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How Kennedy Became CAMELOT

Vinny is one of my grandsons (I have six, and one granddaughter—thanks for asking). He’s seven years old. The other day, as he showed me a screen and explained the latest level he’d reached in a game I didn’t know or understand, I was struck by the thought that I was exactly his age when my second grade teacher, who for some reason had left a classroom full of, well, second-graders, reentered the room. She was weeping. She wrote on the chalkboard: “President Kennedy has been shot.”

Then she left the room—again.

A few minutes later, right about the time I had my friend Tim in a chokehold (or was it the other way around?), she came back and went to the chalk, once again, writing: “President Kennedy is dead. You are dismissed. Go straight home.”

ows_138455806074453So we did. These were the days before carpools and long lines in front of schools where parents waited. We just walked home. Hundreds of kids poured out onto the sidewalks, with little security, but for a few fellow students wearing special belts around their waist and over one shoulder. They were the “safety patrol.” Becoming a member of that elite “special forces” group was an early ambition of mine, but I digress.

I remember walking home briskly, so that I could tell my mom what had happened. But she already knew. Everyone did.

Now, my folks weren’t Kennedy supporters—they voted for Nixon, and later Goldwater, and then Nixon, again. However, my mother always had the latest magazine lying around featuring the young First Lady on the cover. It’s hard to believe now, but Jackie was only 34 years old when her husband was taken from her, and us.

Over the past 50 years, since that fateful day in Dallas, the Kennedy story has been told, and retold. The thousand days of his presidency are often referred to as “Camelot,” a name pregnant with a sense of wonder and magic. In fact, the nomenclature is used so often, that there are some who may assume that was the way people referred to JFK’s White House when he lived and worked there.

Actually, the Camelot image began to be associated with all things JFK when Jackie Kennedy met with a famous writer after her husband’s murder. His name was Theodore H. White.

The day after Thanksgiving in 1963, and one week to the day from the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy had a late evening meeting with Mr. White at the Kennedy home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. She had made it clear to the editors of Life Magazine that she preferred White write the primary essay in the special issue they were getting ready to publish. He had covered their wedding for the magazine in 1953, and more recently, he had written sympathetically about Kennedy in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Making of the President, 1960.

During their conversation that night, the President’s widow, talked about how much her late husband had enjoyed the Broadway play, Camelot—particularly its music. He regularly played the original soundtrack record in the White House, usually before they drifted off to sleep.

Don’t let it be forgot,
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot

White was on deadline. They were actually holding up publication of the magazine, at a cost of $30,000, and waiting for his copy. So after his conversation with Mrs. Kennedy, he went to another room and spent 45 minutes composing the essay. Then he went to a telephone in the kitchen to dictate the story to an editor.

Jackie Kennedy came in as White was debating back and forth with the editor about toning down the whole “Camelot” angle. She gave White an angry look, while shaking her head emphatically—“No.”

And the rest is, as they say, history.

[This article was written for VENTURE GALLERIES–an excellent site for readers and writers. – DRS]

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