Barbra Streisand during rehearsal for 'Funny Girl' in New York City, January 1964. (AP photo)
Between 1963 and 1965, at a time when rock and roll music was overwhelming just about everything in sight, a little known singer named Barbra Streisand managed to put not just one, but seven albums of American standards on the Billboard top-selling music charts. How this came to be, and the story of Streisand’s rise to stardom in those years, is sometimes overlooked in her long and accomplished career.
Born in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Barbra Streisand had a tough start in childhood. Her father, a grammar school teacher, died when she was 15 months old. Her mother – left with young Barbra and an older son Sheldon – took a job as a bookkeeper and moved in with her parents. As a little girl growing up, Barbra sang in the hallways of her apartment building. “Barbra started to sing as early as she could talk,” her mother later recalled. Young Barbra set her sights on becoming an actress, framed in part by what she saw on television. In 1949, her mother remarried, to Louis Kind – a step-father of conflict for Barbra and not a happy time. A sister, Roslyn, was born in 1951.
Young Barbra, 1950s.
In school, Barbra sang in the choir, got good grades, but did not date or seek to be popular and was pretty much a loner. She worked part-time jobs – at a Chinese restaurant and as an usherette in a local theater, the latter to see the latest films. She kept to her dream of becoming an actress, attended local playhouses and summer acting camps. Barbra’s mother did not encourage her daughter to pursue a career in show business. In fact, she told Barbra she was not attractive enough to succeed. However, she did take her once to audition as a child, and also later to make acetate recordings in Manhattan.
In 1959, Barbra graduated high school, fourth in her class, but did not attend college. With her sights set on acting, she moved to Manhattan. She was 17 years old.
Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir nightclub, 1960.
During her early days in Manhattan, Streisand occasionally lived with friends, carrying a folding cot around. She was something of a vagabond and dressed in the latest thrift-store chic. She worked odd jobs and tried to enter the famous Actors Studio, but failed. She tried some off-Broadway acting, appearing in one play that ran only a few times. Although her heart was set on acting, in June 1960 she entered and won a singing competition at a local Greenwich Village bar, the Lion, with no singing experience. “They laughed when she stood up to the microphone,” Pete Hamill would later write of the audience’s reaction to her clothes and her first club appearance, “but when she sang there was no contest.” “They laughed when she stood up to the micro-phone, but when she sang there was no contest.” - Pete Hamill She then put together a night club act with the help of a friend and began performing in other Greenwich Village gay bars, such as The Bon Soir, where she was well received. By 1961, she began venturing beyond Manhattan, appearing in clubs such as the Caucus Club in Detroit, the Crystal Palace in St Louis, and the Town and Country Towers room in Winnipeg, Canada. Those who heard her sing were quite taken by her performances and her voice. But not everyone understood or appreciated her interpretations. A few early reviewers called her quirky, but one noted “a confidence beyond her years”and predicted that despite her unusual singing style and vintage clothes, she could go “right to the top.” Back in Manhattan she was attracting a growing following at clubs such as the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel, and in some corners of the music industry. While club performing, she met Jack Paar, the late-night TV talk show host, who asked her to appear on his show. She made her national TV debut on The Jack Paar Show April 5th, 1961 and made a second appearance on May 22, 1961.
Mike Wallace & Broadway
Streisand also began appearing on a late night New York-based TV talk show called PM East, a show that Group W and Westinghouse created to compete with Jack Parr. One of the hosts of that show was Mike Wallace, later of 60 Minutes fame, but with whom Streisand struck a chord. Her first show there was in July 1961, and she became something of regular, appearing more than a dozen times through 1961 and 1962. On the show, in addition to singing, she also became known as a talkative and sometimes zany guest, engaging Wallace and the others in lively exchanges. By December 1961, she had also prepared an audition tape of her club songs for RCA Records, but no contract was offered.
Barbra Streisand, 1962.
In 1961, after some Broadway auditions in the late fall, she landed a small acting and singing part as a secretary in the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a Depression-era story about a unscrupulous businessman in the garment district. When the show opened on Broadway on March 22, 1962, Streisand had the stage to herself in one scene doing a song and skit bemoaning her secretarial plight. She gave a spirited performance, which by one account brought audience attendee Leonard Bernstein to his feet applauding wildly. Bernstein was sitting in the VIP orchestra section that night, and the audience agreed with his reaction, giving Streisand a sustained ovation for her performance. “What we had witnessed, and what brought Bernstein’s enthusiasm,” wrote John Bush Jones also in the audience that night, “was the Broadway debut of an unknown nineteen-year-old performer named Barbra Streisand.” Streisand was later nominated for, but did not win, a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Barbra Streisand signing recording contract with Columbia's Goddard Lieberson, Oct 1962.
Streisand continued making TV appearances during 1962 — NBC’s Today Show in April 1962, CBS’s The Garry Moore Show in May 1962, and four times on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson between August and early December 1962. Her recording career was also taking a turn for the better. By the fall of 1962, three record labels were interested: Atlantic, Capitol, and Columbia. Capitol made an offer, but Streisand agreed to sign with Columbia on October 1st, negotiating creative control over her material and album covers. That fall she was also auditioning for new Broadway shows. But it was her appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show December 16, 1962 singing “My Coloring Book” and “Lover, Come Back To Me” that helped introduce Barbra Streisand to a larger, more mainstream national audience.
Barbra Streisand's 1st studio album, Feb 1963.
On February 25, 1963, her first studio album for Columbia Records was released, The Barbra Streisand Album, which included her interpretations of eleven pop standards. The album was very well received and first appeared on the Billboard albums chart the week of April 13, 1963. It would peak at #8 on that chart and 18 months later achieved “gold” sales status – i.e., 500,000 copies or more. It would also win 1963 Grammy Awards for Album of The Year and Best Female Vocalist. One of the album’s songs, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” wasn’t much more than a jingle before Streisand’s interpretation – “sung so slowly that suddenly all the hidden irony and banality of it come shaking out like loose nails,” wrote one reporter in Time magazine. The Barbra Streisand Album, meanwhile, remained in the Top 40 for 74 weeks.
Barbra Streisand meeting JFK at White House Press Correspondents dinner, May 1963.
Through the spring of 1963, she continued doing the night club circuit – Miami’s Eden Roc, The hungry i in San Francisco, and Basin Street East in New York where she opened for bandleader Benny Goodman. TV appearances continued as well – Johnny Carson in early March 1963, a repeat appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, March 24, 1963, and The Dinah Shore Show, May 12, 1963. Among those who saw Streisand’s performance on Dinah Shore was President John F. Kennedy, resulting in an invitation for her to sing at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner on May 24, 1963, when she met Kennedy. Columbia Records, meanwhile, in April, had re-released Streisand’s “Happy Days” song for radio play to gain her more public exposure. By July 1963, a young Pete Hamill was writing about Streisand’s rising star – “Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Fame” – in The Saturday Evening Post. That summer, she landed the role to play the famed comedienne Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, slated to open in early 1964.
Barbra Streisand's 2nd studio album, Aug 1963.
The Second Barbra Streisand Album was released in August 1963, surpassing the first, jumping into the Top Ten on the Billboard charts and peaking at #2. The record stayed at the #2 spot for three weeks and was certified gold after 13 months. By late September 1963, after completing a good month of performances at Hollywood’s Cocoanut Grove, Barbra Streisand was commanding a nightclub salary of $15,000 a week. Throughout 1963, she had played at clubs all across the country. Reported Look magazine that November: “From coast to coast, hypnotized patrons line up outside nightclubs to hear her almost overwhelming presentations of such items as ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ and ‘Cry Me a River’. She puts every nerve ending, muscle tendon and female oomph unit she has into a song; at the end of an evening, the audience is washed out.” Two major TV appearances came as well – one on NBC’s Bob Hope Comedy Special, broadcast September 27, 1963 and the other on October 6, 1963 on The Judy Garland Show (CBS). Her performance on Judy Garland’s show would earn Streisand an Emmy nomination for Best Variety Performance, the first time a guest star had ever received such an honor.
In mid-January 1964, Funny Girl had its first public showing in Boston, but it bombed, in part because of a snow storm, but also poor reviews. The play was reworked by Jerome Robbins, who gave Streisand more songs and comedy, placing more of the show’s success or failure on her performance. Meanwhile, her third album – simply titled The Third Album – was released in February 1964. The cover featured a photo of Streisand performing from The Judy Garland Show. This album was also a hit, reaching #5 on Billboard’s album chart. It also certified gold.
'Saturday Evening Post', 21 March 1964.
Rock ‘n Roll
Streisand was pumping out her repertoire of old standards at a time when the rock ‘n roll revolution was underway. The market for rock ‘n roll music was exploding, transforming the music industry and changing popular culture. In the early 1960s, “girl groups”such as the Shirelles and Crystals were prominent on the singles charts, and by 1963, the Angels, the Chiffons, and Martha and Vandellas were making their mark. Jan & Dean, the Four Seasons, Little Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes had hits too. In 1964, the Beatles took over much of the popular scene, following their February 9th appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show — the first of three. By early April 1964, Beatles singles held the top five spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 – among them, “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please, Please Me.” Other artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys, and various Motown groups, were also cranking out new songs and albums. But Streisand’s standards held their own, especially on the Billboard album chart. And there was more to come.
Funny Girl Fame
Barbra Streisand, star of 'Funny Girl,' Time cover story, 10 April 1964.
By late March 1964 Funny Girl had opened on Broadway and the play and Barbra Streisand received glowing notices. She was later nominated a second time for a Tony award – Best Actress in a Musical. In early April 1964, Capitol Records – not her label, Columbia – recorded the original cast album for Funny Girl in New York. Most of the songs on the 17-track album were those of Streisand’s from the play. Capitol rush-released the album in mid-April 1964 and it quicky sold 400,000 copies in one month, making it the fastest selling Capitol record up to that time. Then she appeared on the cover of Time’s April 10th edition, featured in a story simply titled “The Girl,” touting her acting and singing talents in Funny Girl. “Her impact was instant and stunning,” wrote Time of her performance, adding, however, that her looks were nothing special. But her on-stage moxie was. “People start to nudge one another and say, ‘This girl is beautiful,’” explained Time, describing how early audiences were discovering her. Streisand knew she didn’t have the knock-out good looks that might smooth her way to stardom. Some even suggested she have a surgeon attend to her nose, to which she replied: “That would be cheating. It wouldn’t be natural, know what I mean?” With Streisand it was the talent, the voice, and the energy that came through. The glamour came, too.
Barbra Streisand, Life magazine cover story, 22 May 1964.
In May 1964, she was on the cover of Life magazine, featured in a story with her then husband, actor Elliot Gould, whom she had met in I Can Get It For Your Wholesale. Wrote reporter Shana Alexander in her profile: “Today, Barbra Streisand is. . .Cinderella at the ball, every hopeless kid’s hopeless dream come true. . . Even more remarkable is the sudden nationwide frenzy to achieve the Streisand ‘look’” — from hair style to eye make-up. By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS. By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS to do as many as ten TV music specials. Meanwhile, her album People, released on September 1, 1964, knocked the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album out of the no.1 spot. The People album also won Streisand her 2nd consecutive Grammy for Best Female Vocalist. By October 31, 1964 — a time when the rock and roll genre was growing and getting stronger – there were five Barbra Streisand albums on the Billboard albums chart.
Barbra Streisand's 1964 single 'People' hits No. 5.
In addition to competing with Beatles’ albums such as A Hard Day’s Night which had been released in June, there were a number of other rising artists with new albums. Among these, for example, were the Beach Boys with their All Summer Long album released in mid-July. In August, both the Animals from the U.K. and Bob Dylan had new albums. October brought still others: The Kinks’ You Really Got Me, the Rolling Stones’ 12×5 album, and the debut album of Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News came out in December 1964. And there were others. Still, amid this, Streisand’s work rose in the popular arena. Her release of the single “People,” for example, climbed into the Top 40 in late May 1964, peaking at #5, but remaining on the Top 40 list for 12 weeks through August.
LBJ to Top-of-The-Charts
In 1965, Streisand began the year by entertaining newly elected President Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Inaugural Gala on January 18th in Washington, D.C. On April 4th she attended a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama where she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week later, at the Grammys she took home the Best Female Vocalist award for “People.”At a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week after that, on April 14th, she completed the taping for her first TV production, “My Name Is Barbra,” a one-woman musical special entirely her own show without any guest stars. Some people at CBS feared the program would be a disaster. When it aired on April 28th, the critics loved it and it earned high audience ratings (see video clip). The TV show was followed by the companion album, My Name Is Barbra, released in May 1965. A single from the this album, “My Man,” released in June 1965, made the Billboard Hot 100 in July, peaking at #79 and remained on the chart for six weeks. Her first TV show meanwhile, was nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning all five at the September ceremony, including two for Streisand herself.
Barbra Streisand's 1965 single makes Billboard in July.
Musically in 1965, the rock ‘n roll juggernaut was as strong as ever. Among artists with No.1 hits that year were: The Beatles, The Supremes, Petula Clark, The Righteous Brothers, The Temptations, The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, The Rolling Stones, and others. Many of these groups had top albums as well. In the midst of this, Streisand’s second album in 1965 – My Name is Barbra, Two – was released in October. It made the Billboard album chart in November, peaking at #2. It would also sell 500,000 copies and reach gold certification within three months and remain on the charts for 48 weeks.
On December 1st, 1965, Streisand’s career took a new turn, as she signed her first film contract – a four-picture deal beginning with the film adaptation of Funny Girl, which would not reach the big screen until 1968. Meanwhile, her albums were selling like crazy, and would continue to sell through the 1960s, boosted in part by her TV specials. In fact, during the decade, nine of her albums would each chart in the Top 10.
Barbra Streisand Albums: 1963-65
The Barbra Streisand Album February 1963
The Second Barbra Streisand Album August 1963
The Third Album February 1964
Funny Girl(Broadway cast album)
People September 1964
My Name is Barbra May 1965
My Name is Barbra, Two October 1965
Just Getting Started
In six short years Barbara Streisand had taken the world by storm. From the early vagabond days of carrying a folding cot around in 1960, to entertaining at the White House and launching her own TV specials in 1965, Barbara Streisand had rocketed to the top of popular music, Broadway, and prime-time television. She was now 23 years old, a millionaire, and one of the world’s most popular female recording artists. But there was still much more to come. There were 30 or more albums ahead, a career in film (acting, directing and producing), mega concert events, political activism, and a whole lot more.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Streisand Rising, 1961-1965,” PopHistoryDig.com, May 10, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
See Barbra Streisand’s official website, and any number of other sources, including books, videos, magazine & newspaper articles, websites, and other sources, including those cited below, to learn more about her career.
“Barbra Streisand, 29th AFI Life Achievement Award,” American Film Institute, 2001, AFI.com
John Bush Jones, Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of The American Musical Theater; Brandeis University Press, 2003.
Pete Hamill, “Good-Bye Brooklyn, Hello Fame,”Saturday Evening Post, July 27, 1963.
“Barbra Streisand: New Singing Sensation,” Look, November 19, 1963.
Shana Alexander, “A Born Loser’s Success and Precarious Love,” Life, May 22, 1964 (cover story with cover & inside photos by Milton H. Greene).
Earl Wilson, “Barbra Streisand’s Secret, Once a Chinese Waitress, Reno Evening Gazette, April 1, 1964, p. 16.
James Spada Barbra: The First Decade, the Films and Career of Barbra Streisand, Citadel Press, 1975.
James Spada, Streisand:The Woman and The Legend, Doubleday, 1981.
Randall Riese, Her Name Is Barbra, Birch Lane Press, 1993.
James Spada, Streisand: The Intimate Biography; Time Warner Paperbacks,1996.
Barry Dennen, My Life With Barbra: A Love Story, Prometheus Books, 1997.
Diana Karanikas Harvey and Jackson Harvey, Streisand: The Pictorial Biography, Running Press Book Publishers, 1997.
James Spada, Streisand: Her Life, Random House Value Publishing, 1997.
2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
Profiles in Courage is the name of a Pulitzer Prize- winning book by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy written in 1954 and 1955 while he was a U.S. Senator. The book chronicles acts of bravery and integrity in the careers of eight U.S. Senators in American history. Profiles in Courage became a best-seller and was ground-breaking in its day, becoming one of the first books used to advance a political career aimed at the White House. Yet apart from its politics, Profiles in Courage remains popular, not only for its attachment to the Kennedy legacy, but also as an important book on political courage and U.S. Senate history. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that Kennedy’s book also spawned a Peabody Award-winning television series in 1964. Profiles in Courage also had numerous print runs including a 50th anniversary edition in 2004, inspired several new books and ongoing research on the history of political courage, and also led to the creation of the “Profiles in Courage” award, given annually since 1990.
“Jack” Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 as a Congressman from Massachusetts. He was 29 years old at the time. In 1952, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. However, as a freshman Senator in 1954 and 1955, Kennedy took leave from the Senate to recover from surgery to treat a perennial back problem. It was during this period that he undertook Profiles in Courage. In the book, the senators that Kennedy profiled were mavericks of a kind who took courageous stands or stood apart from the safe and conventional norms of their day. They crossed party lines, defied their constituents, or ran counter to public opinion to do what they felt was right. Among Kennedy’s featured senators were: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Each of these, and others Kennedy mentions in his book, suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of the particular stance or action each took, which was the point of Kennedy’s “courage” argument.
Early paperback edition of JFK book.
Becoming A Best-Seller
By the late fall of 1955, advance notice of the book’s publication began appearing in some national newspapers. Kennedy himself also penned a long piece in the New York Times Magazine in December 1955 that previewed the book’s themes. On Sunday, January 1st, 1956, the book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review along with a large photo of Kennedy. Cabell Philips, the reviewer, noting that politicians themselves often criticized their own profession, wrote: “it is refreshing and enlightening to have a first rate politician write a thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity.” Profiles in Courage generally received good reviews and was widely acclaimed. It became a best seller and remained on the best-sellers’ list for some 95 weeks. The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators. And the book’s arrival was well-timed too, as 1956 was a presidential election year; a time when national political campaigns were in full swing.
The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators.
Although Kennedy was not a presidential candidate in 1956, he took center stage for a time at the Democratic National Convention that August in Chicago. Political conventions then were just beginning to receive more coverage by television. NBC, for example, pre-empted its day time soap operas and assigned two of its reporters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, to co-anchor the convention coverage. Kennedy, meanwhile, gave the nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, who became the party’s presidential nominee. Stevenson liked Kennedy and thought about making the young senator his running mate, but decided instead to throw open the nomination for Vice President to the entire convention. Several candidates were then vying for the VP slot: Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Al Gore, Sr., Senator Estes Kefauver, and Kennedy. All mounted instant campaigns on the floor of the convention. Some of Kennedy’s campaign paraphernalia tagged him as “a profile in courage.”
JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
The scramble for convention votes among the candidates proved dramatic with television capturing a series of roll-call ballots. Three separate ballots were needed. On the second ballot, Kennedy led 618 to 551½. At one point, the Chicago Daily News reported that Kennedy and Kefauver were tied, each falling short of the number to nominate. Kennedy then came to the floor and asked for Kefauver to be put on the ticket by acclamation. Stevenson, watching on TV at his hotel, was reportedly disappointed in the outcome. In the general election that followed that fall, the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket was crushed by the re-election of President Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate, Richard Nixon. For Kennedy, however, the national exposure he had received at the convention provided a springboard for 1960. Kennedy biographer James MacGregor Burns would write of the Kennedy’s vice presidential bid at the convention: “The dramatic race had glued millions to their television sets. Kennedy’s near-victory and sudden loss . . . struck at people’s hearts in living rooms across the nation. In this moment of triumphant defeat, his campaign for the  presidency was born.” One of those who watched on TV was a young Bill Clinton in Arkansas, who years later recalled: “The Kennedy-Kefauver thing, oh, yeah. I remember that,” he said, “– and Kennedy’s gracious concession speech.”
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.
In 1957, following the election, Kennedy began his unofficial campaign for the White House as he continued his duties in the U.S. Senate. Among fellow Democrats in the Senate who were also presidential contenders at the time were Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, returned to the news in May 1957 as the book picked up a Pulitzer prize. The award came as something of surprise, however, as the Pulitzer board rejected the jury nominations and gave the prize instead to Kennedy’s book. In fact, a few critics charged that Kennedy’s father had been involved behind the scenes on his son’s behalf. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, a friend of Joe Kennedy’s, boasted that he had lobbied hard for the Kennedy book. But no evidence of impropriety was found Through 1957, Kennedy continued to travel the country, with numerous speaking engagements. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s December 2nd, 1957 issue, with the feature story, “Democrat’s Man Out Front.” About that same time, however, some charges surfaced that Profiles in Courage had been written by others working with Kennedy. On December 7, 1957, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said the book was ghostwritten for Kennedy, suggesting that Kennedy’s aide, Ted Sorensen, had written much of the book. Kennedy did not take kindly to the charge and hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who produced Kennedy’s handwritten notes and statements from people saying they had seen Kennedy working on the book. Sorenson also denied the allegation and signed an affidavit attesting to Kennedy’s authorship.
John Kennedy, before he entered politics, had aspired briefly to a career in journalism and had written on history and public policy. As a student at Harvard in the 1930s, Kennedy had studied international relations and history. In his senior year, he wrote a college thesis that examined the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II, entitled “Appeasement in Munich.” Kennedy’s paper did not castigate Britain’s appeasement policy, and suggested that an earlier confrontation between the U.K. and Nazi Germany might have been more disastrous in the long run. That paper was written in the spring of 1940.
Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., looking out for his son’s political future, was able to get that senior thesis paper released from Harvard and had it published as a book. Joseph Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain, had supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement during the late 1930s, which many believe cost the senior Kennedy his own political career. At any rate, John Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. A month later, his thesis was published by Willard Funk, Inc., in New York in July 1940 as Why England Slept – a play on Winston Churchill’s 1938 title, While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power.
Although there has been a long running dispute over how much of Profiles in Courage Jack Kennedy actually wrote, it does appear that he formulated the idea, wrote a number of memos on the project, did oversee the book’s structure and production, and did write and/or dictate much of it. Wife Jacqueline also appears to have contributed to the concept for the book, and helped engage the research and writing assistance of a history professor at Georgetown University named Jules Davids, whom she had met taking his history course. Library of Congress researchers also assisted Kennedy, as they would any Senator requesting background research from the Library. But because of his back problem – according to one of Kennedy’s secretaries at the time, Gloria Sitrin – Kennedy could not sit for long periods of time writing or typing, and instead, dictated much of the material. Still, Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s assistant, is believed by many to have written at least some of the book, while others say he only provided research and constructive editing. In any case, in the final book, Kennedy acknowledged all of these participants and contributors.
About a week after the allegation had been aired by Pearson, ABC executive Oliver Treyz read a retraction of the charge on the air of Wallace’s December 14th TV show. The statement was reprinted in the New York Times, Sunday December 15th, as follows: “I wish to state that this company [ABC] has inquired into the charge made by Mr. Pearson and has satisfied itself that such charge is unfounded and that the book in question was written by Senator Kennedy.” Kennedy had also acknowledged Sorensen’s involvement in the book, crediting him in the preface and also acknowledging other contributions. Kennedy and Sorensen insisted that Kennedy was the book’s author and the initial controversy died down, although it would emerge again years later. Kennedy, meanwhile, was re-elected to a second term in the U. S. Senate in 1958 by a wide margin, and continued to draw national attention through the Democratic front runner for the White House. In January 1960, he formally declared his bid for the Presidency. During the campaign, and after Kennedy won the election, there was continuing interest in Profiles in Courage. By the time of Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration in January 1961, the book was being prepared for sale as a Pocket Books paperback. A young reader’s edition was also produced in March 1961. By then, Profiles in Courage had sold 2 million copies since its original 1956 publication.
In June 1963, midway into Kennedy’s presidential term, the television rights for Profiles in Courage were sold for an estimated $3.5 million (1963 dollars). The NBC television network planned to film and air a series of 26 hour-long TV programs based on the book. Several months later, however, national tragedy came with the president’s assassination in Texas in late November 1963. After Kennedy’s assassination, Harper & Row was besieged for copies of Profiles in Courage, with orders in excess of 10,000 copies by late November. A Perennial Library Memorial Edition of Profiles in Courage was prepared by Harper for 1964, which included a moving introduction by Kennedy’s brother and then U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.
Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.
The following year, in mid-November, the planned NBC television series, ”Profiles in Courage,” began airing on Sunday evenings. However, with 26 episodes, additional characters beyond those in Kennedy’s book were needed for the series. All of the additional characters subsequenlty profiled in the TV series had been previously approved by JFK. The producer of the TV show, Robert Saudek, was known for his serious television productions, and had also produced the much-praised OmnibusTV series as well as concerts by the New York Philharmonic. Saudek had a clear grasp of Kennedy’s message for the Profiles TV series. One of the additional historic politicians, for example, was that of Oscar Underwood, an Alabama Senator who in 1924 was in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Underwood, however, chose to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, losing southern support, thereby ruining his chances of winning the nomination and later losing his Senate seat and his political career.
Profiles in Courage-TV Episode List, 1964-1965
Episode Oscar W. Underwood
Mary S. McDowell
Thomas Hart Benton
Richard T. Ely
Gov. John M. Slaton
Robert A. Taft
Gen. A. Doniphan
John Peter Altgeld
Charles Evans Hughes
Edmund G. Ross
George W. Norris
John Quincy Adams
Judge Ben B. Lindsey
____________________ Aired on NBC, Sundays, 6:30-7:30pm.
Time magazine called the Profiles in Courage TV series “a bracing antidote to the plethora of two- dimensional tele- dramas in which tinsel laurels automatically crown the good guy.” The TV series ended in mid-1965, but received a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service rendered by radio and television.” The book, meanwhile, remained in print and continued to be used in schools and beyond.
Award & New Books
The Profiles in Courage legacy, however, continued through the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st Century. In 1989, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation established an award for political courage called “The Profile in Courage Award.” The annual award is made to recognize displays of political and moral courage similar to those that Kennedy originally wrote about in his book. It is given to individuals, and often elected officials, who have risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state, or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other interests. Winners are selected by a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which typically includes members of the Kennedy family as well as other prominent Americans. The award is generally made around the time of JFK’s birthday, May 29th. From the early 1990s, the award has been presented at the Kennedy Library in Boston by Kennedy family members, including JFK daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Senator Ted Kennedy. In addition to honoring those with political courage, the award had also helped kindle continuing interest in the original book.
Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.
In 2002, Caroline Kennedy gave the “profiles of courage” concept a new focus, teaming up with publisher Hyperion and serving as editor for a new book, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, offering a collection of essays profiling recent winners of the Profile in Courage award. In this book, award winners are profiled by a variety of writers, historians. and journalists, some of well-known stature such as Michael Beschloss, E. J. Dionne, Anna Quindlen, and Bob Woodward. Famous award winners, as well as lesser known recipients, are profiled in the book. Among some of the well-know recipients profiled, for example are: New Jersey Governor James Florio, former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, and former president Gerald Ford. Among the less well-known are activists and community heroes such as Corkin Cherubini, Nickolas C. Murnion, and Hilda Solis.
2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).
In April 2006, a special 50th anniversary edition of Profiles in Courage was published by Harper. This special “P.S.”edition, as the publisher called it, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication and also included a number of extras, such as vintage photographs, an extensive JFK biography, Kennedy’s correspondence about the project, reviews of the book, a letter from Ernest Hemingway, and two speeches from recipients of the Profiles in Courage Award. Elsewhere in the Kennedy family, the “heroes theme” was also being explored by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who with publisher Hyperion in September 2007, launched the first of “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes Series” of children’s books, Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War. A second book in the series, focusing on another Civil War hero, Robert Smalls, a slave who hijacked a Confederate steamer and turned it over to the Union Navy, and later became a U.S. Congressman, will be published by Hyperion in 2008.
50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.
JFK’s Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, compiled quite a track record over more than 50 years. The book has had at least 65 printings, sold more than 3 million copies, and hit the bestsellers list three times: in the late 1950s when JFK was an up-and-coming Senator; after he was elected President in 1960-61; and following his assassination in 1963-64. The book also spawned a successful television series in 1964-65, inspired the annual Profiles in Courage Awards, and sparked new research and subsequent books on political integrity and the history of heroism. Whatever criticism may still linger about the JFK’s Profiles in Courage, there is no doubt that this book instigated an important concept and way of evaluating political courage, fostered a respectable progeny of good and useful history, and helped bring into the spotlight contemporary careers of exemplary public service and good works.
For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Celebrities & Icons, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices. Additional stories at this website related to JFK and other Kennedy family members are listed below in Sources. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Profiles in Courage, 1954-2008,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 11, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.