The fact anyone else was paying attention came as a surprise to me. I was quietly hoping and expecting he would make it, and sure enough, he did! Still, most people don’t seem to follow obscure presidential trivia the way I do, so I assumed. Apparently this was an incorrect assumption on my part, as on March 22 such trivia proved to be quite a news story!
Aware the date was coming in later March, I was holding out until today, April 1, to truly mark the record. After all, this is the day the newly designated longest-living U.S. president in history marks his HALF birthday. That’s right– Jimmy Carter is now 94 AND A HALF years old, no longer sharing precisely the same age at which the runner-up to the title passed on. George H.W. Bush, of course, died last November at “just” 94. And in six months, we’ll have another presidential record yet!
Meanwhile, the first lady age record won’t soon be broken.
Countless remarkable images have filled our televisions, devices and publications throughout this past solemn week of remembrance, with history both celebrated and made. Three photos stand out as my personal favorites among all others, capturing rare yet powerful moments for the historical record, each of which speaks volumes for itself. RIP 41.
A big record was broken today among U.S presidents, and it has nothing to do with North Korea. John Adams lived to age 90, and so did Herbert Hoover more than a century later. Ronald Reagan made it to 93, as did Gerald Ford, who for a while became the oldest living former president in history. No U.S president has ever made it to his 94th birthday, until today. Happy 94th to President George H.W. Bush! Jimmy Carter will of course join him later this year.
Equally if not more impressive than a 25-point comeback to victory in Super Bowl LI, is the executor of the coin toss that got it all underway. A welcome and nostalgic appearance preceded the game as the elder Bush couple took the field, 92-year-old George H.W. and 91-year-old Barbara of course, the only living former president and first lady absent from this year’s inauguration. Fittingly enough, their latest public appearance came here two weeks later, a “super moment” indeed.
Among the many, one remarkable first of President Donald Trump’s inauguration stood out, to me at least. That is, a former president attended the event exactly 40 years to the day after taking his own oath of office. The longevity of Jimmy Carter calls for acknowledgement, even while he has more than a year to go before becoming the oldest-living president in history.
The past 24 hours have retriggered similar conversations to those many of us were having exactly 16 years ago at this time. The question now might well be: Will, and should, this system survive exactly as is for another century? Some thought here is warranted.
Very recently in fact, the subject of longest-living first ladies came up in conversation. Mindful of another birthday this summer, I realized it was time right about now to check the number of calendar days and see if the title of “second longest-living first lady” had changed hands.
Then came the news, before I completed that check, that Nancy Reagan passed away. Already well aware she was 94, or rather 94 1/2, the question for me remained as to the lifetime ranking with which she departed. After all, Lady Bird Johnson died in 2007 at age 94, or rather 94 1/2, while Mrs. Reagan was to turn 95 in July. Which one of these two long-living presidential wives lived the greater number of days, remained for me to investigate.
The answer of course came quickly and easily. Nancy Reagan was, and is, the second longest-living first lady in U.S. history, though not by much. Only in late January of this year, merely six weeks ago, did the length of her life surpass that of Lady Bird’s. As such, the perhaps obscure title did in fact change hands, as I had before today suspected.
Naturally I speak only of “second longest-living,” as the number one spot in this regard was not about to be overtaken any time soon. The longest living first lady has remained the same for more than 40 years now, as Mrs. Reagan was just beginning to close in on what still would have been a significant span of time. Now with her passing, it will be at least another seven years before another first lady breaks the record of life longevity.
In any event, my penchant for numerical presidential trivia aside, Nancy Reagan lived one long and complete life. In the Hollywood sense, she joins Abe Vigoda and George Kennedy in what’s shaping up early on to be a year of “senior loss.” I’ve always fondly recalled introducing myself to the first lady at a Christmas party in 2003, myself red-blazer clad of course. This personal memory stands out clearly in my mind today, polite as she proved herself. RIP Mrs. Reagan.
At the end of the 20th century, only two U.S. presidents in history had reached 90 years of age, in far different eras at that. By the start of 2014, this number had risen to four, then a few months ago to five, and today the total hits six. Remarkable all the more are four in a row; that is, the four additional nonagenarian commanders-in-chief of the 21st century held office consecutively.
While what’s called “the world’s hardest job” clearly ages the incumbent, it doesn’t seem to be shortening his lifespan these days. Then again, it’s worth noting that all but one of these multi-party six were one-termers. Furthermore, this distinction won’t see number seven for quite a while yet.
The first of two U.S. presidents to turn 90 this year hits the milestone on June 12, with his wife exactly one year behind. As we’ll see later this year, presidential longevity clearly remains a bipartisan matter, crazy socks or not! Click here to see GHW’s 90th birthday skydive. (Photo: Al Torres)
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, almost 93, visited her husband’s resting place on this day, the tenth anniversary of his death. Mrs. Reagan leads the notable recent longevity of first ladies as now the oldest living, though with years yet to go to become the longest living. (Photo: AP)
Consider deadlock on civil rights in 1964, followed by no further U.S. involvement in Vietnam after 1965. Suppose the vice president had been forced from office well before the next election, triggering the selection of his replacement. And think about the first lady’s calculated next move after eight years in the White House.
Exactly fifty years since the assassination of President Kennedy, today marks not only a fitting remembrance of what was, but also a fascinating exploration of what might have been. Aiding in this rich intellectual journey, author Jeff Greenfield has done it again, presenting us with his newest and well-timed work of alternate history, “If Kennedy Lived.”
It all comes down to one meteorological circumstance which ultimately changes everything, from split-second reactions to long-term policy decisions and every ironic turn of fate along the way. All the while, readers are invited via Mr. Greenfield’s plausible scenarios to ponder one alternative evolution of 1960s history, including the momentum of the growing counterculture and the administration’s tactics to quell certain scandal. The ironies abound, including chuckle-inducing quotes from private citizen Richard Nixon and a young Al Gore, Jr., among numerous other key players who either emerge or disappear as alternate developments dictate.
Fifty years ago today the world changed in an instant. Imagine, at least for this quick yet captivating read, if that instant had produced a different result, well beyond the immediate events of November 22, 1963.
President Obama, first lady Michelle, former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pay their respects at a wreath laying ceremony in honor of President John F. Kennedy today at his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. Friday marks the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. (Photo: IIP Digital)
With the 50th anniversary upon us, all sorts of questions remain. New and old, sensible and outlandish, each is propelled by a keen and unyielding fascination surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Now feeding our collective, unsatisfied appetite is a captivating series of National Geographic documentaries once again dissecting the already-dissected moments of November 22, 1963, including JFK: The Lost Bullet,The Lost JFK Tapesand JFK: The Final Hours. Each of these productions turns out at least a few morsels of related and not-so-related facts that we might not have heard before but still find interesting. (I for one never knew eight-year-old actor-to-be Bill Paxton saw and photographed the president in Fort Worth that morning.)
Then we have the newest and much-promoted dramatization of Jack & Jackie Kennedy’s presidential life and final moments together, in NGC’s film adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s novel Killing Kennedy. While the often-predictable Rob Lowe manages to pull off a decent portrayal of JFK, Ginnifer Goodwin’s re-creation of the first lady comes across– to me at least– as weak and unconvincing. (I’ve seen better “Jackies” over the years, thank you.) Altogether, the apparently common sentiment holds its ground, that this movie tells us nothing new, and definitely nothing outside the boundaries of the official yet increasingly disputed lone gunman theory.
Nevertheless, Killing Kennedy is worth watching for the sake of another welcome trip along that same old path of nostalgia that most Americans have traveled once, twice or 100 times over the past half century. The “newest” element to this so-called bland and unimaginative account comes in the powerful portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald, played by the talented Will Rothhaar. In my initial opinion, he carries this film.
Watch and consider for yourself. Take in the sprinklings of history atop everything you no doubt already know. And watch the documentaries first, for this is where the real quenching of our fascination lies after all, even as all those questions– under whatever descriptor they fall– stack up faster than they might ever have answers.
For better or not-so-better, any moment in political history occurs just once, without a retake, yielding an indelible result. Still, it’s often fascinating to consider alternate outcomes– both immediate and long-term– especially with the help of a deeply insightful book on the subject.
Suppose President-elect John F. Kennedy had been killed before his inauguration, as truly came close to happening one December morning. Say the gunman in the Ambassador Hotel on that June night had been tackled before hitting his target, allowing Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign to proceed. And even without an act of violence or death, consider how words alone could have gotten President Gerald Ford elected in his own right– and from there, who would have succeeded him.
Historians, academicians and philosophers often like to ponder the age-old question, “What if?” And for the rest of us who like to ask it as well, reporter/author Jeff Greenfield presents a captivating 400 pages to feed such an appetite, adding to numerous works of alternate history while showcasing an extensive and unique cast of characters. As fact launches into fiction, we the readers are invited to contemplate, through good and bad, how history might have been written. The entire “if, then” logic structure rings loudly, hypothetically enough. Let’s just say the film in my last post clearly would not have been made!
“Then Everything Changed” proves a fascinating and reflective read for anyone who appreciates how it really was, while craving a glimpse into how it could have occurred. “It” is far more than merely who holds office; the everyday media and social divergences are intertwined. I’m thrilled to have picked up this two-year-old book, in the end leaving me satisfied that some pieces of history happened as they did– while wishing others might have turned out differently. Ironically enough, some very memorable events that defined our reality still took place in Mr. Greenfield’s alternative scenario, just at different times among other players. Such compelling instances simply strike nerves with all the more impact on the reality vs. fantasy balance. And of course, in scenarios both real and imagined, Bugs Bunny always does beat Daffy Duck.
Ultimately, from tragedy, loss and failure to peace, victory and opportunity, with all that might have happened and the rest that never did, “Then Everything Changed” concludes with a final paragraph demonstrating the mark of a thoughtful and well-balanced author. That is, I laughed out loud. I bet you will too!
“The Nixon presidency is endlessly fascinating, and his taped conversations, even now, are shocking, revealing and addictive.” (7/31/13)
Two out of three’s not bad, so I contemplated in reaction to these words in The New York Times.
The “new” audio-visual elements are indeed revealing, launching any interested viewer onto a potentially addictive historical journey. Shocking, no. Still, despite its expected and obvious editorial slant coupled with some peculiar musical selections, “Our Nixon” is well worth the watch.
Then, what Ben Stein has to say seems well worth the read. After all, there’s of course more than one viewpoint to consider along the journey, whatever descriptive terms one might employ.
Through his humble and straightforward narrative style, I can hear her breathy voice calling his name, be it in amusement, annoyance, or a unique combination of the two. The deeply personal recounting of so many private yet fascinating moments yields a refreshing portrait of a woman subjected to so many portraits– in this case one without drama, sensation or agenda. Clint Hill takes us, his readers, on a one-on-one historical journey that only he can tell. And though “that day” came more than a decade before my birth, his frank and detailed words drew me in close enough to feel as if I were right there alongside him on November 22, 1963.
For all that’s been written about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy over the past half century, only the U.S. Secret Service Agent assigned to her detail holds the otherwise unrecorded memories to write as he does. And Mr. Hill writes well in “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” despite a few cases of grammatical usage that his proofreader apparently missed. She returns to life throughout these pages as calculating yet reasonable, demanding yet understanding, mischievous yet respectful– and the descriptors can easily go on. As her voice speaks through the pages, above all else I imagine her picking up a copy from beyond, glancing at it with a stunned yet captivated expression, and in disbelief that yet another entire book has been written about her, immediately calling out, “Oh, Mr. Hill…”
“Just as the public tends to view presidents more kindly once they’ve left office, ex-presidents, too, tend to soften their judgments – or at least their public comments – with time.” (Huffington Post, 25 April 2013)
Softened or not, I always appreciate the rare occasion on which to view all living former U.S. presidents, among the current, in the same eyeshot. Today’s gathering reminds me of another classic below from 1994, except in the present case no death was involved. Naturally, some change with time more than others.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, how the Electoral College has changed over the past decade, and how it has not, remains a complex yet interesting study. Click here to examine Politico’s 2012 interactive results map, breaking down the red and blue landscape across every state and county. To borrow the line yet again, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
On this eve of former President Jimmy Carter’s 88th birthday, a bit of perhaps overlooked presidential trivia is in order. Earlier this month, on September 6 to be exact, Carter broke the record for living the longest post-presidential life. This is not to be confused with the U.S. president who lived the longest life, but rather he who has lived the most time since leaving office. Until this September, the record was held by our 31st president, Herbert Hoover, who left office in 1933 and died in 1964. Now turning another year older but whether living or not, President Carter will hold this quiet distinction for at least the next 20 years!
Former President Jimmy Carter turns 88 on October 1, 2012.
I know. I miss him too. And what a wonderful trip back in time it was, almost as if we were watching one of his State of the Union addresses, seeing him once again in his element where he always shines at his best. Love him or less-than-love him, align yourself with his party or not, agree with his policies and principles or beg to differ, you’ll be hard-pressed to argue this tried and simple fact: There’s only one Bill Clinton.
His charisma, magnetism and power of persuasion– woven with his undisputable intellect— remain unmatched. He speaks, and continues to speak, for a relatively long stretch of time. But we know this. It’s Bill, after all. His presentation last night at the Democratic National Convention was no deviation from his expected and accepted style and use of time. President Clinton was back– if but for one night, for now at least— stronger, more commanding and even funnier than ever. Only he, the master orator, can do what he does the way he does it, even better after 20 years. This is precisely what you have to love– if not love– about #42.
In addition to the expected widespread liberal praise, agreement with the president’s viewpoint is coming even from conservative sources. Former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, who more than two years ago wrote the conservative case for gay marriage, wasted no time yesterday in reminding us Mr. Obama has it right. In fact, Mr. Olson goes on to articulate precisely the argument that too often seems to be forgotten:
“How many citizens would have voted to continue separate-but-equal schools, if you’d put that to a vote in 1954? In fact, in 1967, there were 14 states that prohibited interracial marriages, indeed made interracial marriages a felony, and the Supreme Court struck down those laws unanimously in 1967.” (Avlon, DB 5/9/12)
It’s been said before and will be said again: Civil rights, for any group at any time, need not be put to a popular vote. Why gay marriage continues to be left to “the will of the people” certainly baffles many of us. Nevertheless, President Obama has now placed himself in the position of initiating some real and permanent change on this matter, while perhaps drawing on the experience of LBJ. After all, the question that rang true in 1963 should certainly carry its weight in most any circumstance.
Regardless of what comes next, at least Mr. Obama is no longer “evolving.” And in spite of all the tension, argument and debate, we always need a good chuckle!
She never sat down with Barbara Walters and spilled her guts. There was no public airing of her dirty laundry. To her great credit, she maintained dignity and privacy throughout her life, granting no interviews. As such, never did she create the typical high-profile media event akin to so many others– one that’s scheduled, promoted, sensationalized, over-analyzed and ultimately replayed time and again. She simply did not share herself with us in the way we might have expected and enjoyed.
The closest she ever came– and the most we’ll ever get– exists in the form of her audio recordings of 1964, made public for the first time just this past fall, as I then enthusiastically reported. Just months after the indelible event of November 22, 1963 that changed her life, the country and the world, the recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy spoke on tape with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., providing a rare yet quite extensive glimpse into her feelings, outlooks and recollections of not only her time in the White House– among everyone and everything that came with it– but also of the rigorous path to getting there, along with the seemingly countless figures by whom she was constantly surrounded.
I’m pleased to say I’ve now had the pleasure of hearing this insightful audio collection in its entirety, and not a moment too soon. Five months ago my words were based solely on the small pieces of these recordings that the media reported. As with most material of particular interest, however, it’s far better to listen, learn and judge for ourselves. This I’ve done, leaving me satisfied, informed and rewarded.
Much ground is covered, with numerous names, dates and places to recall and keep track of while listening to Mrs. Kennedy speak. Fortunately the book which accompanies the CD recordings presents her words verbatim, while within the pages annotates the individual or circumstance being discussed. This makes for a series of fascinating and thorough history lessons.
Granted, some topics of conversation prove more interesting than others. This is a never-before-heard Jackie, wonderfully raw and unedited. With this come her often-fragmented thoughts, her mid-sentence changes of course, and her occasional long-windedness. Still, it’s precisely these elements that make these recordings so compelling. After all, at no other time have we heard her in this manner. Unlike her 1962 White House Tour, or her 1964 thank you to the nation, we’re treated to the real Jacqueline Kennedy, free of script, rehearsal or cue.
For anyone who appreciates the many varied players and events of the Kennedy administration– and of course admires Jackie herself– this audio collection is not to be passed up. My copy will remain with me for years to come, and maybe even find its way into my lending library!
“More recently the trend has been greater longevity. From Herbert Hoover through Reagan, excluding John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated, seven of the eight presidents lived longer than expected, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died at 63 but served for 12 years. Their average age at inauguration was 58.9 years and average expected age of death, assuming presidents aged twice as fast while in office, was 68.9 years. The average actual age at death was 81.6 years. The exception was Lyndon B. Johnson who died of heart disease at 64.” (NYT, 12/6/11)
‘Tis indeed a remarkable truth, with thanks to The New York Times today for speaking the numerical language with which many of us presidential historians are quite familiar. After all, with Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both currently living at age 87, after seeing Presidents Ford and Reagan survive to 93– with the presidential longevity record going to Ford– it’s definitely safe to say the job itself does not kill the occupant, at least not by natural causes. LBJ remains the closest exception, expiring a health-plagued four years after leaving office, almost to the day. Nixon, for the additional unmatched stress he endured, lived on almost 20 years past his presidency and at least made it past age 80. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush of course define the “younger generation” of former presidents, while both now 65 have a while to catch up to their predecessors.
This phenomenon of recent presidential longevity clearly extends to spouses. After all, with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who died at 64, first ladies of the past half-century have lived into their 80s if not 90s– save that “younger generation” of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush who have yet to get there of course.
Suffice to say, this sort of numerology always makes for interesting conversation, especially going back more than 50 years. Historical trivia it is after all, of the presidential ages.
The editorials are pouring in, as predicted. Plenty of journalists, bloggers and assorted voices have an opinion on the opinions of Jacqueline Kennedy (pre-Onassis). I don’t blame them, as I’m one among them after all. Jackie is, to say the least, an immortal icon of unmatched mystique.
She was also, may I say again, human. First Lady Kennedy held outlooks and impressions of everything and everyone, not from the same viewpoint as the rest of us, but still– just like the rest of us. As such, nothing revealed this week via the release of her 1964 audio recordings strikes me as “shocking.” On the contrary, I find her words refreshing, though-provoking and of course, amusing!
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis lived on for 30 years after making these tapes, moving through three decades of life in which her positions grew and evolved, again not like the rest of us, but– just like the rest of us. While she may well be disagreed with, I see no reason for outright criticism.
For all the “grace, fortitude and civility” afforded to her over the past 50 years, Jackie is now, posthumously, more human than ever before. After decades of her self-imposed guardedness that lasted well beyond her death, we’re now hearing from her directly and candidly. While this may be “shocking” to some– or worse yet, “less than flattering,” we finally have a more complete picture of a beautiful, captivating– and imperfect– human being, just like the rest of us, but not.
She was soft-spoken and never granted interviews. This doesn’t mean she lacked opinions, however, because as we are soon about to see, she most certainly did! The late great Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is posthumously making headlines 17 years after her death and a half century after becoming first lady.
The privilege of hearing some of her more candid remarks is finally coming to us, in the form of 1964 audio tape recordings that are now becoming available to the public for the first time in history. While naturally I can’t wait to hear them, a few humorous tidbits have already leaked out. And to think I already own a Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis quote book, which apparently will need a new edition!
A figure of extraordinary allure and unparalleled style speaks to us “now” from a time long past, revealing her refreshing humanity in the face of the often seemingly unrefreshing position she held. As much as I’ve always admired her, Jackie has just earned a big fresh dose of my respect. And although I’ve never thought of her as snarky, this is not hard to believe. This understandable personality trait was simply well-concealed under the obligatory “nice” veneer of her White House years, making her all the more fascinating to us today. Suffice to say, when Jackie speaks, I readily listen. It appears I’m not alone.
Here’s to a unique and unmatched woman of opinions!
The death of a former president or first lady typically brings together a good number of the others still living, though apparently not all of them this time around. As such former White House occupants as Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and George W. Bush pay their final respects to Betty Ford today in Palm Desert, California, others are not in attendance. In fact, no first couple is there together, thanks to the unexpected absence of one notable individual for seemingly absurd reason. Bill Clinton has been forced to miss today’s service, reportedly because of mechanical trouble with his plane out of New York.
Really, I ask? A former president must fall victim to such inconveniences of the masses? Doesn’t his wife have some connections to get him another plane toute suite? Looks like it’s a good thing President Clinton was not on Mrs. Ford’s handpicked list of speakers at her eulogy. Good for her, by the way, for making such thoughtful and detailed preparations for this day. And good for her again, for including politics on this occasion.
Mrs. Ford’s body will be flown tomorrow to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she’ll be laid to rest alongside her husband, of course. Coincidentally, both of them lived to the same age of 93, President Ford passing away in December 2006. No age record for this first lady, however, as Bess Truman holds the title for living to 97, followed by runner-up Lady Bird Johnson who lived to 94. And no sooner did I mention on her 90th birthday last week that Nancy Reagan was not the oldest living first lady, than now she is!
This ABC News piece presents a decent look back on Betty Ford’s life and legacy. To say the least, she was a unique and pioneering woman who certainly deserves to be remembered well.
The steadily maturing Katie Holmes has been transformed into a surprisingly convincing First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, bearing a striking resemblance to the beautiful and beloved woman herself, at least in appearance.
This is all I can say right now on the much-hyped miniseries “The Kennedys.” I’ve not yet seen the first two-hour installment that premiered last night on the Reelz Channel, though apparently many of you have. Reelz is not easy to come by, considering I searched for it on two televisions with different providers, only to twice come up empty-handed.
“The Kennedys” would no doubt have been much easier to watch on The History Channel, where it was originally supposed to air before the real-life family balked over the series’ accuracy (or lack thereof), leading to the network supposedly feeling the pains of controversy and caving into the pressure that came with it.
After all that’s been portrayed over the years about the Kennedy family, through so many films and other artistic outlets, each of them certainly varying in accuracy from one to the next, I have to scratch my head and wonder this: How could the Kennedy family possibly object now? What exactly is so inflammatory about this particular production that its alleged offenses supersede all others that have come before? Now of course, amid all this controversy-themed chatter, I’m all the more eager to sit down and watch “The Kennedys” and answer my own question.
In any event, the recaps and reviews are quickly coming in. Some even appear to disagree with my simple nod to Ms. Holmes, which I may or may not have to later amend. Nonetheless, “The Kennedys” is reportedly setting ratings records, no doubt fueled in part by all the misplaced buzz that has preceded it. One way or another, I’ll soon be deciding for myself if Katie’s Jackie, along with the rest of the players, are or are not “almost for reelz.”