It Seems Like Yesterday

Caroline and John Jr. RETD@Benson1984 lg

In 1984 I was given what I consider to be a very interesting assignment from LIFE magazine, quite challenging and possibly of historic value: to photograph all 23 living descendants of the presidents of the United States. The children included—if you can imagine the contrast-—Francis Grover Cleveland, whose father was president when the Statue of Liberty was dedicated; Elliott  Roosevelt; Margaret Truman; and, finally, Amy Carter, whose father was president at the time. 

I was pleased that the Kennedy children had agreed to be photographed as they would complete the group. John, Jr., and Caroline, then 24 and 27 years old, sat on the lawn behind the President John F. Kennedy Library in Boston for their portrait. Here were two members of the most photographed family in American history, and suddenly they were telling me, in a thoroughly convincing way, that they had never actually posed for a formal portrait before and would I mind telling them what to do and how to pose. 

When the magazine appeared on the stands, their mother, Jacqueline Kennedy, confirmed their story, adding that before the photography session, Caroline had not been particularly interested in fashion or in what she wore, but after the issue appeared, she became much more aware of her appearance in public. Mrs. Kennedy thanked me for contributing to the change in Caroline’s viewpoint. I found her remarks unexpected and quite amusing considering that at the time Mrs. Kennedy was considered the style icon of the world.

When it came time to choose the cover from among the 23 subjects, John, Jr., and Caroline were the unanimous choice of the LIFE editors. It seems like yesterday that LIFE was on the newsstands—I wish it were still around.