JFK's In-House Photographer on the White House Years

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The President really benefited from his youth and the children factor—I mean, you never saw Hoover or Roosevelt playing on the floor with their kids. Pictures of President Kennedy bouncing the children on his knee or playing the drums with them made him appear human.

How did you interact with the President?

I worked in the West Wing. I had an office with a desk and chair right underneath the Oval Office.

When the President needed a picture his secretary, Mrs. Lincoln, would push a button that rang in my office—that meant that President Kennedy is standing in the middle of the office waiting for you. I would rush up the stairs into the Oval Office with my superwide Hasselblad camera and take a couple of shots.

He would tolerate two clicks, and after two frames that was it—it was a nice working arrangement, and I didn't overstay my welcome. He was the opposite of President Johnson—I could never take enough pictures to please him.

I took pictures that were on and off the record. Sometimes I would go in with the rest of the press and take pictures for the archive. In other cases visitors would require photographs that were often for autographs

From there on the job just grew.

How much did you interact with the First Lady?

I was at the White House, and [all] she had to do was ask and I would take photos of the kids—pictures with a pony or a sled in the snow, the children on the trampoline, that kind of thing.

When the President went to Europe, Jackie wanted pictures from the whole trip—not just the official stuff.

In the summer of 1963 I began making home movies for the family of their weekends in Hyannis Port, which they would watch the following week.

I even went to a fashion show in New York at Chez Ninon on Jackie's behalf and took photos of all the outfits in the spring collection, so that she wouldn't be exposed to the crowds. She wrote me a note afterward thanking me for my efforts and requesting "please don't leave us for Harper's Bazaar."

I really became part of the family—I was invited on the President's yacht, the Honey Fitz, with the family, guests, and the rest of the crew.

This was the peak of my career, I couldn't go any higher than the White House.

Did Jacqueline Kennedy's past experience as a photographer influence the way in which the media covered the President?

In the early 1950s Jacqueline Bouvier got a job with the Washington Times-Herald as an inquiring photographer. She would go around town and interview prominent people and take their head shots—including Nixon and JFK when they were new members of Congress.

The fact that she had interest in photography—she knew enough to have the pictures taken. She would verbally and in handwritten notes specify when she wanted specific situations captured.

Did you ever meet Marilyn Monroe?

The only time I saw her was when she sang happy birthday to the president at Madison Square Garden. I took that picture. I also went to the after-party at (movie-studio executive) Arthur Krim's place. Everybody was there—Maria Callas, Jimmy Durante, Shirley MacLean. And Marilyn showed up. I got a shot of JFK, Bobby [Kennedy], and Marilyn all in the same frame when they were packed in the library with a whole bunch of other guests.

How did the Kennedys change the perception of America?

Pictures showed the President's youth and charisma—people saw him as America. His beautiful wife and children just fueled the fire.

What is your favorite picture?

One day I was just sitting outside the President's office and I heard all this noise and he waved me in. The children were dancing in the Oval Office and the President was clapping—he was doing fatherly things and the children [were] cavorting and competing for his attention. I snapped 12 frames. That afternoon the President flipped through the pictures and chose one to send to the press—it showed up in every metropolitan daily in the U.S. and around the world.

Where were you when the President was shot?

I was in an open car in the motorcade in Dallas. It was supposed to be a happy weekend, but it was interrupted by three loud shots.

I felt I had lost a brother. He was only three years older than me, and I felt close to him, being that I was in the office with him, within about ten feet, everyday. I think I probably missed him more than most.

On TV: The Kennedy Mystique: Creating Camelot premieres Monday, March 1, at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT on the National Geographic Channel.

Related Stories
JFK's Many Lives and Deaths—40 Years Later
JFK's Island Rescuers Honored at Emotional Reunion
JFK's PT-109 Found, U.S. Navy Confirms
Presidential Yacht Sequoia in Search of a Home

Related Websites
National Geographic Channel
The Kennedy Mystique: Creating Camelot
Search for Kennedy's PT-109—Mysteries of the Deep Interactive Feature
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
PT-109—U.S. Navy Fact Sheet

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