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Everyone knows about President John F. Kennedy’s infidelity and the strain it put on his marriage to Jackie, but perhaps secondary to this particular marital tension was the stress of White House photography — yes, you read that correctly.
The First Lady, who Steven M. Gillon, author of America’s Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr., refers to as a “helicopter mom,” was incredibly particular about photo opps for her and her husband’s children.
Mrs. Kennedy wanted full control over the photos of Caroline and John, worried that the children would be “captured at awkward moments or presented in a negative light,” or worse “used as political props, tossed before a ravenous press to further a partisan agenda,” Gillon writes. Mr. Kennedy, however, was eager to use photos of his children to his advantage. Knowing full well of his wife’s objections; the biography says JFK would arrange such photo opps while Jackie was out of town.
Given this divide in their attitudes toward public image, it’s no surprise that both parties had different preferred White House photographers. JFK’s favorite, Stanley Tretick, reportedly did more for the president than take photos. According to photojournalist Dirck Halstead, the photographer played an integral role in Kennedy’s social life. “They had a system arranged so that if Kennedy spotted a ‘jumper,’ — an attractive woman who jumped up and down with excitement at seeing him — he would subtly signal Stanley, who would then invite her back to Kennedy’s hotel room for drinks,” Gillon wrote.
Tretick was responsible for some of the now iconic photos of a young John Jr. playing under his father’s desk in the Oval Office. Naturally, the shots were taken while Jackie was, once again, out of town. The First Lady was livid when she found out. “Stan and Jack were like two sneaky little boys,” she told an editor at Look (the magazine Tretick worked for). “The minute I left town, they would let you in to do these things that I didn’t particularly want done.” Protestations aside, the photos appeared in the magazine’s Dec. 3, 1963 issue — which hit newsstands just a few days after JFK’s assassination.