Thursday 18 January 2018

Robert Schmuhl: JFK: elusive in life and unable to escape mystery in death

Paul Dorney took this photo of his parents, Thomas and Mary, in the family home in Walkinstown, Co Dublin, digesting the shock news that JFK had been shot. Paul, who is now 65, says his parents were huge fans of the US president and he vividly remembers where he was when the president died. 'We were all watching television, and Charles Mitchel – the famous newsreader at the time – appeared on the screen out of breath. He had just been given the news, and he had to run the whole length of the corridors to get into the newsroom to announce it.'
Paul Dorney took this photo of his parents, Thomas and Mary, in the family home in Walkinstown, Co Dublin, digesting the shock news that JFK had been shot. Paul, who is now 65, says his parents were huge fans of the US president and he vividly remembers where he was when the president died. 'We were all watching television, and Charles Mitchel – the famous newsreader at the time – appeared on the screen out of breath. He had just been given the news, and he had to run the whole length of the corridors to get into the newsroom to announce it.'

From the moment John Fitzgerald Kennedy took his first steps on the world stage, he challenged observers to figure him out. When he won the White House in 1960 author Norman Mailer published a classic essay about JFK, emphasising in one paragraph his subject's "elusive detachment" as well as his more encompassing "elusiveness".

Both photogenic and telegenic, the young leader dazzled people at home and abroad with his oratory and body language. The wit of a lively, engaged mind found expression through knowing smiles and dancing eyes.

But Kennedy always seemed to signal he wanted to maintain a certain distance. Part of his mystique comes from his deliberate avoidance of stereotypes. In the back-slapping, patter-fuelled precincts of the American Irish in Boston, he was reserved, the antithesis of a hail fellow well met.

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