(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November, 1963, it immediately became clear that the public had a large appetite for information about the late president. Disturbed by the prospect of books that might commercialize her husband’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy asked journalist William Manchester to write an accurate account of the assassination, in February, 1964. By formal agreement Manchester gained exclusive access to the Kennedy family, he agreed that publication of his book would be contingent on the family’s approval, and he granted a large part of the book’s expected profits to the Kennedy presidential library that was to be built. Manchester then spent two years researching and writing a lengthy manuscript, which was reviewed by representatives of the Kennedys. Members of the family requested more than a hundred changes; they were particularly interested in having less said about Jacqueline Kennedy’s private life and about the physical details of the president’s death. After sixteen weeks of revision work, Manchester received what he interpreted as the family’s final approval; however, his sale of the book’s serialization rights to Look magazine for $665,000 so alarmed Jacqueline Kennedy that she sought to censor additional details about herself. When Manchester balked, she filed a lawsuit to halt his book’s publication. Manchester and the Kennedys eventually reached a settlement that permitted the book’s publication with the deletion of only sixteen hundred words of text. Perhaps in part because of the censorship controversy, it became a best-seller and, in so doing, generated more than $1 million for the new Kennedy library.

The Death of a President Summary

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

The Death of a President was written by reporter William Manchester, author of Portrait of a President: John F. Kennedy in Profile (1962), at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s widow. Jacqueline Kennedy hoped that the authorized account of the assassination that took place in Dallas in November, 1963, would preempt other books on the subject. Manchester, a passionate admirer of President Kennedy, wrote a long narrative that often placed Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had become president after Kennedy’s death, in an unflattering light, presenting him as a power- hungry boor. Johnson told aides “it makes me look like a son of a bitch.”