50 YEARS AGO, THE DAY U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED

THE HUMAN RACE

HOW PEOPLE IN BEVERLY HILLS REACTED 50 YEARS AGO, THE DAY U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED.

(A NOTE WRITTEN BY BOOTS LeBARON TO HIS THREE-YEAR-OLD SON BRANDON ON THE DAY J.F.K. WAS ASSASSINATED)

Dear Brandy: ​It’s 2:55 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.   ​Although it’s the kind of day that makes life worth living — a beautiful blue-sky day in Beverly Hills — a horrifying thing happened in Dallas, Texas just a few hours ago.  John F. Kennedy, President of our country, was killed while traveling in his motorcade in downtown Dallas. ​Just thinking about him, I have a lump in my throat.  I feel like I’ve lost a friend.  We’ve lost a President who not only had the potential to be a great leader, but had a presence on television that made you love him.  Who knows what history holds, but to me and your mom he was the caring, good-guy President. ​Ironically, here I sit in an office at Rogers & Cowan, a large theatrical PR firm in Beverly Hills, writing a story about Cliff Edwards, who was the voice of the famous Walt Disney insect, Jiminy Cricket.  I had interviewed him in his small bungalow on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.  He lay in bed the entire interview.  ​Empty booze bottles were scattered all over the place.  An oil painting of Mickey Mouse, signed by Walt Disney, hung over the mantel.  The pathetic old guy has outlived a vital young leader.  ​I guess that’s show business.    ​The devastating news was brought to me by Paul Bloch, a 24-year-old publicist who works at R&C.  There was a faint smile on his lips when he stuck his head into the room and told Vic Heutschy, another publicist, and I that President Kennedy had been shot.  At first we thought he was making a bad joke.  I remember saying, “Who you kidding, Paul?”  He wasn’t. ​Instantly, I left my Remington — I’m head feature writer at R&C (Actually, I’m the only feature writer) — and walked through the offices.  It’s interesting how people react to tragedy.  Paul had a smile on his lips, but I’m sure he wasn’t smiling inside.   ​When I worked on the police-beat for the Times, covering everything from suicides to homicides, I discovered that every person copes with tragedy differently.  Everybody has their own emotional time clock, and it clangs in different ways. ​As I walked through R&C, alarms were going off right and left.  For example:  Erma Bergstrom, a white-haired secretary in her 60s, continued working with dry eyes, while a young secretary who worked at a desk next to Erma was a pitiful mess.  Her mascara was running, her eyes were bloodshot, and there were tears running down her cheeks.  Trying to blot them with a soiled hanky, she was weeping pathetically.   ​Two other secretaries, Myla Page and Greta Liebowitz, sat in the boss’s (Warren Cowan) office quietly discussing the assassination.  There were no tears, no frowns, no sighs.  It was if they were talking about a movie.  An hour later, Myla’s alarm triggered.  Her lips were quivering, tears were streaming down her face, her nose was pink from blowing.   ​In Teme Brenner’s office (another R&C principal), publicists Dick Israel and Dan Jenkins were sitting in a cloud of despair.  I listened as they discussed the shooting.  It sounded so clinical.  ​Jenkins said that the assassin was probably mentally deranged.  Dick suggested that the Mafia might be the culprits.  After a minute of listening to that bullshit, I got out of there. ​Vic Heutschy, a talented publicist I’ve known since our L.A. High School days, had his own theories:   ​(1)  A professional hit man hired by a foreign country.     (2) A Southerner who’s opposed to the President’s Civil Rights efforts.     (3)  Some “glory nut” who’s out for the notoriety.   ​There’s a lot of sickos in this world, Brandy. ​When I suggested another possibility, an assassin hired by a political party, Vic saw that as preposterous.  Who am I to argue with a UCLA grad? ​Myla just walked by wearing dark glasses covering a set of puffy eyes.       At lunchtime, Paul Block told me he had lost his appetite, so Vic and I left without him.  We walked down Beverly Drive and along Wilshire Boulevard.  We stopped by a brokerage firm to check the stock market.  He had invested in Cinerama Inc.     (more)   Then we visited BOAC where your mother works at the front desk as a ticket agent.  She was all chocked up. Your mom and I had an argument this morning.  I was angry as hell at her.  But after the news about Kennedy, the anger vanished.   ​Funny, I can’t even remember what we were fighting about. ​Vic and I walked across the street to a restaurant.  It was so crowded we went to Blum’s.  There we bumped into Paul.  Apparently his appetite returned because he had an awful lot to eat.   ​Maybe that was his time mechanism registering. ​The streets of Beverly Hills appeared less crowded than usual at lunchtime.  There were very few pedestrians smiling.  One well-dressed middle-age guy was red faced and laughing.  Who knows why? ​After lunch, I left Vic and Paul and walked up Canon Drive to Dr. Hoffman’s office.  He’s a cardiologist.  Two week ago he put me on a diet and told me to start working out.  I lost ten pounds.  I’m down to my fighting weight: 190.   ​When I entered his office, the reception room was filled with older people.  I was the only person under 50.  As the doctor was examining me, he told me he was angry and depressed.  If he knew he could contact all of his patients, he would has closed the office. ​After checking me over, he told me that I’ll live and not to come back.  I stopped at the pharmacy and asked the price of a fancy pack of licorice.  The pharmacist told me have one on him, “no charge.” ​ On the way back to Rogers & Cowan two ladies walked by.  One was wearing a gray fur stole.  Her hands covering her face, she was wracked with sobs.  Trying to comfort her, her companion guided her along the sidewalk.  A lot of people loved John F. Kennedy. ​I was feeling pretty good when I got back to the office.  But when I opened the door, I was hit by gloom.  Mechanisms were triggering right and left.  That was 4:45 p.m. ​Vic, Paul and I talked about Kennedy’s successor.  Not that I am an authority on politics, I said that I was afraid that if Sen. Barry Goldwater became president, we would be in World War III.  I’d probably vote for Nixon ahead of Goldwater or Rockefeller.  Vic agreed about Goldwater.  And if I remember our conversation, he wasn’t impressed with Rockefeller either.  Rockefeller is a mushmouth.  He just doesn’t impress me.  He certainly doesn’t have the appeal that Kennedy had. ​Vice-president Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on the plane and I heard his speech on TV after he landed in Washington D.C.  It was brief and ended with: “I will do the best that I can do.  I ask your help and God’s.”  Nobody in the office was overly optimistic about the future of our country with Johnson at the reins. ​Anyway, Brandy, tomorrow is Saturday and we are going to buy you your first bed.  You’ve been sleeping in a crib for almost three years. ​It’s now 5 p.m.  British Overseas Airways Corp. (BOAC), where your mom works, locked its doors about 1 p.m. today.  But JoAnne   will probably have to work until 5:30 p.m.  Then we’ll pick you up at nursery school and maybe go for dinner at the El Cholo.  How will that be?

​Your Dad, ​Boots

(The J.F.K. story is one of many featured in Boots LeBaron’s new book, THE HUMAN RACE.  The book, available on Amazon/Kindle and contains humorous and inspirational views of life, death, courage, the workplace, spirituality, love, heartbreak and Hollywood as told through interviews, essays and light poetry)

    • Anonymous
    • November 21st, 2013

    Boots, someday I will tell you where I was when pres. Kennedy wAS assassinated, another of my interesting ‘war stories.’

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