing is not believing) and all the more authoritative (evidence that’s impossible to see is evidence that’s impossible to refute). Now you can see it on YouTube. In slow motion? Digitized? Zoomed in? With Dictabelt soundtrack? Hosted by Geraldo Rivera? Take your pick. The footage is there among countless cat videos and karaoke numbers and the latest viral sensations. All access, all the time. Ho hum. Except that 50 years later viewing it remains utterly unnerving — and stays so, no matter how many times you watch it. The horror of watching the impact of the second bullet, in frame 313, cannot be exaggerated.
Watching the footage is unnerving for another reason: how familiar it seems. A Zapruder aesthetic, as one might call it, long ago emerged: low-res, dreamlike, handheld, voyeuristic (the subjects unaware they are being viewed), affectless, detached, so visually unknowing as to seem (to sophisticated eyes) the height of knowingness, marked by unmediated violence and reliance on shock. Aspects of the aesthetic are there in Warhol’s underground films, cinema-verité documentary, Hollywood paranoid thrillers, video games (the violence and shock), security-camera and drone footage. Abraham Zapruder went out that day intending to take a home movie to show to his family. What he ended up with was something incalculably different, a piece of history unlike any other. Except that it did turn out to be a home movie, too: everyone’s home, everyone’s movie.
The contact sheet from Jacque Lowe’s first shoot with John Kennedy at their home in Hyannis Port, Mass, 1958: ‘He was reserved but when my dad asked if Caroline and Jackie could be involved, he became more at ease, providing a more intimate shot.’ Thomasina Lowe is the daughter of the late Jacques Lowe, a photographer who met Kennedy in 1958. Lowe’s intimate access to the Kennedys created some of the most iconic images of JFK’s presidential and family life. Photograph: Estate of Jacques Lowe.