JFK Turns 100

In John F. Kennedy’s hundredth birthday spring, we’re looking again at the family portrait we all know, by the painter Jamie Wyeth.

His canvas summoned the late president as a ruddy sort of ghost, face aglow against deep brown shadows, beefy hand in front of his chin, eyes all alert but just out of alignment, one looks into you, one past you. He’s returned from another place, mouth open a crack, not quite smiling. The mind of an A student, hesitating, kindling a wise-crack, maybe hiding something, pain of injury perhaps, or illness. He looks not combative exactly but forceful, open to the fun of teasing or an argument, open to the pleasure of his own company.

 

We’re taking fresh impressions of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on his hundredth birthday. The historian Fredrik Logevall, who’s working on a new one-volume JFK biography, was born in Sweden in 1963, the year Kennedy was assassinated. A year later, Wyeth undertook his most noted portrait at the age of 18. He’s 70 now, and his iconic portrait of JFK (beloved by Jackie, besmirched by Bobby) now calls the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston home.

Illustration by Susan Coyne

Poet laureate of Open Source, Eileen Myles tells us about how President Kennedy shaped her childhood as a young, scrappy Catholic kid growing up in a Kennedy worshipping family.  Here, she reads us her complicated ode to the Kennedys in a An American Poem.

Also on the phone with us: a chorus of Kennedy watchers, family members, and journalists, including Marty Nolan, Richard Reeves, Sally Fay, Caitlin Flanagan, and Bobby Shriver.

 

Guest List
Jamie Wyeth
contemporary American realist painter
Fredrik Logevall
history professor at Harvard University and Pulitzer-prize winning historian of Embers of War
Marty Nolan
journalist and former editor at The Boston Globe
Sally Fay
writer, filmmaker, Kennedy family friend, daughter of presidential pal Paul "Red" Fay
Bobby Shriver
activist, attorney, journalist, rancher
Caitlin Flanagan
social critic and author of To Hell With All That
Eileen Myles
poet and author of Chelsea Girls
Richard Reeves
journalist and author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power

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  • Potter

    He was a “dark horse” in the primaries, just as I turned voting age, the first president I would vote for. He was a breath of fresh air, intelligent with a strong moral compass and way of speaking that made us listen, follow and be proud. I heard the news of his assassination in the elevator at Hunter College where, the basement floor sculpture studio, I was going up to the top floor art department with a plaster sculpture in my arms. Everyone in that small space was shocked and talking; Kennedy did not survive, was dead. Are you sure? It could not be.Then the world seemed to stop. We watched it all for days on black and whiteTV and cried. We cried, mourned, it seemed, communally.

    I believe Jackie loved him. What we did not know about his personal life was perhaps all to the better; it was their business, their agreement or arrangement… maybe a similar sort of agreement, maybe unspoken, that Melania and Trump have. But what a contrast in character, intellectually, morally!That they both achieved the highest office in the land is something to contemplate; the trajectory of this country,make sense of it.

    We lost a lot that day in November 1963. JFK’s time in the White House was brief but shining. He was a leader. We have not seen his likes. I know political analysts and historians have their criticisms and their points to make. But show me someone who has led this country since who still shines so. Maybe it was also his promise. Excuse me I still have stars in my eyes.

  • Pete Crangle

    One Degree of Freedom, or, The distance between you, me, and The American Wildness is only one Trigger Pull

    Robert Rauschenberg,Retroactive I,1963

    Kennedy cut some of the cleanest rhetorical lines since Lincoln. Some of the lines in those speeches were like fins on a 1960s new frontier automobile. Transportation and sculpture, all rolled into one gas guzzling, space age package. Alfred P Sloan couldn’t have done better branding than the Jack Kennedy New Frontier brand. And of course, like those gas guzzling behemoths, the Kennedy brand hide an underbelly of trouble.

    Rhetoric matters, and John Kennedy had full command of it. One could take him seriously and literally. A flawed being, but we don’t elect angels, we elect human beings. Villain or Saint parlor games are to overplay one’s hand, and tend to turn into the furies of ideological gamesmanship. What he thought and did about Castro, Vietnam, and the CIA, among many other issues, were and are of primacy. His murder will probably always remain a mystery, at least for me. The Why and Who seem forever unanswered. We lost many extraordinary human beings in the 1960s due to political and cultural assassination. Anything can happen. And sometimes it did, and will continue to do so.

    Great discussion Chris. Thank you.

    The invisible hand provides endless, burlesque bounty. Pillbox hat optional … Limo tours only $65 located in downtown Dallas

  • Potter

    Noblesse oblige… a family tradition:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdjY98nIU9w

  • Paul G. Gill, Jr.

    Christopher: I enjoyed listening to “JFK Turns 100” today, but almost choked when your guest said that he believed Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. It should be obvious to anyone who spends a few hours examining the vast literature on the subject that Oswald was, as he lamented after being interrogated by the Dallas police, a patsy. There can be no doubt that Kennedy was taken in a well-planned and executed hit perpetrated by elements of the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, military brass, and Texas oilmen. LBJ, in my opinion, played a central role, as did J Edgar Hoover, who orchestrated the cover up. If you have not already read them, I highly recommend James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable and Phillip Nelson’s LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assasination. There are many other fine works in print that dissect the workings of a vast conspiracy that committed the crime that changed America forever.