11/26/2013 09:14 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Things You May Not Know About the Kennedy Years

A law school friend of mine joined the Kennedy Administration immediately and let me in on a few things that you probably never read about. On one of them he asked my opinion, since I was working at United Press International, he wanted to know how I thought the press would react if the President named his brother as the Attorney General. I told him the press would be all over him--the idea that the President's brother was the guy picked say yay or nay on the legality of the President's proposals seemed to me abhorrent. Of course, I was all wrong, the press never complained, and as far as know nobody abhorred the appointment.

Shortly later, the same friend called and told me the President had made an offer to Castro. The US would recognize the Castro government, but Castro would have to return to American ownership all the American companies and property that had been seized when he took office. But the President added that Cubans properties or companies which had been acquired through corruption need not be ceded back to their American owners. Since that applied to most of the properties and companies, Castro would've lost very little if he had accepted the President's offer. But Castro turned it down and we have been involved in a cold (sometimes hot) war with the Castros ever since.

The Eisenhower Administration, which was the first to allow Presidential press conferences to be filmed, refused to permit live television coverage. In those days, the film would be delivered to the various networks processed and edited, but could not be aired until the White House informed the nets and the press agencies that everything the President said could be released. That usually took no longer than half an hour, and I can not recall any time that changes were required. JFK put an end to that rigamarole--his press conferences were covered by a network pool crew and could be carried live by television stations throughout the country. The three networks took turns in the press pool and provided the feed to each other. The independent stations, including WGN Chicago, WPIX New York, KCLA in Los Angeles, were locked out. UP/Movietone provided those stations with its news service, and we demanded access. WGN and WPIX were the Irish Catholic favorites in their cities. They appealed to the White House, the White House compelled access, but said we would have to pay the networks for all pooled coverage. The amount set was $50. We had no problem with that.

UP/Movietone made one major contribution to the US and to the United States information agency. We had covered the campaign pretty well and had shot a lot of good film on the campaign and on JFK himself. I had written over film several longer pieces during the campaign and a week before the election, my boss, Bill Higginbotham, had asked if I could include them in a half hour documentary. Higginbotham insisted on an English language version and a Spanish language version. He said that Latin American countries would rejoice in the election of a Catholic President and we could do very well selling the film to them if JFK won.

I had no problem with that, and spent a too short week gathering, editing and finally writing a "documentary" to be sold to our clients all over the world. Movietone had its own recording studio and its own announcers. We did the whole job on site and had a negative ready for printing in ten days. (My only mistake was calling JFK "John Fitzsimmons Kennedy" instead of "John Fitzgerald Kennedy".)
Fortunately nobody noticed.

The USIA had been confident that Richard Nixon would be elected President. The day after the election they came knocking at our door, how quickly could we get them a hundred prints to distribute throughout the world? No problem, we said, Movietone owned the laboratory too. It was very profitable for us, and it saved the USIA guys their jobs. It worked so well, that the USIA commissioned us to do "JFK, The First Year".

In 1961, Pierre Crenesse, the New York correspondent for RTF (French Radio Television), a United Press client, asked us for a film crew to accompany him on a tour of the White House with Jackie Kennedy, who had granted him an interview. We developed the film in New York and the story was magic. President Kennedy's spokesman, Pierre Salinger, writes in his book "With Kennedy", "The interview was an entirely warm and appealing glimpse into the lives and personalities of the President and Mrs. Kennedy." The film was a smash hit on RTF, so good that a year later CBS repeated the tour, this time with Charles Collingwood as the interviewer.

As I remember, everything about the Kennedy White House was first class.