As the author of two well-received biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Are You A Jackie or A Marilyn? and Jackie Style), I watched the development of the History Channel's Kennedy miniseries, and its subsequent hand off to something called the Reelz channel, with great interest. From the outside, having not seen the scripts, it did not look good -- there were reports of JFK in the presidential pool with various secretarial babes, the inevitable touch football games at the compound, Boston-esque accents sliding all over the map, and a distraught Marilyn Monroe cameo.
The late Theodore Sorensen, a Kennedy advisor and speechwriter, who saw an early script called the effort "vindictive" and "malicious." Under the guise of historical revisionism, clearly it seems the producers are hoping to gin up the ratings with a sexier, revved up version of Camelot 2.0 -- as if the original was not glamorous enough, I suppose.
But in spite of a respected (if conservative) producer, historically accurate scripts that (they swear) had been vetted, first rate actors including Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes, and an early 1960s wardrobe, makeup and set design team that had Mad Men fans salivating with anticipation -- the series was canceled when the History Channel announced that the Kennedy docudrama would not appear on its channel.
In a studiously bland statement, they said: "After viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."
Wow. Millions of dollars -- plus creative effort and perhaps some professional reputations -- scuttled as a major production is shelved on the eve of its premiere.
Word has it that Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver stepped in and in a power move that would have made Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy -- and certainly RFK -- proud, ensured that the production would not air in the United States on a major cable network.
Are people surprised this happened? They shouldn't be.
In the latest twist of the Culture Wars (Kennedy style), I think it shows the supremacy of the Eastern establishment over the celebrity mosh pit that has become America these days. Granted this influence is muted and often, it seems, waning. Especially when going up against the seemingly relentless dumbing down of modern American culture -- various housewife Shows, the Palin family media/political/publishing/dance contest juggernaut and Snooki. And since when is "elitist" a dirty word?
But when push comes to shove -- as it does on important issues -- they play hardball.
In fact, I think the shunting aside of the Kennedy miniseries (and even more imporantly, the manner in which it was done: no fingerprints!) shows that the American aristocracy -- with its almost invisible emphasis on manners, decorum and the "done thing" (think: CZ Guest on an average day) still trumps the gilt web of entitlement, crassness and vast buffoonery that defines much of what passes for "talent" these days.
Could this voice of reason -- that words, and images, have power -- possibly be the new Silent Majority?
JFK and Jackie were real people, who led complex, accomplished and yes, at times, heartbreaking, lives. Is there a chance that any docudrama -- let alone one that seems to be reaching for the lurid -- could get the subtlety of their lives?
The intriguing question is how (or why) the miniseries got so far down the road before it was yanked at the last minute. I don't think they would have shot one frame of film, or gotten such a stellar cast, if Jackie were alive. Fortunately, it seems that Caroline and Maria (and -- I daresay -- every Kennedy, Kennedy cousin, Kennedy acolyte and Kennedy family friend who helped in the media assist) did the right thing.
Score one for the good guys.
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