Since the summer of 2007, I have written a monthly column called “Stolf’s Oldies” for a publication in Upstate NY, Fourth Coast Entertainment...this article appeared in the November 2013 issue.
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One purely mathematical fact that may not have occurred to you is that any American alive today, who was alive then, is now 50 years old or older, and that’s about 27% of the population. Here are some other things you may have forgotten, or have never known.
(1) A Black Friday…As sad a day as it was for the nation as a whole, can you imagine the pall it cast over people who were celebrating their birthdays on November 22? These included John Nance Garner, Vice President for 2 terms under FDR…Kennedy had telephoned to congratulate him on his 95th about an hour before the fatal shots were fired. Others were Charles de Gaulle 73, Hoagy Carmichael 64, Rodney Dangerfield 42, actress Geraldine Page 39, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn 31, Monty Python member Terry Gilliam 23, and Billie Jean Moffitt, later King, 20. Also future baseball players Greg Luzinski and Lyman Bostock both 13, Little Steven Van Zandt 13, Jamie Lee Curtis 5, and Mariel Hemingway 2.
(2) Birth…Was anybody famous born that exact day? The only one I know of is Hugh Millen, quarterback for the Rams, Falcon, Pats, and Broncos from 1987-1995. On TV, John Fitzgerald Byers, one of the 3 geeks on the series “The Lone Gunmen,” a spinoff of “The X Files,” was born that day. His parents were going to name him Bertram.
(3) …and Death…Two illustrious authors, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died on 11-22-1963. It should not be forgotten that Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit was also killed that day by Lee Harvey Oswald….in fact that was the crime he was originally arrested for. And in the Boston area, a story that would have made front page news was shunted to the back…3 nuns, siblings no less, died along with their chauffeur when their car plunged into a reservoir. They were returning from their mother’s 88th birthday party.
(4) Suffer the Children…And in a cruel twist of fate, John-John’s 4th birthday was Monday Nov. 25, the day of Kennedy’s funeral…and Caroline, her father called her “Buttons,” turned 6 just 2 days later, on Wednesday Nov. 27.
(5) To Kickoff or Not To…There was a great deal of controversy over NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s decision not to cancel the slate of 7 Sunday football games…the AFL moved its 3 games (Boston and Buffalo were not scheduled) to the end of the season. Rozelle’s reasoning was: “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game. He thrived on competition.” Interestingly enough, and perhaps because no NFL games were televised, attendance figures were unaffected, so the fans did vote with their feet.
(6) “Man, poor Vaughn Meader”…It was reported that comic Lenny Bruce went on with his nightclub act that evening, and that was his first “joke.” Poor taste perhaps, but he was right. Vaughn Meader was the Kennedy voice impersonator who had released a comedy album called “The First Family” late in 1962. It sold 1.2 million copies the first week and eventually almost 8 million, hitting #1 in Billboard magazine. Legend has it the LP was pulled from the shelves in the wake of the assassination, but that seems unlikely. It was already off the charts as of November 15, 1963 after 48 weeks in the Top 150…and the mildly successful follow-up “The First Family Vol. 2” had exited back in September after only 17 weeks. If anything was pulled, it was Meader’s Christmas 45 “St. Nick Visits the White House,” but even that was on a different label, telling me the gimmick had pretty much run its course.
Ironically, he was scheduled to appear live on the “Ed Sullivan Show” that Sunday night, but all regular programming was replaced with news coverage. Subsequent bookings for the Grammy Awards and other shows were also cancelled. He eventually drifted into music, performing with a bluegrass group as Abbott Meader, his actual first name…Vaughn was his middle name.
(7) The Beatles on Hold…If you were home sick from school that Friday, and your mom let you watch TV, you might have seen the “The CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace” that aired at 10AM. And you would have seen a 4-minute report from England about the Beatles, featuring them performing “She Loves You” live, altho CBS overdubbed their studio recording. London bureau chief Alexander Kendrick didn’t think much of them, big surprise…and Walter Cronkite was scheduled to repeat the report that evening, which of course didn’t happen. This was not the first glimpse America had of the Fab 4…that was on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” on Monday of that week, and on ABC news Tuesday.
Would a CBS Evening News appearance that Friday have ignited Beatlemania several months sooner? A re-edited version of the report did air on Dec. 10. Cronkite thought the group was “tawdry-looking…with their crazy singing” but he needed something to pull the audience out of its malaise. And boy did this work! Capital had to move up the release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from mid-January to the day after Christmas…although Ed Sullivan had already signed the boys to their 3 consecutive February 1964 appearances on Oct 31, so that was set…that’s why the networks were bothering to report on the Beatles in the first place. The issue of “Newsweek” on the stands at the time also had a story about them. But still…what if, what if…?
(8) Anybody Out There?…In 2012, a photographer working on a JFK tribute project reportedly obtained a list from Ancestry.com of 79 people born in Dallas on 11-22-1963…among them were John Kennedy Clifton, John Fitzgerald Rodriguez, and Jackie Ken Harris, plus 3 more Johns, a Johnny, and another Jackie.
(9) Dick and Joan?…Just an odd coincidence? Richard Nixon was in Dallas on 11-22-1963. His law firm of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, & Alexander represented Pepsi Cola, and he was in Texas to speak at a bottlers convention Thursday. He always claimed he left Dallas Friday morning, and arrived at Idlewild Airport in New York City about half an hour after Kennedy died. But at least one then current Pepsi executive, general council Harvey Russel, claimed Nixon was at a Friday afternoon board meeting in Dallas that broke up after they heard the news, and he flew out soon thereafter. Oddly enough, actress Joan Crawford was also on the Pepsi board and in town. She was a good friend of Kennedy’s and they chatted briefly Friday morning…she said she joked with him that she had more security than he did, because of all the jewelry she had in her hotel room.
(10) Bob Dylan…Tuesday, November 26 was the day everything was supposed to go “back to normal.” And after a weekend without hockey, St. Lawrence University students were in the mood to listen to a folksinger at the University Center Auditorium that evening. There’s even a page in the Class of 1964 yearbook with photos of the concert…they called him “Bobby Dylan.” 50 years ago…
Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved