When Jackie Kennedy led a television crew through the White House in February 1962, millions of Americans were riveted to the screen. This Wednesday, when Michelle Obama appears on The Colbert Report, it will be a much less exciting, and more commonplace event. It’s starting to seem like the First Lady has been everywhere on our televisions lately, celebrating her “Joining Forces” initiative to help military families or promoting her “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat childhood obesity.
I’ve written about Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and a favorite of the king, at least five times (“This Is A Scoop … A Scoop About Saudi Arabia,” “When Progress Is Made Progress Should Be Recognized,” “The Saudi Ambassador,” “A Circus Or A Conclave,” “Why Should Israel Make Peace With Failed States?”). I should have written about Adel soon after we met. It wasn’t a year before he invited a few of us roughly from the TNR crowd (Fouad Ajami, Michael Kinsley, Tom Tisch, James Woolsey, and one or two others) to be his guests on a visit to the kingdom.
SINCE THE 1960S, WHEN Michael McClure imagined Billy the Kid humping Jean Harlow in The Beard and Barbara Garson had Lyndon Johnson whacking Jack Kennedy in MacBird, it has grown obvious that actual people, often still among us, have become the grist of American playwriting. In one recent week alone, a musical opened by Michael John LaChiusa called First Lady Suite, featuring Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and Mamie Eisenhower, along with a semi-fictional comedy by A.R. Gurney called Mrs. Farnsworth, about a Vassar woman who may or may not have been impregnated by George W.
As nearly as can be determined, it all started when Joe Kennedy rented out a restaurant for a private dinner the night before his son's inauguration in 1961. The restaurant was Paul Young's on Connecticut Avenue, Its menu featured a bland mix somewhere between French cuisine and French fries, a combination usually described as "continental," presumably because the term doesn't specify which continent and therefore stretches from Lyons, the hometown of haute cuisine, to Kansas City, the capital of charcoal broiled steaks.