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From the Hardcover edition.
Jackie Kennedy spoke for four hours, until just past midnight, with "composure," a "calm voice," and "total recall." It was a rambling monologue about the assassination, her late husband's love of history dating from his sickly childhood, and her views on how he should be remembered. She didn't want him immortalized by "bitter" men such as New York Times columnist Arthur Krock and Merriman Smith, the AP White House correspondent. Well versed in the classics, she said she felt "ashamed" that she was unable to come up with a lofty historical metaphor for the Kennedy presidency.
Instead, she told White, her "obsession" was a song from the popular Broadway show Camelot, by Alan Jay Lerner (a JFK friend from boarding school and college) and Frederick Loewe, which opened only weeks after Kennedy was elected. The sentimental musical popularized the legend of the British medieval King Arthur, his wife Queen Guinevere, and the heroic knights of the Round Table. Jackie recounted to White that at night before going to sleep, Jack Kennedy listened to Camelot on his "old Victrola." "I'd get out of bed at night and play it for him when it was so cold getting out of bed," she said. His favorite lines were at the end of the record: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot."
White spent only forty-five minutes writing "For President Kennedy: An Epilogue," a thousand-word reminiscence for Life's December 6 issue. With close editing by Jackie Kennedy (among her numerous alterations, she changed "this was the idea that she wanted to share" to "this was the idea that transfixed her"), the piece set forth the Camelot metaphor that has defined the Kennedy presidency for four decades. At an exhibit of Jackie Kennedy's designer clothing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in 2001 and 2002, the Lerner and Loewe tune played over and over, a soothing loop of background music.
As a child, Jack Kennedy would "devour [stories of] the knights of the Round Table," according to Jackie. After the Wisconsin primary during the 1960 election campaign, he read The King Must Die, by Mary Renault, about the martyrdom of such folk heroes as Arthur in Britain and Roland in France. Given Kennedy's middlebrow fondness for show tunes, it was only natural that in May 1962 Jackie invited Frederick Loewe to a small dinner at the White House. At the President's request, the composer played the score of Camelot on the piano.
Still, many of Kennedy's friends, especially the intellectuals, have tried to dismiss or downplay the Camelot...