Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear Mrs. Kennedy by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis

It always sounds so trite to say those of us who are over fifty remember where we were on November 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  But, even those of us who were only six remember, and we remember the sounds and sights of the subsequent days.  Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis, in compiling a collection of letters written to Jacqueline Kennedy, have reminded us how the country and world shared those experiences.  Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief: Letters, November 1963 is a beautiful, moving remembrance of that agonizing time.

By the time the letters stopped arriving, Jacqueline Kennedy had received 1,250,000 pieces of condolence correspondence.  Nine hundred thousand response cards went out on St. Patrick's Day, 1964.  Those letters were sorted over time, and many of them are stored at the JFK Library.  Mulvaney had the idea to compile those letters, and, following his death, De Angelis picked up the project. 

They are letters from people of every walk of life, and all corners of the world.   And, those letters tell a story, not only of a grieving world, but of the history of the country.  They remind us where we were in the world, with comments about Cuba, Russia, the space program, the Peace Corps, Kennedy's call for all of us to step forward.  The letters that came from Hollywood and the Jet Set, notes from Prince Rainer, Pearl Bailey, Oleg Cassini, Lauren Bacall, remind us of the glamour of the Kennedy White House.  There were beautiful notes from politicians, world leaders, journalists.  But, some of the most moving notes came from women and children, those who identified with the widowed First Lady and her young children.  And, as the authors said, these letters also show the lost art of writing beautiful letters, an art that is lost now that we spend so much time on our computers, and children aren't even taught handwriting in schools.

For a short time in 1963, the world stood still, focused on a grieving family, and a grieving nation.  One of my favorite telegrams came from Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox who wrote from Italy, saying that "In Rome on the day following the assassination all of the advertising billboards were removed throughout the city and were replaced with large billboard posters with a full-sized photograph of our late President." 

If you remember November 1963, Dear Mrs. Kennedy will bring back memories.  If you don't remember those tragic days, Mulvaney and De Angelis provide an opportunity for understanding.  The words of so many Americans, and people from throughout the world tell a story of loss, and grief, and knowledge of what we lost.

As part of the TLC Book Tour, they are offering one blog reader a copy of the book.  So, here's my contest.  Anyone can enter the contest by sending me an email at with the subject heading, "Win Dear Mrs. Kennedy."  The contest will end on Thursday night, Nov. 18 at 6 PM MT, when I'll use a random number generator to draw the winner.  But, if you're over fifty, I'd be interested in knowing where you were when you heard President Kennedy was shot.  I was in school, but I was home sick watching all of the funeral proceedings. 

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief: Letters, November 1963 by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis.  St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312386153 (hardcover), 240p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent a copy of this book to participate in the TLC Book Tour for the book.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I've heard this book mentioned before and thought it must be very interesting--both from a historical perspective and from sort of an insight into the personal impact this tragic event had on individual people.

Lesa said...

It is very interesting, Elizabeth, and it brought me to tears sometimes. I can't imagine how those people felt who received and sorted those letters daily.

Rob (Books Are Like Candy Corn) said...

I was living in Moses Lake (WA) the day President Kennedy died. It's been years since I visited that house--but this summer I went back. The first thing I said to my partner, "here's the driveway I was playing on when the news broke about President Kennedy's death." It's something you never forget.

Lesa said...


That's so odd that it was your first comment to your mother when you returned. It's something that stays with you, isn't it? Thanks for telling that. It just shows how that memory stayed with so many of us who were children at the time.

Rob (Books Are Like Candy Corn) said...

Hi Lesa,

I guess that would be odd if I said that to my Mom. lol

It was actually my partner I made the comment to.

On a trip this summer to Eastern Washington, I stopped to take a look at where I lived for several years in Moses Lake. The first memory I had when we drove by the house was from the the day President Kennedy died.

Lesa said...


I'm sorry I misread your original email. That just shows, though, how powerful our memories are of that tragic weekend.

kathy d. said...

I was in high school when news came over the public address system. I can't remember if the principal told us what happened or not. But we were all told to go to the auditorium.

I remember watching it all on t.v. I've always felt badly about Caroline, who was about six, old enough to have had a good relationship with her father and to experience loss and grief.

Lesa said...


And, you're right about Caroline. The book talks a little about the nanny telling her. And, she would feel that. My younger brother died when I was five, and I remember the shock, and the grief. My younger sister didn't really know what had happened.

Paul De Angelis said...

I'm Paul De Angelis and I'm co-author of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY. Since I wrote the text I've become friendly with Nancy Tuckerman, who was Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary and who along with her press secretary Pamela Turnure supervised the sorting and responses to the condolence mail. She describes it vividly; although she has refused to talk about practically any other aspect of her close association with Jacqueline Kennedy, to whom she remained close until the very end, she is happy to talk about this episode of her life, which for a year or more was all-encompassing and even once provoked the near intervention of anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Lesa said...


Thank you so much for writing. I have to respect Nancy Tuckerman's decision not to talk about her relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy. I just can't imagine how she and Pamela Turnure must have felt sorting the letters. And, I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for you to go through the letters, deciding which ones would be used for the book. Thank you for a massive effort, and a well-organized book. My late husband was one of those Kennedy fanatics. He would have appreciated your efforts, and the results. Thank you.

Kris said...

Sounds fascinating. I wasn't even born yet but I think reading a book like this would help me understand what the world felt going through this.

Lesa said...

You probably would find it interesting, Kris, to see the reactions of people of all classes & all over the world. It was so shocking.

LisaMM said...

Hi Lesa, What a terrific review! This book had such an impact on me. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

Lesa said...

My pleasure, Lisa. Thanks so much for asking me if I was interested. My husband would have really liked this book.