tv 2018 Gaithersburg Book Festival - Joseph Esposito Dinner in Camelot CSPAN August 31, 2018 12:36am-1:01am EDT
>> joseph esposito is an historian, brighter and is serving three presidential administrations, most recently as deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the u.s. department of education. yes zero hub various positions over 11 years for international development announced a working group for a free cuba from or submitted this report to president george bush in 2004. he thought history at three
colleges and is currently an adjunct associate professor at northern virginia community college. one thing about the kennedy admits ration, when things of the legendary kingdom at the roundtable. indeed, the administration a thousand days in office i remembered fondly the elegance kennedy brought to the first truly modern u.s. presidency for the heightened culture is april 29, 1962 for the best and the brightest to the role on the white house the white house lawn the white house lawn in president kennedy vigorously disputed. this dinner brought together noble artists, authors, statesmen and scientists for one glorious night. pearl s. buck carnahan who is with widow mary was there, someone. joseph esposito recounts a snapchat in time.
the week after easter when the beacon hill should've brightly in i washington. you had a nuclear non-proliferation protester by morning shaking hands with the persons who is protesting thatte night. a scientist superstar fallen from grace on the road to redemption. you had a white house executive chef with someone referred to it as brain dinner. we do not serve greens. the main courses beef wellington. all these characters and more intersect in one of the defining moments of the kennedy administration. it's my pleasure to welcome to the stage, joseph esposito, author of "dinner in camelot." [applause] >> thank you a thank you very much in thank you all for being here on this soggy day. first of all, i want to ask how many people are aware of this dinner that took place in 1962?
any familiarity with that? okay, well, i'm going to tell you a littlele more about it and hopefully you will find it as fascinating as they found it but i was doing the reese urged in writing up the book. first of all, it took place on a balmy day on april 29th it was an allusion here is that eight easter egg. it was week after easter, the first day of daylight savings time and really the midpoint of the kennedy administration and it was i think a highlight, really the highlight of camelot. there were 175 guests at the dinner, largest of the kennedy administration. people were seeded into larger rooms at the white house at this date dining room, which was provided by president kennedy
and then presided over by mrs. kennedy. the 49 nobel prize winners were honored. they were responsible for the most achievements of the 20th century. one was responsible for us to myosin. another for work on anemia. many worked on the manhunt project. two nobel peace prize winners forre, there. one worked on palestine. one worked in the suez crisis. glen seabirds who was president kennedy's chairman of the atomic energy commission is actually responsiblel for 10 chemical element. so the list really goes on and on. it literally was a who's who of americanan intellectuals at midcentury. some people may be aware of the most famous line from that
evening, which was part of president kennedy's remarks. he said i think this is the most extraordinary collection of talented human knowledge that has ever beenn gathered together at the white house with the possible exception of when thomas jefferson dined alone. [laughter] a great quip, but actually jefferson really dined alone. he often had people over for dinner in the indeed kept a running tally of people who had dinner with him at the executive mansion. many distinguished people were out p to dinner part of that evening in outfield little bit about those people. some people actually declined. tennessee williams, jd salinger, carl sandburg who identified it as a lifetime.
william faulkner who lived in charlottesville 100 miles away said that's 100 miles away. it's too far to go for a meal. [laughter] in fairness he was ill, but that was his first bonds. you heard about the brainstem and i just want to elaborate a little bit more on that. just follow their come as social secretary was having various meetings with hers.to talk about preparation for the evening in roommate who was born in france really didn't grasp the american idioms and he was quite concerned aboute this idea that is going to be to bring dinner. he was horrified that he would have to prepare the brain. there is the good luck that he was able to serve beef wellingtonad said. i'd like to say a word about
jackie kennedy in her role in this. she was very much engaged in all of these events at the white house. she did postmortems with staff to check whether something could've been done better. but she really had a tremendous impact on the white house and the course of my research and writing for this boat, i came to have a distinct appreciation for what she had done. she created the office of white house curator, established the finer committee, which was a group of art historians and connoisseurs who called the country to try to get art and furnishings back to the white house where they originally were placed. the hostess for that evening was really on that night restored to where it had been during the administration of james monroe
and a member of the furnishings there werey actually purchase by monroe. she also launched the white house historical association in two months before the dinner she gave a very celebrated tour of the white house which was on cbs. she was actually the first woman to get -- she got an emmy for the presentation, but the first woman to be featured in a documentary on television. a great accomplishment for mrs. kennedy in terms of the work with the white house and this dinner as well. most controversial people in the dinner, linus pauling and robert oppenheimer outside the white house. he had received a nobel prize for chemistry in 1954, but it increasingly become a peace activist and he was concerned there was this sufficient
progress being made. so he had written a number of letters to president kennedy and in fact they were quite straightened and in one and didn'tnd see compared kennedy to hitler. see who is out there picketing the day before and that afternoon he and his wife went over to the hotel, changed clothes, went in to dinner and in the reception line, president kennedy said well, dr. pauling, i see you've been around the white house a few times. and then before introducing into the first lady, he said i hope you will continue to express your opinions. by mrs. kennedy was not ashe gracious. she said a little crow once to know what has to be done wrong today. clearly the most controversial
castc was jay robert oppenheime, father off the atomic bomb who e think you may have heard a little bit about if you are here in the previous discussion. oppenheimer lost his security clearance in 1954. this is part of an effort by president kennedy in people in the white house staff to initiate some sort of public redemption. there he was released from political purgatory and this is part of a two-step process later on the following you he was given -- selected for the word that presidentr kennedy. other people at the dinner who were significant, and it was just such an incredible list of people included james baldwin. james baldwin had met robert kennedy that night for the first time, and that president kennedy as well. in a year later they got
together and had the spirit acrimonious meeting on civil rights i in new york, which assembled a small group of african-american leaders including haricot funny and the reina hansberry and others. he was identified by some as the most contentious meeting they'd ever seen and this was significant because it has been location for basically hoping robert kennedy understand better the concerns of african-americans on issues of segregation and other racial issues. it was an outgrowth of this dinner. william steiner was there. by the way, living on his property at the time and connecticut, william styron and was diving with her and they later go on to write confessions of nat turner and sophie's
choice. that kennedy for the first time, this.list a friendship, which has lasted until this day that john kennedy and his family, robert kennedy andnd his family and ted kennedy as well. john clinton was there, the hero of the hour. he adjusts orbit off the earth and everybody wanted to talk to john glenn whon would soon run for the senate or ohio for the first time. lester pearson was the canadian liberal party leader was fair. he had when the notebook grease prize for his work on the suez crisis and he would be elect the prime minister the following year. robert frost was there. of course frost had become famous for his reciting of the
palm of the maturation in 1961 and president kennedy coming in now, a couple months was sent into russia onm a special missin to the soviet union. catherine porter was fair. one novel she had mostly wrote short stories, but are one on that very day reached number one in "the new york times" best seller list. mary hemingway as you mentioned in the introduction she sat at president kennedy's table, but she also plotted argument with him over the policy. hemingway had lived in cuba for 20 years and she had a particular perspective on the bay of pigs which isis not shard by president kennedy and also fidel castro. people enjoyed themselves thatle
evening. even those who would ordinarily feel comfortable for one reason or another. minus pauling, he enjoyed himself and then play. he was a great dancer and he like the tango and when there was a wall in the evening when they were moving from one room to another, he and his wife started some improper to dancing and two other couples joined in and jackie kennedy came by and said to the president will, they arelo dancing. the after dinner entertainment, the literary presentation was made by frederic march, distinguished actor. there were experts -- excerpts from three nobel laureate. george marshall in his commencement address, outlining the marshall plan at harvard
university. the great bulk that evening was unpublished work by ernest hemingway. originally they were going to do the killers, which would have been a terrible choice, but it was a presentation that eventually became published in 1970. a select few after the evening was over were invited up to the yellow over room in the private residence. some interesting insight into t the evening recounts how a new social aid t came out to him to say that the president would like you to, stairs to the residence, he said -- [laughter]
said they knew it. asap or my wife. well, as it turns out they had a great evening made plans for sailing with the kennedys and a couple of months. robert frost was there. it was a select group of about a dozen people. so i'd be glad to talk more about someon of the people who e people who were there, interactions and r relationships which are really fascinating backs tories. really it is - the source -- cod be the source for numerous books. i just want to say in conclusion that no dinner had ever been held but is that the white house previously been no dinner house and held guns. they can be argued this was the most significant dinner at the white house in the 20th century. perhaps even the dinner of the
century. one book reviewer very kindly called it the greatest dinner party of all time. it is a fascinating story with the interaction of people and is also a think says something about the role of the it has soe message for us today in our period of political polarization. john kennedy in the sense to work don conciliation, redemption, civility and also highlightedes america's greatest thinkers and intellectuals, not only thanking them for their contribution to the united states, which was a man, but their contribution to the world as well, but also encouraging, asha you said tried to encourage young people to emulate. i'd be happy happy to answer any questions yourny have.
[applause] [inaudible] >> the question is why haven't there been more. that is a good question. i think we have to give credit to the kennedys for highlighting that the very hot bed of the kennedy admin is duration the role that musicians and artists and scholars and scientists and writers played in american society and they had a number of these types of events in which people are a cross-section of people were invited to the white house. and this is a culmination in many ways. >> maybe i can ask and i'm not. is there concern about the
latest on that might be viewed as being elitist and therefore they don't fault these kind of dinners anymore? >> well, i couldn't really answer that, but -- [inaudible] [laughter] >> i think it would be unlikely. not that good in terms of the question of elitism, i don't think it is elitist to say we have great writers and great scientists and we want to attend showcase their work on behalf of the american o people. that's the great thing about jackie kennedy. she sought the white house says that the museum. i don't think there's anything
negative about the white house being a symbol of america and also saying that these are people who've made tremendous contributions and we want everybody to know about them. also i would add that the opportunity for these people to mingle, to interact with one another is significant. >> thank you so much for your talk and your book. you mentioned the person who discovered streptomycin. which other scientists are medical researchers throughout this dinner? >> they were primarily scientists and interestingly, many of them were associated with the university of california berkeley. in fact, president kennedy had been at berkeley a month before
him had spoken there is in his speech, which was accurate but there are are as many nobel prize winners at this institution at berkeley didn't have been produced by the nearest rival soviet union. so they worked on a lot of different issues on, but see, a lot of work which was beyond my grasp. but people who work on physics, which was related to the manhattan project. one interesting story and i was very honored that rose staggering growth the forward to the book and she was not the dinner. she was sitting next to a
scientist. doctors send georgie. they were talking about what he was working on. she had known that he had lived in woods hole, which is a great oceanographic center. she assumed when is talking about muscles that he was talking about marine life. she kept talking about the muscles. finally he had to tell whether he was talking about muscles. the [laughter]