Prelude to murder: The Kennedy motorcade just minutes before the assassination in Dallas (Library of Congress)
Called “the crime of the century,” the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy shocked both the nation and the world in 1963. An array of fascinating/obscure facts surround the JFK assassination, including these ten items…
The Zapruder Film That Almost Wasn’t
Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder (1905-1970) captured the JFK assassination on his Model 414 PD 8mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series home movie camera. When Zapruder strolled into his office at the Dal-Tex Building that fateful Friday, eagerly awaiting the President’s motorcade, his secretary, Lillian Rogers, inquired about his movie camera. When told that it was at home, Rogers mildly reprimanded her boss, telling him, “Mr. Z. you march right back there. How many times will you have a crack at color movies of the President?” An amused Zapruder duly turned around and retrieved his camera, later filming the horrific assassination in Dealey Plaza in a 26.6-second color home movie. The Zapruder Film, as it infamously became known, was later sold to Life magazine for $150,000.
Lee Harvey Oswald Goes to the Movies
Following the horror in Dealey Plaza accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) slipped into Dallas’ Texas Theatre without paying, immediately alerting authorities. A double feature was playing that day, War Is Hell (1963) starring Baynes Barron and Michael Bell and Cry of Battle starring Van Heflin and James MacArthur. The former was a Korean War film while the latter was set in the Pacific during World War II. The nervous Oswald, however, was unable to watch much of the twin bill as he was quickly arrested by Dallas Police following a brief, violent struggle.
Lee Harvey Oswald poses with his rifle, pistol and a copy of The Militant in 1963 (PBS)
Breaking JFK Assassination News
United Press International issued a news flash at 12:34 PM Dallas time reporting that three shots had been fired at the Presidential motorcade. At 12:36 PM ABC broke into local programming, becoming the first television network to report the news. Walter Cronkite and CBS News interrupted the soap opera As the World Turns at 12:40 PM, informing their audience of the shooting. By 1 PM Dallas time, over 75 million American adults had learned of the shooting in Dealey Plaza.
Jack Ruby’s Cash and Carry
On Sunday, November 24, 1963, Dallas strip club owner Jack Ruby (1911-1967) murdered Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters while the latter was being transferred to the county jail. Caught on live television, the burly, hat-wearing Ruby lunged forward and delivered a single shot to Oswald’s abdomen. In addition to the .38 caliber revolver used in the crime, Ruby also had in his possession over $2,000 in cash and another $1,000 in the trunk of his car parked directly across the street from a Western Union office. When wrestled to the ground by law enforcement officers, Ruby cried out, “I’m Jack Ruby, you all know me!”
Dallas Police mug shot of Jack Ruby 11/24/63 (Dallas Police Department)
The Sequestered Jury Is Still Out
A bizarre item off the UPI wire appeared in newspapers on Monday, November 25, 1963. Titled “Assassination News Shocks Murder Jury,” the story read: “They walked from four days’ isolation into the numbness of shock. Twelve Milwaukee jurors spent four days behind locked doors to deliberate a second degree murder case. When they reached their verdict Saturday night, Circuit Judge Herbert Steffes told them of President Kennedy’s assassination. ‘No,’ one man uttered; another’s hands flew to his face. They found Andrew Thompson, 28, guilty for the murder of Tommie Love, 29, July 29th. Thompson was sentenced to 25 years in prison.”
Is Daddy There?
John F. Kennedy Jr. (1960-1999) turned three-years-old on November 25, 1963, three days after his father’s assassination in Dallas. Several weeks later John-John, as he was called, talked to Evelyn Lincoln, President Kennedy’s personal secretary, on the telephone. “Mrs. Lincoln?…Is Daddy there?” the youngster innocently asked.
John F. Kennedy Jr. with his father at the White House (John F. Kennedy Library)
Ronald Reagan and the JFK Assassination
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was making his final movie, The Killers (1964), with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Clu Gulager when production came to a halt at Universal City in California because of the assassination. When filming resumed, the future Republican president politely refrained from talking politics on the set, mainly in deference to his fellow cast members, most of whom were Democrats.
Dear Mrs. Kennedy
Over 1.5 million condolence letters were sent to Jackie Kennedy (1929-1994) following her husband’s assassination. And although most of those letters were eventually destroyed, some 200,000 survivors did end up at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. University of New Hampshire history professor Ellen Fitzpatrick pored over that correspondence, later publishing the book Letters to Jackie: Condolences From A Grieving Nation (HarperCollins, 2010). Over 200 never-before-published letters are featured, with the author tracking down and garnering permission from each letter writer for inclusion in the book. One period letter comes from Marilyn Davenport of New York, who wrote Mrs. Kennedy: “I’m just an average American – average mentality, average housewife, average housing, average-size family, a year younger than you and perhaps a little more sensitive than some, but I will always have a warm spot in my heart for both of you as long as I live.”
Executive Action: First JFK Assassination Movie
The first Hollywood movie to dramatize the Kennedy assassination was Executive Action, released by National General Pictures on November 7, 1973 – 15 days prior to the tenth anniversary of JFK’s murder in Dallas. Written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by David Miller, Executive Action starred Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Will Geer as three ultra right-wing members of the military-industrial complex who plot to kill the President in Dallas. One of the film’s more memorable lines comes from Robert Ryan as Foster, who tells his co-conspirators: “In the last two years, the Secret Service has established 149 threats against Kennedy’s life from Texas alone, yet they send him into hostile territory with no more protection than you and I would arrange for a favorite dog.”
Executive Action movie poster from 1973 (Heritage Auction Galleries)
Most Bizarre JFK Conspiracy Theory
Conspiracy theories abound in the Kennedy assassination. Among the alleged culprits: the CIA, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the Cubans, the Russians, organized crime, ultra right-wingers, etc. In 1992, St. Martin’s Press released Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger, alleging that JFK was killed by an accidental discharge from the rifle of a Secret Service agent who had been riding in a car behind the President’s limousine.