Friday November 22, 1963 in New Haven was unusually warm for a November day. As a senior at Yale I majored in French language and literature. That day I had several French classes in the morning. After my classes were finished I was asked to come to the office of the French Department.
It was there I learned that a film crew from the French television program Les cinq colonnes a la une (the first five columns on page one) with director Philippe Labro, was on the Yale campus and would like to interview French speaking Yale students. Along with four other students I volunteered to participate.
We all assembled on the grass under a leafless tree in front of the Yale Commons a large dining hall where freshmen ate together. While the French crew assembled their equipment for filming, I remember listening intently as Philippe Labro explained how he planned to proceed with his interview.
Labro began asking us questions about politics in the U.S. He then asked us to comment on the history of political violence in the country. I remember one of the group started to list the president’s who had been assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William Mckinley.
After McKinley’s name was mentioned doors could be heard banging, students shouting and running in all directions.
I recently emailed Philippe Labro for the first time in 49 years to review what happened on November 22, 1963.
“I remember well this moment in my journalistic life,” Labro said. “My recollection of it is that it was a student coming from afar, crossing the campus, and shouting “the presidents been shot” who came to interrupt the taping of my interview.”
A visiting Italian poet Sanavio Piero saw that I was together with the group of Yale French speaking students, without realizing filming was underway, told me “Presisdent Kennedy is dead!” Director Labro called to his cameraman: “Coup (cut)” and the filming stopped. My memory after 49 years informs me that I was asked to find a telephone for Labro.
Yale’s Sterling Library had a dozen pay phones at its entrance and I remember being asked to assist in calling American Airlines to book a ticket for Dallas, Texas.
Labro said in his recent email, “I do not recall your help in securing a phone and a flight.” Attempting to confirm what actually happened 49 years is dependent upon who remembers what.
In hindsight, as I look back at what happened on November 22, 1963 on the Yale campus, synchronicity comes to mind. The renowned Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, researched synchronicity for 30 years and defined it as “an acausal connecting reality.” In our case Philippe Labro heard from a group of Yale students discussing political assassination at the very time when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Not knowing what else to do that day, I drove to Boston that afternoon to see a girlfriend who attended Radcliffe College. Entering Radcliffe’s Briggs Hall I could hear the volume of the community room television turned up high. Most of the students in the room were in tears.
Months before the President’s assassination I had been invited by my godmother Avis Bohlen, wife of the American Ambassador to France, to spend a week at the American Embassy residence during Christmas vacation. I called my godmother to find out if my roommate Bob Buchman and I should come to Paris and was told that I should come, as my visit was all arranged.
Bob and I flew to Orly Airport, Paris from Idlewild Airport, New York City. A French friend and his girlfriend picked us up in his two-door Fiat convertible. Somehow we all were able to squeeze into the Fiat. My friend drove us to the American Embassy Residence at No. 2 Avenue D’Iena, XVI arrondisement, Paris. Bob and I walked to the entrance of the residence and were saluted by two U.S. Marine guards.
Inside we saw a large black and white photograph of President Kennedy with a diagonal black sash. The condolence book was placed in front of the photograph on a marble table with an ornate mirror. We were told that thousands of French citizens had visited the embassy residence to sign the condolences book.
I have attempted to locate the program filmed 49 years ago at Yale and was informed by Director Phillipe Labro that the elements of the program filmed at Yale may be hidden somewhere within the archives of the INA, the French institute that keeps documents. “God only knows if there is a special, specific stock of segments…all the producers are gone,” he said.
I will always remember Friday, November 22, 1963 sitting under a leafless tree in front of the Yale Commons with fellow Yale students. The memory can be “played” back in my mind’s eye as a 49-year-old videotape.
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