1960 Kennedy VS. Nixon

"Henry Fonda"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Henry Fonda," Kennedy, 1960

MALE NARRATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, Henry Fonda.

HENRY FONDA: I've always been an admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt. So I was especially interested recently when I saw a movie of FDR as a young man. His fight against polio, his courage, his endurance, his will to live: it was an experience that history says had a deep influence on the leadership he gave our country as president at a time when our country was hurt and stricken, when we all needed courage and endurance.

I know another man like that, with the same strong character and indomitable will to live. And this I have known for over 15 years, ever since I read an article in the Reader's Digest by John Hersey about a young Naval officer in the Solomon Islands during some of the darkest days and nights of World War II.

August 2nd, 1943 in the South Pacific. (Military music, explosions) A US Navy PT boat is patrolling the south. The Japanese fleet is everywhere. Three miles to the Northeast, 10,000 Japanese are on Kolombangara Island. Five miles to the west is Dela______; more Japanese. One mile south, the Japanese camp on _______. (Cheering) The PT boat is cruising quietly. (Boat motor) At the wheel is the captain, Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy. Suddenly, out of the dark night, a Japanese destroyer bears down at 40 nauts and lands the PT boat in two. (Crash) Back on the deck, Lieutenant Kennedy stares up to see the destroyer crash through his boat.

Half the PT boat stays afloat, and Lieutenant Kennedy helps ten other survivors hang on. Eventually, they leave the sinking hull and swim for a small island three miles Southwest. One man has been badly injured. Lieutenant Kennedy ties a strap to the man's life jacket and tows him with his teeth the entire distance. It takes five hours to swim it.

Lost for nine days in enemy territory, Lieutenant Kennedy painfully, slowly swims from island to island, reef to reef, scouting for help, (Waves) watching the seas and straits for other PT boats. He drifts, floats, sleeps while being carried by the current for days. He swims back to lead them to another island. Swimming, drifting, treading over sharp coral, once more towing the injured man with his teeth.

On the ninth day, it ends. An SOS Lieutenant Kennedy had carved on a coconut shell and given to a native got past the Japanese and reached the allies. And finally one of the PT boats Lieutenant Kennedy had been searching for picks them up.

"Hey, Jack," someone calls from the boat.

"Where have you been?" asks Kennedy.

"We've got some food for you!"

"No thanks," says Kennedy, "I just had a coconut."

VETERAN: Senator Kennedy never liked talking about this himself, but I was a member of that crew, and believe me, we really had it rough. I would like you to know what the Navy said when he was decorated: "His outstanding courage, endurance, and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval service."

HENRY FONDA: Courage. Endurance. Leadership. John F. Kennedy has them all the way. And the way has been the hard way. As president, John F. Kennedy will have the courage to meet the greatest challenge our country has ever faced. He'll have the endurance to do the work, to maintain the patience, to possess the raw nerve we need in a world where our enemies would like to win by wearing us down. (Violin music) And he will give us leadership for the '60s, a new American leadership for the world beyond the seas to honor and respect.

FDR, a man who loved the sea. John F. Kennedy, another man of the sea. His hand will be a strong hand on the ship of state.


"Henry Fonda," Citizens for Kennedy-Johnson, 1960

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1960/henry-fonda (accessed June 21, 2024).


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1960 Kennedy Nixon Results

In 1960, America was enjoying a period of relative prosperity. With the exception of the stirrings of the modern civil rights movement, domestic turbulence was low, and the primary foreign threat seemed to be the intensifying Cold War. Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, and installed a Communist regime just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. In May 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down inside the Soviet Union, further intensifying tensions between the superpowers. The Republican nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon, was enjoying a growing reputation for his foreign policy skills after his televised "kitchen debate" with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. The Democratic nominee, charismatic Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, was attempting to become the first Catholic president and, at age 43, the youngest man ever elected to the office. Nixon argued that he had the maturity and experience to deal with the Communists, while Kennedy attempted to turn his youth into an advantage, proclaiming in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, "We stand today on the edge of a new frontier."

John F. Kennedy for president
Lyndon Johnson for vice president

"Kennedy: Leadership for the ’60s"

The Kennedy campaign produced nearly 200 commercials, which varied widely in subject and style. The variety was partly caused by disorganization within the media campaign, which was being handled by two competing agencies. Several Kennedy spots showcased his spontaneous speaking abilities, using excerpts from rallies, speeches, and debates. And there were a variety of endorsement ads: Jackie Kennedy’s Spanish-language ad was aimed at Hispanic voters, and Harry Belafonte rallied the support of African American voters who, the campaign feared, might turn away from Kennedy because of his Catholic faith.

More than the ads, two key television events gave Kennedy his winning margin in 1960. The first was an impassioned speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in which he responded to concerns that Catholicism was incompatible with the secular office of president. In a confrontational arena, Kennedy’s manner was confident and assured as he proclaimed his allegiance to the separation of church and state and turned the issue into a question not of religion but of religious tolerance. Originally aired live throughout Texas, the Houston speech was edited into a half-hour commercial that was broadcast frequently throughout the campaign.

The second and more important event was the Kennedy-Nixon debate on September 26, the first of four televised general-election presidential debates. Kennedy appeared tanned, confident, and vigorous. Nixon, wearing no makeup and a light-colored suit that blended into the background, looked exhausted and pale, and sweated profusely. An estimated 75 million viewers tuned in to watch. The debate was also broadcast on radio to an audience of approximately fifteen million. Testifying to television’s visual impact, Kennedy emerged as the clear winner even though most radio listeners felt that Nixon had won.

Richard Nixon for president
Henry Cabot Lodge for vice president

"Nixon-Lodge: They Understand What Peace Demands"

In 1960, Nixon’s campaign instituted a procedure that became standard in subsequent Republican campaigns. Rather than hire an advertising agency, Nixon formed an ad hoc group and named it Campaign Associates. The group was headed by Carroll Newton, who had played a key role in both Eisenhower campaigns, and Ted Rogers, producer of the 1952 "Checkers" telecast (in which Nixon saved his vice-presidential nomination by answering corruption charges with an emotional speech made during a paid half-hour broadcast). This organizational structure gave Nixon direct control over his advertising, and allowed the group to recruit volunteers from several agencies.

Nixon used his 1960 commercials as a sort of rehearsal for the job. In a formal office setting, he spoke directly to the camera, giving detailed, forceful answers to questions posed by an offscreen speaker, and presenting himself as a tough, experienced leader able to stand up to the Communists. Polls showed that voters saw Nixon as stronger than Kennedy on foreign policy by a two-to-one margin, and saw Kennedy as stronger on domestic policy by the same ratio. Thus Nixon turned every question into a Cold War issue. About civil rights, he said, "We cannot compete with Communism without the full participation of all our citizens."

The message implicit in these ads was that while Nixon may not have been as charismatic or even as likable as Kennedy, he was a seasoned, mature leader ready to stand up to Khrushchev. Nixon’s ads also played to his foreign-policy strength by frequently including his running mate, former United Nations ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

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Debate 2 Jingle Nixon's Experience? Harry Belafonte Sills Family Religion Mrs. JFK Henry Fonda
Most Important Issue Peace Best Qualified Civil Rights Taxes Lodge Economic Strength Freedom