JFK’S GHOST

My new book was released by Lyon’s Press June 1, 2021. It’s titled, “JFK’S GHOST: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of Profiles in Courage.”

My Dad gave me a copy of Profiles when I was a kid.

I still have it.

He also gave me my first history books­­. They were given away with a purchase of laundry soap each week at the A&P grocery store in Taylor, Michigan where I grew up.

John F. Kennedy, then the President of the United States, wrote the Foreword.

I’ve been interested in the Kennedy story ever since, and now I finally get the chance to write about it.

The story of the writing, publication, popular reception, of Senator John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, is in many ways a window into the era of all things Camelot to come. And as with so many legends, the myths had a superfluous quality to them, because so many of JFK’s accomplishments were significant on their own merit and in no real need of enhancement.

Kennedy’s rise to the pinnacle of political power after World War II is a compelling story of ambition, wealth, skill, and a measure of cunning. He was prone to sickness—near death on a few occasions—yet he won the White House in 1960 with an image of youthful and vibrant energy. He brought erudition, charm, wit, and charisma to the presidency in ways never before seen.

A few years later, Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s rival, would win the presidential prize. However, his pathway to it was mocked as contrived and image-laden. There was even a bestselling book written about it shortly after the Nixon family moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue called, The Selling of the President—a cynical look at how Roger Ailes (of future Fox News notoriety) and many others manipulated (in the book’s view) the political process and Nixon’s image en route to victory.⁠1 But Nixon’s 1968 team simply borrowed from the Kennedy playbook from the 1960 campaign cycle.

Not that anyone noticed.

Like all successful politicians, Kennedy brought a tight-knit entourage with him wherever life and work took him—men and women who would do just about anything for him, and often did. They covered for him at times and worked as one to keep the flame of his image burning bright even long after he was gone.

They still do.

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957 was a vital piece of the puzzle in JFK’s ascendance to the presidency. And it is clear that to Kennedy himself the award was one of his proudest achievements. He would be hyper-sensitive to his dying day about any criticism or rumor that cast doubt on his authorship of Profiles in Courage.

John F. Kennedy was 39-years-old when he won the Pulitzer, and it was well-timed. He seemed to instinctively understand how beneficial it would be to have that kind of award on his political resume. After all, the man he hoped to succeed in less than three years was nearly three decades older and had a career of hands-on leadership and management experience on his side. Jack had never run anything more than a small crew on a PT boat and his office staff. Hardly a match for the commander of all things D-Day. It was understandable that Jack was afraid of being perceived as young and inexperienced, not all that ready for the responsibilities of the presidency. He needed to add a good measure of gravitas to his c.v., and the Pulitzer was a pathway to what biographer Robert Dallek described as the “the stamp of seriousness” he needed to win high office.⁠2

With the publication of Profiles, Kennedy’s name recognition soared nationally. The book was an instant best-seller and received stellar reviews. Because of it, Jack would go on to receive several honorary college degrees. Profiles became a global publishing phenomenon, and was translated into dozens of languages, “from Persian to Gujrati.⁠3” He was increasingly seen as an erudite man of letters. Much of the book was reprinted in mass circulation periodicals. He was uninvited with new speaking invitations from far and wide, and all this with the 1956 Democratic National Convention scheduled for that Summer in Chicago, where he already had his eyes on the possible vice presidential nomination on a ticket with Adlai Stevenson.

Of all honors he would receive throughout his life, none would make him happier than his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize. And all of the abuse he would receive throughout his life, none would make him more angry than the charge a few months later that he had not really written it.

But winning that prize put a spotlight on Jack Kennedy, one that, at times, resembled a target on his back. The attention carried with it scrutiny of the sort he had never really experienced before on the national stage. There was a measure of envy on the part of his political peers, who resented all the attention he was getting. Soon rumors began to circulate—rumors that Kennedy had not actually written the book, and that sales figures were being manipulated to ensure the book’s longevity on bestseller lists. The FBI even started a file, sensing that Kennedy could be vulnerable to a fraud charge.⁠4

If the rumors were proven to be true, and there was a genuine charge of fraud, all of Kennedy’s hopes and dreams, as well as those of his diehard circle of admirers and boosters––not to mention his father––would come to nothing.

And there would never be that brief and shining moment in America remembered ever since as Camelot. — DRS

[David R. Stokes is a ghostwriter, best-selling author, historian, broadcaster, and retired pastor. His forthcoming book, JFK’S GHOST: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of PROFILES IN COURAGE, will be published by LYONS PRESS June 1, 2021]

1 a cynical look: The Selling of the President, Joe McGinness

2 “stamp of seriousness”: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, by Robert Dallek, p. 210

3 “from Persian to Gujrati”: Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen, p. 68

4 The FBI even started a file: An Unfinished Life, Dallek, p. 210

BLAIR UNDERWOOD to Star in Film Version of CAMELOT’S COUSIN

[From THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER]

Blair Underwood is heading to Camelot.

buheadshot2010_a_pThe actor’s production company, Intrepid Pictures, has acquired the rights to David R. Stokes‘ spy novel Camelot’s Cousin: The Spy Who Betrayed Kennedy. Intrepid will partner with Little Studio Films to adapt the thriller into a film with Underwood in the lead role.

Set amid the Cuban Missile Crisis, Camelot’s Cousin centers on the discovery of a long-lost journal that indicates one of President John F. Kennedy‘s closest friends was a Soviet spy. In the present day, scholar and media personality Templeton Davis (Underwood) decides to investigate the journal’s contents, which draw him into a decades-old international conspiracy…

[read FULL ARTICLE at THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER]

Thank You, Mr. Schieffer

The Fort Worth Star Telegram issued four “Extras” on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy died. The driving force was a 26 year-old cub reporter by the name of Bob Schieffer.

nschiefferhat[I am personally grateful to Mr. Schieffer for another reason—but I’ll get to that in a bit.]

Bob Schieffer happened to answer the phone in the busy Star-Telegram newsroom about an hour after the news broke about the assassination. The caller—a woman—asked if anyone at the paper could give her a ride to Dallas. The young reporter was about to hang up, telling the caller that the newspaper wasn’t a taxi service, when the woman said that she was the mother of the man who had just been arrested in Dallas.

Bob Schieffer drove over to the home of Marguerite Oswald—mother of Lee Harvey Oswald—and gave her that ride to Dallas. Over the next few hours he was with her and able to phone in regular updates to his paper from the Dallas Police Station.  

It was what they call a big scoop for the young reporter.

These days, Mr. Schieffer is one of the elder statesmen of the news business, close CBS heir to Murrow and Cronkite.  Recently, his alma mater, Texas Christian University, in his beloved hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, renamed their excellent journalism school after him.

It was that love of Fort Worth that led Bob Schieffer to take an interest in a book I was writing a few years ago. It was about that town and one of its more “colorful” citizens—a famous preacher. And I’m deeply grateful to Mr. Schieffer for agreeing to write the Foreword to that book, The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America.

TheShootingSalvationistHere’s part of what he said about the book:

“For all the colorful characters who became part of Fort Worth’s history, surely none surpassed J. Frank Norris, the fiery fundamentalist preacher at Fort Worth’s First Baptist Church in pure outlandishness. His oratory and penchant for publicity brought thousands into his congregation and at one point First Baptist was among the largest churches in the world, a mega church before the phrase was coined. Unfortunately, for all his oratorical skills, Norris’ horizons were limited by several criminal indictments brought on by his tendency for violence.

In this book David Stokes tells the J. Frank Norris story.

If I hadn’t grown up in Fort Worth, I would have thought someone made all this up but no one did.

It really happened.”

Thank you, Bob Schieffer!

 

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]