“Sure it’s a big job; but I don’t know anyone who can do it better than I can.” —JFK
Gore Vidal published 25 novels, two memoirs and reams upon reams of historical and opinionated essays, plays, television dramas and screenplays. “Style,” he once wrote, “is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” By that definition, one of the most stylish gentlemen we have ever known passed away last night at the age of 86.
We’re not ones to flippantly eulogize. (That’s what Facebook is for.) But every so often, the passing of a great man consequently marks the passing of something greater than just one man, or in the case Mr. Vidal, a Man of Letters—erudite, wittily cynical, well-informed, prolific, compassionate and fearless.
A title may never again befit a gentleman so justly.
International Casino, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, 1952
A month after the Bay of Pigs invasion, on February 2, 1962, President Kennedy called his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, into his office and directed him to buy as many Cuban cigars as he could find. The next morning Salinger walked into the Oval Office with 1,200 H. Upmann Petits, the president’s preferred brand. “Fantastic,” Kennedy said, placing them under his desk. Then, as Salinger explained at a Cigar Association of America annual meeting in 1987, the president “pulled out a decree banning all Cuban products from the United States and signed it.”
In acknowledgement of the embargo’s golden anniversary this week, Kempt looks back on an extraordinary time and place, the likes of which may never be experienced again.
Part Three: The Americans
“Haven’t you ever worked?” Prince Dado Ruspoli was once asked. “No,” he responded, “I’ve never had time.” The 12 Original Playboys gallivanted within the eye of a perfect pleasure storm. They wanted for nothing because they could have seemingly anything – or anyone – thanks to a never-ending stream of old, old money.
And yet plenty of men have mighty bank accounts. These twelve seemed to have much more, like the ability to speak a dozen languages, the bravado to race Ferraris with every intention of one day wrapping one around an apple tree, and the possession of manhood that led to twelve-inch pepper grinders being named for them in Parisian restaurants.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that only two Americans made this list.
Part One of Five
When 78-year-old Gunter Sachs killed himself with a single gun shot to the head in May of this year, the world not only lost an accomplished marksman, but also a fine bobsledder, photographer, and manufacturer of ball-bearings. Of greater concern, though, was the fact that Gunter was widely considered to be the world’s last remaining “Original Playboy,” of which there were twelve.
“Twelve, and no more,” Gunter said of his bronzed, international jet-setting comrades. “The golden age when an elite breed of professional pleasure seekers fascinated the world is over. We were charming and spoke languages and behaved well with women. To go with a girl to Tahiti was incredible. Now everybody goes to Tahiti.”
A little history will get you a long way…although you usually have to pay for it.
John F. Kennedy wore this watch for swimming for just under a year, and since then it’s passed from Jackie O to Aristotle Onassis, and eventually to a New York auction house. It’s going on the block in March, and costs a truly staggering amount, but as presidential memorabilia goes, this looks better than anything else we’ve seen.
It’s also worth more than five times as much as a watch on the same block that once belonged to Ghandi—just one more sign of what a little style will get you.
In honor of the new president-elect, we thought we’d take a look at one of the fresh faces from the past, from a time when politicians trafficked in hope instead of fear and horizontally patterned ties had not yet perished from the earth. Ladies and gentlemen: a trip to the past, courtesy of the JFK library.
The next four years may not look exactly like this…but you never know.
This month’s Vanity Fair features a windy trot through the remains of Marilyn Monroe’s estate, in the name of unraveling the “mystery of Marilyn’s death.” There are a few Kennedy love letters, one from T.S. Eliot (!?), and a whole lot of morbid fetishism, courtesy of writer Sam Kashner. (The curious can find a full web-only accounting here.) Of course, the media loves a dead blonde, but this is more unseemly than usual.
Monroe’s death is only a mystery the way JFK’s death is a mystery. When a corpse is found surrounded by sleeping pills, you don’t have to reach too far for the truth. Monroe was an orphan, and struggled all her life with what Arthur Miller described (in a far superior VF article) as “the bottomless loneliness that no parented person can really know”, so her suicide not as inexplicable as Kashner would have us believe. The real shock is how blind most writers have been to her real, human problems.
There’s grassroots activism, and then there’s…this.
These Obamafied Air Force Ones were whipped up by a street artist known only as “Van,” and they’ve been making the rounds all day. They don’t quite rise to the level of Kennedy-chic; in fact, they throw the senator’s whole sartorial promise into question.
As a result, we’re throwing down the gauntlet and calling for Obama to denounce these irresponsibly ugly shoes. The American people deserve better than marker-soaked dunks marred by what one commenter correctly diagnoses as “wack execution.” Custom footwear may well be the largest challenge our next president will face. Unless we nip this in the bud, a McCain loafer can’t be too far off.
The senator’s office could not be reached for comment.
Politicians are notoriously bad dressers—that’s a government salary for you—but if you’re enough of an icon, it doesn’t take much effort to become a style icon too.
After all, it’s called Kennedy chic for a reason.
The first contender to embrace the slim generation of suits (while his opponent is giving off slightly different signals), it’s no surprise that Obama’s a favorite for the GQ and Esquire crowd. Unlike the rest of the C-SPAN fodder, Barack manages to make suits look good. (Not so hard, really—but like we said, it’s a low bar.)
What follows is the complete correspondence between Kennedy and Gunilla von Post: Eleven letters and three telegrams sent between March 1954 and August 1955.
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