Fifty Years Later: Restored Footage of JFK’s Pre-Inaugural Gala

With today marking the 50th anniversary of the start of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Vanity Fair has posted Todd Purdum’s retrospective on the inauguration and, a night earlier, a gala organized by Frank Sinatra.

Purdum writes, “Fifty years on, the sheer glamour of Kennedy’s inauguration, the sense of possibility and promise in the winter air, and the striking, even shocking youth of the principal players still shine bright in the country’s collective consciousness, in the yellowing letters and telegrams at the Kennedy Library, and in the memories of the dwindling band of people who were there. “It was really a generation-changing event,” remembers Newt Minow, the young Chicago lawyer who came to Washington on the train with his wife, Jo, and their friends Sargent and Eunice Shriver, Kennedy’s brother-in-law and sister, ready to assume the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission (and ready, too, barely four months later, to pronounce television programming “a vast wasteland”).”

The pre-inaugural gala included Tony Curtis, Gene Kelly, Leonard Bernstein, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Olivier and Nat King Cole — to name just a few. Sinatra sang “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and a customized version of “That Old Black Magic.”

That ol’ Jack magic had them in his spell
That old Jack magic that he weaved so well
The women swooned, and seems a lot of men did, too
He worked a little like I used to do.

Missing from the group: Sammy Davis, who, according to Purdum, was forbidden to come because of the controversy over his interracial marriage to May Britt.

The entire gala was taped, it was of such a poor quality that it was never broadcast. But this week the John F. Kennedy Library posted some restored footage of the event — which, you will see, was a pretty remarkable moment.

 

 

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