Between 1961 and 1973, the late journalist Theodore H. White published four books about the Presidential elections from 1960 to 1972. The first of these, The Making Of The President 1960, about the contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, won the Pulitzer Prize, was a huge bestseller, and essentially created the genre of book-length studies of national campaigns. White’s three sequels, all using the first book’s title coupled with the appropriate year, were not quite the blockbusters that 1960 was but still sold impressively. They were joined by many imitators, and after White ended the series, others have tried to follow in his path, though never with the same impact.
The first three of these books were the inspiration for televised documentaries produced under the auspices of the late David Wolper, written by White, and directed by Mel Stuart, probably most famed for making Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The first of these, based on the 1960 book, was completed while JFK was still in the White House but did not premiere until a few weeks after his death, in December 1963. The second, about the 1964 election, was first aired in December 1966, and the final documentary, about the campaign of 1968, reached the small screen in September 1969. The first two films, reflecting their era, were in black-and-white, while the third was mostly in color.
The documentaries have rarely been shown since then, apart from the 1960 film airing a few times on A&E, and were never released on videotape, but last month all were issued by the Athena Learning company as a three-DVD set, which I first learned about through this review at nj.com. This package includes a couple of notable extras. One is A Thousand Days, the tribute to JFK which was first shown at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, where it was personally introduced by Robert F. Kennedy. The other is Seven Days In The Life Of The President, a film depicting the work of Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House, narrated by William Conrad of Cannon and Jake and the Fatman fame. The discs also include as text short biographies of the major contenders in the primaries of both parties in these years.
It should be mentioned that YouTube has The Making Of The President 1960 in six parts, as well as A Thousand Days, and those clips should give the viewer a good idea of whether he or she wants to spend $40 on the whole set. But to judge from the set’s Amazon page it certainly looks like a good gift for anyone interested in the political history of the 1960s.