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One to Watch: 'The Day Kennedy Died'
November 14, 2013  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment

At this point, 50th anniversary JFK assassination programming is pouring out faster than those chocolates on that old I Love Lucy conveyor belt.

One just can’t keep up with all of them. However, your time would be well-spent watching this one. Smithsonian Channel’s two-hour The Day Kennedy Died, narrated by Kevin Spacey, is a well-made, one-stop look at the cataclysmic events of Nov. 22, 1963. It premieres on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 9 p.m. ET.

There’s one caveat, though. Don’t believe Spacey’s opening declaration that four of the interviewees “have not spoken on camera before.” Technically, that might be somewhat true of Parkland Hospital Dr. Robert McClelland, who’s previously done radio interviews and videotaped presentations that are readily available on youtube.com.

The others -- Clint Hill, Buell Frazier and Ruth Paine -- are all veterans of previous TV interviews. Hill (jumping onto Kennedy's limousine, right), in particular, has been readily available to talk about both his experiences and his lingering guilt as a Secret Service agent primarily assigned to protect Jacqueline Kennedy on that fateful day.

Other than that, British documentary filmmaker Leslie Woodhead (The Hunt for Bin Laden) has done a first-rate job of putting this all together again. Much of the video may be thoroughly familiar by now. Still, the information imparted -- both nuts-and-bolts and anecdotal -- is deftly meshed with the wealth of available images. Add the well-modulated play-by-play from Spacey, lately best known for playing duplicitous House Majority Leader Francis “Frank” Underwood on Netflix’s House of Cards.

Your friendly content provider is old enough to have been in high school French class when news of the shooting first broke. But 50 years down the road, the majority of this film’s potential audience hadn’t yet been born when President John F. Kennedy was murdered in broad daylight while riding with his wife, Jacqueline, in a motorcade that had just reached Dealey Plaza.

Those who remain less than familiar with that day’s chronology of events will find them very vividly re-told in The Day Kennedy Died. It’s an apt companion piece for National Geographic Channel’s previously aired JFK: The Final Hours, which revealingly looked at how the Kennedys spent their time in San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth before Air Force One landed in Dallas. (Final Hours will next be repeated on Friday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. ET)

The Nov. 24 murder of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is also included in The Day Kennedy Died. Former homicide detective James Leavelle, who was escorting Oswald before Jack Ruby pulled the trigger, again makes it clear he had no use for the media who swarmed the Dallas police department in the two days after the assassination.

Leavelle also grilled Oswald, to whom he still seems more favorably disposed. Even though he lied about his activities, Oswald “wasn’t argumentative, actually a very pleasant individual,” Leavelle says.

Dallas Times Herald photographer Bob Jackson, who took the signature picture of Oswald grimacing while Leavelle recoiled, says matter-of-factly, “He fired and I fired. I couldn’t have planned it any better.”

The film’s final words are from Hill, who’s also prominently featured in JFK: The Final Hours. “Things like that just didn’t happen,” he says. “But they did.”

The Day Kennedy Died brings it all home anew, in ways that are both affecting and highly effective.

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I was in seventh grade and Friday PMs in Philly Catholic schools meant odds and ends:Art Appreciation(looking at a photo of yet another Madonna & Child), penmanship in earlier grades or getting the results back from a test.First announcement of Kennedy being shot immediately brought out our rosaries(prayer beads that everyone had stashed in their desk)and heads down.A bit later-the announcement that this Catholic President was dead.Class silently dismissed. I can still see the fallen leaves in the streets and feel the cold dampness(Sat. would be quite rainy).Came home and there was Mom with Uncle Walter on ch. 10(she was an avid viewer of As The World Turns).I remember being disappointed that a new TV show that had captured my imagination,The Great Adventure,would not be seen that night.The show attempted to display important moments in American history in a dramatic fashion. Imagine,a history story was interrupted by real,in the moment ,history.
Nov 14, 2013   |  Reply
Mac, There are some universals, and Catholic school & rosaries are definitely one of them! I was in sophomore English taught by Mr. Gallagher. He was called to the principal's office with all the other teachers, and returned to our class in tears. I don't know what was more shocking: the president being shot or 6'2" Mr. Gallagher in tears. After that day I had a profound, deep respect for Mr. Gallagher, and years later I ran into him and told him so. He seemed pleasantly surprised that a student would even notice such things.

And yes, there was much disappointment & grumbling that tv had been pre-empted for the weekend by news coverage, and just about all the stores in my neighborhood were shuttered for the weekend out of respect for the president. It's really hard to believe it's been 50 years.
Nov 15, 2013
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