For Rep. Peter T. King, the most salient part about “Killing Kennedy,” a TV movie dramatizing President John F. Kennedy’s doomed ride through downtown Dallas in late 1963, was reliving the utter chaos the shooting loosed on the unsuspecting American public.
“It just captured the way the whole country just came to a halt,” King told HOH about the paralysis that gripped the nation in the wake of Lee Harvey Oswald’s defining political statement.
The film tracks the lives of JFK, played by Rob Lowe, and Oswald, portrayed by Will Rothhaar, from 1959 until that fateful November day in Texas. It is based on a book by the same title co-written by Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly and presents grim portraits of everyone involved.
The dark sides of JFK (troubled leader burned by the Bay of Pigs debacle) and Oswald (paranoid psychotic with monumental delusions of grandeur) propel both of the main characters along their collision course, with their respective counterparts (Jackie Kennedy spends most of her time smoking, crying and/or fawning all over her unfaithful spouse while Marina Oswald is little more than an emotional, and sometimes physical, punching bag for her malcontent of a mate) dragged along for the brutal ride.
King, who was invited to the Newseum screening by O’Reilly — “For 10 years, I represented Bill,” King said of a relationship that’s since blossomed into private outings and charity work — vividly remembers that fatal day.
He told HOH things were moving along as per usual at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., that afternoon — American history 1-1:50 p.m., followed by Latin American history 2-2:50 p.m. — when all hell broke loose.
Per King, someone burst into the classroom sometime after 1 p.m. and announced that Kennedy had been shot.
“You didn’t know if it was for real or not. Or what it meant. Or was he killed. Or whatever,” King said of the uncertainty that clouded over everything.
With class canceled, King and some friends wandered out in search of the first TV they could find, landing in O’Keefe’s Bar where they finally got the full story from Walter Cronkite — a full hour after Oswald had squeezed the trigger.
“The closest thing to it was 9/11. ... It was that same type of people just stopping, no one was talking to each other on subways and everyone was just staring ahead [blankly],” King said of the mass confusion that hung in the air.
“I don’t know if that would happen today because we’ve seen so much since then: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Reagan. But again it’s hard to describe the impact that that had,” King said. “It was the first tragedy we had on national television.”
Lowe, who has survived the Brat Pack, perhaps the earliest sex tape scandal of the modern era and cow tipping with Chris Farley, suggested that his days in Hollywood might now be numbered “because I just took a red carpet photo with Bill O’Reilly.”
“Killing Kennedy” will air nationally at 8 p.m. Nov. 10 on the National Geographic Channel.