William Manchester

Controversial biographer of Kennedy and Churchill

William Manchester was a Second World War hero who came home from the Pacific to establish himself as a reporter, magazine writer, novelist and biographer. He wrote lives of Churchill, of H.L. Mencken, the Rockefeller family, three novels, and a book about the origins of the Renaissance. For many years, he was writer in residence at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.



William Manchester, journalist and writer: born Attleboro, Massachusetts 1 April 1922; Reporter, Daily Oklahoman 1945-46; reporter, foreign correspondent and war correspondent, Baltimore Sun 1947-55; Managing Editor, Wesleyan University Publications 1955-64; Lecturer in English, Wesleyan University 1968-69, Fellow, East College 1968-86, writer in residence 1974-2004, Adjunct Professor of History 1979-92 (Emeritus); married 1948 Julia Brown Marshall (died 1998; one son, two daughters); died Middletown, Connecticut 1 June 2004.



William Manchester was a Second World War hero who came home from the Pacific to establish himself as a reporter, magazine writer, novelist and biographer. He wrote lives of Churchill, of H.L. Mencken, the Rockefeller family, three novels, and a book about the origins of the Renaissance. For many years, he was writer in residence at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

But he will be remembered certainly for the fierce controversy he aroused with his account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, The Death of a President (1967); and possibly for an interview he recorded in 1964 with Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline, which may not be published for many decades, in which, helped by chain-smoking and liberal jugs of iced martinis, she made what are said to be startling revelations about her life with the President and his death.

Manchester began his obsessively detailed research, including his 10 hours of interviews with Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1964. But by 1967, when excerpts of his book began to appear in Look magazine and drafts of his manuscript circulated from hand to excited hand in Washington, President Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy were at daggers drawn. Johnson was mired in paranoia about Kennedy's desire to succeed him in the 1968 election. Kennedy could not forgive Johnson for succeeding his brother. Manchester's account of the resentments felt by the Kennedy aides and hangers-on after Johnson's swearing-in became the cause of a heavy calibre political row.

The feud was made even more bitter by the underlying cultural clash. The Kennedy people despised Johnson and his crowd as ill-educated boors. The Johnson people resented the Kennedy crowd as arrogant snobs. And under all this there bubbled the never quite pacified dislike of North for South, Confederate Texas for abolitionist Massachusetts, Austin for Boston.

Into this raging quarrel Manchester blundered, apparently unaware of how his account would be received. His manuscript was, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger put it, "long, deeply felt, and greatly over-written". Great offence was given to Johnson. As Schlesinger wrote to Manchester himself, the book presented the assassination as a "conflict between New England and Texas, decency and vulgarity, Kennedy and Johnson".

Manchester's own editor thought Manchester had been so carried away by his feeling for Kennedy, about whom he had already written Portrait of a President (1962), a biography dipped in something between admiration and saccharine, that his narrative had become a "fairy tale in which the Texans in their polka-dot dresses and bow ties are seen as newly arrived scum - plucked from the dung-heap by magical Jack".

Johnson claimed to have discovered 46 factual errors in the book, but what he disliked most was the way he himself was portrayed. Instead of walking, he "heavily lumbered", and when he sat down to make a phone call from the bed in the presidential cabin on Air Force One, Manchester had him, not sit, but "sprawl". Worst of all, in Johnson's eyes, was the scene with which Manchester opened his book, in which Johnson bullies Kennedy, who according to Manchester believed "all killing was senseless", into shooting a deer on his ranch. In the final draft the scene was given less prominence, but it still laid bare what Manchester himself admitted to Jackie Kennedy was his "bias" against the Texan.

"All of it," Johnson summarised angrily, "makes Bobby look like a great hero and makes me look like a son-of-a-bitch and 95 per cent of it is completely fabricated."

The Kennedy faction was deeply divided. Bobby Kennedy, who had demanded and used the power to authorise publication, thought the book was a mistake. The Washington community assumed that it was a deliberation attempt to knife Johnson. If that had been either Manchester's or Kennedy's intention, the plot backfired. Johnson emerged from what might have been a damaging episode unharmed; it was Robert Kennedy who was diminished, both in the polls and in reputation.

Jackie Kennedy had at first volunteered to be interviewed by Manchester, and then came to feel that, under the influence of sentiment or gin, she had gone too far. She was particularly worried about how the world would react to two love letters she had written to her husband. However, she relented, and became friends with Manchester again after he supported Robert Kennedy for president in 1968, and donated the royalties from his book to the Kennedy library in Boston. To this day, the tapes of the interview lie in box sealed with lead by court order for a century, on a shelf in vaults of the library.

Until the seals are broken, there will continue to be speculation about what the tapes reveal. Some have suggested that Jacqueline Kennedy revealed unknown secrets about her husband's assassination. Others think she was indiscreet about her marriage and her husband's infidelities. After her death in 1994 only Manchester knew what was in the tapes, and their secrets die with him until 2067.

William Manchester was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1922 and was educated at Springfield high school, at the University of Massachusetts and at Dartmouth College. He served in the US Marine Corps during the Second World War and was awarded the Purple Heart for bravery in 1945.

After the war he worked briefly as a reporter in Oklahoma, then as a reporter, foreign correspondent and war correspondent in Korea for the Baltimore Sun. His first biography, Disturber of the Peace (1951), was of H.L. Mencken, the peppery editor of the Sun. In 1968 Manchester published a history of the Krupp family of arms manufacturers ( The Arms of Krupp), and in the 1980s he published two volumes of The Last Lion, a projected three-volume life of Winston Churchill - these were published in the UK as The Caged Lion (1988). After Manchester suffered a stroke in the late 1990s, the third volume remained unwritten.

In 1995 he intervened in the controversy over the Churchill family's sale of Sir Winston's papers to the nation. "Authors are forever being told," he said, with what sounded like personal feeling, "that they should give their work to society." Writing, he pointed out, is very hard work, and "the labourer is worthy of his hire".

Gordon Harrison

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform