There’s only been one president who was an actual movie star — Ronald Reagan, of course. But Reagan wasn’t the one movie-star president. That would be John F. Kennedy. JFK had the looks, the glamour, the manner of a screen idol. Even Reagan, as he often cheerfully conceded, never reached the upper strata of the Hollywood firmament. With JFK, there was always the sense he could have. There’s a famous apocryphal story about studio chief Jack Warner’s response when he first heard Reagan was running for office. “No, no, Jimmy Stewart for governor — Ronnie Reagan for best friend.” No one ever thought to cast JFK as best friend — or even governor. He went straight to the celestial top.
In some ways, Kennedy’s movie-star status seems even more secure today, nearly 50 years after his assassination, than it did when he was in the White House. The star power he showed then seems that much more potent now, enlarged by time’s passage, romanticized by an early death, heightened by all that we’ve come to learn about what might euphemistically be called his leading-man lifestyle. Looking like a movie star, as JFK did, is one thing. Living like a movie star, as he also did, is quite another. He even had a movie-star wife. Jacqueline Kennedy was Audrey Hepburn with a breathy voice and equally classy accent.