Camelot

1953
Photograph by Hy Peskin

He became emblematic of a new breed of celebrity politician, as notable for his good looks, infectious smile, charm and wit as for his thoughtful pronouncements.

Robert Dallek, Historian

Before they could become American royalty, America needed to meet John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. That introduction came when Hy Peskin photographed the handsome politician on the make and his radiant fiancée over a summer weekend in 1953. Peskin, a renowned sports photographer, headed to Hyannis Port, Mass., at the invitation of family patriarch Joseph Kennedy. The ambassador, eager for his son to take the stage as a national figure, thought a feature in the pages of LIFE would foster a fascination with John, his pretty girlfriend and one of America’s wealthiest families. That it did. Peskin put together a somewhat contrived “behind the scenes” series titled “Senator ­Kennedy Goes A-Courting.” While Jackie bristled at the intrusion—John’s mother Rose even told her how to pose—she went along with the staging, and readers got to observe Jackie mussing the hair of “the handsomest young member of the U.S. Senate,” playing football and softball with her future in-laws, and sailing aboard John’s boat, Victura. “They just shoved me into that boat long enough to take the picture,” she later confided to a friend.

It was pitch-perfect brand making, with Kennedy on the cover of the world’s most widely read photo magazine, cast as a self-assured playboy prepared to say goodbye to bachelorhood. A few months later LIFE would cover the couple’s wedding, and by then America was captivated. In the staid age of Dwight David Eisenhower and Richard Milhous Nixon, Peskin unveiled the face of Camelot, one that changed America’s perception of politics and politicians, and set John and Jackie off on becoming the most recognizable couple on the planet.

See how LIFE shaped the mystique of Camelot

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