Interview courtesy of the JFK Archives.
Hear more reflections on JFK in the hourlong public radio special, We Knew JFK, from First Person Productions and PRX.
We Knew JFK came into being when independent producer Steve Atlas stumbled, quite by chance, across an extraordinary collection of audio recordings deep in the stacks of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
The recordings were one-on-one interviews, done half a century ago, with people who had known JFK personally.
Supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, these oral histories were conceived by the family of the late President Kennedy shortly after his death, as a different kind of memorial — one that would be constructed not from marble but from personal recollections.
Recorded in most cases within a few years or even months of the president’s death, the interviews evoke the Kennedy era with uncanny immediacy. As in Studs Terkel’s work, the characters who tell the JFK story are a diverse and vivid lot.
Over time, the collection far outstripped the family’s initial expectations. Today it numbers over 1200 interviews, and constitutes perhaps the most extensive oral history collection ever amassed on a single individual.
Princess Grace: Another side of him I remember… well he turned to me suddenly and asked: “Is that a Givenchy you’re wearing?” And I said, “Why how clever of you, Mr. President! However did you know?” “Oh,” he replied, “I’m getting pretty good at it—now that fashion is becoming more important than politics and the press is paying more attention to Jackie’s clothes than to my speeches.
[Music: “Pense a Moi”]
Paul Gallico: Was this the first time that you had met the President?
Princess Grace: Well actually, no. The first time was before he became President, during that year that he was in the hospital in New York with his back. I had been to a dinner party where I had met Mrs. Kennedy and her sister [Lee Bouvier Kennedy] for the first time. They asked me to go to the hospital with them to pay a visit to help cheer him up. They wanted me to go into his room and say I was the new night nurse.
Paul Gallico: Did you?
Princess Grace: Well I hesitated. I was terribly embarrassed. Eventually I was sort of pushed into the room by the two girls. I introduced myself, but he had recognized me at once and couldn’t have been sweeter or more quick to put me at ease.
Paul Gallico: When today you think of the late President Kennedy [John F. Kennedy], what is it that comes to your mind most vividly—or, shall we say, to your heart?
Princess Grace: His youth. He was one of my own generation, so that for the first time in my life I became deeply involved, spiritually, and sympathetically, with the presidency—the office as well as the man. I felt personally involved.
Paul Gallico: Speaking as an American?
Princess Grace: Oh, yes, as a born American but also as the wife of the head of an independent European country. We felt somehow that at last the United States had a leader who, from the point of view of age, appearance, and dynamic personality, genuinely reflected his era. My husband often remarked what a pity it was that a great country like America, which in Europe is still regarded as such a young nation, should be represented seemingly only by old or infirm men.
[Music: Julius Hemphill Sextet “The Hard Blues”]
Princess Grace: From the moment he became President, it seemed as though a wave of excitement ran through all of the young painters, poets, writers and musicians of the United States. Now that someone of their own age was in the White House, there was somehow a better chance for them to be seen or heard.
[Music: “The Hard Blues” continues]
Princess Grace: I remember the luncheon that we were privileged to have at the White House. I kept the menu. I’m one of those people who keep everything. We had soft-shelled crabs and spring lamb and strawberries Romanov. Mrs. Kennedy and I fell into woman talk with a discussion of our children of course—our two Carolines [Caroline Bouvier Kennedy; Princess Caroline]—and our special problems connected with bringing them up. I remember Jacqueline was very upset about that time at the photographers who were hounding the children. She was determined that Caroline and John [John F. Kennedy, Jr.] should be able to get in and out of the White House without being pestered by photographers, or being made constantly aware of their position.
[Music: -Advent Chamber Orchestra “Concerto for 2 Oboes in Fmajor Op9 no3 Allegro”]
Paul Gallico: Do you feel that his life—and death, will have any lasting effect upon international relationships?
Princess Grace: Are you asking me whether I think that President Kennedy died in vain?
Paul Gallico: In a sense, yes.
Princess Grace: Well, it might not seem so today, but I, for one, cannot believe that a man of Mr. Kennedy’s stature and achievements was put upon this earth for no other purpose than to stop an assassin’s bullet. I believe that God allows these certain tragedies to happen in order to emphasize the man and his achievements and to inspire those who follow to have the strength and the will to accomplish his unfulfilled dreams.
[MUSIC: XPURM “BRPLE”]
Executive Producer David Gerlach
Animator Patrick Smith
Audio Producers Amy Drozdowska
Frances Gall “Pense a Moi”
Johnny Ripper “Loading…”
Julius Hemphill “Sextet The Hard Blues”
Advent Chamber Orchestra “Concerto for 2 Oboes in Fmajor op9 No3 Allegro”
Robert L. Knudsen
White House Photographs