×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

JFK’s ‘Lost Inaugural Gala’: How Sinatra Created Showbiz’s Biggest Political Night (Listen)

The centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth is on Monday, and to mark the occasion, PBS stations are presenting “JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala.” The program is a one-hour documentary about the parade of showbiz A-listers who threw a big bash for the then-incoming President on Jan. 19, 1961.

There had been previous star-filled inaugural galas, but nothing quite like this one. Led by Frank Sinatra, the evening featured Nat King Cole, Laurence Olivier, Harry Belafonte, Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Gene Kelly, Milton Berle, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, and Bette Davis.

NBC aired the telecast the following week, but the production ran into problems. The venue, the National Armory, was dark and cavernous, with so-so acoustics. That day, Washington was hit by a snowstorm, delaying the start of the ceremony by two hours. Merman showed up at rehearsal and couldn’t get back to her hotel to retrieve her evening gown. Instead, she had to sing in the clothes and coat she wore during the day.

“The Lost Inaugural Gala” features rare, restored footage from the evening, enough to make you wonder why NBC never aired it in the first place. An exclusive clip of Sinatra singing “The House I Live In” is below.

Roz Wyman, a longtime Democratic party figure who worked with Sinatra during the campaign and on the gala, spoke to Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM this week, along with Todd Purdum, who in 2011 reconstructed what happened that evening for Vanity Fair.

“President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, especially, wanted to show that this would be a different era from the stodgy Eisenhower administration,” Purdum said, noting the diverse group of performers to show that it was a “forward looking show.”

He said that Kennedy’s father, Joseph, paid to have the event videotaped, but the production quality proved problematic and broadcast plans were scrapped. The video ended up in the archives at the John F. Kennedy Library.

“We’ve always had celebrities in politics, but nothing like this night,” Wyman said. She worked with Sinatra throughout the campaign, and recalls that when he first walked into the armory he “almost gulped.” They put in an extra sound system, no one complained, and the result was a night of pretty extraordinary performances. It was also poignant, as when Durante sang “September Song.”

The interview can be heard below:

 

More Biz

  • Colin Kaepernick Kneel

    Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid Reach Settlement With NFL

    Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, two football players who alleged the National Football League colluded to oust them from the game after they started kneeling in protest of racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem, have reached a settlement in the matter, according to a statement from the sports organization and lawyers representing [...]

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Could Be in ‘Big Trouble’ Over Alleged New Sex Tape, Attorney Says

    Strong allegations of sexual misconduct have followed R. Kelly for 25 years, but the singer has always managed to slip free. Yet reports that a videotape of him sexually assaulting an underage girl, combined with the outcry surrounding the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” means that public sentiment, at the very least, is definitely not [...]

  • Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in

    New Media Residuals and Feature Films Contribute to Spike in Writers' Pay

    The outlook for members of the Writers Guild of America has brightened — even amid pervasive uncertainty in the entertainment industry. According to the most recent report to WGA West members, earnings surged 2.8% to $1.41 billion in 2017, thanks mostly to gains in feature films and new-media residuals. Total covered earnings for WGA West [...]

  • Joe Dante Gremlins

    Hollywood Execs Seek Licensing Deals at the New York Toy Fair

    On Feb. 16 more than 30,000 studio executives, buyers and toy company reps will gather in Manhattan for the annual Toy Fair New York, all vying for market share and trying to snag the latest hot trend in a fast-changing industry. Those working the film side of the business will focus much of their attention [...]

  • Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper A Star

    Universal Music Group Fuels 11.3% Rise in Vivendi's 2018 Revenues

    Vivendi’s revenues were up 11.3% to €13.93 billion ($15.7 billion) in 2018, powered by Universal Music Group, which delivered such hits as the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack and Drake’s new album. UMG’s revenues climbed by 10% to €6 billion ($6.8 billion) compared to 2017. On top of the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack, the [...]

  • The Blacklist 100th Episode

    'The Blacklist' EP Sues for Wrongful Termination

    A former executive producer of the NBC show “The Blacklist” has filed suit against Sony, alleging he was fired after being wrongfully blamed for a workplace scuffle. Michael Watkins is a veteran TV director and cinematographer. He was an executive producer for several seasons of “The Blacklist,” the NBC crime show starring James Spader. According [...]

  • TV set livingroom

    Studios Sue Omniverse in TV Streaming Crackdown

    The major studios filed a copyright infringement suit against Omniverse One World Television on Thursday, as they continue to crack down on illicit streaming services. Omniverse provides packages of TV channels to various streaming providers, including SkyStream TV, Flixon TV, and HD Homerun. Jason DeMeo, the head of the company, asserted in an interview with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content