John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination on November 22, 1963. Sympathetic, idealistic, courageous, intelligent and witty, “Kennedy brought about extraordinary change during the 1000 days he was President. He also gave our country a new sense of purpose and enthusiasm – much needed at that time,” says Greg Kinnear.
Kennedy was a Harvard graduate and a war hero. After his military service during World War II as torpedo boat commander in the South Pacific, his aspirations turned to politics. His political ambitions stemmed from his father Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who himself had eyed the presidency, but was frustrated in his plans. The father transmitted the political drive to his son Joe Jr. (who died in WWII combat) and then to his son John.
With Joe Sr.’s encouragement and grooming, Kennedy won a seat in Congress representing Massachusetts from 1947 to 1953. He then served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. He married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. Kennedy ran against Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election. In September 1960, millions watched the pair battle it out in a series of television debates. With a well-organized team behind him led by his father and brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, he campaigned tirelessly, defeating Nixon in the closest presidential races in American history. At the age of 43, he became the youngest man elected to the office, as well as the first and only Catholic president.
At his inauguration on January 20, 1961, he delivered his famous ten-minute address that appealed to Americans to unite in the fight against the common enemy of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. He also appealed to the Soviet Union to begin a new quest for peace.
Before politics, John had wanted a career as a writer. He had dabbled in journalism and had turned his college political science thesis into a widely read book called “Why England Slept.” While recovering from spine surgery, he fused his literary and political aspirations and produced a book about political courage in America. “Profiles in Courage” won a Pulitzer Prize in biography in 1957.
Shortly after his election to the presidency, he supported a Cuban rebel attempt to overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castrol which was unsuccessful, and led the Russians to install nuclear weapons on Cuban soil in 1962, triggering the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis was narrowly averted. In August 1963, Kennedy negotiated the first nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in what was seen as a first step towards ending the Cold War. Other events during his tenure were the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, the African American Civil Rights Movement and early events of the Vietnam War.
JFK was a very “open door” president in that White House staff, Cabinet members and even media had easy access to him. He held daily, informal meetings in the Oval Office. He was the first president to hold press conferences in the White House.
“When he was a 30 year old congressman, he was very wooden and awkward in his speeches,” says Kinnear. “As he matured, he grew into the presidency. He developed confidence and a great ability to communicate to crowds of people and more intimately to television. He was the first president to use television to advance his own platforms.”
Kennedy worked hard to appear strong and masculine; therefore he and his staff hid the fact that he suffered from various ailments including Addison’s disease. “The American public didn’t know that John was in absolute acute pain in his lower back most of the time and had been plagued by illness his whole life,” says Kinnear.