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Two Ad Men Are Helping Dallas Deliver the Speech JFK Never Got to Give [Updated]

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, a half hour before he was scheduled to deliver a 1 p.m. speech at the Dallas Trade Mart.

The words were never passed Kennedy's lips, but the speech survived and, a month later, was printed and bound into a book by Stanley Marcus, with the first copy delivered to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Two weeks ago, KERA's Jerome Weeks brought news that the speech will finally be delivered, not by Kennedy, of course, but by the city vilified for killing him.

The concept is elegant: a 40-minute video pastiche featuring Dallasites holding up each of the speech's 2,549 words. It was dreamed up by Cliff Simms and Peter Wood, the two Brits behind the communications firm Resident Alien, who sought to create a poignant antidote to the controversy surrounding the plans to mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

"Anniversaries come from institutions behalf of the people," Simms said. "That's all very good and well. That's fine, but i think what appealed to me the power of the concept was we were literally going to engage the people of Dallas."

It was Wood's idea, traceable back to when he was working at an ad agency in London and a fellow typography geek told him about the Kennedy speech Marcus had produced. Then, he saw one of Richard Avedon's photos showing a woman in Times Square holding a newspaper declaring "President Shot Dead." The idea of somehow merging those two concepts floated around in his head until he mentioned it to Simms, who was immediately entranced by the idea.

Simms has been in Dallas about three-and-a-half years. As a Londoner, he had known the city mainly as the site of the Kennedy assassination and the setting of the original "Dallas." He hadn't given the city much thought until he moved here.

"I became more aware of how the city perceives itself. It has a sense of shame and guilt," he said. "But the city didn't assassinate it, one person did."

And so, partly as a small gesture toward easing the city's guilt, partly as a way to honor the former president, Simms and Wood began planning in earnest last April. In November, they spent the month approaching random people and asking to photograph them as they held one of Kennedy's words. The resulting video can be found at unspokenspeech.org.

Simms and Wood aren't sure that they'll get the funding or participation to complete the entire speech. Complicating their fundraising efforts, they've been unable to open a bank account because nonprofit paperwork for the Unspoken Speech is still being processed. So the "Donate" button on their website isn't working, but they're working to fix that.

For now, they're focused on producing seven vignettes culled from the most moving parts of Kennedy's speech. These will be a minute or two and feature more than still pictures of printed words on signs. Maybe a jazz singer reciting them, maybe an intentionally choppy collage of Kennedy's own recorded words reciting the speech. Dallas photographer Stewart Cohen has signed on to direct the first two, which they hope to show as PSAs on local TV to raise awareness and, eventually, money.


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