November 14, 2013

Classic Playback: interview with JFK archivist David Von Pein

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is a week from tomorrow, and for the next few days I'll be featuring posts centering on television’s coverage of the drama as it unfolded. Today we'll take a look back an an interview I did two years ago, in the early days of the blog, with David Von Pein, the acknowledged YouTube master of all things JFK.  In this interview we talk about how television covered the assassination and its aftermath, the charms of classic television, and whether our families think we're nuts for doing all this.




It is often said that television truly came of age with its coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I think that can be a bit overstated, but there's no question that, almost 50 years later, the "As It Happened" coverage, coming as it did like a lightning bolt out of the blue of an ordinary Friday afternoon in November, remains absolutely riveting.

Until the advent of YouTube, access to this video coverage, which tells you the story in a way totally unlike the history book or the newspaper, was relatively hard to come by, limited mostly to video traders and online dealers. Today, however, anyone can call up hours of footage, not only from the three networks but also from local television and radio.

Of the various sites devoted to the JFK assassination, few come with the video treasure that can be found on the sites run by David Von Pein. An outspoken believer (as am I) that Lee Harvey Oswald was the one and only assassin of Kennedy, Von Pein has amassed an incredible amount of video history on JFK - not just the assassination, but various tributes, documentaries and movies, not to mention rarely seen clips from Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. As someone who has spent more than a few hours with my own JFK collection, I thought David would be an outstanding choice for the inaugural It's About TV interview.

Q: David, thanks first of all for your time. We're going to be talking about collecting old television shows on DVD, because you have an amazing collection, not just of the JFK assassination, but all kinds of TV series and movies. Do your friends and family think you’re kind of, uh, nuts for doing this? Because I know some of the looks I get, I have to go into this long academic discussion about how this is all historical research, in order to justify what is probably really a guilty pleasure.

A: No, I don't think my family thinks I'm TOTALLY crazy. Just a LITTLE bit. ~wink~ My brother, in fact, runs a fairly popular TV website himself. You can find it here. He was kind enough to link to some of my sites from his "Showcase" TV website (even a page for my JFK stuff).

Q: So tell me - how did you first get interested in the Kennedy assassination? Was this a contemporary event for you, something you'd always been interested in, or is this a case of a young man looking back at a particular point in time?

A: I was born in 1961 (when JFK was in the White House, coincidentally), so I don't remember the assassination (or JFK as a President) at all. I just know that (for me) there's something about Mr. Kennedy, his Presidency, his family, and his assassination that are endlessly fascinating.

I first got deeply interested in President Kennedy's assassination in 1981, when I read David Lifton's book, Best Evidence [book review here].

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Read the rest here.

Still to come: TV Guide from November 16, 1963; "As It Happened" film clips, and an interview with Three Shots Were Fired author Marc Ryan.  Stay tuned.

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