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Sep 18, 2013 09:26 AM EDT

University of New Hampshire to Screen 'Letters to Kennedy'

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The University of New Hampshire (UNH) community will be getting a special, advanced screening of a documentary film Wednesday that is based on condolence letters written to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy after President John F. Kennedy (JFK)'s assassination.

The major documentary produced by TLC is based on UNH history professor and historian Ellen Fitzpatrick's book, 'Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation.' The 90-minute film will be aired on television, November 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death.

'Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy,' Bill Couturie's adaptation of the book tells the story of JFK's presidency through the letters read by 20 A-list Hollywood actors, including Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Laura Linney, and Betty White.

"Bill Couturie has done a remarkable job of bringing to life not only some of the powerful condolence letters written in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination but also a moment in American history when many felt that the world as they had known it had changed forever. It's been a great honor to see his film come to fruition and to observe the brilliant work of Bill, his editor and his producers. They have brought imagination, passion, commitment and creativity to their work. And the result is a film that evokes the era of the early 1960s in a very moving way," Fitzpatrick said.

"Kennedy's death was a tipping point in history. It took place in a turbulent moment in the Civil Rights era. I didn't sit down to write a Civil Rights story, but that's where the letters led me. For those who reflected on the assassination returned over and over again to Kennedy's insistence on change and to a climate of violence and upheaval they believed played a part in the death of their president," Couturie said.

Pat Kelleher's letter addressed to the former first lady was one of the more than 800,000 messages delivered to the White House after JFK's assassination. The letter read, 'if I could take away the sorrow and pain I would, but I can only share it.'

Kelleher seemed to have understood the sadness, unhappiness and anguish that might have been felt by Jackie Kennedy as she was a grieving widow herself, at that time.

According to CBS, Kelleher's husband was killed earlier in 1963 when the submarine 'Thresher' sunk off Cape Cod.

"And then seven months later Jack Kennedy was assassinated. So I felt that connection," Kelleher said.

The film premiered Tuesday night at the JFK Presidential Library. Kelleher was joined by fellow letter writers Gabriele Gideon and Janis Hirsch at the event.

 "I think what propelled me to write that letter was gratitude," Gideon said. She was touched by the President's optimism and his belief in the American Dream.

Hirsch was a 13-year-old girl suffering from polio when she wrote the message from a hospital bed in New Jersey. The letter read, "I'll tell you my remedy for smiling and happiness....... listen to 'You've Got to Have Heart' from Damn Yankees."

In response to the very moving, overwhelming letters in 1964, Mrs. Kennedy said that 'the warmth of these tributes is something I shall never forget.'

All the three contributors to the documentary hope that Kennedy's life and his tragic death will never be forgotten by Americans.

"I think it's a snapshot of how every segment of the population felt at a given moment in time, I think in a way that we've never had before and will never have again," Gideon said.

© 2017 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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