WHEN TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION - part I
Getting Behind Oliver Stone’s J.F.K. (1991)
Disclaimer: For those new to The Hollywood Art, this is not a political blog. It is a repository for history and content relating to great motion pictures of the past and present and, on a more personal note, is dedicated to those iconic figures of the silver screen which have brought some special focus and meaning into my life.
However, the following article involves Oliver Stone’s movie J.F.K, a film and a topic that begs further understanding of those actual events that took place before and after Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. It is my sincere hope that history will not be quick to judge this article as a further contribution in support of mere mythologies and legends that continues to surround that Presidential assassination.
What follows then is a retrospective of history itself – some will undoubtedly argue, as clouded through the lens of a propagandist film maker, but that this author would argue, derives far more credence, respect and investigation than history has had the time or interest to make clear to the American public to date.
It is in support of deriving clarity from facts, as provided in Oliver Stone’s film and through a sincere investigation of other information made available elsewhere, and with the humble and utmost esteem and reverence extended to the Kennedy family, for what is undoubtedly a far more intimate - rather than national - tragedy, that this article appears.
DARK DAY IN DALLAS
AND THE DARKNESS THAT FOLLOWED IT
“J.F.K. – while it’s certainly skillfully put together, I would never deny that, I don’t regard as art. It’s propaganda!”
Director Oliver Stone (right) sought to poke hot needles into an open wound of the American psyche when he undertook a re-investigation of the Kennedy assassination with J.F.K (1991) an opus magnum of conspiracy theories contrary to the findings divulged in 26 volumes of the Warren Commission Report. Yet, perhaps even Stone was unprepared for the litany of counter-propaganda lobbied by the liberal media against both the film and his own personal credibility, which sought to discredit the project even before a final continuity script had been approved.
While Stone diligently launched his own intense cinematic critique he was besought by a rapid fire series of disdainful interviews that, in hindsight, seem to parallel the overwhelming attempt made by the media several decades earlier to dismantle the reputation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (right) - the hero in Stone’s docu-drama and the only man to ever bring formal charges against the men he believed were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate the President.
In the criminal investigation Garrison eventually launched three years after the assassination against Louisiana businessman Clay Shaw, more time was spent by the liberal media analyzing Mr. Garrison – both the man and his motives – than was eventually expended on the glaring loopholes Garrison presented to the grand jury regarding lack of coverage by government agencies and the commission that had been formed, but failed to provide a thorough critique of those events that led to that fateful November day in Dallas.
At one point prior to the Garrison trial, NBC’s Walter Sheridan was leaking information on the district attorney’s whereabouts and criminal findings. Sheridan’s subsequent televised report on Garrison exhibited no subtly or media objectivity, but was instead a gross hatchet job on Garrison’s credibility as a prosecutor. Sheridan publicly accused Garrison of bribing and drugging witnesses in his attempt to prove his case. In his own defense, Garrison stood firm, saying “In over five years of office, I have never had a single case reversed because of the use of improper methods-a record I'll match with any other D. A. in the country.”
Recently, more startling evidence has directly linked Walter Sheridan to Herbert Miller, a man who acted as an intermediary for the accused, Clay Shaw. Shaw’s attorneys were later implicated in an FBI memorandum sent to NBC’s New York offices that suggests a plausible assassination scenario on Garrison’s life was also at one point seriously considered.
"I only wish the press would allow our case to stand or fall on its merits in court. It appears that certain elements of the mass media have an active interest in preventing this case from ever coming to trial at all and find it necessary to employ against me every smear device in the book."
What Mr. Garrison uncovered in piecing together his investigation, mainly from eye witness accounts and several credible witnesses - who mysteriously died just prior to the trial - was a mountain of evidence against both the U.S. federal government and John Kennedy’s successor to the Oval Office; Lyndon B. Johnson. Those who wished to believe Garrison’s speculations on the case found much more than probable cause – unlike the hypotheses made in the Warren Commission volumes - that President Kennedy’s named assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was NOT the lone gunman, or even and quite possibly directly involved.
At the crux of the Commission’s findings there emerged a fanciful theory put forth as fact by Arlen Specter; The Magic Bullet Theory - one man, shooting through dense foliage from a sixth floor window with a defective Carcano rifle who, with world class precision in 5.6 seconds, fired three fatal shots into the Presidential motorcade. Although today widely panned as purely theoretical, The Magic Bullet Theory was almost universally embraced by the American press and public immediately following the assassination.
According its grossly inaccurate premise, the theory is that one shot passed through President Kennedy’s neck and head and caused all of Governor Connally's superficial wounds (chest, right wrist and left thigh). Connally never embraced this theory, but clung to the notion that Oswald had been the lone gunman, despite the fact that the 8-mm home movie taken by bystander Abraham Zapruter on that fateful afternoon clearly identifies that the fatal headshot came from a much lower trajectory immediately ahead of the Presidential motorcade. The book depository, in fact, was to the motorcade’s rear.
Ironically, Hoover’s objectives to ‘convince’ the public otherwise were met with little to no outward consternation. The American people’s thought-numbing unwillingness to believe in any conspiracy of unseen forces operating at the highest levels of their own government, under the guise of ‘national security,’ made concealment of the truth near effortless; nursing all of the public’s fear, disgust and loathing onto the commission’s findings of a lone assassin – atypical from the rest of society that had produced him, and perfectly in tune with its own psychological need for immediate resolution and closure.
The ‘who, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of subsequent investigations put forth by Jim Garrison in his public trial of Clay Shaw (right), and carried over into Oliver Stone’s cinematic summation have ultimately assured both public detractors and supporters of conspiracy theories of one essential fact; that J.F.K is indeed, the story that will not go away!
“Anyone would have to be a fool nowadays to dismiss conspiracies.” – Robert MacNeil
“Look at that guy. You believe him. I didn’t shoot anyone, he keeps repeating.”
– Gary Oldman
On November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy met with a most untimely end in Dealey Plaza. Almost instantly, local authorities, the FBI and the CIA sought to incriminate a lonely man working on the third floor of Dallas’ School Book Depository as their assassin; a man who, in death as in life, would prove to be so much more fascinating than the proposed ‘patsy’ put forth and supported by the Warren Commission investigation.
What is known for fact now is that Lee Harvey Oswald (top right; below, as portraited by Gary Oldman in J.F.K.) was part of covert U.S. military intelligence working to infiltrate a squadron of radical Cuban exiles. Oswald’s learning of the Russian language while still a foot solider in the Civil Air Patrol Unit overseen by David William Ferrie seems to suggest that Oswald’s prior activities for Uncle Sam included his faux defection to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s; a timed departure that shuffled him to a radio factory in Minsk (where he met Marina), afforded him the highest level of clearance and provided him with an expense account that has never been fully clarified or disclosed. The net result of Oswald’s perceived defection may also have directly contributed to the downing of Francis Gary Powers U2 spy flight over Russia on May 1, 1960.
For years, the conventional explanation for Power’s capture was that a surface-to-air missile had been launched as a counter offensive against U.S. CIA intelligence, even though the plane was virtually unassailable by conventional weapons. This simple explanation comes with its own litany of skepticism, not the least of which is Powers’ miraculous survival from what otherwise would most certainly have been a fatal crash. Yet, as a direct result of this infraction inside Russian air space by the U.S. military, the peace summit orchestrated by the Eisenhower administration failed.
Prior to his staged Russian defection, Lee Harvey Oswald had been drafted by a retired ONI operative, Guy Bannister, along with David Ferrie into a private war in support of an all-out Cuban invasion. Operation Mongoose, as it eventually came to be known was privately funded by the U.S. government; a military black-ops initiative establishing a series of covert training camps throughout the United States and employing mercenaries dedicated to a planned assassination of Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro.
As part of his superficial involvement in Operation Mongoose, Oswald participated in a staged pro-Castro leaflet distribution on Canal St. in New Orleans in the summer of 1961. However, the base of his operations came from a makeshift facility at 544 Camp Street – not-so-coincidentally the same building that housed Bannister’s private investigations firm formally addressed at 531 Lafayette St.
In the months leading up to the Kennedy assassination, the enigma of Lee Harvey Oswald was largely built up through a series of misinterpretations, misconceptions and complete falsehoods later published in the Warren Commission as cold hard facts. These ‘facts’ placed Oswald in multiple places at the same time and in every venue to help support and sustain his complicity as an overt Marxist/Leninist. In fact, sightings of Oswald were as far reaching as a Mexican brothel frequented by Cuban patriots, and, a voter registration drive in Clinton Louisiana where, not coincidentally, Clay Shaw and David Ferrie were also sited.
What is particularly disturbing about the Oswald legacy immediately following the Kennedy assassination is how quickly he was written off as a liability by those same unseen forces who he had diligently served. Despite glaring inconsistencies in testimony, provided by witnesses who readily reported seeing gun smoke and hearing shots coming from the grassy knoll directly in front of the President’s motorcade, the mythology of a lone crazed assassin had already gripped the media’s fascination moments after it had taken place.
Witnesses who claimed the shots came from the grassy knoll were discredited and intimidated by men posing as FBI agents on foot in Dealey Plaza – even though all secret service personnel accounted for in Dallas that day were nowhere except in immediate proximity to the Kennedy motorcade. Yet, within hours of the assassination, Oswald was booked for another murder; that of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit – despite the fact that shell casing and powder residue tests conducted on Oswald clearly indicate that he had not fired a weapon on November 22.
By noon the following afternoon, following an intense twelve hour interrogation of Oswald for which no known notes survive, Dallas police had assessed Oswald’s perceived guilt for both Tippit and the President’s murder. This ‘official’ mythology was snapped up by the media and readily published as fact before the legal precedence of a public trial could determine Oswald’s guilt or innocence.
…and then, of course, there was Jack Ruby.
Born Jacob Rubenstein (right top, and below as portrayed in J.F.K.) to Polish Orthodox Jews, Ruby was a bag man for the Dallas mafia with varying ties to both organized crime (including the Campisi crime syndicate) and the Dallas police; a man who had met Oswald on various terms and meetings months, and many speculate – even years – before he fired the ill-fated shot that killed Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963 as he was being led by a prison escort through the basement of the downtown Dallas police precinct.
The motives for Jack Ruby’s public execution of Lee Harvey Oswald have been heavily debated; ranging in broad speculations from varying vantages; that he was operating under direct Mafia orders and/or government objectives that sought to silence the man set up for the Kennedy assassination. To delve more deeply into any of these wild theories without further proof is foolhardy entertainment at best. However, to his dying day, Jack Ruby did more than suggest that not all of the facts pertaining to his situation had been resolved.
Ruby, who first received the death sentence for Oswald’s murder (it was later overturned under the premise that Ruby had not received a fair trial – and faced with the prospect of yet another trial) - was repeatedly denied either oral or written pleas by the Warren Commission to tell his part of the story, until Ruby’s sister, Eileen made known both her own and her brother’s intensions on public record to the media. Reluctantly, Earl Warren and other members of the commission flew to Dallas where they met with Ruby, but emphatically refused to honor his request to be taken to Washington and placed into protective custody.
“A whole new form of government is going to take over this country,” Ruby insisted, “…and I know I won’t live to see you another time”; prophetic words for the man who claimed to have been injected with the cancer gene in order to silence his truth. Ruby eventually died in prison, but of a pulmonary embolism on January 3, 1967.