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On October 22, 1962 -- the same day President Kennedy appeared on television to announce the discovery of nuclear armed missiles in Cuba and the American response -- commedian and JFK impressionist Vaughn Meader and others recorded the smash hit comedy album "The First Family" which poked fun at Kennedy and his family quite gently by today's standards. From its release in November 1962, it went to top Billboard's charts in just two weeks, won a Grammy as album of the year, spawned a sequel, and Kennedy, himself, gave copies of the record to friends as Christmas presents and referred to it and Meader at times in speeches. But initially, many record companies rejected the album. James Hagerty, a former press secretary to President Eisenhower and an executive of ABC-Paramount records, not only rejected the recording, but warned that release of the album would be "degrading to the presidency" and that "every Communist country in the world would love this record."

The album also opened some ridicule to foreign leaders. In the skit, "Economy Lunch," French president Charles DeGaulle, West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and Soviet premier Khrushchev are putting in orders for a businessman's lunch from a deli. DeGaulle declares that he wants "duck under glass," and after being told that their having sandwiches, he orders a "duck under glass sandwich." Khrushchev demures that the president shouldn't order anything special for him, "I'll just have a little of what everyone else is eating." But when Adenauer orders an "western sandwich," Khrushchev demands the eastern half of Adenauer's western sandwich.

In the months before Kennedy's assassination (an event that also ruined Meader's life and career), did this comic view of the White House and its foreign policy have any negative impact to the US abroad, as Hagerty predicted?

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Why does anyone want to close this? Is it something I can fix. Please don't down vote without giving feedback. –  Bruce James Jul 23 at 17:54
    
What reason do you have for thinking that this album had any influence at all? –  Oldcat Jul 23 at 21:54
    
@oldcat The question quotes Ike's press secretary as predicting bad things. –  Bruce James Jul 23 at 23:44
    
What have you found out in your own research on this? –  andy256 Jul 24 at 0:35
    
@andy256 I think that the record did no damage to Kennedy, who was flying high on the success of the Cuban blockade. But, I think the album also opened the door for other impersonations of presidents that grew darker and more critical over the years. Before First Family, comedians tread carefully on the White House, rarely mocking it so intimately. But by the late 1960s and early 70s, Nixon finds himself to be a bigger charicature than ever, and Chevy Chase's immitation of Ford made him a laughing stock, possibly costing Ford the 1976 election, more than his debate mistakes. –  Bruce James Jul 24 at 20:18

1 Answer 1

I think you are being misdirected by the theatre of politics.

It works like this.

  • Somebody does something "against" the leader.

  • The underlings and sycophants make a noise about it, as they must.

  • The leader takes it in their stride, rises above and appears more statesman-like.

So, from my recollection, the answer is that it had a positive effect on Kennedy's image.

Set in the context of the Cold War, it was a blow against the totalitarian governments. It was a statement of the strength of democracy:

Look, people are free to mock the President. The President enjoyed the joke too. And the guy is still alive!

It became part of the tapestry of propaganda by which people "in the east" could potentially be influenced.

I'm not suggesting that this album made it past the wall, or that it was planned as a weapon. Just that Kennedy's response fits the pattern of the times.

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And, I should add, it becomes a celebration of one of democracy's strongest values, free speech –  andy256 Jul 24 at 6:22

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