More Kennedy video, more Kennedy audio as the charisma and allure drip away in Camelot.

February 20, 2012 | Author: | Posted in Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s Article Archive

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. So, whose bright idea was it anyhow; you know, to get Marilyn Monroe (of all people) to slither down the runway to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” the night of May 19,1962 in the Big Apple? You know this film clip… everybody does. But just in case you can’t quite remember, go to any search engine and watch it.

It’s Marilyn Monroe, famous for never being on time, even by accident, in a skin-tight glittery number that breathes “Hollywood”, her hair not merely a “do” but a construction… breathy in the baby-doll way she made famous, the essence of ou la la on Earth…

… every move writhing, eye-popping, outraging moralists worldwide… every move launching a thousand stories about this Love Goddess and the bumptious Kennedy boys.

It was an image maker’s worst nightmare… because, in just a couple of minutes, it had the whole country kibbitzing about these questions: did she, would they, where, how long, OMG!

Oh, yes, this is the kind of film clip we love, because it adds to the Kennedy myth; adds to their chic, asks way more questions than it answers… and makes us want to know more about the family we just cannot get enough of.

Sadly… this is not the kind of Kennedy audio I have for you today; not the kind of Kennedy video either.

“No man is a hero to his valet.” (Montaigne, 1533-1592)

Consider the following scenario which will be played out today in thousands and thousands of conference rooms, CEO offices, board rooms worldwide: you called a big meeting, so portentous in its implications that you decide to film it because it’s a Very Historic Occasion and must be recorded, remembered, revered.

“Lights, camera — no action.”

But as you review the finished film, it’s at once boring, dull as ditch water, embarrassing, a close your eyes, hold your nose fiasco. The folks who should be in it are all in it, but they look, well… insipid, yawn-making, jerky in their movements, awkward beyond belief… redundant in what they say, unclear in the way they say it….yikes.

Now you finally understand why people like Stephen Spielberg get the really Big Bucks, because they know how to take the mundane and turn it into mesmerizing magic… the kind of magic that grabs you and just won’t go away; that holds you, keeps you, makes you want more and more and more; the kind of magic no where apparent in….

The new Kennedy audio.

As you may know, the Kennedy family has released quite a lot of footage the last several months. And now, in just released (January 24, 2012) tapes from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, they’re releasing some more. This time we see President Kennedy unsure of himself, desperately trying to figure out how to connect with middle class Americans, wondering whether he can really gain re-election after his Administration’s rocky start.

This is history all right, history the leveler, history that strips allure, that knows nothing about glamour and chic, history that turns the sharpest possible light on both men and measures… not only diminishing those portrayed, but leaving us sad, disappointed, wondering at how the mighty have fallen, pedestrian now, lessoned, mere humans after all.

“What is it we have to sell them?”

When JFK was running for president in 1960, at the time of the crucial Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries, his father said they’d get “Jack” elected by selling him like laundry soap. It worked. And so it was natural for President JFK to revert to the language of Madison Avenue, always working the marketing, the image, the public relations angle rather that the substance. “What is it that’s going to make them go for us?”

Listening to these tapes is like listening to a bull session at Harvard Business School, talking yes, but not engaged with either the subjects or the people… only one question of any real interest: how do we get re-elected; the most important, endlessly engaging question of all.

And so we see that the chief topic at the White House is the same as the chief topic at our house: not how do we do our job better… but how do we keep our job while finessing the substance… a question of consuming, gnawing interest… riveting, unsettling, engrossing.

The final 45 hours of secret recordings.

The newly released tapes lead up to the November 20, 1962 trip to Dallas and destiny. They provide a snap shot of daily life in a White House anything but Camelot. The President was concerned about Vietnam… but he was also concerned that the staff vacuuming the Oval Office blotted out what he and his advisors were saying. It didn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to shoosh the cleaners, asking them to return later. And so remarks intended for posterity were obliterated by an insistent vacuum…. This is how real life is… battery acid to fairy tales and heroic sagas.

248 recorded hours total.

Throughout his presidency, Kennedy was assiduous in his recording. He was enough of an historian to know how helpful they’d be to his memoirs, but I wonder whether he knew how deflating they’d be to his image, the golden image of Camelot? These muddled, grainy tapes, fascinating as they must be as an aperture to the presidential mind and hurtles, never increase our regard, but often diminish it…. until we wonder that there was any magic at all.

But the magic still exists… just not in these quotidian audio recordings.

It comes instead in a new documentary film by Rory Kennedy. It is a love letter to her mother, Ethel, a woman we have always wanted to hug and to know better…. and not just because she is the widow of Senator Robert Kennedy and the mother of his children.

Just released at the Sundance Film Festival, it brought the audience to tears, warm, welcome, refreshing, comforting; tears that show us that we are not yet beyond empathy, though we have all been sorely tried and near surfeit.

“Ethel” the film shows us a woman of conviction, joy, family, and above all else of faith, endurance and love. Most of all love which radiates through the many interviews with most of her sons and daughters. There are the mirthful moments, as when her abysmal cooking “skills” are brought up along with the unexpected tale of how she pranked J. Edgar Hoover, who so loathed her husband.. and the stark portrayals of the pain she has witnessed and endured; JFK and beloved brother RFK, of course, but also two of her sons, David (1984) and Michael (1997), dying too young.

Ethel Kennedy was silent for 30 years, never giving a public interview or comment. She wasn’t at all sure doing this film, even for her beloved daughter, was a very good idea. But I believe it was… and that the tale worth telling was told well… sustaining the dream that must never die… but which has been so eroded in one diminishing tape after another.

“Ethel” comes therefore in most good time, and welcome.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Details at


This author has published 407 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.

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