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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Cuba crisis: The chilling moment in 1962 when the world held its breath 

By RICK McNEILL 

Alan Frame’s reminiscence about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 has triggered  my own recollections of that year, which I spent as a young reporter in New York. Among other things, I was there to cover the Rhodesia hearings at the UN Decolonisation Committee for South African and Rhodesian newspapers.


But just about everything stopped as Americans and much of the world held their breath and gathered round radios and TV sets to hear a sombre President Kennedy as the standoff unfolded. At the UN I listened to the Soviet delegate deliver the most chillingly aggressive speech I’ve ever heard — nothing like Khrushchev’s later sweet-talking climbdown.


However I have to say the event of that year which stands out for me took place earlier when the Democrats threw a birthday party for Jack Kennedy on May 29 in Madison Square Garden. I was lucky to have a front-row (press) seat to see the sexiest actress there’s ever been, Marilyn Monroe, sing a breathless “Happy Birthday Mr President!” to JFK. YouTube doesn’t really do it justice.


It was a special moment, as my birthday also happens to be May 29. Kennedy turned 45. I turned 22. 


My biggest regret was that the Russian drama meant that plans for a one-on-one interview with JFK, which White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger was confident he could set up for me, were swiftly abandoned.


In addition to reporting Rhodesia (who now remembers that debacle?) I was able to indulge my interest in music by interviewing both Count Basie and Igor Stravinsky. I recall they each made good copy. But sitting down with Kennedy would have been a real feather in my cap. Of course a year later he was assassinated, and I set my sights on London and the Daily Express.


17 January 2024