The President's Been Shot

Forty years ago, the assassination of JFK stunned Americans, who vividly recall the day even as they grapple with his complex legacy

President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally ride through the streets of Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy’s assassination. (© CORBIS)

(Continued from page 3)

I can look beyond the assassination and see an administration with enormous ideas and enormous reach and a lack of study and planning to carry them out. I don’t think it was a time of great presidents. He was a good president. His death made him bigger than he was in life.


I never voted for the guy. I was only 13 when he got elected. I was a junior in high school when Kennedy got whacked. I was in the Waverly Theater on Green Mount Avenue in Baltimore watching Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. I had a half-day of school. It was a Friday. I heard it on the way coming out of the movie. The ticket-taker said the president got shot. Then followed four days of nothing but a dead president. They didn’t even show the Colts play. He was the president of the United States, so I didn’t want him murdered. I wanted him to lose the next election. I mean, what did he accomplish? He has been canonized by the media, which I think is a bit unseemly. He was a handsome guy. He had great style. He meant well. It was Lyndon Johnson who got the civil rights movement rolling.He was a patriot and he put his life at risk in World War II, and that’s something to be admired, but I don’t see anything historically significant that he did other than the space program. For the space program, I’d buy him a beer.


I’m a republican, so I wasn’t ready for too much Camelot. My dad, Milward L. Simpson, was elected to the Senate in 1962. I met the president and Jackie at the National Gallery of Art. I was with Mom and Pop. It was like meeting the king, the rock star, the superstar. And then Jacqueline came over. It didn’t matter what party you were in. They were impressive representatives of your country.

I was walking out on a beautiful day heading to Rotary Club here in Cody, Wyoming, and my friend Mel turned to me and said, “The president’s been shot.” I walked home. I returned to the bank where my office was, and Walter Cronkite was on TV. Then I walked home. My wife and our young kids were there. We learned he died, and we all cried. I said to my wife, “I’m overwhelmed. I’m going up the river to fish.” I needed to be alone, walk along the stream banks. I called my dad, and he said, “We’re all stunned. We’re watching the teletype in the Senate Cloak Room.”

What is appalling to this old cowboy is how a guy can be dead and they can reconstruct who he was. To see journalists come in and nose around. The guy is gone, and he can’t say things are out of context. What a country. There’ll never be a hero now. That’s a disgrace. The journalism profession ought to be nailed for that.


I produced and directed the first televised political debate. It was between Kennedy and Nixon. That was the worst night that ever occurred in American politics. It’s the night politicians looked at television and said, “That’s the only way to run for office.” And television looked at politicians and saw a bottomless pit of advertising. From that night on, you can’t get to be an officeholder in America without buying television time, and that means you can’t run for office without promising favors to people who can put up the money for that television time.

I think about that more than the story of the makeup. Kennedy looked like Cary Grant on television. Nixon made the decision not to use the professional makeup artist. He looked like death warmed over. He was not feeling well, and when he got out of the car at the studio, he banged his leg and he was in pain. He didn’t realize how important this night was. He thought it was another campaign stop. Nixon spent the day talking to union workers. Kennedy spent the day resting and preparing.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus