When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a family was left without a father. A wife without her husband. That’s the scenario behind the 2016 Jackie, and the subject of this week’s episode.
Enjoy this episode? Help support the next one.
About the movie Jackie
Natalie Portman has been nominated for an Oscar three times. The first was a nomination in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. That was in 2005 for the movie Closer.
Then came her first win as she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for 2010’s Black Swan. That’s been her only win to date.
But then in 2017, she was nominated for her performance in the previous year’s biopic about the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Simply titled Jackie, the film was made for a pittance by Hollywood’s standards—$9 million. It’d end up all of that back and then sum, about $14 million, at the box office in the United States alone.
So let’s take a moment to learn more about the iconic inspiration for countless people around the world, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Learn the true story behind Jackie
The movie opens with a closeup shot of Natalie Portman’s version of Jacqueline Kennedy, or Jackie as everyone called her. We don’t really know where she is until a couple moments later when some text shows up to let us know it’s Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in the year 1963.
The camera cuts to Jackie in a house when a taxi pulls up. A man gets out, walks up to the front door and knocks. When Jackie answers, the man says, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
We don’t hear the man’s name here. In fact, we don’t ever hear his name. He’s played by Billy Crudup in the movie and the character doesn’t have a name—he’s simply billed in the credits as The Journalist.
While the specifics of this scene were changed as much as the small details of any film are, what the movie is depicting here actually happened.
The real person that Billy Crudup’s character is based on was a reporter named Theodore H. White. At the time of the movie here, 1963, Theodore was a well-known journalist. He’d earned a name for himself in China where he worked in Chongqing, which was the capital of the Republic of China during World War II.
After the war, he wrote a book called The Mountain Road about his wartime experiences. That book, which was a novel and not a straight-up factual account, was one of many books that made its way into a movie that’s based on a true story.
The movie was released in 1960 and starred Jimmy Stewart and Lisa Lu as it covered the same topic as the book—a group of American soldiers forced to retreat across China as the Japanese military machine advanced.
As if that weren’t enough, Theodore went on to win a coveted Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for writing a book called The Making of the President 1960 that covered the 1960 election. That was the one that made John F. Kennedy the President of the United States.
And there’s plenty more accolades for Theodore H. White, but all of that is to give a little more background on the character we see Billy Crudup playing. The movie doesn’t ever really explain why he’s there. Why him? Why not another journalist? Why not a team of journalists?
Well, thanks to Theodore’s illustrious career, he was the one that Jackie Kennedy invited to her home after her husband’s murder for an exclusive interview. The movie only mentions the year, 1963, but Theodore’s interview with Jackie happened only about a week after John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.
Back in the movie, as Jackie and The Journalist—tell you what, how about since we know the real journalist’s name was Theodore, let’s just call him Theodore even though the movie doesn’t…anyway, back in the movie, Jackie and Theodore are beginning their discussion when we see Natalie Portman’s version of Jackie light up a cigarette.
While this might not seem like a big deal for many people in the 1960s to be smoking, the truth is that Jackie Kennedy did smoke—and she didn’t really want anyone to know about it.
Oh, sure, her close family and friends knew that Jackie was a heavy smoker. So when I say Jackie didn’t want people to know about it, what I mean is that she didn’t want to be photographed smoking.
As we all know, image is a huge factor for politicians. The Kennedys were no different.
As the conversation continues between Natalie Portman’s version of Jackie and Billy Crudup’s character in the movie, we hear a mention of a tour of the White House that Jackie did for CBS.
That’s real. When it aired on February 14th, 1962—Valentine’s Day—it made history as the first time the American public got a look inside the White House on TV.
Popping back into the movie, after hearing about the tour, the movie cuts to some black and white footage. The text on the screen says A Tour of the White House 1961, implying that what we’re watching in the movie is the actual footage from the tour.
Except a little bit into the black and white footage we can see Natalie Portman’s version of Jackie in some of the closeup shots.
So obviously those shots with Natalie Portman weren’t the original footage, but that doesn’t mean it’s all new footage. In fact, a lot of the footage they used in the movie was from the original Tour of the White House special. And the shots that have Natalie Portman in them are also meticulously recreated from real shots in the actual footage.
For example, remember that scene where Natalie’s version of Jackie is standing by a big piano, talking about how it was designed by Franklin Roosevelt with the eagle supports? Well, that’s exactly what the real Jackie Kennedy said in the real tour.
Except, of course, in the real footage it’s the real Jackie Kennedy—so the filmmakers had to swap out those closeup shots with Natalie Portman so it wouldn’t be jarring to have the main character change from the real footage and the movie’s footage.
I’ll make sure to include a link to the real tour in the show notes for this episode over on basedonatruestorypodcast.com. I’d really encourage you to check it out so you can not only see how well the movie did recreating this tour, but how you can see how close Natalie Portman was in her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. It’s spot on. No wonder she was nominated for an Oscar for her role.
Going back to the movie, we’re back to the conversation between Jackie and Theodore. Except instead of being outside, we’re inside now. The conversation turns to the most recent events—the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In the movie, Jackie gives a very detailed and descriptive account of what happened. The shock. The blood…so much blood. After giving this account, Jackie tells Theodore there’s no way she’s going to let him publish all of that.
And that’s true.
Well, to be honest I couldn’t find anything that indicated the real Jackie Kennedy went into that much detail, but it is true that even if she did, Theodore H. White never published a detailed account like that as a part of his story.
Although the movie doesn’t mention it, the whole purpose for the interview we see was for an article that was published in the December 6th, 1963 edition of Life magazine.
While that original article is copyrighted so I can’t share it here, it is available for you to read for free online so I’ll make sure to include a link to that in the show notes for this episode over on basedonatruestorypodcast.com.
But for our story today, even though we don’t really know the true extent of the details that Jackie went into with Theodore, we do know that she was very picky about what was published.
Remember when she didn’t want people to know she smoked because of the image? Well, you can imagine how she felt about her involvement in one of the major events in American history—not to mention the fact that it was the sudden death of her husband.
Oh, and as a little side note, that pink suit we see Natalie Portman’s version of Jackie Kennedy wearing in the movie on that fateful day? That’s very accurate.
That pink, wool Chanel suit has forever cemented itself into history due to the events of that day.
Heading back to the movie’s timeline, after JFK’s death, we see Jackie coming out of the conference room to see John Carroll Lynch’s version of Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in as the new President of the United States while he’s still on Air Force One.
That’s true. In fact, it happened very much like we see in the movie.
Although the movie doesn’t mention how much time has passed, it was exactly two hours and eight minutes after John F. Kennedy was assassinated and exactly 99 minutes after he was pronounced dead that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in while on board Air Force One, making him President Lyndon B. Johnson, or LBJ as we now often refer to him today.
Immediately after swearing in, the new President said, “Now let’s get air bound,” and they were headed back to Washington D.C.
There’s actually a photograph of LBJ getting sworn in and standing next to him is Jackie Kennedy, wearing her pink suit. Well, the photo is black and white, but it’s clear she’s wearing the same pink suit from other color photos before the assassination.
I can’t even begin to imagine the thoughts and emotions running through Jackie’s head as she stood there beside the new President being sworn in. I’ll make sure to add a link to that over on the show’s website.
Oh, and in the movie we see LBJ getting sworn in by a woman. Interestingly, if you look at the credits in the film at the end you can see that woman is played by Vivienne Vernes and her character name is Judge Hugues.
That’s close, but the real person’s name was U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes. I know that’s nitpicky because the movie never really even says her name…which only makes me wonder why they don’t just call her by the real name in the credits.
But then again, the actresses name playing Judge Hughes is really Vivienne Vernes and the credits call her Vivienne Vermes.
So maybe it’s just a misspelling.
One of the next major plot points in the movie is when Jackie decides to put together a funeral procession for her husband. She draws on inspiration from another U.S. President who was assassinated during his time in office—Abraham Lincoln. Then, soon after discussing the procession with an aide, Jackie meets her children for the first time. She has to tell little Caroline that daddy won’t be coming home. He has to go see baby Patrick in heaven so he won’t be lonely.
Such a sad scene.
And sadly, a true one.
Let’s start with the procession.
It is true that Abraham Lincoln had a funeral procession. That was on April 19th, 1865, just four days after he was assassinated. And although the movie doesn’t really go into many details about it, the procession for Lincoln that made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda was just one part in a three-week mourning period that saw Lincoln’s body go from Washington D.C. to where he would be laid to rest in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
As for Jackie having to tell her daughter, Caroline, about her father’s passing, well, I don’t know if it happened exactly like we see in the movie but it is true that John and Jackie Kennedy had a daughter named Caroline. So it stands to reason that Jackie had to have the discussion no parent ever wants to have with their child.
Oh, and the mention of baby Patrick is true, too.
What the movie doesn’t mention, though, is the timeline of when it happened.
You see, it was on August 7th, 1963 when the President and the First Lady Kennedy had their fourth child. Then on August 9th, 1963, little Patrick died. He was alive for 39 hours.
Remember when we learned about how Jackie Kennedy was a smoker earlier? Some historians have debated that perhaps Jackie smoked during her pregnancy, and that contributed to Patrick’s death.
At the time, there’s no way they could’ve known that the President would be joining Patrick just 106 days later.
As a little side note, their first child, Arabella, was stillborn. Then Caroline and John, Jr. and finally Patrick. So of the four children, only two survived childhood and, sadly, John, Jr. passed away in an airplane crash in 1999 so Caroline is the only surviving member of John and Jackie Kennedy’s immediate family as of this recording.
Back in the movie, we see a brief bit of TV footage while we’re in the White House that indicates Lee Harvey Oswald has been killed.
The movie doesn’t really focus too much on this side of the story, but as I’m sure you’re well aware, that’s true. Two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was in police custody when a Dallas-area nightclub owner named Jack Ruby shot Oswald on live TV.
It shocked the nation and only helped fan the fires of Oswald’s involvement. Did Lee Harvey Oswald really kill President Kennedy? Or was he the scapegoat for some larger conspiracy, only to be silenced himself just a couple days later?
Well, that’s a story for another day.
For our story today, the next major plot point in the film comes when Natalie Portman’s version of Jackie mentions the Broadway musical Camelot.
She mentions it to Billy Crudup’s version of The Journalist, even quoting a line from it for a moment:
Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.
The Broadway musical Camelot started in 1960 and was written by Alan Jay Lerner, who based it on a book called The Once and Future King by T.H. White. That’s Terence Hanbury White, not to be confused with Theodore H. White in today’s story. You can learn more about the real King Arthur in our episode covering that movie just a few weeks ago.
The playwright for Camelot, Alan Lerner, was a roommate of John F. Kennedy’s while the two were students at Harvard, and the original cast recording of the musical became one of Kennedy’s favorite things to listen to as he drifted off to sleep.
At least, that’s according to what Jackie told Theodore in the interview. As the real Jackie Kennedy paraphrased the Broadway musical for the Life article:
There’ll be great presidents again … but there will never be another Camelot.
Just like the movie shows, this was something that no one really knew about President Kennedy until after Jackie told Theodore in the interview after his assassination.
Despite this, the whole Camelot-Kennedy link was something that a lot of historians have debated over the years. Many people close to JFK during his Presidency claim they never heard the President talk about the Broadway musical Camelot at all. Even Theodore H. White, the journalist whose article was largely responsible for the connection, would later admit that his mention of Camelot in the article wasn’t exactly true.
But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
At the very end of the movie, Theodore calls his editor to dictate the interview for publication. Then he leaves, bidding Jackie a good night. After this, we see Jackie talking to a priest, explaining what happened in the interview and how maybe now the world will believe in Camelot.
The camera then cuts to a shot of a door in the White House. As the door closes, we see a plaque which says: In this room lived John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, during the two years, ten months, and two days he was President of the United States.
That’s all true.
I couldn’t find anything that proved the priest Jackie talked to was a real person. In the movie he’s played by John Hurt and the character is simply called The Priest. Sort of like The Journalist, although as we learned that was a real person. Was The Priest real, too? Maybe. But he didn’t write a now-famous article afterward, so if he was real he didn’t show up in any of my research.
Speaking of which, it is true that Theodore H. White dictated the interview to his editors at Life. Remember there was no internet back then. And this was an exclusive interview at the request of Jackie Kennedy—surely something that warranted getting sent back to the editors at the home office as quickly as possible. That means not sending it in the mail or even waiting for Theodore to get on a plane and fly it back.
That brings us to the plaque on the door. Was that real? It was.
Before she left the White House for the last time, Jackie Kennedy had that plaque put on the door of the Lincoln Bedroom.
You’ll notice I said, “It was.”
If you were to tour the White House today, you wouldn’t find that plaque. That’s because Pat Nixon, the First Lady for President Richard Nixon, had the plaque removed when they moved into the house in 1969.
So just a moment ago, I mentioned that Theodore H. White later admitted that his mention of Camelot from the Life article wasn’t true. By that, I’m referring to something he wrote in the book called In Search of History: A Personal Adventure that Theodore published in 1978.
In that book, Theodore explained simply that, “The magic Camelot of John F. Kennedy never existed.”
It’d seem the primary reason he wrote that for the Life article was as a favor to a grieving widow. Makes sense.
But that doesn’t change the fact that after Theodore’s article came out in Life magazine, Camelot was and forevermore will be linked to Kennedy’s Presidency.
KEEP LEARNING WITH MORE RESOURCES
- Jackie (2016) – IMDb
- Jackie (2016) – Plot Summary – IMDb
- Jackie (2016 film) – Wikipedia
- “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” by Theodore H. White, Life, 6 December 1963 – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
- Jackie Kennedy Movie: Read the Real LIFE Magazine Interview | Time.com
- LIFE – Google Books
- LIFE Magazine with Theodore White’s article
- ‘Jackie’ Movie True Story: Fact vs. Fiction About Late First Lady After JFK Assassination
- The real Jackie Kennedy: How her glamorous, tragic and scandalous true story outshines new biopic | OregonLive.com
- ‘Jackie,’ art and accuracy in a post-fact world – The Washington Post
- Best Kennedy Books To Read Before The Movie Jackie
- Explosive biography: Jackie Kennedy was set to divorce JFK – NY Daily News
- A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: C. David Heymann: 9780818404726: Amazon.com: Books
- Search – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
- Amazon.com: Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (9781401324254): Jacqueline Kennedy, Michael Beschloss, Caroline Kennedy: Books
- THEODORE WHITE, CHRONICLER OF U.S. POLITICS, IS DEAD AT 71 – NYTimes.com
- Theodore H. White | American historian | Britannica.com
- JFK assassination: Jacqueline Kennedy mourned in public with grace, purpose, and blood on her suit.
- Theodore H. White and Journalism As Illusion: Joyce Hoffmann: 9780826210104: Amazon.com: Books
- Theodore H. White – Wikipedia
- Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years: Cari Beauchamp: 9780307475220: Amazon.com: Books
- Jackie Kennedy’s real White House tour – CBS News
- A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy (Best Quality) – YouTube
- REVEALED: The FBI’s top secret Kennedy files that showed Bobby and Jackie were lovers | Daily Mail Online
- Jacqueline Kennedy’s Struggle After J.F.K.’s Assassination: The Nightmares, Drinking, and Suicidal Thoughts | Vanity Fair
- John F. Kennedy autopsy – Wikipedia
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Lyndon B. Johnson – Wikipedia
- Lyndon B. Johnson Sworn in – 1963 Year In Review – Audio – UPI.com
- Jackie and the Illusion of Truth – Film/TV – The Stranger
- And so the legend of Camelot was born – The FCPA Blog – The FCPA Blog
- JFK: Of Camelot and conspiracy
- COLUMN-JFK: Of Camelot and conspiracy
- Death of a First Lady ; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Dies of Cancer at 64
- COLUMN-JFK: Of Camelot and conspiracy
- JFK: Of Camelot and conspiracy