This year Thanksgiving fell on November 22, the 49th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. For people over 65, the date is as memorable as September 11. Already the media is preparing for the fiftieth anniversary next year. BilI O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Kennedy, is number one on the best seller list.
The attention is focused on Kennedy’s administration, “Camelot”, and on the day he was killed. Trip in the Dark begins on that day and follows the life of the other victim – John Connally, who was Texas Governor and a lifelong friend of Lyndon Johnson. It assumes that Johnson was behind Kennedy’s assassination, for the reasons stated in earlier blogs, and that Johnson left tapes of his White House phone calls, as did Richard Nixon. The story begins in 1963 and ends in 2001. The book will shortly be released on Amazon.com.
But before going forward it is appropriate to look back to that day, November 22, 1963. It is said that the Kennedy assassination changed America forever. Who were we back then?
We had just been introduced to the Beatles. Their first concert tour in October generated “Beatlemania”. But the biggest hits of 1963 were Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics and Walk the Dog by Rufus Thomas. Tony Bennett won a grammy for record of the year, I Left My Heart In San Francisco.
Stevie Wonder and Joan Baez made their first appearance on the charts. Bob Dylan released his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Its signature song, The Times They Are A’Changin’ became the signature song for a generation.
The number one movie in November 1963 was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a wacky comedy starring an ensemble cast (Jonathan Winters,, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett , Sid Ceasar and Milton Berle). It was replaced in December by Charade, staring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Americans watched Walter Cronkite on CBS News – “The most trusted man in America”. His sign off “And that’s the way it is” was a popular catch phrase. He had succeeded Douglas Edwards as news anchor just seven months before the assassination. Cronkite had been standing at the United Press International wire machine in the CBS newsroom when the bulletin of the shooting came in. He wanted to get on the air immediately, but in those days it took time to set up the cameras. The network was forced to improvise in order to report the story.
Americans were watching As The World Turns. It was 1:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. The exact moment the shots took place. A CBS “bumper slide” broke into the broadcast at 1:40 with a Cronkite voice over. Then the soap opera continued. A Nescafe commercial and an add for the evening’s show Route 66 had just been completed when CBS again broke in with a more complete announcement by Cronkite.
CBS then returned to the soap opera. Since it was recorded live, the cast had continued to perform, unaware of what was happening.
CBS interrupted a Friskies commercial with a third audio announcement from Cronkite, giving more details.
By 2:00 the cameras were ready and Cronkite went on the air. His live coverage was chaotic, with the network attempting to switch from Cronkite to Dallas, where crowds had been waiting for Kennedy at the Dallas Trade Mart., where the network covered the crowds in prayer for the President.
Cronkite continued to anchor the news coverage as best he could, fielding reports of closing of the various stock and commodity exchanges, a telegram from Mrs. Truman stating that her husband, former President Truman, was too upset to make an announcement, and introducing a new young reporter in Texas, Dan Rather, who confirmed that the President was dead. Since the report was not confirmed, Cronkite did not officially announce the death, continuing to report as though the President was still alive.
Cronkite covered other breaking news, various reports regarding the possible assassin, and discussed a recent incident in Dallas,, an attack on Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. At approximately 2:38 P.M. a bulletin came over the wire officially announcing the death.
Americans watched as their most beloved news anchor removed his glasses, wiped tears from his eyes and attempted to regain his composure as he announced the death and the departure of President Johnson from Parkland Hospital.
Two days later, at 2:33 P.M. November 24, Cronkite broke into the coverage of the memorial service in Washington to announce the death of Lee Harvey Oswald.
On November 25, the day of the funeral. Cronkite commented on the momentous events. His words still haunt us:
“It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant. Today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can only lead to violent deeds? This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest. Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed. If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain. That’s the way it is, Monday, November 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night.”
We’re back from a great trip to Houston for the launch of Trip in the Dark, so I’ll interrupt the history with a few comments. the launch was held at River Oaks Bookstore – around the corner from the former home of John Connally and the current home of Oscar Wyatt, Connally’s friend. The manager said Nellie Connally often stopped by the store, so we felt very close to the subject of the book.
The book signing brought together a bunch of Texans who remembered the Gov and who wanted to share their stories. What great stories. Connally’s bankruptcy judge reminisced about the final hearing in Connally’s bankruptcy case. Others remembered Connally sitting outside the bankruptcy court waiting for his hearing, his head in his hands. Others remembered the old wheeler/dealer and some of the tricks he pulled. My friend Marilee Madan remembered a trip to Washington when she was a girl. Connally was their host. He was secretary of the Navy under John Kennedy at that time and she remembered being impressed by his graciousness. So many aspects of the man.
ON the way home from the trip I bought a copy of Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Kennedy”. It’s a great short history of the highlights of the Kennedy administration, but doesn’t really talk a lot about the actual killing. I have to take exception to some of O’Reilly’s statements, though. Especially about Hoover pushing the idea of a conspiracy behind the killing. Hoover oversaw the FBI report that Oswald acted alone [See my June 6 blog]. He made sure the Warren Commission backed up his report. He was not a conspiracy theorist.
One interesting O’Reilly factoid – he was actually part of the assassination investigation. He was about to interview George de Mohrenschildt, a link between Oswald and the Russians, shortly before de Mohrenschildt was to testify before Congress. As he stood at the door he heard a shotgun blast. De Mohrenschildt had taken his own life. Bill – didn’t you begin to suspect a conspiracy right about then???
Back home I watched “JFK” on cable. It’s the story of New Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s investigation of the Kennedy assassination, especially the involvement of New Orleans socialite and alleged CIA agent Clay Shaw. Shaw was unanimously acquitted, but Garrison’s theory is fascinating. The movie is a great watch for conspiracy buffs. Also Garrison’s three books, A heritage of Stone, The Star Spangled Contract and On the Trail of the Assassins. The books and the movie contain intriguing facts about the assassination.
Now my trip to Houston to launch the book is finished. The book signing sold out – a rare feat according to my publisher.
Next week, back to the facts.
Have a great thanksgiving!
This blog is divided into two parts. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t let you publish blogs in date order, so the last blog is at the top.
To follow the research about the Kennedy Assassination that supports the plot of this book, start with the last blog (Conspiracy). The more recent blogs (following this one) tell how I turned the research into a story.
Finally, the book, Trip in the Dark, is ready for release. Next Saturday, November 10 from 12-2 there will be a book launch at River Oaks Bookstore in Houston, Texas. Watch for other book signings and events related to the book on this blog.
Time to celebrate!
It took a long time to create my story. I wrote an entire book, let it sit for a month, and decided it wasn’t good enough. Though it had all the elements of a thriller – a great plot with secret evidence, convincing villains, a real economic crisis wrapped in a political crisis, it didn’t capture the relationship between the bankruptcy lawyer (Tom Nielsen) and Connally (Jake McCarty) in a way that was memorable. To me, that had to be the heart of the story. Tom and Jake needed a real relationship that would make readers believe Tom would be willing to risk everything to help Jake with the tapes. Then the story needed a good ending.
I develop my stories through Gotham Writers Workshop. It’s a great online class for aspiring writers of any genre from blogs to films. I had submitted selections of the book to the class, hoping for comments and inspiration. One day, a classmate was discussing the relationship between Tom and Jake and compared it to the relationship between Nick and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. That was my epiphany. I reread The Great Gatsby and started the book again from scratch. I knew what I wanted the story to “feel like”.
Gatsby was about more than the relationship with Nick and Gatsby of course. It was about a time – the roaring twenties. I wanted to make the book about the Texas of the 1980’s. I needed something besides bankruptcy – a setting like Gatsby’s great home.
I finally settled on Connally’s ranch, the Picosa Ranch. It’s a “dude ranch” today, run by some of Connally’s grandchildren. Back then it was a gathering place for the rich and famous. So I set part of the story there. The ranch was, and is, a special place, not just for its setting but for its “aura”. You can hunt wild African game there -something that’s rather unique to Texas, I think. So of course, there had to be a big game hunt.
It was also a place where deals were made, so there had to be wheeling and dealing there.
The dealing part led to another addition – poker games. My husband Andy Nielsen is an avid poker player. We decided to build part of the plot around some poker games.
Three years after I started, the book had finally come together. Andy read it and got all teary-eyed. I knew I had told a good story. I thought I was finished. It was 2010. I had two years to go before the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination – November 22, 2013. I had plenty of time to get the book to the waiting public.