Saturday, November 3, 2018

JFK on Broadway

I discovered an interesting confluence of my interests in the mail yesterday.  I received the latest catalog from the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, the Civil War-themed mecca in Chicago.  Occasionally there are items offered which extend into the twentieth century, and that’s what caught my eye.

I found a John F. Kennedy autographed copy of the Broadway Playbill for “The Best Man.”  This play, written by Gore Vidal, is one of my favorites:  I have seen the movie starring Henry Fonda many times and attended the revival on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in 2012, with the stage and even the balcony decked out as a political convention.

The story is about an idealistic but flawed presidential candidate doing battle with a charismatic, media-savvy but essentially unprincipled rival for the presidential nomination. The former is an Adlai Stevenson-like character and the latter is an amalgam of JFK, Nixon and even Joe McCarthy. 

The Playbill featured is for the original Broadway drama, which was performed in 1960.  President-elect Kennedy attended a performance on December 6, one month after the election.  According to this write-up, he sat with Vidal, a person he disliked.  Surely Kennedy saw the unflattering parallel to himself.

The price of the booklet, $3,850, is a bit high for me, but I learned two things from the description. First, I pinpointed the date Kennedy saw the play.   And, second, it mentions that he was originally scheduled to see “Camelot” that night.  Of course, we all know the significance of that play. 

Coincidentally, the performance that night was three years to the day that the issue of Life Magazine was published—shortly after the president’s death—with a cover story equating Camelot with the Kennedy years.  It was the first public mention and reflected an interview a week before between Jackie Kennedy and journalist Teddy White, the author of the article.

The photograph here is of the Playbill for the 2012 performance.  It starred James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, and Candice Bergen.  Stage Door Johnnies swarmed Jones, who plays a dying president, after the show.

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