Captivating Kennedy Photos That Capture The ‘Camelot’ Era In All Its Glory

Published April 23, 2020
Updated May 19, 2021

During the early 1960s, President Kennedy lived a life of glamour and power that was unprecedented in American politics — a brief moment in time now remembered as "Camelot."

JFK With Maria Shriver And Caroline Kennedy
JFK Steering The Manitou
Frank Sinatra Eating Dinner With Jfk
Charlie And Pushinka
Captivating Kennedy Photos That Capture The ‘Camelot’ Era In All Its Glory
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The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 shook America to its core. Millions of Americans were left with the terrifying feeling that if the nation's leader could be murdered in broad daylight, nobody was truly safe.

Following his death, it was his grieving widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, who worked on cementing the "Camelot" mythology that would come to define his presidency. The image of JFK as an honorable and unwavering man of integrity appeared again and again in televised interviews and LIFE magazine spreads.

Kennedy's time in the White House, following his inauguration in 1961 to that dark day in November nearly three years later, was cast as a time of burgeoning cheer and optimism, a brief golden moment cut short before it could blossom into the full, lasting brilliance of a golden age.

"Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot," she told LIFE, quoting the Lerner and Loewe musical. "There'll be great presidents again, but there'll never be another Camelot... It will never be that way again."

From the photo of Kennedy's son saluting his father's coffin to pictures of Kennedy gallivanting with his brothers, this somber yet romantic iconography was curated entirely by Jacqueline Kennedy. The myth of Camelot — Kennedy's court of compatriots, named after one of his favorite song lyrics — took hold and has captivated Americans for decades since.

Kennedy's Camelot: Nights Of The Oval Office

The musical that inspired the first lady's myth-making centered on the beneficent realm of King Arthur. It was a place of idealism and admirable principles — a perfect foundation for the image of Kennedy's White House.

The early 1960s were certainly an incredible time for Kennedy and his wife. Confident of his victory in the coming election, the Massachusetts senator attended a Rat Pack show in February 1960 and introduced himself to Frank Sinatra as the "next president of the United States."

It didn't take long for the crooner and the candidate to become fast friends; the marriage of Kennedy's sister, Patricia, to Rat Pack member Peter Lawford only strengthened the bond among Sinatra's circle and the Kennedys.

Sinatra, in his turn, would introduce Marilyn Monroe to the campaign hopeful along with another woman, Judith E. Campbell, who would have a two-year-long affair with Kennedy.

JFK With Maria Shriver And Caroline Kennedy

JFK Presidential Library & MuseumJohn F. Kennedy with his daughter Caroline (center-right), niece Maria Shriver (center-left), and brother-in-law Steve Smith aboard the presidential yacht, Honey Fitz. July 28, 1963. Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

From private jet trips to Palm Springs on the weekends to vibrant birthday parties at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Camelot days at the White House were often as romantic as the revisionist history made them out to be.

With galas and events that included figures as famous as Ella Fitzgerald and Gene Kelly to Nat King Cole and Milton Berle, Kennedy's White House distinguished itself as a haven of revelry for a younger generation much looser than its predecessors. The good times eventually wound toward their tragic end — but not before those in Camelot had their fun.

The Myth Of Camelot: From Fairy Tale To Nightmare

John F. Kennedy was so promiscuous that his standard greeting for old flings whose names he'd forgotten was a simple, "Hello, kid."

The commander-in-chief didn't tone down this behavior once elected president, and he routinely skinny-dipped in the White House pool with interns nicknamed Fiddle and Faddle.

On at least one occasion, the president smoked three joints that had been scored by one of his mistresses, Mary Meyer, a CIA official's ex-wife and "close friend" of Jacqueline Kennedy, per Washington Post executive Jim Truitt.

"I can't get to sleep unless I've had a lay," Kennedy told author Clare Booth Luce. He also complained to Harold Macmillan, at the time Britain's prime minister, that not having sex on a daily basis gave him headaches.

Even though these conquests were well known among Kennedy's associates, the youngest man ever elected president remained largely protected by his staff. After swimming with women, for instance, an actual clean-up crew would work on removing any leftover evidence.

"There was a conspiracy of silence to protect his secrets from Jacqueline and to keep her from finding out," said White House kennel keeper Traphes L. Bryant.

Archival footage from the Kennedys' home movies depicting the mythologized Camelot era of the early 1960s.

Frank Sinatra famously renamed his friend's entourage "the Jack Pack" in Kennedy's honor, while the singer's daughter Tina admitted that those weekends at her father's place in Palm Springs were not something "you brought the kids into."

It was Kennedy's brother-in-law Peter Lawford who later said, "I'm not proud of this. All I will say is that I was Frank's pimp and Frank was Jack's. It sounds terrible now, but then it was a lot of fun."

Ultimately, it was Jacqueline who ensured that her husband's mythos was not one of infidelity and hypocrisy in the wake of his death.

"It is astounding to me that a week after JFK's death, she had the presence of mind to come up with the extraordinary and unexpected reference that stuck with us for decades," said Jackie screenwriter Noah Oppenheim.

The Kennedy Camelot myth would hold a strong grip on the imagination of many American baby boomers as they came of age after Kennedy's assassination, a portrait of a lost age of innocence that would never come again — a time that never will be and never was.

After exploring Kennedy's Camelot, read about 23 of the ugliest skeletons in the Kennedy family closet. Then, learn about the little-known story of Rosemary Kennedy and her brutal lobotomy.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "Captivating Kennedy Photos That Capture The ‘Camelot’ Era In All Its Glory.", April 23, 2020, Accessed May 25, 2024.