JFK’S 50TH Inaugural Anniversary Remembered

by Chris Murray on February 5, 2011

There have been many stories in the media commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as President. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. organized a series of events in honor of the occasion. Here at Govinda Gallery we have presented four exhibitions featuring extraordinary photographs of the charismatic 34th President. Most notable was our exhibition in 1998, JFK Remembered, featuring Jaques Lowe’s legendary photographs of President Kennedy and the Kennedy family. Jacques attended the opening of his exhibition here and so did Kennedy’s press secretary Pierre Salinger who recorded the Govinda Gallery answering machine message for that exhibition in his classic style and voice. It is not widely known that Jacques Lowe’s negatives of the Kennedy family, a national treasure, were destroyed in a bank vault at the World Trade Center during 9/11.

In 1993 Govinda hosted the first exhibition of Phil Stern’s photographs. Stern was hired by Frank Sinatra to document the inaugural entertainment and after party. Sinatra organized the entertainment at the inauguration for President Kennedy. In 2008 photographer Henry Grossman had a wonderful exhibition at Govinda which included a number of his extraordinary photographs of the President.

President and Mrs. Kennedy resided just one black from Govinda Gallery on N Street in Georgetown. The Kennedys were in fact living at their home in Georgetown up to the morning of his inauguration. We post these photos by Jacques Lowe, Phil Stern, and Henry Grossman along with some other material from the Govinda Gallery archive including the Washington Post’s story from November 1993 about Stern’s Govinda exhibition, in memory of and with affection for John F. Kennedy.

The Govinda Gallery invitation to Jacques Lowe’s 1998 exhibition JFK Remembered.

JFK and Jackie en route to the US Capital for his inauguration. Copyright © Jacques Lowe. All Rights Reserved.

JFK talks with Frank Sinatra at the new Presidents inaugural gala with Peter Lawford behind JFK, January 20, 1961. Copyright © Phil Stern. All Rights Reserved.

The Washington Post Magazine , J Street that was then, this is now section, November 21, 1993

Frankie and Johnny
by Laura Goldstein

When it was announced, one day in the fall of 1960, that Frank Sinatra would produce the inaugural gala for newly elected President John F. Kennedy, photographer Phil Stern was on assignment in Hollywood, shooting stills for a Sinatra movie called “The Devil at 4 O’Clock.” Stern promptly stole into the actor’s dressing room and ledt a note on a three-by-five index card on the table.

“Dear Frank,” he wrote. “Read the news today. I here-by apply for the job of resident paparazzo on your inaugural project.” Then he drew three boxes for Sinatra to check one. The first said, “Hell, yes”; the second, “I’ll think about it”; and the third, an unprintable version of “Get Lost.”

Photographer Phil Stern’s note to Frank Sinatra requesting the job of official photographer for JFK’s inaugural gala. Copyright © Phil Stern. All Rights Reserved.

Stern never got the card back, but a few weeks later, Sinatra told him to pack his suitcase. They were going to the capital.

The mutual attraction between Hollywood and Washington was nothing new even then. Ronald Reagan was still a B-grade leading man, and Barbara Streisand had yet to spend a night in the White House, but politicians had been cozying up to celebrities at least since the 1920’s, when Al Jolson sang campaign songs for Warren Harding.

Still, the mix has seldom been as heady as it was on January 20, 1961, at the private, post-inauguration party hosted by Sinatra in the Latin American Room of what is now the Washington Hilton. Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Tony Curtis, Leonard Bernstein, Nat King Cole- the leading light of the entertainment world had come to pay their respects to the new president.

Though the Kennedy fairy tale came to an abrupt end 30 years ago tomorrow, Stern caught its glittering beginnings on film. Some of the photographs from that evening will be seen for the first time when a retrospective of Stern’s work opens at Georgetown’s Govinda Gallery on December 9.

President Kennedy talks with Gloria Cahn. Copyright © Phil Stern. All Rights Reserved.

Of the picture shown here, of Kennedy and Gloria Cahn, wife of lyricist Sammy Cahn, Stern says, “The Latin America Room was lit entirely by candlelight. Sinatra asked be not to use flashes.” The low light made it difficult to get a sharp photograph, but Stern didn’t care. Now 74, the photographer says that just being present was a one-in-a-lifetime experience.

“All of a sudden a beautiful explosion takes place,” he says, “and you’re catapulted into a fantasy position.”

Dinner at the Kennedy inaugural gala, January 20, 1961. Copyright © Phil Stern. All Rights Reserved.

Jackie and JFK. Copyright © Henry Grossman. All Rights Reserved.

Category: Blog, Events, The Back Room   

2 responses to “JFK’S 50TH Inaugural Anniversary Remembered”

  1. william Adair says:

    chris, the note from the photographer to sinatra is priceless, i will use this method as a way to communicate with people in the future who are very busy.

    yours ,from the golden door,


  2. Maria Mariani says:

    Hi Chris,

    Interesting, the cousin thing. It was so nice to meet Bill Adair at your last openning and talk to him about Graham Parsons. Please tell him that after our conversation I decided that I needed to visit Joshua Tree a place that I have been wanting to visit forever. I just got back and the desert at Joshua Tree was more awesome than I could ever imagine. Please share this with Bill and my thanks to him for pushing me to get to Joshua Tree,



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