FEBRUARY 13, 2012 11:58AM

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 In researching his alternate history of JFK’s assassination, 11/22/63, Stephen King did his homework – reading “a stack of books and articles on the subject almost as tall as I am.”  In researching his non-fiction work on the same subject, Death of a President, my father conducted over 1000 interviews, many made possible by Jackie Kennedy’s approval of the project. The only person who refused to talk to him was Oswald’s widow, Marina. My father told me that she sued him for 10 million dollars – a lot of scratch back in the 60s.

 My father and King came to the same conclusion: that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed Kennedy in Dallas. It’s an unpopular conclusion. A majority of Americans believe otherwise. My father sympathized with people’s need to pin this monumental historic event on something greater than a lone and little man. King mentions my father saying this, but I think it’s best in his own words:

Those who desperately want to believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy have my sympathy. I share their yearning. To employ what may seem an odd metaphor, there is an esthetic principle here. If you put six million dead Jews on one side of a scale and on the other side put the Nazi regime — the greatest gang of criminals ever to seize control of a modern state — you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals.

But if you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn't balance. You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the President's death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something.

A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely. Unfortunately, there is no evidence whatever that there was one. (New York Times, February 5, 1992)

 So where do I stand on the assassination? Truth is, I’ve never paid it much attention. Perhaps that’s because it’s too painful. It’s an event that came close to tearing my family apart. I haven’t studied the volumes of evidence, and supposed evidence supporting one theory or another. So I don’t have much grounds for an informed opinion.


 And in venturing one, I’m sticking my neck out. For all the reasonable people who believe in conspiracy theories – and with that many believers, there must be some - there is a wide fringe that is less than reasonable. Their very obsession with the subject suggests that it might be a lot more about them personally than whatever happened in Dallas so long ago. Some of them are plain nuts, and hounded my father to the day he died. 


 So I should just leave it there. And yet… There are a couple of things that cause me to tend to agree with my dad and Stephen King.


 Back in the seventies I went to a party of fellow Wesleyan Alums at an apartment in Cambridge. It was the home of the AIB –Assassination Inquiry Bureau. A center for the kind of fevered discussion I witnessed that evening – Did you hear the latest on Jack Ruby? The Grassy Knoll? The missing bullet? Those little green men?


 An acquaintance came up to me and said, “So, is it true, what Paul Krassner wrote?” Krassner had written a satirical (?) piece in his magazine, The Realist, about the parts my father supposedly left out of his account of the assassination. They include a scene of Lyndon Johnson on the plane back to Washington from Texas copulating with the wound in JFK’s neck.

I said, ‘No!” frankly, a little pissed off – on behalf of my dad. He never understood counterculture humor (not sure I understood this bit of it either) and had been very upset by Krassner’s piece.


Now the guy from Wesleyan gave me a long look. “Tell me the truth. Was your father in on it too?” Of the conspiracy. Which part? The CIA, Castro, the green men? The assumption being that he’d been bought off to whitewash the truth.

 I mumbled something, then left the party. I thought of all the acid those guys at the AIB had imbibed back at Wesleyan – hey, I ran with the same crowd, took some of the same acid. It’s a drug which certainly lends itself to conspiracy theories. I thought about them sitting in that apartment, dreaming up stuff.  I wondered if they’d even been to Dallas.


 I was certain they hadn’t conducted 1000 interviews, some of them with people who would speak to no one else about the assassination. They hadn’t worked 15 hours a day for 2 ½ years studying that dark day in Texas. 


 I knew my father well enough to know that his honor would have made it impossible for him to be bought off as part of any conspiracy. Given the choice on this between trusting him and a bunch of acidheads, I’m going with him and Stephen King.








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Sorry your dad had to endure such comments after the hard work. We do love our conspiracies.
Even if satire, who would think up such a horrendous image! 

Your respect for your Dad shines through here, LM.
If you are a writer you must subject yourself to opinion. It's a hard egg to crack sometimes and I cannot even imagine what your father went through after the book was published. He did his work and so did King.

I have always read this and that and thought this and the other since the very day I was in Grade 7 and the news came over the loud speaker at school that JFK had been shot.

Being a Canadian we were of course very upset that the USA and the world had suffered such a loss. Unlike the US, it was news for a month and then it went away. Of course my father read every theory book known to mankind and I listened. I still think it had to be more than one involved and why was Jack Ruby shot?

But everyone has their opinions and I will salute your father and yourself for holding up what in the end is probably the truth.

10 million buck lawsuit.. yikes..
Conspiracy theories are a self-sustaining echo chamber, as everything can be made to fit the theory.

I agree with the conclusion you state here.
I can hear the pain, and in it, the truth that glows with respect for your father (despite his shortcomings in your relationship which I read about previously here). You go with your gut on your father...and that's good enough for me.
As a Kennedy historian and tremendous admirer of your father and his work, I thank you so much for this story about the assassination and what its aftermath did to your father, your family, and our country.
I could not even imagine of such a horrendous act as LBJ allegedly did. I will go with your conclusion, Luminous, and thank you for shedding a credible light on that part of history. I'm also very sorry about what your father had gone through and how his Herculean endeavor caused such tremors in your family. Thank you for sharing this part of your father.
Interesting behind the scenes info about a conspiracy theory that does not seem to go away. But in the long run, does it matter much any more? Maybe someday it will be solved, but the fact is that the president died and the country went on, despite the tragedy. That's the way life goes, I guess.
Thank you all for the kind comments - I was really afraid of unleashing the hounds of hell with this one (though they may just be late coming.) 

And Lea - I almost added a last paragraph saying just what you did -what does it matter, especially after all this time?
There are so many theories out there. I saw an incredible documentary about the assassination, but for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it. It points very strongly to a multi-person operation. I don't know if this case will ever be solved. Rated.
It is interesting that you share these behind-the-scenes look, a twist of fate that pulled your family into one of the great mysteries of history. I'm with your conclusions, and I'm also with Lea. What does it matter at this point? We have far greater problems in this world. Thanks, again.
Thank you for sharing this fascinating story and all that went with it.
I like the quote you've provided -- it sums up succinctly the lure of a conspiracy theory, especially when it comes to someone lionized, like JFK. How powerful (and slightly magical) could he have been if a little weasel like Oswald could wipe him out? It would be like reading the Lord of the Ring series but the ending is that Gollum kills Frodo. 

I'm sorry to hear that your father was hounded (and you too, to some degree) by the conclusion, the disappointing conclusion, that is likely nevertheless true. You can't argue with fanatics, though. They enjoy being worked up more than you will ever enjoy being right.
This was quite interesting and fun, comments, too. Linda: Nobody shot Jack Ruby; he died of cancer, 1967.

LMuse: You did not get the title of your own father’s book right; it’s THE Death of a President, not, DEATH OF A PRESIDENT. How could you miss that? Authors are sensitive about such things, because such things are important.

I know you’re blogging, which isn’t journalism, but I think it would improve and expand your blog were you to mention—and address—King’s take-down of your father’s book, in King’s afterword. King cites numerous “factual errors”, and calls your father’s prose “purple” and “turgid”. He ascribes to your father a pay-back hatred of Mrs. Oswald. That’s serious stuff. King knocks your father for getting Marina Oswald’s eyes wrong (“lynx-like” when they were blue). What King did was impeach the integrity of your father’s hard-fought, definitive, explication of JFK’s murder. King, therefore, opened the door for the very nut-cases he says he’s trying to debunk. Curious. Why did King do that? Your father’s book might have been flawed—have you read it?—but it was a study in journalism, which, despite the best efforts of any good reporter, can be flawed. That you are only one degree of separation from the source demands that you give us more.

Sorry for my wanderings, but, I think this calls for more input from you.
Interesting look at the tenor of the times on the conspiracy theories Luminous. I lean to something other than the lone gunman view, as did the Congressional committee that looked at it in the 70s. But credible researchers like Bugliosi, Posner and your father reached a different conclusion. I don't like to delve too deeply as it can be all-consuming. One lawyer I know made it his main hobby for almost 30 years, somewhat like Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.
AN IMPORTANT QUALIFICATION: LMuse just sent me a PM, which is neither here nor there, but in it he shows himself--as do his posts--as a sensitive and fine man. I neglected to say something in my comment, something important, something which those commenting here may not know, especially if they have not read THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT. It is, that S. King made clear in his Afterword that, despite some faults in TDOAP, the writing in the scenes before, during, and right after the murder of JFK was a virtual Zapruder film in words. It is. The writing there is some of the best of the century. Anybody here on OS who hopes to be a writer should read these pages. Even after almost 50 years, after reading it so many times, when I come to that part of William Manchester's narrative, when the presidential limo is moving into the shadow of the Book Depository, and the President and his young wife are waving and smiling, I want to scream, STOP, Go Back. It is as powerful a piece of writing as you'll ever encounter. And yes, that waif, that murderer, Oswald, and only Oswald, was responsible for the murder that followed.
Muse, I think people want death to more mysterious than it is. Elvis faked his death and is working at a Burger King in Pasadena. Michael Jackson in in Dubai, putting on private shows for the King and his family, without a nose. Even plan crashes have to be shot down, they never crash on there own. People have a morbid curiosity about death, I think.

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