JACKIE KENNEDY’S EMMY
On St. Valentine’s Day 1962, one out of every three Americans saw A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy. The worldwide audience was over one hundred million.
Writer-Producer Perry Wolff prepared three scripts, all color coded. Pink, if she appeared and would just walk through the rooms while Collingwood narrated. Green, if the first lady wanted to do the interview seated. If she arrived with the green script in hand, we would photograph her and at the end of the interview, we would tape the objects she discussed. The third was the white script, and it was based on a conversation while she walked through the rooms. I wrote the narrator’s questions and her suggested answers.
I sent all three scripts to her press secretary and heard nothing. Mrs. Kennedy entered with a white script in hand. She had marked it up and corrected it considerably. She knew exactly what she wanted to say, and almost everything she said was factually correct. She, host Charles Collingwood and director Franklin Schaffner talked off-camera before each segment, and then they walked through the room under discussion. It took about five minutes to block the movements. Then Frank would roll the cameras and the first take was the last take. She was amazing.
The formal entrance to the White House is on the north side. Just inside the foyer were two benches covered in heavy silk. She was smoking unfiltered Pall Malls. On the bench was an ashtray. I realized how nervous she was when she missed the ashtray and put out the cigarette on the expensive French silk covering. She didn’t notice her mistake, despite the odor. The last room we photographed was next to the Lincoln Bedroom. It was unfinished. Swatches of decorating clothes were pinned to the wall. Then the President entered. He asked Americans to see what his wife had done and invited the children especially to visit the White House the next time they were in Washington.
At eight o’clock that evening, the President and his guests came to the White House screening room. The editing crew had made a rough cut of the shooting. I sat directly behind the presidential couple. When the projection was finished I saw him turn, put his arm around her and look at her with admiration and pride. What I saw in that fleeting moment was the look of love—or at least great admiration—from husband to wife.
It took us several weeks to edit the primitive two-inch tape. There are ninety-nine edits in the finished broadcast and no commercials. Because the broadcast was short by a minute and a half we needed filler. I called Jackie’s press secretary. We arranged a voice-over section on the paintings already donated and a request for money to buy those she wanted. I came to the White House with sound equipment. She read the voice-over copy in a whisper that did not overcome the background noise. I asked her to speak up. She flashed, “This is my normal speaking voice. You will just have to adjust to it.” “Mrs. Kennedy, the voice you are using now is not the voice you used in the recording.” “Oh? I only have one voice, Mr. Wolff.” I saw then what the world would see after the assassination. A steel will enclosed in a velvet glove. She spoke more loudly on the next take.
All three networks carried the tour on the weekend of Valentine’s Day 1963. It made news in every major medium. It also made a profit for CBS, which sold re-broadcast rights to ABC and NBC. A Tour of the White House won all sorts of awards, including an Emmy, a Peabody and a duPont. I was sent to Washington for the ceremony. The Emmy bureaucracy wanted an award winner in the capital to balance the presentations in New York and Hollywood. Lady Bird Johnson accepted for Mrs. Kennedy. I accepted for CBS News and was called to the stage to receive an award certificate. “The statue didn’t arrive on time,” the Emmy representative whispered.
The statuette is now in the TV is OK museum and thehistoryoftv.com