Saturday, August 29, 2009

July and August cannot be too hot: Teddy, JFK & Vaughn Meader

By Steve Crum

 Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s passing this week was a sad affair, but even at his family and friends-filled wake there was joy and laughter in celebration of his vibrant and focused life that was so accomplished. Teddy’s death marks the end of the idealistic era known as Camelot, a name associated with his late brother, President John F. Kennedy. The president and his wife were enamored of the Broadway musical Camelot, the press picked it up, and the Kennedy years at the White House were forever linked with Camelot’s King Arthur and his dream of a better world.

Those of us 50 and older remember another link with JFK and his family, Vaughn Meader. Meader was the alternate JFK, the one whose deft impression of him on The First Family comedy record album sold 7.5 million copies during the first year of its release--until Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. That day, all records were pulled from the shelves due to extreme sensitivity over the JFK tragedy. During the same year, a sequel album, The First Family Vol. 2, was released and sold millions as well. It was also removed from stores the same day. Vaughn Meader’s phenomenal career as the premiere Pres. Kennedy imitator ended Nov. 22 too. Meader died in virtual obscurity on Oct. 29, 2004.

Meader will never be forgotten by at least 7.5 million of us who listened, listened, listened to his albums, memorizing the numerous funny lines, and reciting them in mock New England/JFK dialect. We heard them everywhere those days--on radio, TV, and in department stores selling The First Family albums. As a high school kid, I did my impression of Meader-JFK every time I spoke to friends and relatives on the phone, and I was least they told me so. It was a pervasive thing, and the kidding of our president was done with love and respect. There were some great lines, delivered with Kennedy accent: “The rubber shwan (meaning swan) is mine,” “Move ahead with great vigah (vigor)”, and “I would like to thank Richard Nixon for making this whole thing possible!” In 1963, President Kennedy introduced a Democratic Committee meeting with: “Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself.”

Ted Kennedy, while only mentioned on the albums, was nonetheless part of the worldwide Meader madness prevailing. When asked at a press conference if he either enjoyed or was annoyed by The First Family album, JFK joked, “I listened to Mr. Meader’s record and, frankly, I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me.”
An NPR tribute to The First Family and Vaughn Meader, including excerpts from the album, is linked here:
Notice comic-impressionist Rich Little’s misquoting of JFK’s line about Teddy.

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