July 4, 2020

Great Lives Continues with JFK and James Bond, Francis Gary Powers

The 17th season of the William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series continues this evening, Jan. 30, with a look at the handsome, young president who was the epitome of masculinity in the early 1960s and the debonair spy who captivated fiction readers and filmgoers, including JFK himself. This series is open to the public free of charge and no admission tickets are required. Programs begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium in George Washington Hall. Each lecture concludes with an audience Q&A session with the speaker and a book-signing. The John and Linda Coker Lecture.

Steven Watts’ JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier argues that John F. Kennedy may best be understood as a cultural rather than a political figure. A widespread crisis of manhood in the 1950s pictured American males as falling victim to the drudgery of bureaucracy and the softness of consumerism. The fighting man of World War II had given way to the timid, domesticated suburban father and husband in the Age of Eisenhower. Then the youthful, vigorous JFK burst on the public scene as the picture of male physical fitness and glamour. His ethic of “tough-mindedness,” energy, and “cool” promised to regenerate American public life as he swept into the presidency.

JFK’s masculine mystique was heightened by his association with virile icons such as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Norman Mailer, Hugh Hefner, General Maxwell Taylor, the Green Berets, and the Mercury 7 astronauts. But the New Frontier’s vigorous masculinity was nowhere better reflected than in a British writer, Ian Fleming, who became friends with the young president, and his creation, James Bond, a fictional secret agent who starred in some of Kennedy’s favorite books.

The Great Lives series will continue on Tuesday, Feb. 4, with Spy Pilot, about the life of American pilot and Cold War captive, Francis Gary Powers. The lecture will be given by his son and biographer, Francis Gary Powers Jr. The Community Bank of the Chesapeake Lecture.

One of the most widely discussed and controversial events of the Cold War was the downing of the American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The event was recently depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies. Powers was captured by the KGB, subjected to a televised show trial, and imprisoned, all of which created an international incident. Soviet authorities eventually released him in exchange for captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. On his return to the United States, Powers was exonerated of any wrongdoing while imprisoned in Russia, yet a cloud of controversy lingered until his untimely death in 1977.

His son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., has written a new account of his father’s life based on personal files that have never been previously available. Delving into old audio tapes, the transcript of his father’s debriefing by the CIA, other recently declassified documents about the U-2 program, and interviews with his contemporaries, Powers sets the record straight. The result is a fascinating piece of Cold War history which will be the focus of this lecture — one proving that Francis Gary Powers acted honorably through a trying ordeal in service to his country.

Great Lives continues on Thursday, Feb. 6 with The Beach Boys, with author Peter Ames Carlin.