Fifty years ago, I threw a copy of the New York Daily News, which then cost five cents, dated November 23, 1963, in a drawer and, outside of infrequently moving it around over the decades that followed, pretty much forgot about it.
So with a bug up my ass, I went out, bought a fitting gold frame, and hung this faded newspaper with its headline, “Kennedy Assassinated” in three inch high letters, and its front page picture of LBJ, Lady Bird and Jackie on the plane back to D.C. with JFK’s body, in my dining room.
All of us who were around for JFK and/or 9/11 define the timeline of our lives by events like these. We know exactly where we were when the news broke. For me, it was in my home room in Wallington High School, back in Jersey. I was a sophomore at the time and at just after 2 we were told over the PA system to return from wherever we were – for me it was my English class – to our home rooms where the principal piped in the news that was being blasted across the airwaves. Soon after, we were given early release and went home where most of us were glued with our families to our TVs for days.
The tragic passing of JFK was more than the death of a President. He was so young, so full of life (though years later we learned how sick he actually was with Addison’s Disease), and when he died and was replaced by a seasoned, old school politician – and an old man – something of our own youth died with him.
Had JFK lived, we might not have become embroiled in Vietnam since he was not terribly keen on expanding our role there. But, contrary to popular belief, neither was he totally gun hoe on civil rights for blacks. Johnson, as we all know, pushed forward on both. Those of us who were draft age at the time also know where that entrenchment in Southeast Asia led us, but remember, had civil rights legislation vigorously promoted by a Texan had not been enacted then, the movements that were born out of the black struggle, the women’s movement and, yes, the gay liberation movement, may not have taken place so dramatically and swept the country as they did. Or may not have happened til years later, if at all. So the ascension of LBJ to the Presidency was, indeed, a mixed blessing.
I also wonder if JFK’s dirty little secrets, like his torrid affair with Hollywood’s goddess Marilyn Monroe, would have remained under wraps under the intense, unrelenting scrutiny of today’s investigative media. Hell, Clinton was nearly thrown out of office for lying about getting his dick sucked; Kennedy, so goes the urban legend, was fucking MM right in the Oval Office. I also think that the Kennedy brothers, including Bobbie, who she was also screwing, had a hand in her supposed “suicide” which may have been orchestrated by B movie actor and brother-in-law Peter Lawford for fear she would make good on her threats of going to the media if JFK didn’t divorce Jackie and marry her. (Sure, Marilyn. What kind of grass were you smokin’? I want some.) Who the public in 1963 would have believed – a dizzy blonde or an adored President – we’ll never know.
One thing’s for sure: that fateful day in Daley Plaza, which if you ever visit you will find is a rather small, confined place, made a difference in all of our lives – including us gay men and women.