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The Kennedy Mystique: Creating Camelot


An exploration of America’s love affair with the Kennedys

WASHINGTON (March 2, 2006)--From the moment of their first Life magazine cover story, the newly engaged John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier grabbed the reins of their public image and never let go. They were young, photogenic, privileged, powerful and utterly enchanting. This spring, National Geographic Books delivers THE KENNEDY MYSTIQUE: Creating Camelot (ISBN 1-4262-0008-0, April 2006, $30), a unique look at how Jack, Jackie, Caroline and John-John came to be truly embraced by the American public as part of its own extended family.

Long before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the Kennedys had an instinctive grasp of the media’s visual magic. As they started a family and a presidency, Jack and Jackie allowed unprecedented access to the details of their lives, encouraging photographers to capture the family’s private moments as well as their public ones -- and the effect was intoxicating. The media-savvy first couple changed forever the art of political image-making and the culture of celebrity.

“Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, the continuously photographed family was the very image of an attractive and affluent lifestyle. Together, their natural and earned assets made for an unbeatable combination, the raw ingredients of the Kennedy mystique,” writes Life magazine picture editor Barbara Baker Burrows.

Illustrated with 150 color and black-and-white photographs, THE KENNEDY MYSTIQUE is an arresting visual and written exploration of the only first family to be enshrined in our collective national iconography. Six chapters, each begun with an essay by Emmy award-winning screenwriter and producer Jon Goodman, delve into the Kennedys’ growing celebrity and media savvy displayed at home and abroad.

Throughout the book, insightful commentary is authored by Letitia Baldrige, Barbara Baker Burrows, Robert Dallek and the late Hugh Sidey, to whom the book is dedicated. These four individuals had unique perspectives as Kennedy insiders and purveyors of the family’s image to the world audience.

Having reported on America’s chief executives for Time and Life magazines since 1957, Sidey was one of America’s foremost observers of the Oval Office. Baldrige served as Jacqueline Kennedy’s social secretary, a role central to the glamorous and elegant entertaining that was the mark of the Kennedy White House. Dallek, an award-winning historian and author of the best-selling JFK biography “An Unfinished Life,” and Burrows, picture editor of Life magazine, frame the creation of Camelot in the larger social and political setting of the 1960s.

In THE KENNEDY MYSTIQUE, National Geographic takes us behind and beyond what first meets the eye. Readers learn that the heart-warming shots of Jack laughing with John-John one Halloween were spontaneous, but the famous “candids” of Jack and Jackie putting the children to bed were staged. Another oft-seen photo of Jack conferring with brother Bobby on the choice of Johnson for vice president masks Bobby’s disapproval with the selection. Both a product of the times and their own orchestration, the Kennedys’ relationship with the camera was interwoven with their personal lives and political successes.

While the book delights with fascinating stories of luxurious state dinners and playful moments with the children, Sidey warns us not to dismiss John Kennedy as anything less than “a solid thinker and man of substance who sought results in politics.” He also notes, “ would be a mistake not to understand the huge importance of imagery in our age of pervasive communication. Long before there was a ringing Inaugural challenge, ’Ask not what you country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country,’ or a Peace Corps, or the successful resolution of the mortally dangerous Cuban missile crisis, there was a Kennedy profile with a strong jaw and thick thatch of hair, and a straight arm that chopped at the air, and a rasping voice echoing across America, ’Let’s get this country moving again.’ That was the Kennedy who engaged millions of politically indifferent Americans.”

Now, more than 40 years later, it is clear that the timeless legacy built upon Kennedy’s energizing politics is ultimately more personal. In the book’s closing chapter, “Frozen in Time,” Goodman writes, “Kennedy exuded a familiarity that let the public feel close to him. And the photographic record that he left behind is a perpetual invitation for new generations of spectators to feel that intimacy with John Kennedy and his family.” Consider yourself invited.


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