Written by: Barbara A. Perry, White Burkett Miller Professor of Ethics and Institutions; Director, Presidential Studies; Co-Chair, Presidential Oral History Program, Miller Center
Valentine’s Day 1962 established First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as a modern TV star when she hosted A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, which was broadcast on all three television networks at the time. The program showcased her restoration of the White House in an effort to recreate its decorative history as accurately as possible. To polite questions posed by veteran CBS correspondent Charles Collingwood, the first lady expounded on every detail as the tour moved from the state rooms on the ground and first floors to the historic chambers upstairs.
If you have seen the movie Jackie, starring Natalie Portman in the title role, you will recall that the film focuses on this triumph in Mrs. Kennedy’s brief tenure as first lady. An estimated three out of four Americans viewed the program, and the United States Information Service released it for televised showings and public screenings in 106 countries, including six behind the Iron Curtain. By today’s standards Mrs. Kennedy’s performance appears a bit stilted, her whispery voice a distraction, but she was an unqualified hit with viewers fifty-five years ago. She received 10,000 fan letters, including one from future First Lady Barbara Bush.
In the final scene of the hour-long documentary, President Kennedy made a cameo appearance in which he praised his wife’s efforts, encouraged visitors to come see the results of her White House project, and slipped in some subtle Cold War rhetoric about the United States’ longevity. (Barbara A. Perry, Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier)
To learn more about the Kennedys on the occasion of the President’s centennial, join us in Boston for “JFK at 100: John F. Kennedy’s Centennial in Historical Context.”