For many, the Kennedy assassination has become ‘‘a board game: ‘Who killed JFK?’ So you feel free to sit around and say, ‘Oh! It’s the mob. Oh! It’s the KGB’ ... and have no shame,’’ scoffs Gerald Posner, whose 1993 book ‘‘Case Closed’’ declared that the Warren Commission essentially got it right.
The Oswald-as-patsy community has vilified Posner.
But the lawyer says he didn’t set out to write a defense of the Warren Commission. Instead, he planned to go back through the critical evidence to see what more could be determined through hindsight and more modern investigative techniques — ‘‘and then put out a book that says, ‘Read THIS book. Here are the four unresolved issues of the Kennedy assassination, with the evidence on both sides.'’’
Halfway through the allotted research time, Posner went to the editorial staff with a new idea: A book that says flat-out who killed Kennedy.
‘‘Who?’’ one of the editors asked, as Posner retells it.
‘‘Oswald,’’ he answered.
‘‘Oswald,’’ Posner says he repeated. ‘‘And they literally looked at me as though I had just come in from Mars. And you could tell there was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God. He’s read the Warren Commission and that’s all he’s done.'’’
‘‘Case Closed’’ went on to sell 100,000 copies in hardcover. ‘‘I would have never thunk it,’’ Posner says.
Unlike Posner, Vincent Bugliosi, author of 2007’s ‘‘Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,’’ embarked on his book expecting to vindicate the Warren Commission.
What he didn’t expect was for it to balloon into a 1,650-page behemoth — with a CD-ROM containing an additional 960 pages of endnotes — that cost $57.
‘‘STOP writing,’’ he recalls his wife telling him. ‘‘You’re killing the sales of the book.’’
The 78-year-old lawyer blames the conspiracy theorists. ‘‘We’re talking about people,’’ he explains, ‘‘who've invested the last 15, 20, 25 years of their life in this. They've lost jobs. They've gotten divorces. Nothing stops them.’’
‘‘Like a pea brain,’’ he says, he responded to all of their allegations. ‘‘It’s a bottomless pit. It never, ever ends. And if my publisher ... didn’t finally step in and say, ‘Vince, we’re going to print,’ I'd still be writing the book.’’
Despite its girth and hefty price tag, ‘‘Reclaiming History’’ had a respectable first printing of 40,000, says Bugliosi, best known as the former deputy Los Angeles district attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson.
But in a 9,400-word review, Gary L. Aguilar, a director of the Washington-based Assassination Archives and Research Center, wrote that the only thing Bugliosi’s book proved was ‘‘that it may not be possible for one person to fully master, or give a fair accounting of, this impossibly tangled mess of a case.’’
Bugliosi omitted or distorted evidence and failed to disprove ‘‘the case for conspiracy,’’ Aguilar wrote.
Lamar Waldron is not surprised at the success of people like Bugliosi and Posner.
‘‘The biggest money has been generated for the authors ... who kind of pretend it all was right back in 1964 and nothing really has happened since,’’ says Waldron, who has co-written two books on the assassination. ‘‘The large six-figure advances and everything like that don’t go to the people who dig through all those millions of pages of files and research for years.’’
In ‘‘Ultimate Sacrifice’’ and ‘‘Legacy of Secrecy,’’ Waldron and co-author Thom Hartmann used declassified CIA documents to make the case that JFK (and later his brother Robert) were killed because of plans to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — and the Mafia’s infiltration of that operation. Waldron says the books have sold a combined 85,000 copies since 2005.
And now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are set to star in a feature film version of ‘‘Legacy of Secrecy’’ — with a reported price tag of up to $90 million.
That’s one of a pair of major movies — landing on opposite sides of the Oswald-as-lone-gunman debate — due out this year.
Oscar winners Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton have signed on for the Tom Hanks-produced ‘‘Parkland,’’ named for the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was pronounced dead. That project, which Hanks’ website describes as ‘‘part thriller, part real-time drama,’’ is based on a small portion of Bugliosi’s magnum opus.
A TV movie is to be made from another new book, ‘‘Killing Kennedy,’’ co-written by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, which had sold 1 million copies within four months of its release in October. In a note to readers, O'Reilly wrote: ‘‘In our narrative, Martin Dugard and I go only as far as the evidence takes us. We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent.’’Continued...