The President and His Son, 1963

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.

He’s just three years old this month, and sturdy, brown-eyed John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., obviously finds White House life just marvelous. Not that he’s aware of what his father does for a living, or why he gets lifts in helicopters so regularly. Like many a two-year old, he was a late talker. Then, in Hyannis Port this summer, he bloomed-words and ideas bubble out of this small boy, loud and fast. Off and on, John John dashes into the Presidential office with late bulletins from the play-ground. The President called him John John almost from the day he was born, to avoid well-worn nicknames like Jack or Johnny. Anything that flies intrigues JFK, Jr. – planes, rockets, blimps and, oh boy, helicopters, which only six months ago he pronounced “heprecops.” Daddy, who always seems to be flying someplace, is good about bringing home surprises: like a life-sized toy parrot, with a mysterious tape recorder inside. Press a button, and a fatherly voice says with Boston twang,
“My name is Poll Parrot. Would you like to fly with me in my helicopter?” “Hi, Poll Parrot.” answers John John with aplomb. “Would you like a stick of gum?”

Look Magazine, December 3, 1963

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.

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