For Look magazine, it was a great scoop. A month before he was assassinated in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy invited Alan Stanley Tretick, a Look photographer, to the Oval Office to photograph him and his son.
It was a fraught time for the First Family. In August 1963, a child was born six weeks early to the President and the First Lady, a baby boy who died after two days, and the President had grown more attached to his older son: John F. Kennedy Jnr. As the first child born to a sitting president in nearly 80 years, John F. Kennedy Jnr enjoyed a national spotlight throughout his life. He was in utero during his dad’s campaign, and grew up in the White House.
The President had known Tretick since his presidential run in 1960, long before Tretick started working for Look. His access to the entire Kennedy clan was unparalleled and he was once called “President Kennedy’s Boswell.” In January 1962, he profiled JFK and eight other Kennedy siblings and children and later, he took photos of then five-year-old Caroline Kennedy’s “wonderful summer.”
In late August 1962, Tretick asked the President for an intimate photoshoot but scheduling would proved to be a problem. Tretick sent a reminder in early September, but the Cuban Missile Crisis would soon intervene. Another obstacle was Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady, who hated her children being photographed and used for political or publicity purposes. So the president and the photographer conspired to wait until Mrs. Kennedy was out of the country.
Jackie Kennedy later told Tretick about “how impressed the President had been by his persistence and his absolute refusal to give up on the project despite all the delays.” She told Tretick how happy she was that the president and Stanley hadn’t listened to her.
“The President and His Son” was the cover story for Look magazine’s December 3, 1963 issue, which appeared on newsstands four days before the president was assassinated on November 22. The photo of John Kennedy Jr. peering out from a small door in the front of the presidential desk was an instant classic. A copy of the magazine travelled with the First Couple on Air Force One to Dallas.
Alan Stanley Tretick took various other intimate portraits of the First Couple and their family, like the one from the presidential campaign where JFK reached over in the front seat of a convertible to brush the hair out of his wife’s eyes, another campaign where a sea of hands reached up to touch Kennedy standing on the hood of a car, and that of the president driving a golf cart full of Kennedy children and cousins. In the years after the president’s death, he was often invited to accompany Mrs. Kennedy and the children on trips and took additional pictures for Look.