Monday, August 13, 2007

Birth of a myth

This is a great story. Jackie Kennedy, a few days after 22nd November, 1963, is speaking to the editor of Life. Who, in one of those bizzare coincidences that will so befit the conspiracy mania about Kennedy's death, is called TH White. Who was the author of The Once and Future King, on which the musical Camelot was based. So did Jackie just improvise on the inspiration of a name?

"When Jack quoted something, it was usually classical. But I'm so ashamed of myself -- all I keep thinking of is this line from a musical comedy. At night, before we'd go to sleep, Jack liked to play some records; and the song he loved most came at the very end of this record. The lines he loved to hear were:

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

Mrs. Kennedy wasn't just idly reminiscing, she had a point to make: "Once, the more I read of history the more bitter I got. For a while I thought history was something that bitter old men wrote. But then I realized history made Jack what he was," she said. "For Jack, history was full of heroes. And if it made him this way -- if it made him see the heroes -- maybe other little boys will see ... Jack had this hero idea of history, the idealistic view." As the slain leader's widow saw it, "There'll be great presidents again ... but there'll never be another Camelot."

Life came out on Tuesday. That night, Camelot was playing at the Chicago Opera House, a huge barn packed with a capacity crowd of over 3,000. "When it came to those lines," said Alan Jay Lerner, the show's author and a friend of Jack Kennedy's since their schooldays at Choate, "there was a sudden wail from the audience. It was not a muffled sob; it was a loud, almost primitive cry of pain. The play stopped, and for almost five minutes everyone in the theatre -- on the stage, in the wings, in the pit and in the audience -- wept without restraint. Camelot had suddenly become the symbol of those 1,000 days when people the world over saw a bright new light of hope shining from the White House. God knows, I would have preferred that history had not become my collaborator."

I remember a similar story told to me by a friend's father. He was in Vienna in 1968 as the Prague Spring began to turn to winter. At a concert with a good number of Czechs in the audience, an encore was demanded. The first notes of Leonore 3 were sounded; the rest were drowned in the roar of the crowd, who accompanied the orchestra to the end of the overture.

(via Ninme)

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