JFK: The Cinematic Legacy

Cliff Robertson in 'PT 109'

Cliff Robertson, PT 109, 1963.

Released while Kennedy was still in office, the film starred Robertson depicting Kennedy as a Navy lieutenant in command of Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 during World War II.

JFK selected Robertson after viewing his screen test; first lady Jackie Kennedy’s choice for the role was Warren Beatty.

“It’s a whopping adventure story of courage and action,” said Robertson in the trailer.

Brett Stimely, Watchman, 2009; Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2011; Kill the Dictator, 2013; Parkland, 2013.

Stimely, who has played Kennedy more than anyone, recalled meeting JFK’s niece and sister-in-law, Rory and Ethel Kennedy at the 2012 Sundance HBO party for their documentary Ethel.

He said: “Ethel thanked me for doing a great job portraying Jack. I was nervous at first — playing the ‘most important man in the world’ has its responsibilities. But hearing that made it all worthwhile.”

Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days, 2000.

Playing Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, Greenwood said he wanted to reflect what might have been JFK’s state of mind “and the moment of clarity he had that (Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev was as human and terrified of the potential consequences as was Kennedy”.

James Marsden, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 2013.

JFK: The Cinematic LegacyJames Marsden as JFK in ‘The Butler’.
Marsden prepared for the role by listening to podcasts of JFK’s speeches, and yet getting the Kennedy accent right was “virtually impossible”, the actor told Conan O’Brien. “It was a daunting thing stepping into those shoes.” After 11 weeks in theatres, the film had made more than $138m worldwide.

William Devane, The Missiles of October (ABC movie), 1974.

Devane bore a striking resemblance to the president in the television docudrama, which chronicled the Kennedy administration’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis.

It was loosely based on Attorney General Robert F Kennedy’s book Thirteen Days.

The first TV movie about the Kennedys after JFK’s assassination was watched by more than 25.4m viewers when it aired.

James Franciscus, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (ABC movie), 1981.

Known for his roles in television series such as Mr Novak and Longstreet, Franciscus starred as JFK in this TV movie focusing on the life of the first lady, who was played by Charlie’s Angels star Jaclyn Smith.

Airing the same year as the final season of Charlie’s Angels, the movie drew nearly 45m viewers.

Martin Sheen, Kennedy (NBC miniseries), 1983.

JFK: The Cinematic Legacy

Before playing fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet on The West Wing, Sheen, left, starred in the five-hour miniseries chronicling JFK’s presidency.

It aired just two days before the 20th anniversary of the president’s assassination.

Kelsey Grammar also appeared in the miniseries, which had 18.5m viewers.

Stephen Collins, A Woman Named Jackie (NBC miniseries), 1991.

While recreating Kennedy’s inaugural address for this Emmy-winning miniseries, Collins recalled seeing a man around 70 who had stopped to watch the filming. “He took off his hat and stared in my direction as if he were seeing a ghost,” said Collins. “He stayed still, like a soldier at attention, until I finished. It seemed to be as meaningful for him as it was for me. Connecting with my impromptu audience of one was the most satisfying moment of the shoot.”

Patrick Dempsey, JFK: Reckless Youth (ABC movie), 1993.

Before saving lives as Dr Derek “McDreamy” Shepard on Grey’s Anatomy, Dempsey wooed 10.8m viewers as young Kennedy. The movie looked at JFK’s childhood years, his young adulthood and his nomination for Congress.

William Peterson, The Rat Pack (HBO movie), 1998.

A dashing Peterson embodied JFK in the film focusing on the famous entertainers’ circle, offering a glimpse into JFK and Frank Sinatra’s wavering friendship. Ray Liotta starred as Sinatra, Joe Mantegna as Dean Martin, Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis, Jr, Angus Macfadyen as Peter Lawford and Bobby Slayton as Joey Bishop.

Tim Matheson, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (CBS miniseries), 2000.

Playing JFK in the two-part miniseries, which attracted 10m viewers, was an honour, said Matheson, but also a challenge to find the real person beneath the glamour.

“So it was trying to find those human moments beneath all of the monumental things that he said and did. He was movie star-like, and Jackie was sophisticated and educated. They represented a new page in American history.”

Greg Kinnear, The Kennedys (Reelz miniseries), 2011.

When the four-time Emmy-winning The Kennedys made its world premiere on REELZ, it brought in record viewership for the cable network, reaching 17.5m viewers in its first month.

Katie Holmes played Jackie Kennedy.

Rob Lowe, Killing Kennedy (National Geographic Channel miniseries), aired Nov 10, 2013.

While researching JFK for the role, Lowe said he was moved by a recording of Kennedy giving dictation when he’s interrupted by John Jr. “Their conversation together was priceless,” said Lowe.

JFK: The Cinematic Legacy

Rob Lowe as JFK in the National Geographic Channel miniseries 'Killing Kennedy'.

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