Assassination of John F. Kennedy in popular culture
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent conspiracy theories surrounding his death have been discussed, referenced, or recreated in popular culture numerous times. John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963) was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 20, 1961 until his assassination on November 22, 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was killed by Jack Ruby two days later.
The fictional novel Gideon's March by J. J. Marric, was published in 1962 by Hodder and Stoughton in London, the year before the Kennedy assassination. Inspector George Gideon learns of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy during a state visit to London. The assassination is to take place during a parade, by means of a bomb; the assassin, called O'Hara, is a Southern bigot who hates the President for his Roman Catholic faith and his civil-rights initiatives.
J. G. Ballard wrote a 1967 short-short story titled "The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy considered as a downhill motor race."
The 1996 Doctor Who spin-off novel Who Killed Kennedy features the Doctor's enemy the Master attempting to kill Oswald before the assassination as Kennedy's survival would trigger a chain reaction in history that could wipe the Doctor from existence, requiring journalist James Stevens to go back in time and kill Kennedy himself (acting as both gunmen at different points in his life, as Oswald's rifle had a misaligned targeting scope that prevented him delivering the fatal shot from the Book Depository on the first trip).
District Attorney Jim Garrison's fictional novel, The Star Spangled Contract (1976), and Taylor Caldwell's Captains and the Kings are both based in part on a conspiratorial view of the Kennedy assassination.
In the Ultimate Marvel universe, Kennedy's true assassin is the Red Skull, the son of Captain America. Nick Fury muses that the assassination of Kennedy was the Skull's way of showing that he would no longer take orders from America.
In the 2008-2009 series The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, the Kennedy assassination is a central plot element. The series initially takes place in a timeline where the assassination never happened, until an organisation of time-travelling assassins go back to 1963 to kill Kennedy. When the Umbrella Academy intercept the gunmen, The Rumour, disguised as Jacqueline Kennedy, uses her powers to make Kennedy's head explode.
In movies, television, and stage
The 1966 Emile de Antonio documentary Rush to Judgment, based on Mark Lane's book, shows Lane interviewing witnesses who claim the shots came from the grassy knoll instead of the Texas School Book Depository.
Andy Warhol's 1966 film Since recreated the assassination from multiple perspectives with participants from The Factory. Since is heavily improvised and explores the media portrayal of the assassination.
The 1967 satirical play MacBird! by Barbara Garson superimposes the events of the assassination on the general plot structure of Shakespeare's Macbeth, with Kennedy becoming murdered king "Ken O'Dunc" and Lyndon Johnson the treacherous title character. The mockery of the play's name is derived from Johnson's propensity to refer to his wife Claudia as "Lady Bird" and his elder daughter as "Lynda Bird." Garson insisted that her play was a satire and not intended to suggest seriously that Johnson had had a hand in the assassination.
Tonino Valerii's 1969 Spaghetti Western film The Price of Power, starring Giuliano Gemma and Van Johnson, was the first filmed drama to present a critical perspective on the Kennedy assassination; although it dramatises the assassination of James A. Garfield, it reflects the events and conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's death.
The 1978 made-for-television movie, Ruby and Oswald, generally followed the official record as presented by the Warren Commission of the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby on the weekend of the assassination.
French director Henri Verneuil's 1979 movie I as in Icarus (the story is based in a fictional country with fictional characters but the events are clearly linked with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, including amateur footage similar to the Zapruder film)
In the 1984 movie Flashpoint, a United States Border Patrol agent finds a car containing the body of a man he believed participated in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy and was murdered and robbed of the money he received for doing so.
Oliver Stone's 1991 dramatic film JFK, based in part upon the book On the Trail of the Assassins by former Orleans Parish (Louisiana) District Attorney Jim Garrison, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Clay Shaw for conspiracy relating to the assassination in 1969.
The 1991 TV mini-series A Woman Named Jackie showed the assassination from Jackie Kennedy's perspective.
The 1992 drama film Love Field features Michelle Pfeiffer as Lurene Hallett, a Dallas hairdresser, attempting to travel to Washington to attend John F. Kennedy's funeral. Though the movie encompasses other issues besides the assassination, it portrays one facet of the public reaction to the event.
The Boyfriend (Seinfeld): This 1992 episode of the series featured an pastiche of the assassination featuring the "single bullet theory" made famous in JFK and an essential part of the assassination. In the episode Kramer and Newman accuse former Mets player Keith Hernandez of spitting on them following an 1988 loss at home.
The 1993 thriller film In the Line of Fire, starring Clint Eastwood, hinges around the JFK assassination. Set in present-day 1993, the film is about a psychopath who plans to assassinate the current President of the United States. Eastwood's character is Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, the last remaining active agent who was on duty in November 1963, guarding Kennedy in Dallas. Horrigan is consumed with guilt over his failure to react quickly enough to the first shot in Dallas, and becomes obsessed with defeating a young man who has resolved to become a new assassin on the same level as Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth.
The X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" (1996) places a young cigarette smoking man as the assassin, shooting from a sewer drain located near the grassy knoll after setting up Oswald as his patsy. He also assassinates Martin Luther King Jr. while framing James Earl Ray in the episode.
The 1997 dark-comedy dramatic film The House of Yes stars Parker Posey and Josh Hamilton as twins Jacqueline, nicknamed "Jackie-O", and Marty. She has the same old mental health issues and he brings home a new fiancée for Thanksgiving. Mayhem ensues including adding incest to their favorite childhood "game" of obsessively re-enacting the John F. Kennedy assassination.
In The Simpsons episode Mayored to the Mob, the character Leavelle who trains Homer Simpson at "Leavelle's Bodyguard Academy," is based on Texan detective Jim Leavelle, as he appeared when escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. Leavelle trains the bodyguards by pretending to shoot their protectee from a grassy knoll on a cart. This is a reference to the grassy knoll at the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dealey Plaza and a scene from the Kennedy assassination film Executive Action (1973). In the episode "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife", Homer and Marge Simpson decide to make their own novel: "Who Really Killed JFK", with Homer's theory being that Lee Harvey Oswald wanted to steal "the Jack Ruby", but then refutes his own idea when Marge tells him that Jack Ruby was a man, not a jewel.
The 2002 mockumentary film Interview With the Assassin presents the assassination and resultant conspiracy theories with a terminally ill former Marine named Walter Ohlinger who claims that he was the second gunman behind the fence on the grassy knoll and was paid by unidentified government agents for doing so, who are now attempting to silence him for exposing the truth. His ex-wife then tells the interviewer he was also mentally ill and was nowhere near Dallas on the day of the assassination.
The 2007 film Shooter, features Levon Helm's character Mr. Rate talking to Mark Wahlberg and Michael Pena about conspiracies and says "Them boys on the grassy knoll, they were dead within three hours. Buried in the damn desert. Unmarked graves out past Terlingua.", referencing the Kennedy assassination. When asked how he knows this, he replies, "Still got the shovel!"
Zack Snyder's 2009 movie Watchmen, based on the 1986–87 DC Comics limited series of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, during the opening credits sequence portrays The Comedian, one of the members of the Watchmen, as Kennedy's assassin; he's shown firing the fatal headshot from the grassy knoll behind Abraham Zapruder.
The 2009 Mad Men episode "The Grownups" focused on the characters' reaction to JFK’s assassination and the subsequent events in their personal lives.
The 2010 Bones episode "The Proof in the Pudding" has the characters being forced by the Secret Service to identify cause of death on a highly classified skeleton they later identify as JFK. They determine that JFK was shot twice in the head from two different angles suggesting a second shooter. This causes Booth to question his trust in the government until Bones performs another test that determines this skeleton suffered from a bone disorder JFK didn't suffer from, meaning this wasn't JFK. After the skeleton was returned Bones admits in private that JFK had Scarlet Fever as a child and that could have created a false-positive on her test but they were all better off not knowing for certain if that really was JFK.
The 2013 docudrama Parkland follows the actions of several people closely related to the assassination from November 22–25, 1963, including the Presidential limousine, the staff of Parkland Memorial Hospital's trauma room, the Secret Service and FBI agents, Abraham Zapruder, and Lee Harvey Oswald's family.
The 2013 TV movie Killing Kennedy, an adaptation of the Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard book Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, dramatizes the presidency and assassination of Kennedy, as well as the life of Lee Harvey Oswald in the years leading up to the assassination.
The 2014 movie X-Men: Days of Future Past featured some scenes set in 1973 which reveal that Magneto has been in prison beneath the Pentagon since 1963 for his apparent role in the Kennedy assassination. Magneto maintains his innocence by claiming he was trying to save Kennedy's life because he claims that Kennedy was one of them (mutants) but his efforts were interrupted by the police who arrested him.
"The Suspicious Assassination of JFK", released September 29, 2017, was episode 10 of season 2 of BuzzFeed web series, BuzzFeed Unsolved: True Crime in which the various theories surrounding the assassination were discussed.
The 1968 Rolling Stones song "Sympathy for the Devil" references both John and brother Robert's assassinations with the lyric, "I shouted out / Who killed the Kennedys? / When after all / It was you and me."
The Human League song "Seconds" from their 1981 album Dare deals directly with the Kennedy assassination and is directed at Lee Harvey Oswald. When playing live, the group regularly projected slides onto the background of the stage, and would play this song in front of images of Kennedy and the assassination in Dallas.
The Was (Not Was) songs "11 Miles An Hour" and "11 MPH (Abe Zapp Ruder Version)" on respective International and US-Japan releases of their 1988 album What Up, Dog? is about the JFK assassination and the speed the car was going.
The 1990 Broadway musical Assassins, written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, climaxes as the ghosts of John Wilkes Booth, Leon Czolgosz, Charles Guiteau, and other "would be" assassins including John Hinckley, appear before a suicidally depressed Lee Harvey Oswald, and convince him that the only way for him to truly connect with his country is to share his pain and disillusionment with it.
The music video for "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" by Alternative Rock group XTC on their 1992 album Nonsuch reenacts some events of the day of Kennedy's assassination drawing parallels with the death of Jesus Christ.
The 1993 Animaniacs song The Presidents Song originally included the lyric: "John F. Kennedy, he got shot. So Lyndon Johnson takes his spot." For the accompanying cartoon, however, the writers decided to revise this line as they deemed it unfair for President Kennedy to be always remembered for being assassinated. Thus, the new lyric became: "John F. Kennedy had Camelot..."
The 1998 Steve Gillette song "Two Men in the Building" on his album Texas & Tennessee is mostly about the assassination, in fact presenting Steve's own theory about it. Steve is a well-known songwriter, best known as the co-writer of the song Darcy Farrow.
The 1999 music video "Coma White" on the 1998 album Mechanical Animals by American gothic rock band Marilyn Manson shows a darker bloodless representation of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, including his then-fiancée Rose McGowan as Jacqueline Kennedy. Furthermore, their 2000 album Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) by Marilyn Manson contains numerous references to the Kennedy assassination.
The 2012 music video "National Anthem" by singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey depicts her as Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy and shows re-enactments of home videos with ASAP Rocky as John F. Kennedy and re-enacting the assassination of the president.
"What if?" themes
The assassination has been the subject of many time travel and alternate history stories in science fiction film, television and literature, many with Kennedy and/or Oswald surviving or other people in the Presidential limousine dead.
A pair of alternate history films called The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald made in 1964 and 1977 have the accused assassin not being killed by Jack Ruby and standing trial for the murder of President Kennedy. Neither film ends in a verdict: the earlier movie ends after jury instructions, imploring viewers to debate among themselves; while the latter one has him being shot to death while being escorted from his jail cell to the courtroom just after the jury came back from deliberating.
In the 1980 novel Timescape by Gregory Benford, Kennedy's assassination was averted by a high school student who interrupted Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository, attacking the shooter and sending the would-be fatal third shot awry. Although seriously injured, Kennedy survived. This interference created an alternate timeline in which William Scranton was the US President in 1974, having defeated Robert F. Kennedy due to a telephone tapping scandal.
The 1990 TV movie, Running Against Time, depicts a contemporary schoolteacher (Robert Hays) who continues to lament the 1966 death of his brother in Vietnam. He's given the chance to go back in time and seeks to prevent the November 1963 assassination, based on the belief that it would prevent Lyndon Johnson from beginning an escalation of the conflict. However, his attempt results in him being accused of the crime and the subject of a nationwide manhunt. The film is based on the 1986 Stanley Shapiro book.
"Lee Harvey Oswald", the 1992 season opener for the TV series Quantum Leap, finds Sam Beckett leaping into Oswald's body. At a critical moment, Al Calavicci prompts him to leap into Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Hill attempts to reach the President's car before the shots are fired, but he fails to prevent Kennedy's death. Calavicci later reveals that he and Beckett have saved one life–that of Jackie Kennedy, whom Oswald had killed along with the President in the original timeline. This episode was written by series creator Donald P. Bellisario, in response to the Oliver Stone film JFK. Bellisario (who served with Oswald in the Marine Corps) doesn't believe in a conspiracy; he used supporting evidence from the Warren Commission Report, and had Calavicci speculate that people find it comfortable to believe in a conspiracy, reasoning that if any one person can kill the President of the United States then nobody is safe.
The 1997 episode "Tikka to Ride" of the Red Dwarf comedy TV series, the characters accidentally knock Lee Harvey Oswald out of the fifth-floor window of the Book Depository when they travel back in time to 1963 by mistake, creating an alternate timeline where Kennedy is impeached in 1965 for sharing a mistress with a mafia boss. As a result, J. Edgar Hoover is blackmailed into running for President by the mob and allows Russia to establish nuclear missiles in Cuba, Kennedy's impeachment traumatising the nation and allowing the USSR to win the space race while the southern states flee due to the fear of missiles from Cuba. Fearing the repercussions of this timeline, but unwilling to kill Kennedy themselves- and with their attempt to redirect Oswald up to the sixth floor before their past selves arrive failing because his trajectory is now too steep for him to do more than wound Kennedy- the characters convince the alternate John F. Kennedy to go back in time and shoot his past self from the grassy knoll, arguing that this action will restore his historical position as a liberal icon.
In the 2002 film Timequest, a time-traveler prevents Kennedy's assassination and history takes an alternate course, including the birth of a second son, James Kennedy, who was conceived on the night of November 22, 1963, when Kennedy and his wife return from Dallas. It also has Robert F. Kennedy becoming President in the late 1970s, with Martin Luther King Jr. as his Vice President, after both men were saved from their assassinations in 1968 by the same time traveler.
In Stephen Baxter's novel Voyage (1996), the Dallas assassination attempt only succeeds in crippling Kennedy, but Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy is killed. Kennedy is re-elected in 1964 and commits the United States to landing a manned vessel on Mars, which occurs in 1986. The novel uses the assassination attempt only as the impetus for an alternate history US space program.
Jeff Golden's 2008 novel Unafraid: A Novel of the Possible speculates on what would have happened had the assassination attempt been unsuccessful, with Kennedy serving two full terms as President. (ISBN 0595471927) Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle jams during the assassination attempt, leaving Kennedy wounded and Governor Connally dead.
In the Space: 1999 graphic novel, Aftershock and Awe (2013), the events of the television series are set within an alternate history. That history diverged from our own when Kennedy escaped assassination by visiting Cape Canaveral instead of Dallas. His survival led to an accelerated space race and diminished Cold War tensions, although a limited nuclear exchange occurred between the United States and North Korea in 1987.
In the 2010 book, TimeRiders, a training mission involves going back to November 22, 1963, to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. This results in a new timeline in which a large space program sends a mission to Mars on September 10, 2001. The trainees learn that history corrects itself, and Oswald, who was originally a lone gunman, was no longer alone when he shot the President but was part of a conspiracy, thanks to their interference with the timestream.
Stephen King's novel 11/22/63, published in 2011, tells about a time traveler trying to stop the assassination. The novel was adapted into a TV series, 11.22.63, in 2016. In both versions, the protagonist succeeds in saving Kennedy, but returns to a dystopian future brought about by his actions, prompting him to return to the past to "reset" the results of his intervention.
In the 1992 anthology Alternate Kennedys, edited by Mike Resnick, 25 science fiction authors imagine alternate histories involving the Kennedys, including speculating upon different outcomes of November 22, 1963.
In American Heroes Channel's What if? Armageddon 1962, Richard Pavlick succeeds in assassinating President-elect Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson is sworn in on January 20, 1961. While the Bay of Pigs invasion goes as it historically did, the Cuban Missile Crisis is different. Having more confidence in his military advisers than Kennedy did, Johnson authorizes military air strikes to take out the missile sites. However, some missiles were hidden from sight and the United States, Cuba and the Soviet Union engage in a nuclear war.
The card game Chrononauts, which simulates the cause-and-effects of changing history through time-travel, features Kennedy's assassination as a Linchpin card. When flipped (and Kennedy is injured rather than killed), it affects three later Ripple Points: the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), and Richard Nixon's resignation (1974).
The 2004 video game JFK Reloaded puts the player in the role of Lee Harvey Oswald, where the player is then scored on how closely one's version of the assassination matches the report of the Warren Commission: first shot missed, second hit JFK and Governor Connally and third on JFK's head. According to the company, the primary aim of the game was "to establish the most likely facts of what happened on 1963-11-22 by running the world’s first mass-participation forensic construction", the theory being that a player could help prove that Lee Harvey Oswald had the "means and the opportunity to commit the crime", and thus help prove the Warren Commission's findings.
The 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops gives hints that the main player character Alex Mason (Sam Worthington) is brainwashed by the Soviet Union into assassinating Kennedy within the context of the video game. An ending cutscene shows Mason was in the crowd of onlookers who watched Kennedy disembark from Air Force One in Lovefield.
In the post-credits scene of the 2016 video game Mafia III, Lincoln Clay's former CIA handler in Vietnam and Lincoln's intelligence provider in order to take down the Marcano Crime Family, John Donovan, has been invited to a Senate Committee hearing in 1971 to testify his participation in Lincoln's revenge against the Marcanos, Donovan explains that he helped Lincoln was due to evidence that he uncovered that Sal, the boss of the Marcano Crime family, has been one of the conspirators of the assassination of Kennedy, and further evidence states that one of the senators presiding over the hearing as another conspirator, Donovan then later pulls his silenced pistol and kills the senator, stating that he will hunt down those responsible for the death of Kennedy.
- Assassinations in fiction
- Cultural depictions of John F. Kennedy
- Cultural depictions of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
- Robert F. Kennedy assassination
- Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination
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- "The Grassy Knoll". Goodreads. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
- J.J. Murphy (March 4, 2012). The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol. University of California Press. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-0-520-27187-6.
- Horwitz, Jane (September 5, 2006). "She Hopes 'MacBird' Flies in a New Era". The Washington Post.
- Cox, Alex (2009). 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western. Oldcastle Books. ISBN 978-1842433041.
- Nicholas Cullather has discussed "The Movie Version" of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Nicholas Cullather, "History, Conspiracy, and the Kennedy Assassination," Retrieving the American Past, ed. Marc Horger (New York: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005), 301-330.
- Maslin, Janet (December 11, 1992). "Review/Film; Michelle Pfeiffer in a Tale of a 1960's Interracial Friendship". The New York Times.
- Hauge, Ron (2007). The Simpsons The Complete Tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Mayored to the Mob" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- "Lonnie Lyrics". MetroLyrics. EMI. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
- Pemberton, Pat (November 19, 2013). "16 Inspiring Songs That Honor JFK: The Human League, 'Seconds'". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- "Theater: Sondheim's 'Assassins': Insane Realities of History". The New York Times.
- "Two Men in the Building". Retrieved November 22, 2014.
- Andrew Gasska et al: Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe: Fort Lee, NJ: Archaia: 2013: ISBN 1936393883
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