President John F. Kennedy is often perceived as the first sort of “Mr. Hollywood,” among the American Presidents when, in truth, most of his predecessors also maintained friendships with powerful entertainment industry figures both behind and in front of the camera.
JFK, however, had known Hollywood and many of its leading stars well since his young adult years, when he spent time in Hollywood following his father’s ownership of his own film company, Empire Pictures. As an adult, in his roles as U.S. Senator, Presidential candidate and then President of the United States, he became even closer with some of them through his brother-in-law, actor Peter Lawford.
Thus, JFK befriended many of Tinseltown’s most glamorous and oftentimes ravishing actresses who were drawn to the power of the presidency like flies to honey.
From lithe to buxom, the likes of Angie Dickinson, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marlene Dietrich, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Jayne Mansfield and Rhonda Fleming were just the more famous number of actresses who entertained JFK and his guests at fundraisers, dinners and gala celebrations, usually slinking their way up to flirt with, and have their picture taken with him, slipping into a seat at his dinner table or even, many suggest, more intimate configurations. Several were just friends. Several were said to be more friendly. The whispers, the gossip, the hype about each of them and him – often by the Actresses’ own allegations has, a half century since his death, grown so mythically out of proportion that what the truth really may be is impossible to discern.
And then, there was Hazel the maid, or more precisely the actress Shirley Booth who depicted the kooky and intrusive household maid in a television sitcom called Hazel, which began the same year as the Kennedy Administration and ran for five years, based on a popular Saturday Evening Post comic strip.
By the dawn of Kennedy’s Jet Age of the early Sixties, the 5’2″ and chubby 64 year old Booth seemed the antithesis of Camelot cool, but she was no schlump.
Best known for her serious theatrical work, she won the Tony three times, the first being for Best Supporting Actress in Goodbye, My Fancy (1948).
Although she only made a total of five movies, a decade earlier, she’d won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), becoming the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role.
She was also awarded “Best Actress” from The Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe Awards, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and National Board of Review. She became one of the few Actresses to then win awards in the third entertainment arena, winning television Emmy Awards for Hazel in 1962 and 1963.
Still, what was Jet-Set Jack Kennedy doing with Shirley Booth?
Miss Booth was invited into the Oval Office to meet with President Kennedy on March 8, 1963 along with eight-year old Brenda Hanlan of Illinois, who was the Easter Seals child representative that year. Able to sit up and walk only with the aid of leg braces and crutches, Hanlan lived with the disability of cerebral palsy, handed the President some of the Easter Seal stamps, sold during the annual national fundraising drive. She also gave him a small bouquet of flowers for the First Daughter, Caroline Kennedy. Shirley Booth was the 1963 Easter Seal campaign chairman.
President Kennedy signed Public Law 88-164, known as The Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Health Centers Construction Act.
It legally affirmed that students with disabilities must be educated, laying the foundation for future reform in education for students with disabilities and, further, provided federal grants for building public and private non-profit community mental health centers.
Through his further efforts, he began the de-institutionalization of people with a wide range of developmental disabilities with an intention of removing individuals from large institutions to small group homes with community-based services.
Funding was difficult and the plan took years to implement.
But it began.
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