NY Times Review of New JFK Opera Missed a Part of the Story

April 18, 2016

Arts patrons in Fort Worth may not appreciate the New York Times weekend description of the city’s Hotel Texas suite where President John F. Kennedy and first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy spent their last night before his assassination.

In the Sunday edition (April 17),  critic David Allen described the challenges faced by
composer David Little and librettist Royce Vavrek in staging their new opera.,
‘JFK’, opening this weekend at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall. For one, Allen described them as saying, was that “they (the Kennedys) spent most of their time in the bland Suite 850 of the hotel, sleeping.” That was not great material for their effort.

But that brief reference to their stay overlooked an interesting back story that became a highlight of the 1963 50th Anniversary observance of the tragedy.. As I wrote in my book (JFK’s Final Hours in Texas), the Kennedys were supposed to be in the grand Will Rogers Suite. But the Secret Service vetoed that plan for security reasons, assigning that space to Vice President and Lady Bird Johnson instead.

The suite selected for the Kennedys was indeed drab until horrified leaders of the city’s arts community heard that news. Then, with leadership of Ruth Carter Johnson, daughter of legendary Star-Telegram publisher Amon G. Carter, art patrons quickly rounded up more than a dozen widely-scattered pieces of world class art and sculpture and re-decorated the suite. And when the first couple arrived that fateful evening, they were greeted by a dazzling mini-museum. The couple were so impressed that the President telephoned Mrs. Johnson at home  the next morning to thank her.

Fifty years later, Amon Carter Museum Director Dr. Andrew Walker and Dallas Museum of Art curator Olivier Meslay teamed up to reassemble  most of the pieces for exhibitions at the two museums during the 2013 50th Anniversary  observance.

–Julian Read

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