In Search of History
At some point in the conversation she had said to me, 'Caroline asked me what kind of prayer should I say? And I told her, "Either Please, God, take care of Daddy, or Please, God, be nice to Daddy."'
What she was saying to me now was: Please, History, be kind to John F. Kennedy. Or, as she said over and over again, don't leave him to the bitter old men to write about.
Out of all this, then, being both a reporter and a friend, I tried to write the story for which Life's editors were waiting in New York. I typed in haste and inner turmoil in a servant's room and a Secret Service man, who had been sleepless for days, burst in on me and snarled, 'For Christ's sake, we need some sleep here.' But I went on; and in forty-five minutes brought out the story she was waiting for, her message that Americans must not forget this man, or this moment we styled 'Camelot.'
Life was waiting, and at 2 A.M. I tried to dictate the story from the wall-hung telephone in the Kennedy kitchen. She came in while I was dictating the story to two of my favorite editors, Ralph Graves and David Maness, who, as good editors, despite a ballooning overtime printing bill, were nonetheless trying to edit and change phrases as I dictated. Maness observed that maybe I had too much of 'Camelot' in the dispatch. Mrs. Kennedy had come in at that moment, having penciled over her copy of the story with her changes; she overheard the editor trying to edit me, who had already so heavily edited her. She shook her head. She wanted Camelot to top the story. Camelot, heroes, fairy tales, legends, were what history was all about. Maness caught the tone in my reply as I insisted this had to be done as Camelot. Catching my stress, he said, 'Hey, is she listening to this now with you?' I muffled the phone from her, went on dictating, and Maness let the story run.
So the epitaph on the Kennedy administration became Camelot—a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls held back.
Which, of course, is a misreading of history. The magic Camelot of John F. Kennedy never existed. Instead, there began in Kennedy's time an effort of government to bring reason to bear on facts which were becoming almost too complicated for human minds to grasp. No Merlins advised John F. Kennedy, no Galahads won high place in his service. The knights of his round table were able, tough, ambitious men, capable of kindness, also capable of error, but as a group more often right than wrong and astonishingly incorruptible. What made them a group and established their companionship was their leader. Of them all, Kennedy was the toughest, the most intelligent, the most attractive—and inside, the least romantic. He was a realistic dealer in men, a master of games who understood the importance of ideas.