Thirteen Days

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John Corbett

Apr 5, 2021, 7:39:08 PMApr 5
Thirteen Days was the title of a book written by (or ghost written for)
RFK about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a source material for the made
for TV program The Missiles of October which was essentially a televised
stage play. Several decades later it was made into a major motion picture
of the same name as the book. However there was something curious about
the movie which I still don't understand. Kenny O'Donnell was barely
mentioned in the book and had only one scene in the Missiles of October.
In the movie Thirteen Days, he was made the central character played by
Kevin Costner. Essentially the crisis played out through his eyes. I've
always wondered why the producers chose to go in that direction when it
seemed from RFK's book that he was barely involved in the management of
the crisis. Was there other source material that indicated O'Donnell's
involvement was much greater than what it appeared in the book? If anyone
has an information as to why the movie expanded O'Donnell's role beyond
what the book indicated, I would appreciate it.

Pamela Brown

Apr 6, 2021, 3:40:23 PMApr 6
Message has been deleted

John Corbett

Apr 6, 2021, 11:03:22 PMApr 6
Unfortunately this article requires an LA Times subscription which I don't
have but gave me the idea to search for other old newspaper articles on
the subject and I found this one from the guardian.

There seems to be a difference of opinion about Kenny O'Donnell's role in
managing the crisis but these might be the most intriguing paragraphs"

"Not only has the film perplexed historians by elevating O'Donnell,
hitherto seen as no more than a backroom White House fixer, to the status
of key player- "it's like making Rosencrantz or Guildenstern the lead in
Hamlet", one joked - but it has angered the American military by
suggesting they tried to corral the Kennedys into all-out war.

The furor has also raised awkward questions about the role O'Donnell's
family played behind the scenes. His son Kevin, an internet tycoon, helped
bankroll a buyout of Beacon Entertainment, which made the movie, and
appears to have been the partial inspiration for promoting his father -
played by Kevin Costner - to the role of the "ordinary Joe" hero audiences
identify with."

There is no doubt Kenny O'Donnell was close with the Kennedys,
particularly Bobby since they were teammates on the Harvard football team,
O'Donnell being the quarterback while Bobby played end. For that reason,
I think if O'Donnell had played as major a role in the crisis as the movie
indicates, his friend Bobby would have given him more than just a passing
mention in his book.

Steve M. Galbraith

Apr 7, 2021, 9:10:49 PMApr 7
I'm sure you saw this quote from McNamara when he asked which "lead role"
Costner was playing.

"What character is he playing?" He said, "Kenny O’Donnell." I
said, "For God’s sakes, Kenny O’Donnell didn’t
have any role whatsoever in the missile crisis; he was a political
appointment secretary to the President; that’s absurd. So I
won’t see it," I said. "

John Corbett

Apr 7, 2021, 9:10:52 PMApr 7
On Tuesday, April 6, 2021 at 11:03:22 PM UTC-4, John Corbett wrote:
I just realized I screwed up copying the link to The Guardian article and
instead copied the link to this thread. Here is the correct link:

John Corbett

Apr 8, 2021, 10:02:56 AMApr 8
Actually I did not see the quote but I am not surprised by it. A pretty
clear picture is emerging that the movie greatly embellished O'Donnell's
role. This is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that a certain amount of
artistic license is taken when making historical films. Things like
composite characters and crafting scenes and dialog that nobody was privy
to are understandable. However an effort should be made to get the
fundamental facts right and it seems that was not done with this movie.

Steve M. Galbraith

Apr 9, 2021, 7:21:44 PMApr 9
Max Holland's views on the "Hollywoodization" of history makes the same

Here's the first paragraph in his piece:

"I used to have this annual argument at Christmas with my brother-in-law,
a well-regarded film editor in Hollywood. I would arrive brimming with
complaints about a movie like Argo, said to be “based on actual
events” but with an entirely fictitious Keystone Kops-like airport
chase scene. I would rail about the disservice to history and the
misleading effects as an increasing number of Americans learn their
history from Hollywood features. He would defend dramatic license.
I’d respond by saying a driver’s license doesn’t
give one the right to do anything one wants on the road. Round and round
we’d go, until we reached his final redoubt: “It’s
only a movie.”

He also mentions how RFK's "Thirteen Days" was not accurate either because
it presented RFK as a dove when the evidence is that at the start of the
crisis he was quite hawkish. As the tapes indicate.

Rest here:

John Corbett

Apr 12, 2021, 9:44:09 PMApr 12
Just a couple more examples of Hollywood rewriting history, both in movies
I thought were entertaining.

Quiz Show - the story of the game show scandal which revealed the games
were rigged to keep popular contestants winning for the sake of ratings.
The story was true. The presentation of it was not. The key figures were
Charles Van Doren, a Columbia professor who made a record run on the game
show Twenty-One and Dick Goodwin, a Harvard lawyer working for a
Congressional committee investigating the game shows. The movie depicts
Goodwin getting involved in the case and becoming acquainted with Van
Doren. In reality Goodwin was still in law school when Van Doren had his
run on Twenty-One. The scandal didn't break until two years later when
Goodwin was fresh out of Harvard Law having graduated first in his

Goodwin went on to become a speech writer and adviser to both JFK and RFK.
His first wife who was portrayed in the film died in 1970 and he married
Delores Kearns-Goodwin who is a frequent TV guest political commentator as
well as in several Ken Burns documentary series, Baseball and The
Roosevelts. Dick Goodwin died within the past few years.

Secretariat - the story of what many believe was the greatest racehorse of
all time. The story line gave the impression that Secretariat saved the
financially troubled horse farm which Penny Chenery took over from her
ailing father by winning the Triple Crown. The reality is the horse that
saved the Chenery farm was Riva Ridge who the year before won two legs of
the Triple Crown. Secretariat's Triple Crown win no doubt was a financial
boon but Riva Ridge had already put the farm on firm financial footing.
To satisfy a tax lien against the farm, she syndicated the breeding rights
to both Secretariat and Riva Ridge for $6 million and $5 million
respectively. Riva Ridge wasn't even mentioned in the movie. Several years
after the movie came out, Chenery admitted to having an affair with
trainer Lucien Lauren who was played by John Malkovich in the movie. It
was a Disney movie. They couldn't have put that in anyway.

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