In the 1960 election, JFK won the popular vote (over Richard M Nixon) by a razor-thin margin. Coming after eight years of the Eisenhower administration, his inaugural sparked optimism and a creative and civic outpouring, including by Kennedy’s show business pals. (Shades of 2008, anyone?) The night before the inauguration, the Democratic Party hosted a gala at the National Guard Armory to raise funds to pay off its staggering (!!) $2 million campaign debt. Logistics were confounded by a snowstorm that brought DC to a halt, but the show eventually went on, raising $1.4 million. “JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala” from Paulson Productions and Creative Retrospectives brings that performance to public light for the first time in a PBS pledge special.
David Glasser got an advanced taste of the show when he restored audio of some performances used in the soundtrack. “What a contrast to the funereal inauguration of 2017! The songs from Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Durante are captivating. And Frank Sinatra, the ringleader of the gala, is at the top of his game.”
John Paulson, who produced with James Arntz and Joanne Young, describes how this tale captured his attention: “I was tuned into this ‘lost footage’ back in 2011 when I ran into a Vanity Fair article while at the dentist’s office. It was written by Todd Purdum (of Politico, and husband of Dee Dee Myers) who is one of our program’s interviewees. As I read his ebullient and detailed descriptions of the Inaugural Gala concert, I knew he must have been looking at the actual videotapes and my wheels started to spin. I contacted the Kennedy Library and, sure enough, they had the master tapes and sent me DVD screeners of the footage. The footage was dog-eared to say the least, with lighting problems, audio mix issues and stage feedback. It was taped in one of the lousiest and most cavernous halls in town. Even though the technical quality was low, the concert was loaded with some of the biggest stars of the era whose performances were simply outstanding.” Performers include event host and producer Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Ella Fitzgerald.
David adds, “The show highlights how far show business production values have come. The audio (from the 2” B&W Quad videotape) was rife with distortion, off-mic performances, and vocal/orchestra balances that needed to be addressed. Tools I used included iZotope RX and reverb programs in the tc6000. John sent the audio that needed restoration. We returned cleaned up versions which were inserted into the master. ”
John Paulson continues, “I was convinced this was a snapshot of history the world ought to see. We developed the idea for a period of several years, working on our creative approach.” The production team used the event’s black and white footage, combined with color footage from the Kennedy era, to show how this private event, never broadcast, typified the Kennedy era’s image of glamour, racial inclusiveness, and promotion of popular and high culture. The Kennedys brought artists and entertainers into the White House, and promoted public patronage of the arts, though it was successor Lyndon Johnson who signed the law creating the yet-again-endangered National Endowment for the Arts 52 years ago.
The doc is offered to PBS stations for pledge programming in June; DVDs will be available to PBS members only.