Excerpted from Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys ($29.99, St Martin's Press)
Of all the stories Stanley told me, I remember him driving me through a ghetto corridor in Washington, D.C., and pointing to a building that looked abandoned to rats.
"See that towel?" he asked, indicating a broken window stuffed with a filthy terry-cloth rag.
"That's where I lived." He shook his head with dismay. "That towel says it all."
It was hard to equate the man wearing a Cartier watch and driving a sleek BMW with ragged poverty, but by then Stanley had traveled a long way from grinding impoverishment. The son of an itinerant salesman and an emotionally unstable mother, he was born Aaron Stanley Tretick, the oldest of three children, on July 21, 1921. He was reared by his mother's parents -- his grandfather was a rabbi who read him the Torah every day, while his pragmatic grandmother tried to steer him toward something her family had never known: financial security. After he graduated from high school, she pushed him to marry the jeweler's daughter.
"When I told my grandmother I wanted to be a photographer, she spat on the floor. 'Pa-tooey on pictures,' she said. 'Bernice has diamonds.'"
"The towel" soon became a kind of shorthand between us, a way to define someone's street cred. One day Stanley ran into Ben Bradlee, then executive editor of The Washington Post, who mentioned in passing that one of his star editors was "a Yalie." Months later The Post was forced to return a Pulitzer, because its prize-winning story edited by that Yalie had been fabricated. Stanley, who prized hardscrabble hustle, did not genuflect to the Ivy League. "Bradlee should've hired himself a towelie," he said, "not a Yalie."
As I began assembling this book from Stanley's photographs and letters and memos, plus the oral history he gave to the John F. Kennedy Library, I came to see "the towel" as a metaphor for his life -- the emblem of what had formed him. Born poor, he became prosperous through hard work and immense talent, which earned him many professional prizes as well as the respect and affection of his peers. Maybe "the towel" was his Rosebud.
The President and First Lady escorted President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia to Blair House, May 3 1961. On the ride back to the White House, the President brushed his wife's hair out of her eyes. She later told the photographer that it was her favorite picture of herself with her husband "because it shows such great affection." © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
© Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, August 21, 1961, at a press briefing following Johnson's trip to Berlin, where Russian Premier Khrushchev had erected a barbed-wire fence to divide East and West. © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Madame de Gaulle, President Kennedy, President de Gaulle, Mrs Kennedy, and Mrs James M. Gavin, wife of the U.S. Ambassador to France, listen to throngs yelling "Jack-ee, Jack-ee." At a press club luncheon, President Kennedy said: "I do not feel that it is inappropriate for me to introduce myself. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy into Paris... and I've enjoyed every minute." © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
After Paris, President and Mrs Kennedy flew to Vienna for a summit conference with Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, June 3, 1961. Requested by JFK, this meeting took place six weeks after his disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which killed 5 Americans and 114 Cuban exiles, leaving hundreds more imprisoned. The mutual distrust and dislike of the two leaders can be seen in this photo. © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
'Big Crowds Cheer Kennedy in Texas' headlined The New York Times, September 13, 1960, during the candidate's two-day tour of the state. © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
John, Jr loved Marine One, his father's "hebrecop", and he and Caroline run to greet the President on his arrival at Camp David, October 12, 1963, where Kennedy spent the weekend with his children while their mother was away. © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
President Kennedy welcomes Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to the United States, November 6, 1961, for a ten day visit. © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Taking his campaign into the Republican territory of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, October 29, 1960, a week before the election, Kennedy, who majored in history at Harvard, recalled the site as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. "Men here knew the deadly meaning of danger," he said, "but they also preserved the bright hope of opportunity." © Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved
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