The Day Bill Paxton Saw John F. Kennedy

Roy Cooper Collection, KTVT-TV/Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
The kid peeking out in this photo, taken in Fort Worth on November 22, 1963, is none other than actor-director Bill Paxton.

On Thursday night, during the AFI Dallas International Film Festival's opening-night wingding at Neiman Marcus, Bill Paxton regaled a few of us with tales of his having seen John Kennedy during the president's Fort Worth stopover the morning of November 22, 1963. Paxton, who was 8 years old at the time, recalled seeing Kennedy speak in the parking lot of the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth; he said he'd been hoisted on the shoulders of an African-American man he'd only just met, who had offered the kid a better view of the president. He recalled having been there with his older brother, Bob, and their dad.

Paxton's but one of thousands of folks from around these parts with tales of having seen Kennedy during his fateful trip to Fort Worth and Dallas. My dad, who was then a student at SMU, saw him as the motorcade drove out of Love Field, and my mom was working as an X-ray tech at Parkland Hospital when Kennedy was brought in. But Paxton now has one thing those thousands do not have: proof he was there, in the presence of the president on his last day alive. He has the photos.

Friday afternoon, around 4:30, the star of such films as A Simple Plan, Aliens and One False Move left our interview so he could get a private tour of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. He was also scheduled to give an oral history -- to leave a permanent record of what, so far, had been nothing more than an interesting cocktail-party story. Paxton was also going to view some footage from a film taken by Roy Cooper, a cameraman for KTVT-TV in 1963. Paxton thought there was a chance he was in that footage.

He was right.

On Saturday, my wife and child and I ran into Paxton at the W Hotel. He was coming from lunch at Craft, with actors Chris Klein (who's in the Paxton-produced movie The Good Life) and Ginnifer Goodwin (Paxton's Big Love co-star). But Paxton had stopped to talk to some Craft employees -- more to the point, to show them his bounty from the Sixth Floor Museum.

In his hand he had a manila folder, from which he withdrew two black-and-white photographs, which were stills lifted from the Cooper film. "That's me," he said, pointing to the only child riding on a man's shoulder in the crowded parking lot.

"Bill, his older brother Bob, and his father were apparently close to the front," says Deborah Marine, manager of PR and promotions at the museum. "The image where Bill is looking straight into the camera came from the moment Lyndon Johnson introduced President Kennedy to the crowd. The smiling, clapping Bill in the other image was captured during Kennedy's brief speech." Marine says that in the 30-minute oral history, which has not yet been transcribed, "he describes the experience in detail." She also tells Unfair Park that Paxton was thrilled to find the photos: "We have over 24,000 items in our collection, and people can use them to track themselves or relatives, so we were also excited when he could identify himself and his relatives."

When Paxton's oral history is transcribed, it will be available for anyone to view. Till then, these photos are more than enough -- especially for Paxton, who, till only last week, had only a couple of stories he could share over a couple of beers. Now, he can take these photos and say to people, as he said to us Saturday afternoon, "That's me." --Robert Wilonsky

Roy Cooper Collection, KTVT-TV/Courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
This photo was taken during John Kennedy's brief speech in the Hotel Texas parking lot. Paxton's at far right, on the shoulders of a kind stranger who wanted to give the kid a bird's-eye view of the president.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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