Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys
Kitty Kelley’s last five books have reached number one on “The “New York Times” bestseller list—something few authors can match. Oprah, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Reagan are just some of the top tier celebrities whose biographies have been told via her award-winning brand of investigative journalism.
Her newest book, “Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys” (Thomas Dunne Books) is a tribute to her close friend and colleague photographer Stanley Tretick, who died in 1999. Tretick covered the John F. Kennedy White House, often referred to as “Camelot,” and developed a special relationship with a president who knew the power of imagery. The book features over 200 unique photographs and heartfelt commentary by Kelley.
Karen Jones: Why do you think John F. Kennedy and the “Camelot” White House still resonate with people today?
Kitty Kelley: The public’s fascination with the Kennedys, especially the President and First Lady, stems from the youth and glamour they brought to the White House, the tragedy of the President’s assassination and the lost promise of The New Frontier. In “Capturing Camelot” Stanley’s pictures of the President with his children and of Mrs. Kennedy are strikingly beautiful and quite poignant.
KJ: The book shows the symbiotic relationship between JFK and photographer Stanley Tretick. Is it true each respected the other and the jobs they had to do?
KK: Yes. There seemed to be real respect on both sides. JFK understood journalism and accepted the rules which Stanley found quite refreshing. Stanley understood JFK’s preoccupation with image—he refused to be photographed eating or posing or wearing hats of any kind. The sole exception was a hard hat, which he wore proudly when offered because he felt that particular hat signified he, the son of one of America’s richest men, was accepted by the working man.
While respectful of Kennedy, Stanley was a photo-journalist who explained to him that he would not try to make him look foolish–but if he did something foolish, Stanley would photograph him. In fact, Stanley took a certain amount of pleasure in finally snapping JFK wearing a feathered Indian headdress.
While in the White House, it became more complicated because JFK had to deal with his wife who did not want their children photographed. Stanley was pressed by his editors for every photograph he could get of the First Family, particularly the children. It was a constant battle.
KJ: Can you describe your writing process while immersed in a book?
KK: This is a question I always ask other writers, probably because I’m desperate to know if they’ve discovered a magical way to increase productivity. In “hare versus tortoise”, I’m definitely the latter. My office is a few blocks away from my house so I walk over every day and lug whatever notes I’ve taken during the night. I’m afraid to take a vacation during a writing project for fear I might not return so I work full-time until the deadline is met.
KJ: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
KK: The best advice I can give to aspiring writers is to follow their passion. Write about a subject you really care about because you’ll write much better–and don’t give up. Persistence is often genius in disguise.