Following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, the White House received 1.5 million letters offering condolences.
A two-hour film, directed by Bill Couturié, who won an Oscar for ‘Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt,’ will be shown on TLC in November. The documentary will feature voice-over readings by celebrities, speaking the words of various folk from all over the nation. The list of celebrities include: Chris Cooper, Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, John Krasinski, Melissa Leo, Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Betty White, and many others.
The film is based on the book, ‘Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation,’ by Ellen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick spent a great deal of research on the book, choosing 250 of the 15,000 letters she went through. She had to contact each individual or their next of kin to obtain permission due to copyright law.
The assassination often marks a period of symbolic change for America. While there had hitherto been assassinations in American history before Kennedy’s death, none perhaps carried as much weight. Many often consider Nov. 22, 1963 as “the day when America lost its innocence.”
What follows underscored this loss of innocence. Two days later Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of killing Kennedy, takes a bullet from Jack Ruby, causing a sense of chaos and uncertainty as President Lyndon Johnson just begins to take power. Over the next few years the Vietnam War and its draft becomes a point of protest. More assassinations follow, with the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
AMC’s show ‘Mad Men’ uses this loss of innocence as a background event in the episode, ‘The Grown Ups,’ where the event signifies a loss of innocence within the central characters. We begin to see that Betty no longer loves Don as they realize the basis for their entire marriage is a series of lies.
The film offers a chance to look beyond the act of assassination itself--and the various conspiracy theory shows which tend to mark the anniversary of Kennedy’s death--with a reflection on how millions of Americans reacted to the tragedy.