Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
In this October 1960 file photo Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, campaign in New York. The Kennedy image, the “mystique” that attracts tourists and historians alike, did not begin with his presidency and is in no danger of ending 50 years after his death. Its journey has been uneven, but resilient - a young and still-evolving politician whose name was sanctified by his assassination, upended by discoveries of womanizing, hidden health problems and political intrigue, and forgiven in numerous polls that place JFK among the most beloved of former presidents.
The Associated Press
Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, at age 29, was a senator by age 35 and was soon being mentioned as a candidate for national office.
“From the time Jack first ran for Congress, his father had taught him everything from wearing a suit and the best way to cut his hair, how to appear youthful and wise and serious at the same time,” says David Nasaw, whose biography of Joseph P. Kennedy came out last year. Still, Nasaw described JFK’s relationship with his father as a “partnership,” in which he didn’t hesitate to differ from the elder Kennedy.
JFK was a public figure years before he ran for office. “Why England Slept,” released in 1940, was a book-length edition of a thesis he wrote at Harvard about the British in the years before World War II. An introduction was provided by one of the country’s foremost image makers, Time magazine publisher Henry R. Luce. “You would be surprised how a book that really makes the grade with high-class people stands you in good stead for years to come,” Joseph Kennedy had advised his sons.
The JFK narrative was well in place for his presidential run in 1960: a handsome, witty and athletic World War II hero and family man who vowed to revitalize the country, which for eight years had been presided over by the grandfatherly Eisenhower.
The multimedia story began in childhood with newsreels and newspaper coverage of the smiling Kennedy brood, and it continued with books, photographs, movies and finally television – notably the telegenic JFK’s presidential debates with Republican Richard Nixon.
Questions about the Kennedy image were also in place.
His Pulitzer Prize-winning tribute to political risk and bipartisan statesmanship, “Profiles in Courage,” was shadowed by reports that he didn’t write it, and the book’s authorship remains a subject of debate. Lyndon Johnson, eventually his vice president, spread rumors (later confirmed) that Kennedy suffered from a glandular disorder, Addison’s disease. An authorized campaign biography by James MacGregor Burns angered the family when the historian questioned whether JFK was independent of his father and of the memory of his older brother.
“I think you underestimate him,” Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Burns. “Jack is a strong and self-sufficient person. If we could just lay to rest those bromides about Dad and Brother Joe. Let me assure you that no matter how many older brothers and fathers my husband had had, he would have been what he is today, or the equivalent in another field.”
One of the last presidents to live during an age when private vices were kept private, he was at ease around such photographers as Jacques Lowe and around the crew of documentary maker Robert Drew, whose Kennedy projects included the landmark of cinema verite “Primary” and the film “Crisis,” about the 1963 standoff against Alabama’s segregationist governor, George Wallace. Award-winning filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who assisted Drew on the Kennedy documentaries, remembered spending hours in the Oval Office and once being offered a ride in the presidential car.
“I got in the front seat and filmed into the back seat,” Pennebaker said. “He was going over something that had happened at the United Nations and was using all these four-letter words, just using unbelievable language. Later on, someone said to me, ‘I can’t believe you can just film him like that.’ But there was no way I was ever going to use it. That was the kind of relationship we had.”
Andrew Ball, senior historian at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, noted that the first decade after Kennedy’s assassination was defined by the stately “Camelot school” of biography, including former JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Thousand Days.”
(Continued on page 3)