Reading Matters

‘JFK and the Masculine Mystique’

One of the most interesting chapters in a fascinating book, “JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier,” is the one about the friendship between JFK and the late Ben Bradlee, who, when the two met, was Washington bureau chief for Newsweek.

“As their relationship developed,” writes author Steven Watts, “it became cear that the two young men shared more than just professional ambition.” Watts goes on to say that the two were impatient with the restrictive demands of “the organization man,” and “appreciative of beautiful women, Kennedy and Bradlee embodied the spirit of manly regeneration that had welled up with the New Frontier.”

So it wasn’t simply JFK’s manly good looks that appealed to the world. It was, according to Watts, his timing on the a landscape more cultural than political. It was an era, says the author, when men were beleagued by the onslaught of women in the workplace, postwar bureaucracy and the influence of consumerism and abundance.

What Jack Kennedy represented was a “restless energy, cool elegance, tough-minded intelligence and sexual adventure.”

Men and women alike found him irresistible.

Watts, an award-winning professor of history at the University of Missouri, includes chapters on “The Crisis of Masculinity in 1950s America,” “Hollywood Cool: Frank Sinatra and the Jack Pack,” “A Philosophy for Playboys: Hugh Hefner.”

Another great book for dipping and skimming.