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John F. Kennedy, Signature on Playbill Theater Program

JFK Attends A Play that Savaged Him


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John F. Kennedy Signature on Playbill Program for The Best Man. 

At the time, it was widely recognized that The Best Man was written as a deliberate parallel to the 1960 Democratic Convention. It was a scathing attack on the Kennedys-whom Vidal detested. It was also a tribute to Adlai Stevenson whom Vidal admired and supported. The principal characters represent Vidal’s view of the main players in the Democratic Party, only with different names.

The plot revolves around the 1960 Presidential primaries in Philadelphia. An ethical man runs for the Presidential nomination against an “unscrupulous” man. Populist southern senator Joseph Cantwell is a “bigot and a charlatan”, while William Russell, who prides himself on his honesty, is the liberal candidate, “likable, forceful and humorous.”

Vidal’s main character and hero, the very patrician and intellectual William Russell, is an homage to Adlai Stevenson. The despicable Senator Joe Cantwell represent Vidal’s view of Kennedy, as well as Richard Nixon (whom Vidal also detested,) Joseph McCarthy and Estes Kefauver. All of whom rose to national prominence via publicity-seeking Senate investigative committees. Cantwell even specifically mentions hearings into the Mafia, similar to those in which Kefauver and both Kennedys had participated. The rumors of homosexuality in Joe Cantwell’s past also parallel rumors about Joe McCarthy.

Kennedy had come into New York for one night only, with the intention of seeing the play “Camelot.”  Instead, with Jackie’s approval, they went to see Vidal’s opening night, literally seated next to him during the performance.  An amused Vidal watched the President-elect watch a play that certainly featured himself.

The play was nominated for six Tony awards, including Best Play.

Vidal would later become the confidant of Jacqueline Kennedy when her mother married his former stepfather, Hugh D. Auchincloss.

Kennedy, John F. (35th President)  Morosco Theatre PLAYBILL for THE BEST MAN.  Signed “John Kennedy” as President Elect on the front wrapper in ball point pen.   New York:  6 December 1960.  6-1/2 x 9 inches.   Kennedy had just been elected President in November of 1960; he attended the Broadway political themed play “The Best Man” on December 6th, 1960 (Gore Vidal was the playwright and was also present). Complete playbill in excellent condition. Accompanied by an image of Kennedy and Vidal together at the Morosco.