UNH history professor’s ‘Letters to Jackie’ documentary screened at MUB theater
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 02:09
Professor Ellen Fitzpatrick has taught history at UNH since her arrival at the university in 1997, but this last Wednesday was a first for her.
The film “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy,” a documentary based off of a book she wrote, was screened at UNH.
The documentary was showen in the Memorial Union Building Theater II on Sept. 18, to a full auditorium. Its director, William Couturie, attended as a special guest.
The book, and the documentary it is based off of, deals with letters sent to Jackie Kennedy from all across the country in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. These letters came from people in all walks of life, from a 13-year-old boy suffering from polio to a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Ethiopia.
“While doing research at the John F. Kennedy Library on another topic,” Fitzpatrick said, “I remembered the condolence letters written after President Kennedy’s death and asked the archivist if I could see them. They proved to be a remarkable snapshot of the country at a moment of history upheaval. The diversity of the letter writers reflected the diversity of the country itself, and I decided it was worth collecting some of these letters into a volume that would capture what Kennedy and his death meant to Americans in the early 1960s.”
Professor Eliga Gould, chair of the History Department at UNH, has stated described “Letters to Jackie” as “a hard book to put down.”
“‘Letters to Jackie’ looks at the period immediately following President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963,” Gould said. “Although what we think of today as “the ‘60s” hadn’t begun, Kennedy’s election in 1960 signaled a new, youthful moment in American history; a time of great promise when the nation seemed committed to ending poverty, to guaranteeing full civil rights for African Americans and other minorities and to embarking on ambitious programs like sending a man to the moon.”
According to Fitzpatrick, the idea to make a movie out of her volume of condolence letters was presented to her almost immediately after the book was published.
“Very soon after the book was published I got an email from Bill Couturie, a documentary filmmaker whose work I knew well, telling me he thought the book could be a film and that he was interested in pursuing that possibility,” Fitzpatrick said. “The whole process took three years.”
Couturie has been in the filmmaking industry from over four decades and has produced more than 15 documentaries for HBO.
Some of these include “Last Letters Home: the Voices of American Troops from Battlefields of Iraq,” “Memorial: Letters from American Soldiers,” and “Vietnam Requiem,” among others.
Although the Kennedy assassination took place nearly 50 years ago to the day, according to Gould, Americans are still feelings its effects.
“We still live in the world that Kennedy helped to create,” Gould said. “By learning about him and how the nation responded to his death, we also learn about ourselves.”