So – coming up on another one of those Very Significant Anniversaries, I see – being reminded by the perfect flood of stories reflecting back on Jack and Jackie and that fateful swing through Texas in 1963. My – fifty years, a whole half-century … yes, it’s time again to go back to those heartbreaking days of yesteryear and recall the blighted promise, the towering intellectual and romantic splendor of the Kennedy White House, the space race to the moon, Jackie’s unerring sense of style and taste … also little things like Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, eyeball to eyeball with the Soviets, immanent thermonuclear war, speedball injections from Dr. Feelgood, and the Kennedy men porking anything female who was unwary enough to stand still for a moment. Why, yes – I was never really a Kennedy fan, per se. Nor were my family, since Mom and Dad were your basic steady Eisenhower Republicans, and maintained a faint and Puritan distrust of anything smacking of glamor, or media-generated BS. Which they were correct in, as it eventually emerged in small discrete dribbles and decades later, that practically everything about the Kennedys was fake, except for Jackie’s taste in fashion and interior decoration.
I didn’t know anything about all that – at the time. I had just started at a new school since Mom and Dad had just moved during the summer from the White Cottage to Redwood House; Miss Gibson’s class, at Sunland Elementary School – a slightly larger school than Vinedale Elementary, about half a mile up La Tuna Canyon Road from the White Cottage. There were some friends which I missed seeing every day, but I was settling in OK. We were all looking forward to Thanksgiving, and the leaves on the big old sycamore trees around the pink classroom bungalows were shedding their leaves. I liked Miss Gibson – she had hit on the notion of reading aloud to us for about half an hour after lunchtime, every afternoon; there had been a long book about the life and adventures of an otter, an Agatha Christie country-house murder mystery which had us enthralled for weeks; and if memory serves, even a few stories from The Illustrated Man. One of the other treats for her class was a radio series of dramatized biographies; about half an hour long, I think, and broadcast in late morning, after recess. That program was supposed to be broadcast, that November day; Miss Gibson dismissed us all to recess, and went to turn on the radio and turn it to the correct station in advance. Another girl and I stayed behind; some question that we had to ask of her, as she fiddled with the radio. But the first thing that we heard was a news bulletin; the President had been shot, was dead. I think the announcer repeated the announcement at least once, but we didn’t need any more confirmation, because Miss Gibson began crying. This was huge news, of course; the only other presidents being assassinated that we knew of, had all been a long time ago. We ran to tell our classmates; I suppose there would have been some official announcement later, but I can’t recall it. Certainly by the time we were dismissed at the end of the day, everyone knew. This was long before Mom and Dad had a television, but there was non-stop coverage on the radio. I rather think we listened to as much of the funeral as we could bear; my friends who did have TV said there was nothing on but coverage of it all. For a long while, we had a copy of that Life Magazine issue with all the classic pictures; arriving at Love Field, the Connellys and the Kennedys smiling from the open limo, of Oswald grimacing in pain as Jack Ruby shot him, Jackie in her blood-stained suit standing as LBJ was sworn in on board AF-1 on the way back to Washington, veiled in black with the two children in pale blue coats on either side … I might still have that issue, somewhere in a box in the garage.
They’re just about all gone now – the Kennedys. Robert was assassinated five years later, and the rest of them fell away, one by one. Only Caroline survives, and the luster of Camelot has pretty well faded. Glamor always does – in the archaic sense of something wrought by magic and illusion to disguise something otherwise rather tawdry. But while that glamor worked, they looked good, the whole clan of them; handsome, fashionable, intelligent and able – the good PR on them was impeccable. They had the best press that money could buy; just as the Obamas would be treated like precious pearls, lightly buffed with a soft lint-free cloth and displayed on a velvet backdrop, so were the Kennedys.
And just as with the Obamas in 2008 and 2009, I would swear that the mainstream media and the intellectual establishment then were just as deeply in love. How heartbroken they were over the assassination, the loss of their precious, their Golden One. Really, I believe that at least some of the resulting vicious treatment of LBJ throughout the rest of the 1960s must have stemmed from a feeling of pique – that that ill-spoken, uncouth Texas pol would dare follow in the footsteps of their idol. To be fair, LBJ richly deserved much critical comment which came his way, especially when it came to foreign policy.