by Kitty Kelley
John F. Kennedy continues to reign as the most popular president of the twentieth century, according to recent Gallup polls. (Richard Nixon and George W. Bush remain the most unpopular). Most historians agree that Abraham Lincoln was the most important man to ever occupy the White House because he abolished slavery and kept the states united through a bloody civil war. Yet for most Americans, Kennedy, whose presidential accomplishments were slight, continues to glisten like a shamrock after a spring rain.
For those alive in 1963 this month casts a shadow of sadness as we recall where we were on November 22 when we heard about the president’s assassination. We remember the weekend binge of television coverage — the stalwart widow in her black veil, the riderless horse, the little boy’s salute to his father’s coffin and the eternal flame, which draws over 500,000 visitors a year to Arlington National Cemetery.
Beginning last year we mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration — the thousand days which J.F.K. defined as the New Frontier, a time when he said the torch was passed to a new generation. We were told to ask not what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country, and he showed us how by establishing the Peace Corps so Americans could do something positive and lasting. Since 1961 more than 210,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries.
Yet it is for something far less tangible that John F. Kennedy continues to be revered. Elected fifteen years after the end of WWII, he captured the spirit of those times. He radiated the excitement of change and the optimism of expectation. He broke the barriers of religious bigotry by becoming the first Catholic to be elected president, thereby making us believe that anything was possible, even sending a man to the moon and back within a decade. He moved further than his predecessors on civil rights by declaring that equality under the law was a moral issue “as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the Constitution.” He believed in horizons without limits. “No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings,” he said, speaking about the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which was signed in August 1963.
John F. Kennedy brought style and charisma to the White House and a first family that captivated the country: a handsome, witty president, an elegant first lady, and two adorable young children. While his image was later tarnished by revelations of marital infidelity and reckless behavior, polls show that he still holds the public in thrall. Herbert Parmet, one of his many biographers, claimed he was nothing but glamour and gloss, and dismissed him as an “interim president who had promised but not performed.” Yet there is no way to diminish the nation’s nostalgia for this man who was felled in his prime, and became an enduring legend. No other president has left a larger footprint on his country than John F. Kennedy, who to date is honored by 149 institutions which carry his name — schools, hospitals, clinics, concert halls, arts centers and an international airport, proving perhaps that promise is as inspiring as performance.
Photos © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC, used with permission.
Cross-posted from Huffington Post
Kitty Kelley appeared on Starting Point on November 14, 2012 to talk about Capturing Camelot.
Jackie Oh!, Kitty Kelley’s first biography, is now available from Amazon in Kindle format. This ebook edition of the 1978 bestseller includes a new Afterword by the author. There is also a new selection of photos by Stanley Tretick–many of them not previously published (and not to be published in Capturing Camelot).
The Kindle ebook Jackie Oh! can be read on a Kindle, but it can also be read in the free Kindle reading apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7 phone, PC, or Mac, or even online with the Kindle Cloud Reader.
“It’s hard to pass up a good, gossipy story about a chic, super-rich former First Lady.” —Houston Chronicle
Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of The Kennedys, with text by Kitty Kelley and photos by her late friend Stanley Tretick, will be published in November 2012 by Thomas Dunne Books.
“Capturing Camelot springs from unbounded affection: mine for Stanley and his for John F. Kennedy. Yet it’s a departure for me as a biographer, one who usually tries to pierce a public image to find the person hiding behind an established myth. In Capturing Camelot, I’m celebrating one of America’s most cherished mythologies and the photographer who helped to create the magic that fuels the nostalgia for those fresh mornings and gilded evenings of long ago.
“All that Stanley Tretick admired in John F. Kennedy, I admired in Stanley: his limitless loyalty, his earthy humor, his gracious good manners, his immense generosity, his respect for history, his appreciation of film and literature. Personally, Stanley was a mensch. Professionally, he was a photographer without a peer.”
More on Capturing Camelot here.
Update, June 2012: Kitty Kelley spoke about Capturing Camelot to Publishers Weekly.
Update, November 16, 2012: Kitty Kelley on Fox 25 (Boston).
Update, November 25, 2012: Kitty Kelley on HLN Morning Express.
Update, November 26, 2012: Podcast, Kitty Kelley on Conversations with Kim Carson.
Update, December 12, 2012: Kitty Kelley on The Bill Press Show.