Jackie: Faites que personne n’oublie Camelot (There will never be another Camelot: How with the media’s complicity, Jackie Kennedy durably distorted her husband and his party’s legacy)

shalott

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Là, elle tisse de nuit et de jour
 un tissu magique aux couleurs éclatantes,
 elle a entendu une rumeur dire 
qu’une malédiction s’abattrait sur elle si elle restait 
à regarder en bas vers Camelot.
 Elle ne sait pas ce que peut être la malédiction
 Et alors, elle tisse encore plus,
 et pense rarement à autre-chose, 
la Dame de Shalott. Tennyson
Each evening, from December to December, before you drift to sleep upon your cot, Think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot. Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story, dnd tell it strong and clear if he has not, That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot. Camelot! Camelot! Now say it out with pride and joy! … Yes, Camelot, my boy! Where once it never rained till after sundown, By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown… Don’t let it be forgot That once there was a spot For one brief shining moment that was known As Camelot. King Arthur (Camelot)
C’est ça, l’Ouest, monsieur le sénateur:  quand la légende devient réalité, c’est la légende qu’il faut publier. Maxwell Scott  (journaliste dans ‘L’Homme qui tua Liberty Valance’, John Ford, 1962)
Le grand ennemi de la vérité n’est très souvent pas le mensonge – délibéré, artificiel et malhonnête – mais le mythe – persistant, persuasif et irréaliste. John F. Kennedy
I shouted out, Who killed the kennedys?  When after all  It was you and me. The Rolling Stones (1968)
I want them to see what they’ve done. Jackie Kennedy
Il n’aura même pas eu la satisfaction d’être tué pour les droits civiques. Il a fallu que ce soit un imbécile de petit communiste. Cela prive même sa mort de toute signification. Jackie Kennedy
Il y a quelque chose dont je n’arrive pas à me libérer. Une réplique qui est presque devenue une obsession. Le soir, avant de nous coucher, Jack passait deux ou trois disques sur notre vieux Victrola. Il adorait “Camelot”. Surtout la chanson, à la fin… : “Faites que personne n’oublie que, pendant un moment bref et éclatant, il y a eu Camelot.” Il y aura d’autres grands présidents après lui mais il n’y aura jamais un autre “Camelot”. Jackie Kennedy
Qu’il soit dit, à nos amis comme à nos ennemis, que le flambeau est passé entre les mains d’une nouvelle génération d’Américains, nés dans le siècle présent, aguerris par les combats, disciplinés par une paix difficile et amère, fiers de leur héritage, qui refusent d’assister à la décomposition des droits de l’homme pour lesquels notre nation s’est toujours engagée, pour lesquels elle est engagée aujourd’hui encore chez nous et à l’étranger. Que chaque nation qui nous veut du bien ou qui nous veut du mal sache bien que nous paierons n’importe quel prix, que nous supporterons n’importe quel fardeau, que nous affronterons n’importe quelle épreuve, que nous soutiendrons n’importe quel ami et combattrons n’importe quel ennemi pour assurer la survie et le succès de la liberté. Nous nous y engageons. (…) Si une société libre ne peut pas aider tous ceux, et ils sont nombreux, qui vivent dans la pauvreté, elle ne pourra pas sauver la minorité des riches. (…) Ne négocions pas sous l’empire de la peur. Mais n’ayons jamais peur de négocier. (…) Tout ceci ne sera pas fini en 100 premiers jours. Ni dans les 1 000 premiers jours, ni dans la vie de cette administration, ni même peut-être dans notre vie sur cette planète. Mais nous laisser commencent. Dans des vos mains, mes concitoyens, plus que dans le mien, reposeront le succès ou l’échec final de notre cours. Depuis que ce pays a été fondé, chaque génération des Américains a été appelée pour donner le témoignage à sa fidélité nationale. Les tombes des jeunes Américains qui ont répondu à l’appel à la bordure de service le globe. Maintenant la trompette nous appelle again-not comme appel aux bras d’ours, bien que des bras que nous avons besoin ; pas comme appel à la bataille, bien que rompu aux conflits à nous être-mais à un appel pour soutenir le fardeau d’une longues lutte, année dedans et année crépusculaires dehors, « se réjouissant dans l’espoir, patient dans la tribulation » – une lutte contre les ennemis communs de l’homme : tyrannie, pauvreté, maladie, et guerre elle-même. Pouvons-nous forger contre ces ennemis une alliance grande et globale, du nord et les sud, l’est et l’ouest, qui peuvent assurer une vie plus fructueuse pour toute l’humanité ? Vous associerez-vous à cet effort historique ? Dans la longue histoire du monde, seulement on a accordé quelques générations le rôle de la liberté de défense en son heure du danger maximum. Je ne la rétrécis pas de cette bienvenue de responsabilité-Je. Je ne crois pas que l’un d’entre nous échangerait des endroits avec n’importe quelles autres personnes ou n’importe quelle autre génération. L’énergie, la foi, la dévotion que nous apportons à cet effort allumera notre pays et tous ce qui servent -et la lueur de ce feu peut vraiment allumer le monde. Et ainsi, mes chers concitoyens : ne demandez pas ce que votre pays peut faire vous, demandez ce que vous pouvez faire pour votre pays. Mes concitoyens du monde : demander pas ce que l’Amérique fera pour vous, mais ce qu’ensemble nous pouvons faire pour la liberté de l’homme. (…) Avec une bonne conscience pour seule récompense sûre, avec l’histoire juge final de nos actes, allons de l’avant à la tête de cette terre que nous aimons, demandant Sa bénédiction et Son aide, mais sachant qu’ici sur terrre, l’oeuvre de Dieu  doit vraiment être la nôtre. J.F. Kennedy (discours d’investiture, 20 janvier 1961)
Notre système fiscal aspire dans le secteur privé de l’économie une trop grande part du pouvoir d’achat des ménages et des entreprise, et réduit l’incitation au risque, à l’investissement et à l’effort – et par là-même il tue dans l’œuf nos recettes et étouffe notre taux de croissance national. John F. Kennedy (24 janvier 1963, message au Congrès sur la réforme fiscale)
L’essentiel de ses promesses, en un mot, Barack Obama les a tenues. Et, pour qu’il tienne l’autre moitié, il faut et il suffit de lui confier le second mandat dont il disait, dès le premier jour, qu’il en aurait besoin pour pleinement réussir dans son entreprise. Je ne regrette pas, pour ma part, d’avoir, dès 2004, soit quatre ans avant sa première élection, pressenti le prodigieux destin de celui que je baptisai aussitôt le « Kennedy noir ». Pas de raisons d’être déçu ! L’espoir est là. Plus que jamais là. Et le combat continue. BHL
L’Histoire sera comptable et jugera de l’impact énorme de cette figure singulière sur le peuple et le monde qui l’entourent. Barack Hussein Obama
Aujourd’hui, le monde marque le passage d’un dictateur brutal qui a opprimé son propre peuple pendant près de six décennies. L’héritage de Fidel Castro, ce sont les pelotons d’exécution, le vol, des souffrances inimaginables, la pauvreté et le déni des droits de l’homme. Même si les tragédies, les morts et la souffrance provoquées par Fidel Castro ne peuvent pas être effacées, notre administration fera tout ce qu’elle peut pour faire en sorte que le peuple cubain entame finalement son chemin vers la prospérité et la liberté. Même si Cuba demeure une île totalitaire, mon espoir est que cette journée marque un éloignement avec les horreurs endurées trop longtemps et une étape vers un avenir dans lequel ce magnifique peuple cubain vivra finalement dans la liberté qu’il mérite si grandement. Donald Trump
C’est un monument de l’histoire, d’abord, Fidel Castro et c’est le symbole d’une amitié très profonde entre Cuba et la France. Grâce à Fidel Castro, les Cubains ont récupéré leur territoire, leur vie, leur destin. Ils se sont inspirés de la Révolution française sans pour autant connaître la terreur qu’il y a eue pendant la Révolution française. Ségolène Royal
The death of Fidel Castro was the first foreign policy test for President-elect Donald Trump and he acquitted himself brilliantly. For anyone who thought that his tough talk was just campaign bluster, witness the incredibly strong statement made about the bloody Cuban strongman (…) For those of us used to President Barack Obama’s bland, milquetoast amorality on world affairs, and his practiced refusal to condemn evil, Trump’s words are a breath of fresh air and, God willing, portend a new American foreign policy based on the American principles of holding murderers accountable. Contrast Trump’s words with Obama’s perfection in saying absolutely nothing (…) This neutral nonsense betrays a cowardly refusal to condemn Castro as a tyrant. Most memorable is President Obama’s unique ability to make Castro’s death about himself and his own presidency. Perhaps President Obama forgot that he is leader of the free world and could have used the death of a dictator to say something about the importance of human liberty and human rights. But why, after eight years of Obama cozying up to Erdogan of Turkey and, worse, Ayatollah Khameini of Iran, should we expect anything else? (…) I have long said that President Obama’s greatest failure as a leader is his refusal to hate and condemn evil. Could there be any greater confirmation than this, and just six weeks before he leaves office? But while Trump distinguished himself as a leader prepared to bravely express his hatred of evil, virtually every other world leader followed President Obama instead, disgracing themselves to various degrees. I put them in three categories: brownnosers, appeasers, and suckups. Taking the pole position of brown-noser-in-chief is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His obsequiousness to the murderous Castro was so great that it read like parody (…) Here you have the leader of one of the Western world’s greatest democracies saying that an autocrat who murdered his people and ruled over them with an iron fist was loved by them. (…) Then there are the appeasers, those world leaders with no backbone, and who have probably set their sights on their countries opening up a beach resort in Cuba, or who will use Castro’s crimes to cover up their own. Bashar Assad of Syria, a man better known for gassing Arab children than writing eloquent eulogies said, “The name Fidel Castro will remain etched in the minds of all generations, as an inspiration for all the peoples seeking true independence and liberation from the yoke of colonization and hegemony.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, a man who never met a dictator he couldn’t coddle, expressed how « at this time of national mourning, I offer the support of the United Nations to work alongside the people of the island. » I would never have thought Vladimir Putin of Russia a suckup, but how else to explain hailing Fidel Castro as a « wise and strong person » who was « an inspiring example for all countries and peoples.” Kind of stomach-turning.  But perhaps the most disappointing comment came from Pope Francis who sent a telegram to Raúl Castro: « Upon receiving the sad news of the passing of your beloved brother, the honorable Fidel Castro … I express my sadness to your excellency and all family members of the deceased dignitary … I offer my prayers for his eternal rest.” If there is any spiritual justice in the world the only place Castro will rest is in a warm place in Hell. The Pope, to whom so many millions, including myself, look to for moral guidance, on this occasion can look to the president-elect of the United States for the proper response in the confrontation with evil.  
Did the bullets that killed JFK hit another target — liberalism itself? Unlike JFK, not killing liberalism instantly but inflicting something else infinitely more damaging than sudden death? Or, as Tyrrell puts it, inflicting “a slow, but steady decline of which the Liberals have been steadfastly oblivious.” (…) By 1968 — five years after the death of JFK and in the last of the five years of the Johnson presidency — the number of “self-identified” conservatives began to climb. Sharply. The Liberal dominance Lionel Trilling had written about had gone, never to this moment to return. Routinely now in poll after poll that Tyrrell cites — and there are plenty of others he doesn’t have room to cite — self-identified liberals hover at about 20% of the American body politic. Outnumbered more than two-to-one by conservatives, with moderates bringing up the remainder in the middle. What happened in those five years after JFK’s death? (…) The attitude toward Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson that was evidenced by Kennedy’s liberal leaning staff, by the Washington Georgetown set, by Washington journalists — slowly seeped into the sinews of liberalism itself. (…) Slowly this contempt for the American people spread to institutions that were not government, manifesting itself in a thousand different ways. It infected the media, academe and Hollywood, where stars identified with middle-America like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball were eclipsed in the spotlight by leftists like Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda. The arms-linked peaceful civil rights protests led by Christian ministers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave way to bombings and violent demonstrations against the Vietnam War led by snooty, well-educated white left-wing kids like Bill Ayers. The great American middle class — from which many of these educated kids had sprung — was trashed in precisely the fashion LBJ had been trashed. For accents, clothing styles, housing choices (suburbs and rural life were out) food, music, the love of guns, choice of cars, colleges, hair styles and more. Religion itself could not escape, Christianity to be mocked, made into a derisive laughingstock. The part of America between New York and California became known sneeringly as “flyover country. As time moved on, these attitudes hardened, taking on colors, colors derived from election night maps where red represented conservative, Republican or traditional candidates and blue became symbolic of homes to Liberalism. (…) Had John F. Kennedy been alive and well this week, celebrating his 95th birthday, one can only wonder whether liberalism would have survived with him. This is, after all, the president who said in cutting taxes that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” Becoming The favorite presidential example (along with Calvin Coolidge) of no less than Ronald Reagan on tax policy. This is, after all, the president who ran to the right of Richard Nixon in 1960 on issues of national security. In fact, many of those who voted for John F. Kennedy in 1960 would twenty years later vote for Ronald Reagan. One famous study of Macomb County, Michigan found 63% of Democrats in that unionized section of autoworker country voting for JFK in 1960. In 1980, same county, essentially the same Democrats — 66% voted for Reagan. The difference? Liberalism was dying. There is a term of political art for these millions of onetime JFK voters — a term used still today: Reagan Democrats. It is not too strong a statement to say that in point of political fact John F. Kennedy was the father of the Reagan Democrats. (…) Would he have sat silently as the liberal culture turned against the vast American middle and working blue collar class and its values, sending JFK voters into the arms of Republicans in seven out of twelve of the elections following his own? Would he have fought the subtle but distinct change of his famous inaugural challenge from “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to what it has now become: “ask not what you can do for your country, ask what service your government can provide you?” We will never know. But there is every reason to believe, after all these decades, that, to use the title of JFK biographer William Manchester’s famous book, The Death of a President, brought another, quite unexpected death in its wake. Jeffrey Lord
It was Jacqueline Kennedy’s tour de force, her finest hour — actually more than five hours — of press manipulation. She had summoned an influential, Pulitzer Prize–winning author to do her bidding — and like so many men she had mesmerized before, he did it. White violated all standards of journalism ethics by allowing the subject of a story to read it in advance — and edit it. But he was not acting as a journalist that night — he was serving as the awestruck courtier of a bereaved widow. And it worked. Thanks to Theodore White’s essay “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” which ran in the Dec. 6 issue of Life, Camelot and its brief shining moment became one of the most celebrated and enduring myths in American politics. To Jackie, the assassination symbolized an end of days, not just for her husband, but also for the nation. James Swanson
Few events in the postwar era have cast such a long shadow over our national life as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago this month. The murder of a handsome and vigorous president shocked the nation to its core and shook the faith of many Americans in their institutions and way of life. (…) In their grief, Americans were inclined to take to heart the various myths and legends that grew up around President Kennedy within days of the assassination. Though the assassin was a communist and an admirer of Fidel Castro, many insisted that President Kennedy was a martyr to the cause of civil rights who deserved a place of honor next to Abraham Lincoln as a champion of racial justice. Others held him up as a great statesman who labored for international peace. But by far the most potent element of the Kennedy legacy was the one that associated JFK with the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. As with many of the myths and legends surrounding President Kennedy, this one was the creative contribution of Jacqueline Kennedy who imagined and artfully circulated it in those grief-filled days following her husband’s death.(…) These images were contained in White’s essay in the special issue of Life that hit the newsstands on December 3, 1963. Life at that time had a weekly circulation of seven million and a readership of more than 30 million. The extensive distribution of the issue guaranteed that the essay would receive the widest possible circulation here and abroad. Though the Arthurian motif has been ridiculed over the years as a distortion of the actual record, it has nevertheless etched the Kennedy years in the public memory as a magical era that will never be repeated. Camelot, the Broadway musical (later a Hollywood movie), was adapted from T. H. White’s (no relation to the journalist) Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King, published in 1958 but made up of four parts that the author wrote separately beginning in 1938. White’s novel has proved to be one of the most popular and widely read books of our time. Reviewers called it “a literary miracle” and “a queer kind of masterpiece.” (…) In contrast to traditional versions of the Arthurian legend, which celebrated knighthood and chivalry and portrayed Arthur as a brave warrior, White’s modern version poked fun at the pretensions of knights and princes and pointedly criticized war, militarism, and nationalism. White presented King Arthur less as a brave warrior and military leader than as a peacemaker who tried (but failed) to subdue the war-making passions of mankind. Mrs. Kennedy very likely read The Once and Future King and perhaps saw or showed to her children the cartoon version of The Sword and the Stone (the first chapter of the four part novel) that Walt Disney produced in 1963. There were biting ironies in her attraction to a legendary kingship that unravels due to the consequences of betrayal and infidelity and to her association of the central myth of English nationality with the United States’ first Irish president. Nevertheless, she looked past these contradictions to focus on the central message of White’s novel that portrayed war as pointless and absurd. President Kennedy, as his widow wanted him to be remembered, was like King Arthur—a peacemaker who died in a campaign to pacify the warring factions of mankind. One must admire Mrs. Kennedy for the skill with which she deployed these images in the difficult aftermath of her husband’s death. Our retrospective view of President Kennedy is now filtered through the legends and symbols she put forward at that time. The hardheaded politician devoted to step-by- step progress was transformed in death into the consummate liberal idealist. The Cold War leader who would “bear any price to insure the survival of liberty” was subsequently viewed as an idealistic peacemaker in the image of The Once and Future King. Difficult as it may be to accept, the posthumous image of JFK reflected more the idealistic beliefs of Mrs. Kennedy than the practical political liberalism of the man himself. But the Camelot image as applied to the Kennedy presidency had some unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. By turning President Kennedy into a liberal idealist (which he was not) and a near legendary figure, Mrs. Kennedy inadvertently contributed to the unwinding of the tradition of American liberalism that her husband represented in life. The images she advanced had a double effect: first, to establish Kennedy as a transcendent political figure far superior to any contemporary rival; and, second, to highlight what the nation had lost when he was killed. The two elements were mirror images of one another. The Camelot myth magnified the sense of loss felt as a consequence of Kennedy’s death and the dashing of liberal hopes and possibilities. If one accepted the image (and many did, despite their better judgment), then the best of times were now in the past and could not be recovered. Life would go on but the future could never match the magical chapter that had been brought to an unnatural end. As Mrs. Kennedy said, “there will never be another Camelot.” The Camelot myth posed a challenge to the liberal idea of history as a progressive enterprise, always moving forward despite setbacks here and there toward the elusive goal of perfecting the American experiment in self-government. Mrs. Kennedy’s image fostered nostalgia for the past in the belief that the Kennedy administration represented a peak of achievement that could not be duplicated. The legend of the Kennedy years as unique or magical was, in addition, divorced from real accomplishments as measured by important programs passed or difficult problems solved. The magical aspect of the New Frontier was located, by contrast, in its style and sophisticated attitude rather than in its concrete achievements. Mrs. Kennedy, without intending to do so and without understanding the consequences of her image making, put forward an interpretation of John F. Kennedy’s life and death that magnified the consequences of the assassination while leaving his successors with little upon which to build. James Piereson
The name « Camelot » is such an accepted sobriquet for the Kennedy Administration that many don’t recognize it as a creation of Jackie Kennedy’s during a Life magazine interview following JFK’s assassination. It certainly evokes an image of a romantic fairy-tale … but, when considered in light of its origin, it’s nowhere near as flattering a nickname as it was intended to be. What prompted Jackie’s analogy was the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical « Camelot », which presents the kingdom ruled by King Arthur as a place built on lofty principles, more idyllic than Eden. The plot, however, focuses on the forces out to destroy Camelot – the adulterous romance between Lancelot and Arthur’s queen, Guenevere, and the machinations of Arthur’s bitter illegitimate son, Mordred. Arthur, though witty and idealistic, is not very adept at thinking for himself or dealing with the thornier aspects of government. It’s not exactly the most uplifting epitaph for a fallen leader. While Jackie meant the comparison to be positive, highlighting the hope and potential ushered in with the inauguration, it is unfortunately rooted in a story of a weak and cuckolded leader, whose best work barely warrants a mention. (…) The myth of King Arthur changed over the years – if the original version had informed « Camelot, » it would be much more complimentary. Arthur, first chronicled in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s circa 1138 Historia Regum Britanniae (pdf), is a rock star. The story is replete with magic, dragons, a sword named Caliburn and a lance named Ron. Arthur is a warrior and leader of almost supernatural capacity, and also « a youth of such unparalleled courage and generosity, joined with that sweetness of temper and innate goodness, as gained him universal love. » The Saxon-free Britain he established with bloody thoroughness was a paradigm, a magnet for those interested in the best that government could be, heck, even a place where women were celebrated for their wit. So while he did end up cuckolded, killed and his kingdom destroyed, his legacy was intact. Arthur was firmly established as the monarch to which to aspire – with better people. Later in the 12th century, the Historia was distorted by avowed mythology, and Arthur started losing his cool (although his sword eventually got a niftier name). The poetry of Chrétien de Troyes focused on the adventures of select members of the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur and how he shaped and presided over that table and his kingdom were secondary to the feats of chivalry, quest for the Holy Grail, and Lancelot’s courtly love, which turned into the adulterous affair with Guenevere. Chrétien’s contemporary, Marie de France’s poems also featured courtly love in and around Arthur’s court, with Arthur relegated to a footnote. The slightly later Vulgate cycle follows the same pattern. Arthur had led the war to secure the independence and peace the kingdom enjoyed, but the poems all prefer to highlight Lancelot and company. By the time Thomas Malory wrote his version of the Arthurian myth in the mid-15th century, Arthur had shriveled from heroic warrior and inspirational ruler to a cipher defined by the acts of others around him. Malory’s stories were about events during Arthur’s life, but the collection is called Le Morte d’Arthur, which needs no translation. This book inspired TH White’s 1958 the Once and Future King, which he framed as a tragedy. His Arthur is enamored with his ideals, which fail in the face of other people’s lust for either power or each other. This was the book that served as the basis for the musical that Jackie Kennedy was referencing. But the conflation of Camelot and the Kennedys persists, and not only does it not really suit, it also does a disservice to the real understanding and assessment of the Kennedy Administration. It’s natural to adulate and lionize a vibrant leader violently cut down, but it’s the thin end of the wedge. Once a mythology has taken hold, it becomes difficult to isolate the true history – even if it’s actually more compelling and fascinating than the lore. (…) Whatever the intention or interpretation, a wistful lyric from a mediocre musical about failed idealism doesn’t do justice to Kennedy and his time. « Camelot » keeps us from the whole story. He, and we, deserve better. The Guardian
She had this ironic wit. She took this real control over her family’s story and she really had a deep understanding of history to know the story you tell is the one that lasts; it doesn’t matter what really happened. Natalie Portman
“Jackie” is a dual portrait, a diary of some of the darkest days in America’s history and a chronicle of how the first lady spun national tragedy into a lasting legacy for her husband. Before the sitdown, Jackie warns her interviewer that she will be heavily editing the conversion. The published version, to quote the great war satire “In the Loop,” will not be a “record of what happened to have been said but what was intended to have been said.” Mrs. Kennedy eschews truth in favor of the myth. The reality is that after her husband was shot, his skull ripped open, she sat splattered in his remains, attempting to hold the pieces of him together. Jackie continued to wear the iconic pink dress she wore when her husband was shot — a Chanel knockoff — the rest of the day, despite Lady Bird Johnson’s (Beth Grant) insistence that she change. The First Lady refuses. “Let them see what they’ve done,” Jackie insists. When she returns to the White House later that evening, Jackie washes away his blood. She tries on dresses — while popping pills and drinking — as if deciding who she is now. These feelings, raw and complicated, are stricken from the record at the subject’s request. Although Jackie smokes constantly, she claims that when it comes to the official version of the conversion, she does not. After Jackie remembers that her husband’s skull was “flesh colored, it wasn’t white,” she retracts a public admission of the horror she has experienced. “Don’t think for a second I’m going to let you publish that,” Mrs. Kennedy says. These anguished moments don’t reflect the story Jackie wants to tell. This is the interview in which the first lady created the mythos of Camelot, comparing her husband’s presidency to the reign of King Arthur. The president and his wife were both fans of the Broadway musical of the same name, then starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, and it reflected how Jackie wanted the public to see their family — as representatives of a timeless royalty, even if short-lived. As a president, Kennedy was undistinguished, a politician who would either be remembered for resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis or initiating it. But as a symbol, Jackie realized that he could achieve the greatness he lacked in office. (…) That commitment to aesthetics is a fitting tribute to a woman — perhaps more than any other person of her era — who understood the power of the image. Throughout her husband’s presidency, the first lady was derided for the money she spent renovating the White House with antiques, which were meant to serve as a tribute to previous administrations. The press, uninterested in symbolism, charged her with wasting taxpayer dollars. Jackie is so fastidious and exacting when it comes to her persona that a reenactment of the famous 1962 tour of her Pennsylvania Avenue home is played for comic value. The first lady’s contrived voice, recalling Katherine Hepburn by way of Stepford, is a testament to the veneer of perfection Jackie worked so hard to maintain. (…) “I never wanted fame,” Jackie explains. “I just wanted to be a Kennedy.” As the film proves, she never had much of a choice in the matter, but at least she got what she wanted. John F. Kennedy is today viewed as one of the country’s great presidents, and that’s due to the woman we are only finally coming to know, even five decades later. It is long overdue.
Jackie Kennedy (…) revit en continu le film de Dallas (…) pense déjà à l’art de transformer le passé en Histoire. D’un homme de chair et de sang, elle a décidé de faire une statue de marbre. Sept jours après l’assassinat, elle a appelé Theodore White, de « Life ». « Il y a quelque chose dont je n’arrive pas à me libérer, lui confesse-t-elle. Une réplique qui est presque devenue une obsession. Le soir, avant de nous coucher, Jack passait deux ou trois disques sur notre vieux Victrola. Il adorait “Camelot” [une comédie musicale]. Surtout la chanson, à la fin… : “Faites que personne n’oublie que, pendant un moment bref et éclatant, il y a eu Camelot.” Il y aura d’autres grands présidents après lui – et elle prend soin de citer Johnson “si extraordinaire”– mais il n’y aura jamais un autre “Camelot”. » Le ton est donné. Le château du roi Arthur, qui a inspiré la comédie musicale écrite par l’auteur de « My Fair Lady », ­devient l’emblème d’une présidence. Voilà pour la ­vitrine. (…) Jackie a commencé à édifier son temple. Elle veut en être la vestale, et écrit en janvier 1964 : « Je considère que ma vie est finie, et je ne ferai rien d’autre jusqu’à la fin de mes jours qu’attendre qu’elle s’achève pour de bon.  (…) « Une nation qui a peur de laisser ses ­citoyens juger sur pièces la vérité et la fausseté est une nation qui a peur de ses citoyens », avait proclamé JFK. Jackie s’en souviendra. Trois mois après les enregistrements, elle choisit de revivre. Elle quitte Washington, définitivement. (…)  Elle a compris qu’on n’échappe pas au naufrage accroché à une statue de marbre. On coule ou on lâche. Danièle Georget

Attention: un mythe peut en cacher un autre !

A l’occasion de la sortie d’un énième mais apparemment prometteur film sur Jackie Kennedy

Alors que s’apprête enfin à quitter la scène celui que les médias nous avaient vendu comme le Kennedy noir

Et qui au nom de sa prétendue place dans l’histoire était prêt à mettre le monde à feu et à sang …

Pendant qu’a donné lieu aux ignominies que l’on sait la disparition d’un des pires dictateurs de la planète

Et accessoirement, étrange coïncidence du calendrier, némésis de tant de successeurs du président Kennedy …

Comment ne pas repenser …

Prêt au nom de sa prétendue place dans l’histoire à mettre le monde à feu et à sang …

Pendant qu’a donné lieu aux ignominies que l’on sait la disparition d’un des pires dictateurs de la planète …

Et accessoirement, étrange coïncidence du calendrier, némésis de tant de successeurs du président Kennedy …

Comment ne pas repenser …

Au effets ô combien finalement dévatateurs d’une presse qui se laisse imposer ses récits …

Repeignant en martyre des droits civiques la vengeance du despote tropical du moment …

Ou travestissant derrière les couleurs d’une cour de music hall …

Un libéral au sens français en libéral au sens américain …

Contribuant ainsi pour une bonne part au funeste infléchissement du parti démocrate américain que l’on sait …

Et notamment plus près de nous au véritable accident industriel des années Obama ?

« Jackie a fait de JFK une statue de marbre »
Danièle Georget
Paris Match
14/09/2011

Danièle Georget est l’auteur de « Goodbye Mister Président », éd. Le Livre de poche.

Du style Jackie, on connaissait le triple rang de perles et les petits chapeaux tambourin. Mais, le 22 novembre 1963, l’icône de la mode devient une héroïne de tragédie, et les cars de touristes font, bientôt, une halte devant sa maison de Georgetown. Jackie Kennedy, 34 ans, est la femme la plus célèbre du monde. Elle se cache derrière des rideaux, prolonge les soirées au daiquiri, ne dort plus, revit en continu le film de Dallas. Pourtant, si Bobby, son beau-frère et son visiteur le plus assidu, s’enferme dans ce problème insoluble : « Qu’aurais-je pu faire pour empêcher ça ? », elle pense déjà à l’art de transformer le passé en Histoire. D’un homme de chair et de sang, elle a décidé de faire une statue de marbre.

Sept jours après l’assassinat, elle a appelé Theodore White, de « Life ». « Il y a quelque chose dont je n’arrive pas à me libérer, lui confesse-t-elle. Une réplique qui est presque devenue une obsession. Le soir, avant de nous coucher, Jack passait deux ou trois disques sur notre vieux Victrola. Il adorait “Camelot” [une comédie musicale]. Surtout la chanson, à la fin… : “Faites que personne n’oublie que, pendant un moment bref et éclatant, il y a eu Camelot.” Il y aura d’autres grands présidents après lui – et elle prend soin de citer Johnson “si extraordinaire”– mais il n’y aura jamais un autre “Camelot”. » Le ton est donné. Le château du roi Arthur, qui a inspiré la comédie musicale écrite par l’auteur de « My Fair Lady », ­devient l’emblème d’une présidence. Voilà pour la ­vitrine.

Les anciens copains en restent bouche bée. Aucun d’eux n’imaginait JFK en romantique de samedis soir à Broadway. Le célèbre humoriste Art Buchwald prétend même qu’en matière musicale ses goûts n’allaient pas plus loin que le « Hail to the Chief ». Mais Jackie a commencé à édifier son temple. Elle veut en être la vestale, et écrit en janvier 1964 : « Je considère que ma vie est finie, et je ne ferai rien d’autre jusqu’à la fin de mes jours qu’attendre qu’elle s’achève pour de bon. »

La vérité devra attendre

C’est l’époque où la commission Warren, pour élucider l’assassinat de JFK, passe ses auditions : 552 témoins sont interrogés, leurs récits consignés dans 26 volumes, déclarés secrets pendant soixante-quinze ans. Cela n’éloigne pas les francs-tireurs. Ainsi, Jim Bishop qui va publier « Le jour où Kennedy fut assassiné ». Jackie décide de torpiller le projet. C’est pourquoi elle convoque William Manchester, professeur d’histoire à la Wesleyan University. Leur entretien commence le 7 avril 1964, par cette question : « Allez-vous vous contenter d’aligner les faits – qui a mangé quoi au petit déjeuner et tout ce qui s’ensuit – ou allez-vous vous ­investir dans le livre ? » Elle lui racontera tout : la nuit qui a précédé la mort, la nuit qui a suivi la mort… Deux années plus tard ­paraît une version totalement expurgée.

Ce ne sont pas seulement les détails intimes qui posent problème mais l’analyse du rôle joué par le président Johnson. Le 16 décembre 1966, celui-ci lui écrit : « Nous avons été affligés d’apprendre, dans la presse, la tristesse qu’avait suscitée en vous le livre de Manchester. […] Des passages du livre, critiques ou diffamatoires à notre endroit, seraient à l’origine de vos préoccupations. S’il en est ainsi, je tiens à ce que vous sachiez que, si nous apprécions beaucoup votre gentillesse et votre ­sensibilité, nous espérons que vous ne vous attirerez aucun ­désagrément de notre fait. » Johnson a le physique du méchant à Hollywood. Il a été trois ans durant étouffé par un président qui se révèle encore plus écrasant mort que vivant. Bobby, l’ancien procureur général, ne supporte pas de le voir assis dans le fauteuil de son frère. Pour Bobby, il reste l’usurpateur, et peut-être pire encore. A ceux qui tentent de convaincre le président de le neutraliser en le choisissant pour vice-président, Johnson réplique : « Plutôt choisir Hô Chi Minh. »

En 1966, le professeur Manchester – censuré – est allé faire une dépression nerveuse en Suisse. La vérité devra attendre. Jackie l’a enfermée dans un coffre dont elle a jeté la clé. Pour ­cinquante ans. Après la légende du roi Arthur, celle de « La belle au Bois dormant ». Elle a parlé en secret à Arthur ­Schlesinger, ancien professeur d’histoire à Harvard. Lorsque JFK lui a proposé de rejoindre son équipe, Schlesinger s’est écrié : « Comme historien, quelle occasion unique ! Mais comme conseiller spécial, je ne vois pas bien ce que je ferais. » « Et moi, je ne sais pas ce que je ferai comme président, mais je crois qu’il y aura du boulot pour nous deux… » Ils ont la même ­passion de l’Histoire. « Une nation qui a peur de laisser ses ­citoyens juger sur pièces la vérité et la fausseté est une nation qui a peur de ses citoyens », avait proclamé JFK. Jackie s’en souviendra. Trois mois après les enregistrements, elle choisit de revivre. Elle quitte Washington, définitivement. Bobby a décidé de se présenter au siège de sénateur de New York, il n’est pas question d’habiter loin de lui. Elle a compris qu’on n’échappe pas au naufrage accroché à une statue de marbre. On coule ou on lâche.

Voir aussi:

“Jackie” is a must-see: Natalie Portman is Oscar-worthy as the iconic first lady in the days after her husband’s assassination

In « Jackie, » Natalie Portman portrays a women dedicated to creating Camelot from the chaos of tragic assassination

Salon

 

That fact is crucial to Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie,” a ravishing and bracingly intimate portrait of the first lady in the days after John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated. The film stars Natalie Portman, who doesn’t look at all like the Jackie Kennedy we thought we knew, and that’s by design. Larraín, who also directed this year’s “Neruda,” doesn’t so much recreate an icon in mourning as he makes her anew. “Jackie” transcends mimicry to achieve something greater — bringing the first lady’s grief and resolve in the face of unspeakable loss to vivid life.

The film opens in 1964 just days after Kennedy’s funeral. Against the wishes of her closest confidantes, who would prefer the first lady remain in hiding, Jackie grants an interview to a journalist from Life magazine (a restrained Billy Crudup), who is summoned to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The interviewer, who is based on a composite sketch of the many reporters who would speak with Mrs. Kennedy throughout her life, remains unnamed. The first time the audience sees him, the journalist occupies the lower half of the frame — slightly off-center when we might expect symmetry. The shot is a mission statement for the film itself, a triumph that dares to go to unexpected places that most prestige pics wouldn’t touch.

“Jackie” is a dual portrait, a diary of some of the darkest days in America’s history and a chronicle of how the first lady spun national tragedy into a lasting legacy for her husband. Before the sitdown, Jackie warns her interviewer that she will be heavily editing the conversion. The published version, to quote the great war satire “In the Loop,” will not be a “record of what happened to have been said but what was intended to have been said.”

Mrs. Kennedy eschews truth in favor of the myth. The reality is that after her husband was shot, his skull ripped open, she sat splattered in his remains, attempting to hold the pieces of him together. Jackie continued to wear the iconic pink dress she wore when her husband was shot — a Chanel knockoff — the rest of the day, despite Lady Bird Johnson’s (Beth Grant) insistence that she change. The First Lady refuses. “Let them see what they’ve done,” Jackie insists. When she returns to the White House later that evening, Jackie washes away his blood. She tries on dresses — while popping pills and drinking — as if deciding who she is now.

These feelings, raw and complicated, are stricken from the record at the subject’s request. Although Jackie smokes constantly, she claims that when it comes to the official version of the conversion, she does not. After Jackie remembers that her husband’s skull was “flesh colored, it wasn’t white,” she retracts a public admission of the horror she has experienced. “Don’t think for a second I’m going to let you publish that,” Mrs. Kennedy says.

These anguished moments don’t reflect the story Jackie wants to tell. This is the interview in which the first lady created the mythos of Camelot, comparing her husband’s presidency to the reign of King Arthur. The president and his wife were both fans of the Broadway musical of the same name, then starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, and it reflected how Jackie wanted the public to see their family — as representatives of a timeless royalty, even if short-lived. As a president, Kennedy was undistinguished, a politician who would either be remembered for resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis or initiating it. But as a symbol, Jackie realized that he could achieve the greatness he lacked in office.

In Larraín’s film, style is substance. His cinematographer, Stéphane Fontaine (“Elle”), mixes handheld camera — its subjects so close to the screen that it borders on uncomfortable — with lush tracking shots, such as during the lavish funeral procession. There’s one shot in particular that’s worth the price of admission, and you’ll know it when you see it: The first lady’s somber, searching face is viewed from inside the window of an armored car, juxtaposed with the reflection of mourners on the street. “Jackie” attains a beauty that’s often close to ecstasy.

That commitment to aesthetics is a fitting tribute to a woman — perhaps more than any other person of her era — who understood the power of the image. Throughout her husband’s presidency, the first lady was derided for the money she spent renovating the White House with antiques, which were meant to serve as a tribute to previous administrations. The press, uninterested in symbolism, charged her with wasting taxpayer dollars. Jackie is so fastidious and exacting when it comes to her persona that a reenactment of the famous 1962 tour of her Pennsylvania Avenue home is played for comic value. The first lady’s contrived voice, recalling Katherine Hepburn by way of Stepford, is a testament to the veneer of perfection Jackie worked so hard to maintain.

As the umpteenth actress to play Mrs. Kennedy, Portman wisely doesn’t try too hard to imitate her subject; Jackie’s trademark Long Island brogue slips occasionally. Portman’s performance — wounded yet vibrant, withholding yet brash — nonetheless dominates the film, so much so that you can’t imagine anyone else bringing such grace to such a complicated figure. Throughout “Jackie,” I never forgot the actress playing her, but what’s so surprising and wonderful is that Portman and her director allowed me to view an icon in a new way: as a woman, still so painfully young, forced into the role of a lifetime.

“I never wanted fame,” Jackie explains. “I just wanted to be a Kennedy.” As the film proves, she never had much of a choice in the matter, but at least she got what she wanted. John F. Kennedy is today viewed as one of the country’s great presidents, and that’s due to the woman we are only finally coming to know, even five decades later. It is long overdue.

Voir également:

Inventing Camelot: How Jackie Kennedy shaped her husband’s legacy

After the funeral service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, standing outside the church, watched the honor guard carry the coffin down the steps. A military band played “Hail to the Chief.” Jackie bent down and whispered in her little boy’s ear, “John, you can salute Daddy now and say goodbye to him.”

John Kennedy Jr. saluted his father’s coffin just as he had seen soldiers in uniform do. It was a heartbreaking gesture that became one of the most unforgettable images of the funeral.

‘One Brief Shining Moment’

The day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, Nov. 29, Jackie called Theodore White, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the bestselling book The “Making of the President: 1960.”

White and John Kennedy had gotten to know each other, and the president had admired him. When Jackie called, White was not home.

As he remembered, he “was taken from the dentist’s chair by a telephone call from my mother saying that Jackie Kennedy was calling and needed me.”

He called her back. “I found myself talking to Jacqueline Kennedy, who said there was something that she wanted Life magazine to say to the country, and I must do it.”

She told White she would send a Secret Service car to fetch him in New York and drive him up to Hyannisport. But when White called the Secret Service he was, he wrote, “curtly informed that Mrs. Kennedy was no longer the president’s wife, and she could give them no orders for cars. They were crisp.”

It was impossible to fly that weekend. A nor’easter or a hurricane was coming up over Cape Cod. So White hired a car and driver and headed north into the New England storm. He called his editors at Life to tell them about his exclusive scoop, but they told him the next issue was about to go to press. They warned him it would cost $30,000 an hour to hold the presses open for his story. It was unprecedented.

But they would do it.

This meant that the most important photojournalism magazine in America would be standing still and delaying the printing of its next issue for a story that had not yet been written and would be based on an interview that had not yet even been conducted. Still, an exclusive interview with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was so coveted, Life was willing to do almost anything.

White arrived, he recalled, “at about 8:30 in the driving rain.”

Jackie welcomed him and instructed her houseguests, who included Dave Powers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. and JFK’s old pal Chuck Spalding, that she wanted to speak with him alone. As soon as she sat down, White began taking notes as fast as his hand could scribble: “Composure . . . beautiful . . . dressed in trim black slacks . . . beige pullover sweater . . . eyes wider than pools . . . calm voice.” Then she spoke.

“She had asked me to Hyannisport,” White discovered, “because she wanted me to make certain that Jack was not forgotten by history.”

White was stunned. How could anyone ever forget John F. Kennedy?

White was now ready to be hypnotized by a master mesmerist.

Jackie complained that “bitter people” were already writing stories, attempting to measure her husband with a laundry list of his achievements and failures. Jackie hated that. They would never capture the real man.

White asked her to explain, and then, for the next 3¹/₂ hours, she delivered a jumbled, almost stream-of-consciousness narrative about Dallas, the blood, the head wound, the wedding ring, the hospital, and how she kissed him goodbye.

It was only a week after the assassination.

Then she got to the reason she had summoned White: “But there’s this one thing I wanted to say . . . I kept saying to Bob, I’ve got to talk to somebody, I’ve got to see somebody, I want to say this one thing, it’s been almost an obsession with me, all I keep thinking of is this line from a musical comedy, it’s been an obsession with me.”

She confided to White. “At night, before we’d go to sleep . . . Jack liked to play some records . . . and the song he loved most came at the very end of this record, the last side of Camelot, sad Camelot.”

She was talking about the popular Broadway musical fantasy about King Arthur’s court. “The lines he loved to hear,” Jackie revealed, were, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

In case White failed to understand, she repeated her story. “She wanted to make sure,” the journalist remembered, “that the point came clear.”

Jackie went on: “There’ll be great presidents again — and the Johnsons are wonderful, they’ve been wonderful to me — but there’ll never be a Camelot again.”

White wanted to continue to other subjects, “But [Jackie] came back to the idea that transfixed her: ‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief moment that was known as Camelot.’ ”

She was determined to convince White that her husband’s presidency was a unique, magical and forever lost moment.

“And,” she proclaimed, “it will never be that way again.”

President Kennedy was dead and buried in his grave, and she told the journalist she wanted to step out of the spotlight. “She said it is time people paid attention to the new president and the new first lady. But she does not want them to forget John F. Kennedy or read of him only in dusty or bitter histories: For one brief shining moment there was Camelot.”

An Enduring Myth

Around midnight, White went upstairs to write the story — Life needed it before he left Jackie. He came down around 2 a.m. and tried to dictate the story over a wall-hung telephone in her kitchen.

He had already allowed her to pencil changes on the manuscript. As White spoke over the phone, Jackie overheard that his editors in New York wanted to tone down and cut some of the “Camelot” material.

She glared at White and shook her head.

One of his editors caught the stress in his voice and suspected Jackie. “Hey,” he asked White, “is she listening to this now?”

It was Jacqueline Kennedy’s tour de force, her finest hour — actually more than five hours — of press manipulation. She had summoned an influential, Pulitzer Prize–winning author to do her bidding — and like so many men she had mesmerized before, he did it.

White violated all standards of journalism ethics by allowing the subject of a story to read it in advance — and edit it. But he was not acting as a journalist that night — he was serving as the awestruck courtier of a bereaved widow.

And it worked. Thanks to Theodore White’s essay “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” which ran in the Dec. 6 issue of Life, Camelot and its brief shining moment became one of the most celebrated and enduring myths in American politics.

To Jackie, the assassination symbolized an end of days, not just for her husband, but also for the nation.

From the forthcoming book, “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy” by James Swanson. Copyright (c) 2013 by James Swanson. To be published Tuesday by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Voir encore:

How Jackie Kennedy Invented the Camelot Legend After JFK’s Death

While the nation was still grieving JFK’s assassination, she used an influential magazine profile to rewrite her husband’s legacy and spawn Camelot.

James Piereson

The Daily Beast

11.12.13

Few events in the postwar era have cast such a long shadow over our national life as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago this month. The murder of a handsome and vigorous president shocked the nation to its core and shook the faith of many Americans in their institutions and way of life.

Those who were living at the time would never forget the moving scenes associated with President Kennedy’s death: the Zapruder film depicting the assassination in a frame-by-frame sequence; the courageous widow arriving with the coffin at Andrews Air Force Base still wearing her bloodstained dress; the throng of mourners lined up for blocks outside the Capitol to pay respects to the fallen president; the accused assassin gunned down two days later while in police custody and in full view of a national television audience; the little boy saluting the coffin of his slain father; the somber march to Arlington National Cemetery; the eternal flame affixed to the gravesite. These scenes were repeated endlessly on television at the time and then reproduced in popular magazines and, still later, in documentary films. They came to be viewed as defining events of the era.

In their grief, Americans were inclined to take to heart the various myths and legends that grew up around President Kennedy within days of the assassination. Though the assassin was a communist and an admirer of Fidel Castro, many insisted that President Kennedy was a martyr to the cause of civil rights who deserved a place of honor next to Abraham Lincoln as a champion of racial justice. Others held him up as a great statesman who labored for international peace.

But by far the most potent element of the Kennedy legacy was the one that associated JFK with the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. As with many of the myths and legends surrounding President Kennedy, this one was the creative contribution of Jacqueline Kennedy who imagined and artfully circulated it in those grief-filled days following her husband’s death.

On the weekend following the assassination and state funeral, Mrs. Kennedy invited the journalist Theodore White to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis for an exclusive interview to serve as the basis for an essay in a forthcoming issue of Life magazine dedicated to President Kennedy. White was a respected journalist and the author of the best selling chronicle of the 1960 campaign, The Making of the President, 1960, that portrayed candidate Kennedy in an especially favorable light and his opponent (Richard Nixon) in a decidedly negative light. White had also known Joseph Kennedy, Jr. (John F. Kennedy’s older brother) while a student at Harvard in the late 1930s. Mrs. Kennedy reached out to White in the reasonable belief that he was a journalist friendly to the Kennedy family.

In that interview Mrs. Kennedy pressed upon White the Camelot image that would prove so influential in shaping the public memory of JFK and his administration. President Kennedy, she told the journalist, was especially fond of the music from the popular Broadway musical, Camelot, the lyrics of which were the work of Alan Jay Lerner, JFK’s classmate at Harvard. The musical, which featured Richard Burton as Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guinevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot, had a successful run on Broadway from 1960 to 1963. According to Mrs. Kennedy, the couple enjoyed listening to a recording of the title song before going to bed at night. JFK was especially fond of the concluding couplet: “Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot.” President Kennedy, she said, was strongly attracted to the Camelot legend because he was an idealist who saw history as something made by heroes like King Arthur (a claim White knew to be untrue). “There will be great presidents again,” she told White, “but there will never be another Camelot.” In this way, and to her credit, Mrs. Kennedy sought to attach a morally uplifting message to one of the more ugly events in American history.

Following the interview, White retreated to a guest room in the Kennedy mansion to review his notes and compose a draft of the essay. His editors were at this hour (late on a Saturday evening) holding the presses open at great expense while waiting to receive his copy over the telephone. When White later phoned his editors to dictate his text (with Mrs. Kennedy standing nearby), he was surprised by their reaction for they initially rejected the Camelot references as sentimental and inappropriate to the occasion. Mrs. Kennedy, interpreting the gist of the exchange, signaled to White that Camelot must be kept in the text. The editors quickly relented. White later wrote that he regretted the role he played in transmitting the Camelot myth to the public.

These images were contained in White’s essay in the special issue of Life that hit the newsstands on December 3, 1963. Life at that time had a weekly circulation of seven million and a readership of more than 30 million. The extensive distribution of the issue guaranteed that the essay would receive the widest possible circulation here and abroad. Though the Arthurian motif has been ridiculed over the years as a distortion of the actual record, it has nevertheless etched the Kennedy years in the public memory as a magical era that will never be repeated.

Camelot, the Broadway musical (later a Hollywood movie), was adapted from T. H. White’s (no relation to the journalist) Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King, published in 1958 but made up of four parts that the author wrote separately beginning in 1938. White’s novel has proved to be one of the most popular and widely read books of our time. Reviewers called it “a literary miracle” and “a queer kind of masterpiece.” The reviewer for the New York Times called it “a glorious dream of the Middle Ages as they never were but as they ought to have been, an inspired and exhilarating mixture of farce, fantasy, psychological insight, medieval lore and satire all involved in a marvelously peculiar retelling of the Arthurian legend.” In contrast to traditional versions of the Arthurian legend, which celebrated knighthood and chivalry and portrayed Arthur as a brave warrior, White’s modern version poked fun at the pretensions of knights and princes and pointedly criticized war, militarism, and nationalism. White presented King Arthur less as a brave warrior and military leader than as a peacemaker who tried (but failed) to subdue the war-making passions of mankind.

Mrs. Kennedy very likely read The Once and Future King and perhaps saw or showed to her children the cartoon version of The Sword and the Stone (the first chapter of the four part novel) that Walt Disney produced in 1963. There were biting ironies in her attraction to a legendary kingship that unravels due to the consequences of betrayal and infidelity and to her association of the central myth of English nationality with the United States’ first Irish president. Nevertheless, she looked past these contradictions to focus on the central message of White’s novel that portrayed war as pointless and absurd. President Kennedy, as his widow wanted him to be remembered, was like King Arthur—a peacemaker who died in a campaign to pacify the warring factions of mankind.

One must admire Mrs. Kennedy for the skill with which she deployed these images in the difficult aftermath of her husband’s death. Our retrospective view of President Kennedy is now filtered through the legends and symbols she put forward at that time. The hardheaded politician devoted to step-by- step progress was transformed in death into the consummate liberal idealist. The Cold War leader who would “bear any price to insure the survival of liberty” was subsequently viewed as an idealistic peacemaker in the image of The Once and Future King. Difficult as it may be to accept, the posthumous image of JFK reflected more the idealistic beliefs of Mrs. Kennedy than the practical political liberalism of the man himself.

But the Camelot image as applied to the Kennedy presidency had some unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. By turning President Kennedy into a liberal idealist (which he was not) and a near legendary figure, Mrs. Kennedy inadvertently contributed to the unwinding of the tradition of American liberalism that her husband represented in life. The images she advanced had a double effect: first, to establish Kennedy as a transcendent political figure far superior to any contemporary rival; and, second, to highlight what the nation had lost when he was killed. The two elements were mirror images of one another. The Camelot myth magnified the sense of loss felt as a consequence of Kennedy’s death and the dashing of liberal hopes and possibilities. If one accepted the image (and many did, despite their better judgment), then the best of times were now in the past and could not be recovered. Life would go on but the future could never match the magical chapter that had been brought to an unnatural end. As Mrs. Kennedy said, “there will never be another Camelot.”

The Camelot myth posed a challenge to the liberal idea of history as a progressive enterprise, always moving forward despite setbacks here and there toward the elusive goal of perfecting the American experiment in self-government. Mrs. Kennedy’s image fostered nostalgia for the past in the belief that the Kennedy administration represented a peak of achievement that could not be duplicated. The legend of the Kennedy years as unique or magical was, in addition, divorced from real accomplishments as measured by important programs passed or difficult problems solved. The magical aspect of the New Frontier was located, by contrast, in its style and sophisticated attitude rather than in its concrete achievements. Mrs. Kennedy, without intending to do so and without understanding the consequences of her image making, put forward an interpretation of John F. Kennedy’s life and death that magnified the consequences of the assassination while leaving his successors with little upon which to build.

James Piereson is president of the William E. Simon Foundation and a senior fellow at The Manhattan Institute. He is the author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (2007)

Voir de même:

Referring to JFK’s presidency as ‘Camelot’ doesn’t do him justice

The source of the Camelot reference is a story of failed idealism. It, like all mythology, distracts us from the whole story of Kennedy
Sarah-Jane Stratford
The Guardian
21 November 2013
The name « Camelot » is such an accepted sobriquet for the Kennedy Administration that many don’t recognize it as a creation of Jackie Kennedy’s during a Life magazine interview following JFK’s assassination. It certainly evokes an image of a romantic fairy-tale … but, when considered in light of its origin, it’s nowhere near as flattering a nickname as it was intended to be.

What prompted Jackie’s analogy was the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical « Camelot », which presents the kingdom ruled by King Arthur as a place built on lofty principles, more idyllic than Eden. The plot, however, focuses on the forces out to destroy Camelot – the adulterous romance between Lancelot and Arthur’s queen, Guenevere, and the machinations of Arthur’s bitter illegitimate son, Mordred. Arthur, though witty and idealistic, is not very adept at thinking for himself or dealing with the thornier aspects of government.

It’s not exactly the most uplifting epitaph for a fallen leader. While Jackie meant the comparison to be positive, highlighting the hope and potential ushered in with the inauguration, it is unfortunately rooted in a story of a weak and cuckolded leader, whose best work barely warrants a mention.

The problem with creating a myth around a person is that, no matter how much is known, it distorts the truth and will evolve over time. A few dozen centuries ago, historians had little choice but to use mythology as a basis for their work, and were in any case shaping the telling to suit their purposes, rather than being slaves to accuracy. It’s almost embarrassingly easy for a modern historian to record facts, but mythology is still in there, mucking up the works. People latch onto « Camelot, » much more than either Kennedy the man or the politician.

The myth of King Arthur changed over the years – if the original version had informed « Camelot, » it would be much more complimentary. Arthur, first chronicled in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s circa 1138 Historia Regum Britanniae (pdf), is a rock star. The story is replete with magic, dragons, a sword named Caliburn and a lance named Ron. Arthur is a warrior and leader of almost supernatural capacity, and also « a youth of such unparalleled courage and generosity, joined with that sweetness of temper and innate goodness, as gained him universal love. » The Saxon-free Britain he established with bloody thoroughness was a paradigm, a magnet for those interested in the best that government could be, heck, even a place where women were celebrated for their wit. So while he did end up cuckolded, killed and his kingdom destroyed, his legacy was intact. Arthur was firmly established as the monarch to which to aspire – with better people.

Later in the 12th century, the Historia was distorted by avowed mythology, and Arthur started losing his cool (although his sword eventually got a niftier name). The poetry of Chrétien de Troyes focused on the adventures of select members of the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur and how he shaped and presided over that table and his kingdom were secondary to the feats of chivalry, quest for the Holy Grail, and Lancelot’s courtly love, which turned into the adulterous affair with Guenevere. Chrétien’s contemporary, Marie de France’s poems also featured courtly love in and around Arthur’s court, with Arthur relegated to a footnote. The slightly later Vulgate cycle follows the same pattern. Arthur had led the war to secure the independence and peace the kingdom enjoyed, but the poems all prefer to highlight Lancelot and company.

By the time Thomas Malory wrote his version of the Arthurian myth in the mid-15th century, Arthur had shriveled from heroic warrior and inspirational ruler to a cipher defined by the acts of others around him. Malory’s stories were about events during Arthur’s life, but the collection is called Le Morte d’Arthur, which needs no translation. This book inspired TH White’s 1958 the Once and Future King, which he framed as a tragedy. His Arthur is enamored with his ideals, which fail in the face of other people’s lust for either power or each other. This was the book that served as the basis for the musical that Jackie Kennedy was referencing.

But the conflation of Camelot and the Kennedys persists, and not only does it not really suit, it also does a disservice to the real understanding and assessment of the Kennedy Administration. It’s natural to adulate and lionize a vibrant leader violently cut down, but it’s the thin end of the wedge. Once a mythology has taken hold, it becomes difficult to isolate the true history – even if it’s actually more compelling and fascinating than the lore.

Mythology is common to nations’ stories of self, but America, perhaps by virtue of the recentness of its founding, is particularly prone to it, continually intertwining myth with the current body politic. It’s still difficult for history students to sift out the truth of the founding fathers because the mythology is so pernicious, creating an inaccurate view of both history and modern government. For years, « Camelot » as a memento mori was a lens that made viewing the life and times of Kennedy and the nation more difficult and less satisfying, except for those who love fairy tales.

Whatever the intention or interpretation, a wistful lyric from a mediocre musical about failed idealism doesn’t do justice to Kennedy and his time. « Camelot » keeps us from the whole story. He, and we, deserve better.

Voir encore:

Ben Zimmer
The Wall Street Journal

In the remembrances of John F. Kennedy’s presidency this week as the 50th anniversary of his assassination passes, one word continues to resonate above all: Camelot.

The name of King Arthur’s mythical court city has its roots in medieval romantic literature, but thanks to skillful media manipulation by Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband’s death, « Camelot » remains a potent mythmaking metaphor for the Kennedy administration.

The name first appeared as « Camaalot » in a 12th-century French poem about Lancelot written by Chrétien de Troyes, but etymologists are unsure if that was intended to refer to a real-life British location, such as Colchester (known in Latin as Camuladonum) or Cadbury (situated near the River Cam).

Later writers such as Sir Thomas Malory and Alfred, Lord Tennyson transformed Camelot into a dreamy utopia. By the time Mark Twain wrote « A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, » « Camelot » was intimately known to American readers, even if Twain’s time-traveling protagonist doesn’t recognize the name. (« Name of the asylum, likely, » he surmises.) In the 20th century, « Camelot » increasingly began to work its way into American popular culture, serving as the name for a popular 1930s board game.

But the immediate inspiration for the Kennedys’ Camelot was Lerner and Loewe’s musical of that name, based on T.H. White’s popular novel, « The Once and Future King. » While the musical opened on Broadway in 1960, it wasn’t until after Kennedy’s death that anyone thought to connect « Camelot » to the idealistic young president.

As James Piereson, author of « Camelot and the Cultural Revolution, » wrote recently in The Daily Beast, Jacqueline Kennedy single-handedly invented the Camelot myth in an interview she conducted with Theodore White (no relation to the novelist) for Life Magazine a week after the assassination. She told White that she and her husband enjoyed listening to the cast recording at bedtime, particularly the title song, in which Richard Burton as Arthur sings: « Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot. »

Jacqueline quoted the line and concluded, « There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot. » Her observations found their way into newspapers around the country.

Nothing did more to cement the nostalgic Kennedy mythos than that one word. It was, as Liz Nickles writes in the book « Brandstorm, » « one of the most significant examples of the power of storytelling to build a brand in modern history. » Despite all the less-than-flattering revelations that have emerged about the Kennedy presidency, 50 years later the Camelot metaphor still seems unassailable.

Voir encore:

The « Camelot » interview (29 November 1963)

Wikipedia

One week after the assasination of her husband Mrs. Kennedy summoned Theodore H. White to Hyannisport for an interview. Some of the statements she made appeared in that week’s edition of LIFE magazine (6 December 1963), and more of it appeared many years later in his memoir In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978). In 1969 White donated his notes of the interview to the Kennedy Library, to be made fully public only after Mrs. Kennedy’s death. They were released on 26 May 1995.
  • There’d been the biggest motorcade from the airport. Hot. Wild. Like Mexico and Vienna. The sun was so strong in our faces. I couldn’t put on sunglasses… Then we saw this tunnel ahead, I thought it would be cool in the tunnel, I thought if you were on the left the sun wouldn’t get into your eyes…
  • They were gunning the motorcycles. There were these little backfires. There was one noise like that. I thought it was a backfire. Then next I saw Connally grabbing his arms and saying « no, no, no, no, no, » with his fist beating. Then Jack turned and I turned. All I remember was a blue-gray building up ahead. Then Jack turned back so neatly, his last expression was so neat… you know that wonderful expression he had when they’d ask him a question about one of the ten million pieces they have in a rocket, just before he’d answer. He looked puzzled, then he slumped forward. He was holding out his hand … I could see a piece of his skull coming off. It was flesh-colored, not white — he was holding out his hand … I can see this perfectly clean piece detaching itself from his head. Then he slumped in my lap, his blood and his brains were in my lap … Then Clint Hill [the Secret Service man], he loved us, he made my life so easy, he was the first man in the car … We all lay down in the car … And I kept saying, Jack, Jack, Jack, and someone was yelling « he’s dead, he’s dead. » All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him, saying « Jack, Jack, can you hear me, I love you, Jack. »
  • His head was so beautiful. I tried to hold the top of his head down, maybe I could keep it in… but I knew he was dead.
  • When they carried Jack in, Hill threw his coat over Jack’s head, and I held his head to throw the coat over it. It wasn’t repulsive to me for one moment — nothing was repulsive to me —
  • These big Texas interns kept saying, « Mrs. Kennedy, you come with us », they wanted to take me away from him… But I said « I’m not leaving »… Dave Powers came running to me at the hospital, crying when he saw me, my legs, my hands were covered with his brains… When Dave saw this he burst out weeping… I said « I’m not going to leave him, I’m not going to leave him »… I was standing outside in this narrow corridor… ten minutes later this big policeman brought me a chair.
  • I said, « I want to be in there when he dies »… so Burkeley forced his way into the operating room and said, « It’s her prerogative, it’s her prerogative… » and I got in, there were about forty people there. Dr. Perry wanted to get me out. But I said « It’s my husband, his blood, his brains are all over me. »
  • I held his hand all the time the priest was saying extreme unction.
  • The ring was all blood-stained… so I put the ring on Jack’s finger… and then I kissed his hand…
  • Everytime we got off the plane that day, three times they gave me the yellow roses of Texas. But in Dallas they gave me red roses. I thought how funny, red roses — so all the seat was full of blood and red roses.
  • But there’s this one thing I wanted to say… I’m so ashamed of myself… When Jack quoted something, it was usually classical… no, don’t protect me now… I kept saying to Bobby, I’ve got to talk to somebody, I’ve got to see somebody, I want to say this one thing, it’s been almost an obsession with me, all I keep thinking of is this line from a musical comedy, it’s been an obsession with me… At night before we’d go to sleep… we had an old Victrola. Jack liked to play some records. His back hurt, the floor was so cold. I’d get out of bed at night and play it for him, when it was so cold getting out of bed… on a Victrola ten years old — and the song he loved most came at the very end of this record, the last side of Camelot, sad Camelot… « Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot. »…There’ll never be another Camelot again…
  • Do you know what I think of history? … For a while I thought history was something that bitter old men wrote. But Jack loved history so… No one’ll ever know everything about Jack. But … history made Jack what he was … this lonely, little sick boy … scarlet fever … this little boy sick so much of the time, reading in bed, reading history … reading the Knights of the Round Table … and he just liked that last song.
    Then I thought, for Jack history was full of heroes. And if it made him this way, if it made him see the heroes, maybe other little boys will see. Men are such a combination of good and bad … He was such a simple man. But he was so complex, too. Jack had this hero idea of history, the idealistic view, but then he had that other side, the pragmatic side… his friends were all his old friends; he loved his Irish Mafia.
  • History!… Everybody kept saying to me to put a cold towel around my head and wipe the blood off… later, I saw myself in the mirror; my whole face spattered with blood and hair… I wiped it off with Kleenex… History! … I thought, no one really wants me there. Then one second later I thought, why did I wash the blood off? I should have left it there, let them see what they’ve done… If I’d just had the blood and caked hair when they took the picture … Then later I said to Bobby — what’s the line between history and drama? I should have kept the blood on.
    • A variant reading of White’s notes exists: Then later I said to Bobby — what’s the line between histrionics and drama. I should have kept the blood on. but in White’s own published memoir In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978) this is rendered « what’s the line between history and drama? »
    • Voir enfin:
    • La littérature médiévale, peu connue des non-spécialistes, est surtout abordée par le biais des nombreuses réécritures et adaptations à différents media. La légende du roi Arthur, par exemple, est principalement connue du grand public grâce à son adaptation en bande-dessinée, film ou encore série télévisée. Mais cette large diffusion est également due à l’influence souvent négligée de la comédie musicale Camelot, créée à Broadway en 1960 par Alan Jay Lerner et Frederick Loewe. Cette œuvre complète, mêlant jeu théâtral, chant et danse, s’appuie sur le texte de Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, ainsi que sur la lecture proposée par Terence Hanbury White dans sa réécriture The Once and Future King, œuvre célèbre dans le monde anglophone. Camelot met en scène (et en chansons) la grandeur d’un règne arthurien idyllique, troublé par des conflits internes et des antagonismes profondément ancrés. Ce spectacle musical, qui a largement participé au succès du mythe arthurien aux États-Unis, apparaît alors comme une synthèse du texte médiéval, soulignant la dimension amoureuse de la légende à travers une distribution prestigieuse.

      1Si l’on fait exception des microcosmes que constituent l’enseignement et la recherche universitaires, le rapport au texte médiéval n’apparaît aujourd’hui que comme un rapport indirect, détourné par un enseignement secondaire limité et un phénomène toujours croissant de traduction, nécessaire à la vulgarisation des sources littéraires. Mais l’accès du grand public à la littérature médiévale ne se limite pas au prisme linguistique des éditions de poche. En effet, les récits médiévaux sont bien souvent présents dans la conscience collective par le biais de longues séries de réécritures et d’adaptations à différents media. La légende arthurienne semble particulièrement représentative de cette survivance permise par le travail de réécriture. Si en France les œuvres majeures de Chrétien de Troyes ne sont pas totalement inconnues du grand public, notamment grâce à l’initiation aux textes du Moyen Âge permise par les programmes de français de la classe de cinquième, l’histoire légendaire d’Arthur et de ses chevaliers nous est toutefois davantage connue par ses nombreuses adaptations cinématographiques. La matière arthurienne a en effet beaucoup inspiré les cinéastes occidentaux, comme le rappelle François Amy de la Bretèque1, et continue d’inspirer aujourd’hui encore. Ce procédé permettant la vulgarisation et la large diffusion des œuvres littéraires est désormais traditionnel, même si la qualité des adaptations demeure parfois problématique.

      2Toutefois, une recette de diffusion, plus inattendue pour le public francophone, s’avère peut-être également la plus efficace : l’adaptation en comédie musicale. Si de grandes comédies musicales sont accessibles au public français depuis quelques décennies maintenant, ce type de création artistique demeure extrêmement limité par rapport aux dizaines de « musicals » qui se bousculent sur les scènes anglophones. Et c’est justement une comédie musicale qui est à l’origine de la large diffusion du mythe arthurien d’après l’œuvre de Thomas Malory. En effet, la production américaine Camelot, de Alan Jay Lerner et de Frederick Loewe, propose une mise en scène et en chansons de l’œuvre romanesque de Terence Hanbury White2, elle-même constituant un long développement de la matière du Morte d’Arthur de Malory. Si White a largement contribué à la pérennité de Malory, c’est bien la comédie musicale Camelot qui a le plus participé à sa popularisation outre-Atlantique, puis par échos en Europe.

      3Bien que la plaquette de la comédie musicale porte l’inscription « based on The Once and Future King by T. H. White », il semble pourtant que les créateurs de Camelot se soient directement inspirés de l’œuvre de Malory, sans toujours s’appuyer sur la réécriture moderne de White. Certes, des détails, absents chez Malory et ajoutés par White, sont présents dans la comédie musicale, à l’instar des précisions concernant l’extraction de l’épée Excalibur de la pierre dans laquelle elle était plantée3. Mais de nombreux autres éléments ne peuvent à l’inverse qu’être directement issus de Malory4, puisque n’étant pas repris dans la réécriture de White. C’est le cas notamment du physique de Lancelot : chez White, Lancelot est un homme hideux, prenant parfois le nom de « Chevalier Mal Fet » en écho à ce visage repoussant5. Or, les acteurs choisis pour incarner Lancelot dans les différentes productions de Camelot n’ont jamais été grimés ou enlaidis, bien au contraire, ce qui laisse à penser que Lerner et Loewe ont ici privilégié la vision médiévale de Malory, dont l’œuvre n’évoque jamais cette laideur du chevalier. Ils reprennent ici l’acceptation traditionnelle, qui fait de Lancelot un chevalier parfait, et par conséquent un bel homme. Ce choix permet à la fois d’apporter une crédibilité au dilemme amoureux de Guenièvre, et de satisfaire le spectateur dans l’attente d’un Lancelot correspondant aux canons de beauté du XXe siècle6. De plus, l’une des chansons du premier acte, « The Lusty Month of May », interprétée par Guenièvre, semble née de la réflexion de Malory sur la reverdie et le désir naissant que le printemps suscite7. Guenièvre, qui danse au milieu d’une troupe joyeuse, se réjouit ainsi que « the birds and bees with all of their vast / amourous past / gaze at the human race aghast » pendant cette célébration du renouveau de la nature comme des amours. De façon éloquente, dans Camelot cette chanson précède la première rencontre de Guenièvre et de Lancelot, annonçant leur passion future. La comédie musicale, dans un effet de raccourci, condense et illustre la réflexion de Malory, traditionnelle de la pensée médiévale, en unissant les futurs amants sous le signe du renouveau printanier. Enfin, à la fin de la comédie musicale, Arthur, vieilli, prêt pour son ultime combat, rencontre un jeune garçon à qui il demande de répandre la glorieuse histoire des chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Ce garçon, « Tom of Warwick », est bien entendu un avatar de Thomas Malory, qui par la magie du spectacle reçoit d’Arthur lui-même le sujet de son œuvre majeure, Le Morte Darthur, et perpétue ainsi la légende. L’ensemble de ces éléments suggère le rapport direct et cyclique que la comédie musicale entretient avec le texte de Malory. Néanmoins, Camelot ne néglige pas le rôle essentiel joué par l’œuvre de White dans le processus de diffusion de la matière arthurienne : il est possible que le succès littéraire du premier volume de The Once and Future King, intitulé The Sword in the Stone, et le relatif oubli de Thomas Malory aux États-Unis, ait fait privilégier le nom de White, plus connu, comme source de la comédie musicale de Lerner et Loewe.

      4La comédie musicale Camelot est née sur les planches du Majestic Theatre de Broadway, où elle a séduit le public au cours de 873 représentations, de décembre 1960 à janvier 19638. Le succès de cette première mise en scène a entraîné une série de nouvelles productions et de tournées, principalement à travers les États-Unis. La distribution originale est particulièrement prestigieuse, puisqu’elle regroupe notamment Richard Burton dans le rôle du roi Arthur, Julie Andrews (Guenièvre), Robert Goulet (Lancelot) et Roddy McDowall (Mordred). Les numéros musicaux de Lerner – pour le livret – et de Loewe – pour la musique – apparaissent comme l’emblème majeur de l’esprit du Morte d’Arthur. La grandeur d’un Camelot idyllique atteint son paroxysme dans le glorieux chant éponyme lancé par Arthur dans le premier acte ; les caractères s’affirment avec éclat dans « C’est moi9 », interprété par le chevalier Lancelot, ou encore dans « The Seven Deadly Virtues », hymne de Mordred. Si ces deux chansons semblent fidèles à l’esprit de l’hypotexte médiéval, elles simplifient grandement la complexité des personnages et diminuent leur profondeur, en les réduisant à un ou deux traits caractéristiques : la noblesse prétentieuse de Lancelot et la duplicité de Mordred.

      5Mais le plus grand succès musical de Camelot demeure aujourd’hui encore le numéro d’introduction du second acte : la célèbre ballade amoureuse « If Ever I Would Leave You », que Lancelot adresse à la reine10. Les nombreuses reprises musicales et culturelles de la chanson soulignent sa puissance évocatrice, ainsi que la capacité de la légende arthurienne à atteindre la sensibilité des XXe et XXIe siècles en s’appuyant sur des thématiques universelles, présentes en germe chez Malory. Ici, l’amour du chevalier pour Guenièvre s’exprime à travers la succession des saisons, toutes propices à mettre en avant la beauté de la femme aimée11 :

      If ever I would leave you,
      It wouldn’t be in summer.
      Seeing you in summer I never would go.
      Your hair streaked with sunlight,
      You lips red as flame,
      Your face with a luster
      That puts gold to shame […].
      If ever I would leave you,
      How could it be in spring-time?
      Knowing how in spring I’m bewitched by you so?
      Oh, no! Not in spring-time!
      Summer, winter or fall!
      No, never could I leave you at all!

      6La réécriture musicale offre à cet amour adultère ses lettres de noblesse, ce que Malory ne pouvait concevoir dans une telle mesure. Les quatre couplets détaillent à la fois la beauté de Guenièvre et l’amour inconditionnel de Lancelot, à travers des remarques peu précises sur l’apparence physique ou les habitudes de la reine, afin d’accentuer l’universalité des paroles. Cette chanson, particulièrement forte dans la comédie musicale, est demeurée célèbre par son caractère universel. En effet, elle résonne pour tous les amoureux, sans évoquer le nom de Guenièvre, l’état de chevalier, ou le contexte d’amour adultère. La chanson possède d’ailleurs désormais son existence propre et autonome, sans être nécessairement perçue comme un extrait de comédie musicale. Les paroles de Lerner confèrent à la relation des deux amants une dimension à la fois universelle et atemporelle, soutenue par une musique vibrante et grandiose. Loin de réduire la légende à une histoire d’adultère, la comédie musicale en élargit les caractéristiques, afin de rendre la matière arthurienne accessible et touchante à un public moderne : si les titres de « roi » et de « chevalier » n’ont pas de résonance pour le spectateur de 1960, les notions d’amour et de trahison constituent une entrée privilégiée et toujours vive dans la légende. Ainsi, « If Ever I Would Leave You » n’est pas tant la déclaration de Lancelot à la reine, que celle d’un homme à une femme, ce qui permet à l’œuvre musicale de trouver un écho direct dans le public de cette époque. La perspective moderne proposée par Camelot accentue donc la dimension humaine des personnages de Malory. La comédie musicale vise à l’universalité en s’attachant au triangle amoureux, aux sentiments partagés d’Arthur et à la trahison de Mordred. Les auteurs ont donc cherché à mettre en avant les aspects humains qui constituent la légende, sans insister sur ses caractéristiques médiévales – chevalerie, relation vassal/suzerain… Dans Camelot, et en particulier dans la chanson « If Ever I Would Leave You », c’est donc l’universalité des émotions qui est mise sur le devant de la scène, afin de faciliter l’identification d’un large public12.

      7L’adaptation que proposent Lerner et Loewe de l’œuvre de Malory, d’après la relecture de Terence Hanbury White, ne consiste pas en une simple transposition d’un medium à un autre, mais bien en une réécriture complète, comme le suggère la modification de certains épisodes complets13. Lerner et Loewe proposent une « décantation » de la légende arthurienne de Malory, pour reprendre le terme d’Alban Gautier14, avec une réduction de l’intrigue ainsi que du nombre de personnages, afin de centrer l’action autour du triangle amoureux Arthur-Guenièvre-Lancelot. Camelot suit une intrigue resserrée sur ces trois personnages et sur leur rôle dans la chute du pouvoir arthurien. Des livres entiers du texte de Malory disparaissent ainsi, notamment l’histoire de Gareth et celle de Tristan et Iseut. La comédie musicale propose en contrepartie des ajouts notables, tel que le magnifique soliloque d’Arthur interrogeant sa conscience face à l’adultère de son épouse et de son meilleur ami. Mais Camelot ne peut rendre la richesse du texte de Malory, et apparaît comme un extrait représentatif de l’essence du Morte d’Arthur : la comédie musicale est limitée, tant par sa durée et ses conditions matérielles que par sa dimension de divertissement. En effet, la réécriture musicale de Lerner et Loewe doit proposer un spectacle complet, incluant chant, danse et jeu théâtral. En adaptant la trame de Malory à la scène, les créateurs ont su tenir compte des talents particuliers des différents interprètes principaux, en accentuant tantôt le jeu d’acteur, tantôt la puissance vocale. Ces nuances scéniques sont surtout perceptibles dans les deux rôles masculins principaux, Arthur (Richard Burton) et Lancelot (Robert Goulet). Si les deux artistes chantent et jouent la comédie tout au long de la représentation, les scènes qui définissent le mieux leurs personnages sont très différentes, et constituent les deux facettes majeures d’un rôle dans une comédie musicale : pour Arthur, cette scène-clé est son long monologue clôturant le premier acte, où il pèse les implications de l’amour réciproque de Guenièvre et de Lancelot. Seul, dans la grande et obscure salle du trône, Arthur laisse éclater sa colère d’homme trahi, avant de décider d’agir en roi civilisé. Seul, sous les projecteurs, Richard Burton donne vie au dilemme amorcé par Malory et White, alors que résonne en fond sonore la mélodie de « How To Handle a Woman15 ». Richard Burton, pour son premier rôle dans une comédie musicale, est donc davantage tourné vers la fonction « traditionnelle » d’un acteur, et l’ensemble de sa carrière cinématographique confirme cette inclination16. À l’inverse, le personnage de Lancelot se définit principalement par la grande chanson d’amour, déjà citée, « If Ever I Would Leave You ». Robert Goulet apparaît alors davantage comme un chanteur, un baryton à la voix remarquable. La suite de sa carrière, une fois encore, confirme cette répartition, Robert Goulet n’ayant eu que des rôles mineurs à la télévision, mais étant demeuré célèbre pour ses chansons. Ces deux interprétations complémentaires font écho aux rôles d’Arthur et de Lancelot, dont les sentiments contradictoires sont perceptibles sur scène. La réécriture pour la scène implique des choix d’éclaircissement tout comme des choix musicaux, d’autant plus que Lerner et Loewe intègrent à la mise en scène de Camelot une tonalité comique absente de l’œuvre de Malory.

      8Camelot a donc largement participé au succès du mythe arthurien outre-Atlantique, mais au prix de quelques sacrifices. Si le lien direct avec les hypotextes, Malory et White, n’est jamais totalement rompu, il s’efface peu à peu derrière des réécritures successives. La comédie musicale a elle-même été montée à plusieurs reprises, avec différents artistes, et a même été transposée en film17. Elle apparaît comme une synthèse de l’œuvre de Malory, qui compilait déjà les textes antérieurs, adaptée aux goûts du public moderne. La subtilité des caractères se perd au profit de personnages aisément reconnaissables, et les intrigues secondaires sont balayées, pour ne laisser ressurgir que la dimension la plus universelle : la relation amoureuse. Qu’il s’agisse du couple royal, ou du couple Lancelot-Guenièvre, cette passion amoureuse est présente tout au long de la comédie musicale, et rythme la légende mise en chansons. La lecture du Morte d’Arthur proposée par Lerner et Loewe suggère donc la présence de l’amour comme fil conducteur du règne arthurien, faisant débuter la comédie musicale par l’arrivée de la reine à Camelot, et s’achever sur la séparation définitive d’Arthur, de Lancelot et de Guenièvre. Au prix d’une importante et nécessaire décantation, Camelot, en tant que synthèse musicale à grand spectacle d’une histoire d’amour connue de tous, offre à la légende arthurienne la possibilité de faire rêver un public toujours plus vaste, et confère ainsi à Malory un nouveau point d’entrée dans le XXe siècle.

      Bibliographie

      François Amy de la Bretèque, L’Imaginaire médiéval dans le cinéma occidental, Paris, Champion, 2004, 1280 p.

      Alban Gautier, Arthur, Paris, Ellipses, 2007, 432 p.

      Alan Jay Lerner, Frederik Loewe, Camelot, comédie musicale jouée à Broadway, mise en scène par Moss Hart (1960) et Marty Callner (1981) pour la version filmée au Winter Garden Theatre, vidéo éditée par Andy Zall, Home Box Office, 1982.

      Joshua Logan, Camelot, USA, Warner Bros., 1967.

      Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, éd. Janet Cowen, London, Penguin Books, 1969.

      Terence Hanbury White, The Once and Future King, New York, Ace Books, 1996 [première edition: 1958].

      Notes

      1 François Amy de la Bretèque, L’Imaginaire médiéval dans le cinéma occidental, Paris, Champion, 2004.

      2 The Once and Future King (1938-1977), vaste œuvre de T.H. White, composée de cinq romans très différents les uns des autres : The Sword in the Stone (roman pour enfants retraçant l’enfance d’Arthur et son accession au trône grâce à Merlin, publié en 1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness (roman plus sombre centré sur le clan Orkney, qui participera à long terme à la chute du roi Arthur ; ce deuxième tome est parfois nommé The Witch in the Wood, 1939), The Ill-Made Knight (consacré à l’histoire de Lancelot, 1940), The Candle in the Wind (roman publié en 1958, qui développe une réflexion philosophique sur les questions de Bien et de Mal, et où les derniers instants du règne d’Arthur font écho au conflit mondial des années précédentes) et The Book of Merlyn (ouvrage marqué par un fort pessimisme, rédigé en 1941 mais publié de façon posthume en 1977).

      3 Par exemple, Malory n’évoque pas le shilling donné par Kay à Arthur pour aller chercher son épée, ou le fait qu’Arthur prenne Excalibur pour un mémorial de guerre (Le Morte d’Arthur, livre I, chap. 5). Ces indications, présentes dans Camelot, sont dues à la réécriture de White (The Once and Future King, t. I The Sword in the Stone, chap. 23).

      4 En particulier l’édition d’Eugène Vinaver, Malory : Works, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1947.

      5 Le troisième tome de The Once and Future King, consacré à Lancelot, s’intitule The Ill-Made Knight.

      6 Il faut attendre la fin du XXe siècle et la comédie musicale Notre-Dame de Paris (1998) de Luc Plamondon et Richard Cocciante pour voir sur scène un personnage volontairement enlaidi, Quasimodo, d’après l’œuvre de Victor Hugo.

      7 Le Morte d’Arthur, livre XVIII, chap. 25.

      8 Mise en scène de Moss Hart, orchestre par Robert R. Bennett et Philip J. Lang.

      9 En français dans le texte, uniquement pour le refrain.

      10 La chanson est disponible sur de nombreux sites audiovisuels, comme YouTube.

      11 Le succès des numéros musicaux est également à porter au crédit de leurs interprètes, grands noms du cinéma et de la chanson : Richard Burton, à qui succède brillamment Richard Harris, Julie Andrews, et bien entendu Robert Goulet, voix inoubliable de Lancelot. « If Ever I Would Leave You » demeure l’un de ses plus grands succès.

      12 Cette universalité des paroles explique en partie le succès de la chanson « If Ever I Would Leave You ». Le même phénomène est perceptible dans d’autres comédies musicales, où une chanson évoquant des thématiques larges et universelles est le plus souvent retenue en tant que chanson principale de l’ensemble de l’œuvre. La pérennité de numéros musicaux tels que « Over the Rainbow », issu du film musical The Wizard of Oz (1939), ou à moindre échelle « S.O.S. d’un terrien en détresse », tiré de l’opéra-rock Starmania (1978), confirme ce phénomène de succès des chansons à large portée.

      13 Dans les deux œuvres par exemple, Lancelot accomplit un miracle, mais la comédie musicale réécrit cet épisode : dans Le Morte d’Arthur, Lancelot parvient à soigner un chevalier hongrois, blessé et maudit depuis de nombreuses années ; Camelot va plus loin, puisque Lancelot y ressuscite un chevalier qu’il avait lui-même mortellement blessé lors d’un tournoi.

      14 Alban Gautier, Arthur, Paris, Ellipses, 2007, p. 356.

      15 Chanson du premier acte, interprétée par Arthur.

      16 Dans une vidéo de présentation de Camelot, intitulée « The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe », diffusée aux États-Unis le 11 février 1962, Richard Burton affirme ses doutes quant à ses performances vocales, et met en avant son rôle de comédien : « I’m an actor, not a choir ; why, I must be out of my mind ! ».

      17 La version cinématographique de Joshua Logan (1967) ne rend malheureusement pas hommage à la qualité de la comédie musicale, malgré l’interprétation brillante de Richard Harris dans le rôle du roi Arthur. La comédie musicale de Lerner et Loewe est également reprise de façon parodique par les Monty Python dans leur film Sacré Graal ! (Monty Pyhton and the Holy Grail) en 1975, puis de façon plus évidente dans leur comédie musicale Spamalot (2005), jouée en continu en Angleterre, et adaptée pour la scène française de Bobino depuis 2013.

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