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A Clash of Camelots


Douglas Caddy
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A Clash of Camelots

Within months of J.F.K.’s death, the president’s widow asked William Manchester to write the authorized account of the assassination. He felt he couldn’t refuse her. Two years later, nearly broken by the task, Manchester found himself fighting a bitter, headline-making battle with Jackie and Bobby Kennedy over the finished book. The author chronicles the toll Manchester’s 1967 best-seller, The Death of a President, exacted—physically, emotionally, and financially—before it all but disappeared.

BY SAM KASHNER

VANITY FAIR MAGAZINE

OCTOBER 2009

http://www.lewrockwell.com/spl/death-of-a-president.html

I thought that it would be bound in black and put away on dark library shelves. —Jacqueline Kennedy

It has never gone away, the nightmare of November 22, 1963. Each time one revisits the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, “one hopes for once the story will be different—the car swerves, the bullets miss, and the splendid progress continues. But each time, like a recurrent nightmare, the handsome head is shattered,” as Gore Vidal wrote in his World Journal Tribune review of William Manchester’s highly detailed, passionate, and greatly beleaguered account, The Death of a President.

Visit VF.com’s Kennedys archive. Plus: Sam Kashner on the definitive J.F.K. assassination book.

Of all the books written about the Kennedy assassination—by some counts more than 2,000—the one book commissioned by the Kennedys themselves and meant to stand the test of time has virtually disappeared. The fight over Manchester’s book—published on April 7, 1967, by Harper & Row after more than a year of bitter, relentless, headline-making controversy over the manuscript—nearly destroyed its author and pitted him against two of the most popular and charismatic people in the nation: the slain president’s beautiful grieving widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, and his brother Robert F. Kennedy. And the struggle would bring to both Jackie and Bobby a public-relations nightmare.

A day after the president’s body was flown to Washington, his casket lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, before final interment in Arlington National Cemetery. Kennedy’s family had wanted the president to be buried in Brookline, Massachusetts, next to his father and to his son Patrick, who had died two days after he was born. But Jacqueline realized that her husband belonged to the American people, and so she insisted on a burial at Arlington.

For two days before the burial, the line of citizens waiting to file by the catafalque reached five miles, snaking through the chill, solemn streets of the capital. For the procession from the Rotunda to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where the funeral Mass was held, Mrs. Kennedy didn’t want to ride in one of the government’s black Cadillacs, so she walked, leading a delegation from 92 nations. Charles de Gaulle, who towered over the other heads of state as they followed the horse-drawn caisson down Constitution Avenue, later reflected that President Kennedy’s widow “gave the world an example of how to behave.” Manchester later noted that, in the hours after the tragedy, “Jacqueline Kennedy was virtually the government of this country and held it together.” After the assassination, she had stood beside Lyndon B. Johnson in her blood-splattered Chanel suit as he was sworn into office. Now, at the president’s funeral, in her black widow’s garb, she symbolized the nation’s grief. For five years in a row, a Gallup poll named her “the most admired woman in the world.”

Following the ordeal of the funeral, Jacqueline resolved to leave the White House as quickly as possible. Before departing, she had a plaque inscribed with the words “In this room lived John Fitzgerald Kennedy, with his wife Jacqueline, during the two years, ten months, and two days he was president of the United States” and placed it in the Lincoln bedroom. (The Nixons would later have the plaque removed.) Eleven days after the funeral, Jacqueline sought refuge at her temporary home at 3038 N Street, in Georgetown.

Beset by writers clamoring for interviews, Jacqueline decided to designate one to produce the official story of the assassination. In part, she wanted to stop Jim Bishop, a syndicated columnist living in Florida, who was already preparing a book. He was the author of The Day Lincoln Was Shot and a just-finished book, A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, but according to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and special assistant to Kennedy, the First Lady considered Bishop a “hack” who asked too many personal questions. She preferred that no book be written, but as that was impossible, she went in search of an author.

William Manchester was not her first choice. Theodore H. White, a family favorite (The Making of the President 1960), and Walter Lord (A Night to Remember) turned her down. Then Pierre Salinger, the Kennedys’ press secretary, suggested Manchester, a onetime foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and the author of novels and nonfiction books on H.L. Mencken, the Rockefellers, and President Kennedy.

Most important, he had worshipped John F. Kennedy. His 1962 Portrait of a President was so respectful it was described as “adoring.” Kennedy, not surprisingly, liked Portrait, and Jacqueline had read Manchester’s profile of the president that had appeared in Holiday magazine in 1962. His prose had an emotionally rich, poetic quality that impressed her.

J.F.K. had in fact sat for interviews with Manchester, a not unpleasant experience. “I’d see Jack at the end of his last appointment for the day,” Manchester told the journalist Seymour Hersh. “We’d have a daiquiri and sit on the Truman balcony. He’d smoke a cigar and I’d have a Heineken.”

Duty Calls

Manchester, an ex-Marine, was square-jawed, dark-haired, solidly built. When he first met the president he was 39, Kennedy 44. Both men had been born in Massachusetts, but Manchester’s ancestors, who had settled in Attleboro, had arrived long before the Kennedys. The two men may have bonded over their similar W.W. II experiences. (Both had received Purple Hearts, Manchester fighting on Okinawa, J.F.K. commanding PT 109 in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands.) Manchester later wrote that the president “was brighter than I was, braver, better-read, handsomer, wittier, and more incisive. The only thing I could do better was write.”

In 1964, Manchester was living in a white 18th-century frame house on High Street in Middletown, Connecticut, with his wife, Judy, and their three children. He was working part-time as a managing editor for American Education Publications and, on a Wesleyan fellowship, was writing a history of the Krupp manufacturing family. On February 5, he was sitting in his office on the second floor of Wesleyan’s Olin Library when he received an early-morning telephone call from Salinger. He initially thought it was his friend Jerry—J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye—so he was caught off guard when Kennedy’s press secretary made the offer for him to write the authorized account of the assassination. At first reluctant to take on such a burden, Manchester turned to his secretary and asked, “How can I say no to Mrs. Kennedy?”

“You can’t,” she replied.

He resigned his post at Wesleyan the same day. Suddenly Manchester found himself “jobless, a middle-aged, highly educated vagrant.”

There was never any question that the proposed book would be published by Harper & Row, which had brought out John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage and Robert Kennedy’s 1960 investigation into union corruption, The Enemy Within. They had both been edited by Evan Welling Thomas III, who had come up with the title for the former book. In his 22 years at Harper & Brothers, later Harper & Row, Thomas had published many prominent politicians and statesmen—mostly Democrats—and John Cheever was among his handful of fiction writers. Tall, slim, aristocratic, Thomas came by his interest in politics honestly as the son of Norman Thomas, the famous American socialist and perennial presidential candidate. There were other Kennedy connections at Harper & Row as well. Cass Canfield, the president of Harper and chairman of the Executive Committee, was a product of Groton, Harvard, and Oxford. Canfield’s son had been briefly married to Jacqueline’s sister, Lee Bouvier, before her marriage to Prince Radziwill. “Cass was, I guess, Jackie’s friend. He was sort of a high-society type,” recalls Thomas’s son, Evan Thomas, now Newsweek’s editor-at-large and the author of a well-regarded biography of Robert Kennedy. “I remember my father once saying that Cass was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and enjoyed the taste of it. The family legend is that Profiles in Courage came to Harper through Cass.”

But it was Thomas who went to see John F. Kennedy in the hospital, where he was recovering from major back surgery, to persuade him to write Profiles in Courage, which would win the 1957 Pulitzer Prize. Thomas was impressed by Kennedy’s physical courage and charisma. “In the hospital when I saw him, he was lying on his back, writing on a board. It was impossible not to be charmed by him.” He was charmed, too, by Robert Kennedy when he worked on The Enemy Within. “Daddy started dealing with Bobby,” the younger Thomas recalls. “He liked Bobby—he admired his toughness.”

To see complete article: http://www.lewrockwell.com/spl/death-of-a-president.html

Edited by Douglas Caddy
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A Clash of Camelots

Within months of J.F.K.’s death, the president’s widow asked William Manchester to write the authorized account of the assassination. He felt he couldn’t refuse her. Two years later, nearly broken by the task, Manchester found himself fighting a bitter, headline-making battle with Jackie and Bobby Kennedy over the finished book. The author chronicles the toll Manchester’s 1967 best-seller, The Death of a President, exacted—physically, emotionally, and financially—before it all but disappeared.

BY SAM KASHNER

VANITY FAIR MAGAZINE

OCTOBER 2009

http://www.lewrockwell.com/spl/death-of-a-president.html

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It has never gone away, the nightmare of November 22, 1963. Each time one revisits the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, “one hopes for once the story will be different—the car swerves, the bullets miss, and the splendid progress continues. But each time, like a recurrent nightmare, the handsome head is shattered,” as Gore Vidal wrote in his World Journal Tribune review of William Manchester’s highly detailed, passionate, and greatly beleaguered account, The Death of a President.

Vidal also called Manchester's book "the best historical novel ever written," obviously feeling no empathy for the McNamara-like stress Manchester was put through by the family.

I haven't read them in many years, but I recall enjoying Manchester's "The Arms of Krupp" and his Douglas MacArthur bio, "American Caesar," in their respective decades. Doubtless they are missing a few details discovered in our CT age.

From the VF article: "Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause." This may be a canard. I've read that Dan Rather reported a similar incident, only to be refused further access to kids by the school district, in which a principal had cancelled classes without telling students about the assassination, feeling that that was their parents' duty. Naturally - the kids all cheered. At least that's how I've seen it reported. I can hunt for my source on this if need be.

Being the mainstream press, there's more than one canard as far as the research community will be concerned. Perhaps though, there is a lesson about 9/11: "As Manchester pointed out to conspiracy theorists, great crimes are often the result of petty, almost banal motives."

It'll make a swell movie, though. I'm sure dark-haired actresses are in bidding wars now, others are contemplating dye-jobs, and soon a screenwriter or two will know that William Manchester feeling.

Edited by David Andrews
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