“Once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot”
- John F Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)
HE WROTE THE ABOVE QUOTE ON HIS BEDSIDE
Kennedy and his wife were younger in comparison to the presidents and first ladies who preceded them, and both were popular in themedia culture in ways more common to pop singers and movie stars than politicians, influencing fashion trends and becoming the subjects of numerous photo spreads in popular magazines. Although Eisenhower had allowed presidential press conferences to be filmed for television, Kennedy was the first president to ask for them to be broadcast live and made good use of the medium. In 1961 the Radio-Television News Directors Association presented Kennedy with its highest honor, the Paul White Award, in recognition of his open relationship with the media.
Mrs. Kennedy brought new art and furniture to the White House, and directed its restoration. They invited a range of artists, writers and intellectuals to rounds of White House dinners, raising the profile of the arts in America.
The president was closely tied to popular culture, emphasized by songs such as “Twisting at the White House”. Vaughn Meader’s First Family comedy album — which parodied the president, the first lady, their family, and the administration — sold about four million copies. On May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at a large party in Madison Square Garden, celebrating Kennedy’s upcoming forty-fifth birthday. The charisma of Kennedy and his family led to the figurative designation of “Camelot” for his administration, credited by his wife, who coined the term for the first time in print during a post-assassination interview with Theodore White, to his affection for the then contemporary Broadway musical of the same name.
In American contexts, the word “Camelot” is sometimes used to refer admiringly to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, as his term was said to have potential and promise for the future, and many were inspired by Kennedy’s speeches, vision, and policies.
At the time, Kennedy’s assassination had been compared to the fall of King Arthur. The lines “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot,” from the musical Camelot, were quoted by his widow Jacqueline as being from his favorite song in the score. “There’ll be great Presidents again,” she added, “but there’ll never be another Camelot again … it will never be that way again.”
Camelot has become a permanent fixture in interpretations of the Arthurian legend. Modern versions typically retain Camelot’s lack of precise location and its status as a symbol of the Arthurian world, though they typically transform the castle itself into romantically lavish visions of a High Middle Ages palace. It lends its name to the 1960 musical Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, which is based on T. H. White‘s literary version of the legend, The Once and Future King. The musical was adapted into a 1967 film of the same name, which starred Richard Harris as Arthur, and which featured the Castle of Coca, Segovia as a fittingly opulent Camelot. The symbolism of Camelot so impressed Alfred, Lord Tennyson that he wrote up a prose sketch on the castle as one of his earliest attempts to treat the Arthurian legend. Some writers of the “realist” strain of modern Arthurian fiction have attempted a more sensible Camelot; inspired by Alcock’s Cadbury-Camelot excavation, writers Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart, and Catherine Christian place their Camelots in that city and describe it accordingly.