Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Jackie Kennedy's Valentine's Day Gift

I don’t know who came up with the timing—probably network executives--but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s tour of the restored White House was aired by CBS on Valentine’s Day 1962.  Mrs. Kennedy narrated the one-hour black-and-white program along with the urbane journalist Charles Collingwood.  President Kennedy joined them at the end.

Mrs. Kennedy was delighted with the efforts that had been undertaken, which were the most extensive in the décor and furnishings at the White House since Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.  Eighty million people—30 percent of all Americans at the time—watched the broadcast, and the First Lady was given an honorary Emmy. 

The reports on the program were glowing.  The New York Times in a front-page story the next day called her “a virtuoso among guides.”  An Associated Press report said, “It was informative, entertaining television at its very best and credit is due largely to the easy, authoritative commentary by Mrs. Kennedy.”   As a result of the broadcast, this thirty-one-year old First Lady’s role in American society was significantly enhanced.

Jacqueline Kennedy placed a high premium on upgrading the executive mansion—highlighting art and history—and making it a living museum.  Among other initiatives, she hired the first White House curator, established a White House Fine Arts Committee, and launched the White House Historical Association.

Some of these developments were highlighted in an extensive cover story in the September 1, 1961 issue of Life magazine.  Following closely after the February 14 televised tour, a grand—if more intimate unveiling—took place at the dinner for Nobel Prize winners and other American intellectuals ten weeks later.  Perhaps the most impressive room on display was the Blue Room, which was restored to the grandeur of President James Monroe’s time.

Perry Wolff, the producer of the program, released a book which was, in effect, an annotated transcript of the Valentine’s Day presentation.

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