Kitty Kelley's 'Capturing Camelot'
Growing up fixated on all things Kennedy (especially Jackie's French style and jet-setting lifestyle), I devoured every image, pre, post and during Camelot. To this day, I cherish my collection of commemorative Kennedy magazines dating back to 1964.
Even decades after learning intimate family details that forever altered the myth, I remain insatiable. I really thought I'd seen everything ever published, until now.
Kitty Kelley's poignant and intimate photographic essay, Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys, introduces us to the man behind all those pictures forever pasted into our national family album. Not surprising, Tretick, Kelley's long-time friend was the one responsible for that one of John-John hiding under his father's desk in the Oval Office. It was taken in October of 1963.
"Seventy percent of the photos have never been published before," says Kelley. Has your friendship with Tetrick and seeing his archives changed your views of the family, I asked. After all, this internationally acclaimed author's first celebrity biography was Jackie Oh!, published in 1978 (three years before she met Tretick). "I've always been mesmerized by the Kennedys, a subject I've read alot about but my impression has not changed as much as it was expanded," says Kelley. "I'm much more appreciative of the public's need to embrace the First Family."
Through Kelley, Tretick shows us just how media-savvy both parents were about controlling the image shared with the world of their oh-so-enchanting young family. Air Force One, which was decorated by the First Couple was off- limits because the President "didn't want any cameras around because he said the pictures would come out looking like they were a rich man's plane."
As Joe Alsop said of the President, "Two things make him nervous -- nuns and silly hats.' Tretick managed to capture the two seconds when Kennedy toyed with the idea of putting on a Sioux Indian Nation headdress. He did, however feel quite comfortable in a workman's hard hat because "he appreciated their acceptance of him as one of their own."
Navigating between Pierre Salinger and the First Lady for permission to photograph Caroline and John, Jr. wasn't easy. It took Jackie leaving for Greece for Tretick to finally photograph the President and his young son. You're probably already thinking of that photo, the two of them in silhouette, hand-in-hand walking down the halls of The White House. The Look magazine feature on the President and his son ran December 3, 1963. By then, the young widow was "grateful he had defied her orders and taken the photos." Every one of the 68 Look stories on the Kennedys we owe to Tretick.
And while it wasn't always smooth sailing betwen photographer and family protector, that photo taken in a convertible where Jack brushes away strands of Jackie's hair, was her favorite because her husband was generally so reluctant to show affection in public.
We all now know how debilitating and extensive were the President's health problems. Take another look at all those shots of kids rushing to him from helicopters and across lawns and notice he stops short of lifting them. He couldn't. As Kelley points out, "The dichotomy of this handsome, young, glamorous President ... telling us it would be possible to land a man on the moon ... and then to see how much pain, physical disabilities he lived with."
With the ever-growing extended Kennedy clan, play time at Hyannis Port meant the kids could enjoy their favorite golf cart game, 'run over the photographer.' The photographer didn't mind. While the President loved golf, he did not like being photographed playing it, for fear of reminding the public of Eisenhower.
What's most revealing about Capturing Camelot is the sense of a real family trying to enjoy their private lives in their own style, ever cognizant of how the public image would define their legacy. To see, in real-time how cherished iconic images were created, often finessed during a split second opportunity, by someone so clearly enthralled with his subjects, is a rare sentimental treat. A salute to Kitty Kelley who quietly shines the spotlight on her friend's treasure trove, giving us a richer, more nuanced view of Camelot.
Stanley Tretick died in 1999 at 77, three days after the death of John, Jr.
Meet the author Wednesday, December 5th starting at 6:30 pm at the Georgetown Library (3260 R Street ) for a book signing and reception with Kitty Kelley.
"This is the first book I've written," explains Kelley, "that I'm shamelessly saying, 'Go ahead, buy it.' I was given this gift. I live in Georgetown, the Kennedys lived in Georgetown, and so all the proceeds are being donated to the D.C. Library.
$100 per person, includes a signed copy of the book and donation to the D.C. Public Library Foundation. RSVP to email@example.com or call 202.727.4943.