Grassy knoll. Warren Commission. Zapruder footage.
Hard to believe, but my generation's buzz words are now another generation's U.S. History assignment.
And some people evidently haven't been paying as much attention to their homework as they should have.
Or so I discovered after I recently agreed to play the chauffeur in a grade school video project documenting the death of President John F. Kennedy. As it turns out, looks and talent had nothing to do with my landing this plum part. Instead, I possessed a couple of far more impressive credentials.
"We need someone who has a convertible," explained thirteen-year-old "JFK," a seventh grader at Madison No. 1 Elementary School. "We were each going to put in $5 and rent one but they cost too much. Plus, we need someone who has a driver's license so they can drive us around." Although I was flattered, I warned JFK that the back seat of my Mustang probably wouldn't hold the four passengers who rode in the Kennedy limo that fateful day in November '63.
"That's okay," said JFK. His teacher had given the young filmmakers the green light to revise history, where necessary, within the six-minute video. "There's only one girl in our group, so we're not having Governor and Mrs. Connally in the car, anyway. Miss Nelson said it was okay to change a few things as long as we stick to the `official' version. We're not supposed to show that somebody else besides Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy or any stuff like that."
One pupil smiled smugly when I asked why his group had chosen to film the Kennedy assassination. "Our teacher is, like, totally into Kennedy," the budding brown-noser told me. "She loves Kennedy! We figured we'd get a better grade if we did him."
Another pupil confessed that he was attracted to the Kennedy project because it involved guns and murder.
"Practically all you've got to do is get a convertible, drive it down the street and have someone fire a rifle at it," he beamed. "We thought it would be pretty easy."
The spunky little Spielbergs soon learned differently. While shooting the opening sequence documenting Kennedy's arrival in Dallas (Sky Harbor International Airport doubled as Love Field), the fledgling filmmakers were astonished to discover they'd spent nearly two hours to get one thirty-second scene in the can.
As a result, the film's nonexistent budget promptly went right through the roof. "The airport is a rip-off!" ranted JFK, sounding as if he were personally footing the bill on a junior high Star Wars. "We had to pay $2 just to park the car!" Still, budget problems looked like small change compared with the next headache on the horizon: mainly, no "Jackie." Several angry telephone calls and 45 minutes later, the tardy thespian finally showed up, triggering a barrage of nasty accusations about who was supposed to be where and when. ("You liar! You were not at the school at 12:30!")
This brouhaha had barely died down when JFK spied Jackie's costume for the assassination scene--a beige two-piece suit that had belonged to her great-grandmother.
"That's the wrong color!" he groaned. "Mrs. Kennedy wore pink!"
Jackie sighed and looked at the ceiling. "The pink one was dirty so I brought this one instead," she explained wearily. Sarcastically, she added, "I'm so sure Mrs. Kennedy would wear a dirty dress!"
Rolling his eyes, young Mr. Kennedy finished slipping into the costume he would wear in the fatal motorcade. "The real dress was pink," he muttered as he adjusted a clip-on necktie decorated with the image of a hand-painted bass. "I hope you're satisfied when the teacher penalizes us for bad costuming."
After cameras, costumes and props had been stashed in the trunk, our six-person crew piled into the deathmobile and headed for our date with destiny. Wherever that was. Sitting in the seat next to me was "Jack Ruby," a hyperactive young fellow, who, when he wasn't preening in the rearview mirror or playing with the tape deck, winked, waved and clowned around for the benefit of passing female motorists.
"Where are we headed?" I hollered at Jack Ruby over the car radio.
"Just go somewhere that looks like that place where Kennedy was killed."
"Yeah, let's go there," he answered. "Is that downtown somewhere?"
I hoped he was kidding.
We drove around aimlessly for another half hour, scouting a variety of sites that weren't quite right for one reason or another. ("Do you want the teacher to kill us?" asked JFK after I unsuccessfully lobbied to stage the assassination under a billboard touting "Goldberg and Osborne, the injury lawyers.") While the drive was not a total waste--I was fascinated to learn that "the one who smell't it, dealt it"-- this information shed little light on the problem at hand.