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JFK The Stained-Glass Image
As with Lincoln, assassination lifted John F. Kennedy to a beatified myth, in large part because of the guidelines set for books about him.
August 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 5
The colleagues of our twentieth-century presidential martyr did not wait so long to be heard from. As we all know, among the nearly two hundred books on Kennedy issued in the thirty-six months after his death (including The Mind of JFK, The Faith of JFK, The Kennedy Wit, More Kennedy Wit, and other striking signs of publishers’ faith in the selling power of the newly sacred name) were reports by his special counsel (Theodore Sorensen’s Kennedy), by one of his special assistants (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days), by his chief of press relations (Pierre Salinger’s With Kennedy), by his private secretary (Evelyn Lincoln’s My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy), and by his children’s nurse (Maud Shaw’s White House Nannie). Besides these, there was The Pleasure of His Company, by Paul B. “Red” Fay, Jr., Kennedy’s old friend from PT-boat days whom he called “Grand Old Lovable,” who could always make him laugh with his uninhibited rendition of “Hooray for Hollywood!” and whom Kennedy brought to Washington by arranging his appointment as Under Secretary of the Navy.
None of these posthumous best sellers was authorized by the surviving Kennedys, of course, in the same sense that they authorized the Manchester account of the assassination. Indeed, the family tried to prevent publication of White House Nannie. After the attempt failed, however, they censored only a few paragraphs since it turned out to be in the inane tradition of inside stories by refined nannies who wouldn’t dream of telling all (“[Mrs. Kennedy] never likes to put other people out, even the tiniest bit”). The Pleasure of His Company is on the family Index, although Fay submitted it for clearance and has said that he deleted 90,000 of about 180,000 words at Mrs. Kennedy’s request. His publisher thinks it was not so many. He balked, he said, at removing another 30,000, which would have reduced it to a third of its original length and might have rendered it unpublishable, an outcome the Kennedys may have had in mind. No passim cuts could remedy its pervading indiscretion—the evidence throughout the book that Kennedy, the symbol of intellect and culture come to the White House, had chosen to spend a large share of his leisure time dining the last twenty years of his life with a good-hearted end man whose mother tongue is Kiwanis Club slang and who cheerfully admits he had to be clued in on Renoir and Cézanne. (“If you have to ask a question like that, do it in a whisper,” Kennedy told him. “We’re trying to give this administration a semblance of class.”) Rejecting Fay’s three-thousand-dollar gift to the Kennedy Library, Mrs. Kennedy—for whom those long, recurrent weekends en famille with the Fays may have been somewhat of a trial—wrote that she regarded the contribution as “hypocritical.” Of all the diarists of the Kennedy era to date, Fay, best man at the Kennedy wedding, had been closest to the Hyannisport-Hickory Hill contingent. Since the appearance of his fond but inelegant view of life with their martyred brother, he and the Kennedys have been, as the columnists say, don’t-invite-’ems.
Schlesinger, Sorensen, and Salinger—the S-men- remain decidedly grata in the compound, however, nor have diplomatic relations apparently been severed with Mrs. Lincoln, in whose adoring book the Kennedys made no changes. She had relied almost entirely on her personal diary and her trusty notebook; but the long, intensively documented accounts of the Kennedy administration by Sorensen and Schlesinger—and, to an extent perhaps, Salinger’s specialized report of those years as seen from the White House press office—could not have been written without access to information and records in Kennedy control. Only lion believers would suggest that the authors played “hush” in any respect just because someone named Bob gave them materials. But even before their books were stamped with approval, these men were part of the privy council, sworn to serve the clan that the same nonbelievers have charged with assuming the prerogatives of an American royal family in temporary exile. Members of the council (William Manchester must now be inclined to refer to it as another “long,” the epithet that, in Death of a President, he applies to Johnson’s Texas followers) are pledged to rally around during all Kennedy campaigns, to run general interference in off-election years, to squire the widow about on occasion, and to help the family maintain its dominion over all insiders’ published recollections of the Kennedy era--or so it appears to gawkers on the sidelines. Of course, in the years since the White House was their second home, they have all made other lucrative professional commitments, but there doesn’t seem to be much doubt about where the priorities would lie if a footman should arrive with a summons from Jackie.