'I Want You to Meet This Fella, Jack Kennedy': Hollywood Remembers JFK

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John F. Kennedy

Angie Dickinson, Norman Lloyd, Richard Sherman and others look back on the 50th anniversary of his assassination; says documentarian D. A. Pennebaker, "He never told me to stop filming him, ever."

Just before the end of World War II, actor and producer Norman Lloyd found himself playing an unexpectedly memorable tennis match. His friend, actor Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane), had invited Lloyd to his Pacific Palisades home to hit the court and have lunch along with some other guests.

"I was invited out there on a Sunday," recalls Lloyd, now 99, a seven-decade veteran of the industry who's appeared in films including Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Dead Poets Society (1989). Fashion designer Oleg Cassini had arrived, and he brought a guest. "It was this guy I didn’t know, just wearing shorts, no shoes, no stockings and no shirt. And he was going to play as one of the four [for a doubles match], and his hair flying all over the place."

"Joe introduced me. He said, 'I want you to meet this fella, Jack Kennedy. He just got out of the Navy.' "

Lloyd remembers playing one set against the future president, although he doesn't recall who prevailed on the court. "It’s very possible we had a close match," he tells The Hollywood Reporter

"I had no idea when I met him that this was going to be a fellow who was going to go into politics," Lloyd adds.

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Documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, 88, says Kennedy was obsessed with history, which is why he and his camera were allowed hours of unfettered access to the White House.

"He never told me to stop filming him, ever," says Pennebaker, who was part of the team behind the groundbreaking doc Primary, chronicling Kennedy's campaign in Wisconsin for the Democratic nomination.

He once walked into the Oval Office with a camera, and noticed Kennedy on the phone, making an apology to someone on the other end.

"It turned out this was his mother-in-law who was calling because she was pissed that they had fired the White House chef. He was kind of smiling when I filmed him," says Pennebaker. "He knew there was no way I could use this. I'm not the six o'clock news, but he thought it was interesting for general history so he let me film it."

Kennedy had a certain sense of wonder when it came to the White House and its place in history. The president once showed Pennebaker a place in the White House where there were small holes in the floor, as if someone had taken an ice pick to it.

"He asked 'Do you know what that's from? Eisenhower's golf shoes.' He had this sort of special sense of the place -- like me -- where it was all new."

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Angie Dickinson, who was romantically involved with Frank Sinatra, had traveled in similar circles as Kennedy. The popular actress, who was best known at the time for her work in the Western Rio Bravo (1959), remembered hitting the campaign trail in 1960 for the Democratic candidate. 

"I campaigned for [then-Senator] Kennedy the week before the election in seven states across the country and, yes, I met him," Dickinson tells THR

"A group of us went out to barnstorm in seven states and we wrapped it up in New York at the Coliseum the Saturday night before the finish of the campaign before the elections were coming on Tuesday, and he came around to thank us all there," she elaborates.

Asked about the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, Dickinson offers: "There are no words."

Legendary Disney songwriter Richard M. Sherman, 85, and his brother Robert were hard at work on songs for The Happiest Millionaire (1967) on Nov. 22, 1963, when they heard a woman scream. The brothers and about 15 others crowded into the office of Disney producer Bill Walsh, who had one of the few televisions in the place.

"The reports are coming in, and the women were crying, We were crying. It was horrible," Sherman recalls. "We loved him. We thought it was Camelot come to life."

After about 45 minutes of watching the TV coverage, a depressed Sherman wandered back to his office. He'd been trying to crack "I'll Always Be Irish" -- a song from Millionaire about a man being proud of being an American with Irish roots.

In his sadness, the song's button suddenly came to Sherman: "And I bet some day we'll get an Irish president."

"That was the punchline of the song," Sherman says. "It was one of the strange things that my songwriter brain fell into place on that terrible day."

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Mamie Van Doren, 82, was a starlet often compared to Marilyn Monroe. She says she never met Kennedy ("I was a Republican at the time"), but claims she received a thinly veiled sexual proposition shortly after Monroe's death.

"It was only months later that I was contacted by Judy Exner, who was his mistress – and he wanted to meet me. I thought 'My God, the body isn't even cold yet,' " Van Doren says.

She was dating Bo Belinsky, a star pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels at the time, who wasn't keen on her meeting the president -- for obvious reasons.

"He was in the room when I got the call, and he said 'No way are you going to meet him!' (Laughs.) Maybe I'd have something to tell you if I had gone."