Hollywood remembers JFK on the 50th anniversary of assassination
The upcoming five-disc Blu-ray/DVD release of “JFK 50 Year Commemorative” is more than just a celebration of and look back at the short life of our 35th president. Coming out just a few days before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, the package gives us examples of the way Hollywood remembers the former Massachusetts senator-turned commander in chief: Oliver Stone’s controversial “JFK” (1991) and Cliff Robertson’s starring role as the WWII hero in “PT 109” (1963). It also features three documentaries: “John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums” (1965); last year’s “JFK: To the Brink,” a segment from Oliver Stone’s Showtime series “Untold History of the United States”; and the brand new “JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later,” from director-producer Robert Kline.
Kline, who actually worked his way up from the mail room at MCA to becoming executive vice president of production at 20th Century Fox, and has been writing, directing, and producing TV shows and documentaries, many of them with political subjects, since the mid-1960s, stopped in Boston recently to talk about his contribution to the commemorative box set and about Kennedy.
“I had just moved to New York,” he said when asked where he was when Kennedy was shot. “I was walking on Central Park West, and I passed Vaughn Meader, who had made the comedy album ‘The First Family’ [as the voice of JFK], and he was crying. He had realized that two people died that day, JFK and his own alter-ego, which meant his career. I went back to my apartment and put on the TV, and for the next four days I took to bed. I didn’t recover for a long time.” Aptly, Kline’s first producing credit was for his old TV show “Firing Line.” The episode was titled “The Warren Report: Fact or Fiction?” Many years and many films later, he wrote, directed, and produced the 2008 documentary “The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings,” based on the book by Thomas Maier. The film had its premiere at Boston College.
About two years ago, Kline, who proudly calls himself a John Kennedy Democrat, was having a meeting with the studio heads at Warner Bros.
“I knew that the 50th anniversary was coming up,” he recalled. “So I walk into the office and one of them said, ‘You know, in two years ...’ And I said, ‘That’s why I’m here.’ I wanted to do John Kennedy and the thousand-day period of his presidency, even though it was really only 996 days. So about a year and a half ago, I got on a plane with my wife, who is also my co-producer, and we went to the Kennedy Library and had two archivists assigned to us.” That was the beginning of what would become what’s being marketed as the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” package, which includes the director’s cut (17 minutes longer than the theatrical release) of “JFK” along with presidential photos, a copy of Kennedy’s inaugural address, a book of JFK quotes, a photo book companion to the Stone film, and more.
Kline is thrilled about the fresh footage he got to include in his own documentary. One piece really tickled him.
“I called up the Clinton Library in Little Rock and said, ‘When Bill Clinton was a senior in high school, he went to Washington with the youth group Boys Nation.’ The head of the library said, ‘We’ve got film of it and we’ll give it to you.’ My jaw dropped. To see a high school kid reach out and shake hands with John Kennedy, who was 35th president, and then to become the 42nd president, that’s beyond serendipitous.” Asked to sum up what the whole Collector’s Edition might mean to viewers, Kline said, “For three-plus years a rather remarkable man, who broke from previous generations coming out of WWII, sat in the White House. He was young, he was intellectually curious, he was tough and for me, he was the first American president who spoke of civil rights as a moral issue, not as a legal issue. Even though NASA was created in 1953 under Eisenhower, it was Kennedy who inspired us with it, and Kennedy created the Peace Corps. I think we can always learn from history and those people who moved it.”
“JFK 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition” will be released on Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Nov. 12, and will sell for $59.99.