From my original post at MSNBC.com, Nov. 20.
“As a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television.”
That was Jack Kennedy, reflecting on the now-legendary first debate with Richard Nixon of the 1960 presidential campaign. Newly discovered footage from the NBC News Archive shows Jack Kennedy speaking candidly as he puts on make-up, just four days after the famous confrontation played out on live television.
The first presidential debate of 1960 was the first one ever televised. More than sixty million people watched and what they saw proved to be more important than what they heard: a haggard Nixon, just back from the hospital, pale, with sweat on his chin and upper lip.
By comparison, Kennedy was cool and confident, projecting the “winning” image that would take him to the White House.
The story goes that Nixon relied on make-up that failed to hold up under the hot lights of the studio. The newspapers had a field day with the story, and “The Chicago Daily News” went as far as to suggest that Nixon’s make up may have been intentionally sabotaged by a Democratic make-up artist.
That story turned out to be untrue, but the “make-up issue” was as hotly debated as the debate itself.
This clip is a rare glimpse behind the curtain at Jack Kennedy’s off-air persona as he prepared for an interview with David Brinkley and Chet Huntley of NBC News. It was taken at his home in Hyannis on Sept. 30, 1960.
For additional information, please contact Hardball staff or the NBC News Video Archive team.
KENNEDY: See that story about the Democratic makeup man that sabotaged Nixon?
KENNEDY: Yeah, who did make him up?
KENNEDY: Yeah, then why-
OFF-CAMERA: Who was it Len, do you know?
OFF-CAMERA: No, he has a man who does that for a long time.
KENNEDY: Same fellow, but why doesn’t Chicago Daily news have that?
OFF-CAMERA: They weren’t looking for it. [inaudible]
KENNEDY: I must say, all these newspapers keep putting a’ knock now on the debate. I think it’s just (pause) media rivalry. Isn’t it?
OFF-CAMERA: Well there’s some of that.
KENNEDY: …as a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television. I look at print and… (shakes head)