POPSUGAR Celebrity

JFK's Pop Culture Legacy

Nov 22 2013 - 3:05am

Turn on your TV or head to the magazine stand this month, and you'll see images of John F. Kennedy. Five decades after his assassination in Dallas, TX, the first celebrity president and his glamorous wife, Jackie [1], still capture America's attention. This Nov. 22 marks exactly 50 years since his death, and the media is not missing a beat, running commemorative specials nonstop. But the love affair with Camelot has been going on since before the tragic fall. Television, after all, helped Kennedy secure the presidency when he dominated the first-ever televised debate. He also inspired various successful albums during his life and in iconic films after. To remember JFK on this anniversary, take a look back at his pop culture legacy.

Based on a True Story

The Kennedy family saga already seems like a movie thanks to their glamour, good looks, and tragic endings. So it's no surprise they've inspired many films on both the big and small screens. Martin Sheen, who also stared as commander in chief on The West Wing, actually got his presidential-part start in the 1983 miniseries Kennedy — The Presidential Years. More recently, James Marsden and Minka Kelly played Jack and Jackie in Lee Daniels' The Butler, while Ginnifer Goodwin [2] and Rob Lowe [3] gave it a run in this year's Killing Kennedy. Plus, Katie Holmes [4] and Greg Kinnear portrayed the first couple in the 2011 miniseries The Kennedys. After all these years, we clearly can't get enough.

Magazine Madness

With young and beautiful British royals capturing the attention of the world, you might think Vanity Fair would finally take a break from America's royalty: the Kennedys. But that's not the case. Between 2003 and 2011, about one-third of VF issues have contained at least one piece [5] written about a Kennedy, written by a Kennedy, or mentioning a Kennedy at least seven times.

First Lady Fascination

People magazine put Jackie Kennedy on the cover of its issue this week, demonstrating her lasting star power. The magazine spoke to her closest aides, who shared details about her grief following the assassination. Fascination with the former first lady has been consistent through the past five decades, especially interest in her private thoughts. In 2011, for example, tapes were released [6] of Jackie discussing her strong opinions about her contemporaries, including Martin Luther King Jr., sister-in-law Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and French leader Charles de Gualle, to much interest.

Documentary Overload

JFK: The Lost Bullet helped kick off this month's JFK documentary blitz on National Geographic. Since then, there have been practically one or more on the air each day looking into every angle imaginable. There's been Nova: Cold Case JFK, The Lost Kennedy Home Movies, JFK: The Final Hours, and Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. On Friday, there will be multiple TV look-backs, including JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide on History and Tom Brokaw Special: Where Were You? on NBC.

As Seen on TV

On season three of Mad Men, viewers get to see just what the characters were doing when they got the news that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Duck Phillips unplugs the TV, Pete and Harry are interrupted when other Sterling Cooper employees bust in to turn on the tube, and little Sally and Bobby Draper can't take their eyes off their own. And poor Margaret Sterling, Roger's daughter, has her wedding [7] day ruined. The 1960s drama brought to life what the assassination must have been like for everyday Americans.

Stranger Than Fiction

The Kennedy assassination has inspired many books — fact, fiction, and speculation — including Stephen King's 11/22/63. The time-travel novel asks and answers the question: what if you could go back in time and stop the assassination? It hit No. 1 on the bestseller list in 2011.

Conspiracy on the Big Screen

Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK stirred up controversy for examining the conspiracy theories surrounding the president's murder. This month, Warner Brothers rereleased the iconic Oscar-winning film in theaters.

Good Friend John

In 1968, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy's brother, Robert Kennedy, the song "Abraham, Martin and John" was written by Dick Holler and recorded by Dion. (Abraham referred to President Lincoln.) The song hit No. 4 in the charts that year.

The lyrics go:
"Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good, they die young."

Before Jon Stewart

Prior to the assassination, Jack and Jackie Kennedy were skewered by the popular comedians of their time, although the political satire was much more gentle then. In 1962, the parody record "First Family" became the fastest-selling album in US history. On it, impersonator Vaughn Meader showed off his well-practiced Massachusetts accent and lampooned the first lady and life in the White House. Soon, Americans across the country knew it by heart.

The Telegenic Candidate

JFK's pop culture legacy began with his run for president. His charisma and young good looks gave him the air of a Hollywood heartthrob and actually helped him politically. In the first-ever televised presidential debate in 1960, the handsome JFK dominated rival Richard Nixon, who appeared pale and sweaty.

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