American Experience: JFK - Part One

About This Episode


John Fitzgerald Kennedy is one of nine children born to one of the wealthiest men in America. Unlike his robust siblings, he is haunted by a mysterious illness. Finally diagnosed with Addison’s disease, he will spend his life in and out of hospitals and in constant pain.

Jack Kennedy first bursts onto the national stage as a war hero through his courageous rescue of his PT-109 crewmen. When his older brother, Joe Jr., is killed in the line of duty in 1944, the family’s political hopes shift to Jack. Despite the odds, he wins his Grandfather Fitzgerald’s old Massachusetts congressional seat. From that point on, Kennedy rises in power and influence, unseating Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in a surprising victory and then put forward as a possible vice presidential candidate in 1956.

His campaign for president is the first to be waged on television, a distinct advantage for the telegenic candidate. Despite his lack of legislative achievements and his Catholicism — which many Americans see as a negative — Kennedy wins the election on the promise that he will stand up to the Soviets and protect American preeminence in the world.