Making fun of the Kennedys

Studio 360
A detail from the cover of the 1962 comedy album “The First Family”

The 1963 Grammy award for Album of the Year didn’t go to Tony Bennett, Stan Getz or Ray Charles — all runners-up. It went to somebody named Vaughan Meader, whom no one had ever heard of before (or since). Meader was the headliner on “The First Family,” a comedy album about the Kennedys written by two other unknowns, Bob Booker and Earle Doud. 

Meader, a Maine native, did a terrific JFK impersonation, and Naomi Brossart nailed the young Jackie’s aura of breathless naiveté. (“As we go, I should like to point out the various paintings on the wall,” she tells a White House visitor. “There’s this one, and this one. And that great big one over there!”)

The political satire is tame by today’s standards. (“Sir, when will we send a man to the moon?” asks a reporter in a press conference sketch; “Whenever Senator Goldwater wants to go,” replies the president.) But Bob Booker says that twelve major record labels thought their demo was insulting to the president, and it ended up at the small Cadence Records. The honchos must have been kicking themselves later, because “The First Family”  was “the fastest rising album ever, of all time — a million copies sold in a month,” according to comedy historian Ronald L. Smith. That’s despite, or perhaps because of, the fact it was recorded at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. 

This story was produced by Ben Manilla for BMP Audio.

(Originally aired November 21, 2014)

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.