On November 22, 1963, Philippe Labro, a 27-year-old French reporter, was filming an interview in New Haven, Connecticut, when he heard “The President has been shot.” He immediately made his way to Dallas to cover the tumultuous aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination for France-Soir. Fifty years later, Labro, who has since become a celebrated novelist and filmmaker, wrote about his experience in On a Tiré Sur le Président, a best seller in France and an invaluable foreign perspective on our tragedy. As the book awaits translation, we spoke to Labro about his encounter with history.
Q: How exactly did you manage to find yourself in the Dallas school book depository just days after the assassination?
It was easy. All you had to do was be with a local journalist from the Dallas Morning News, who knew the cops, and the cops would let you in. The police were in reverence toward the media in those days. Remember, it’s because of the media that [Lee Harvey] Oswald was shot. How do you explain the cop who becomes friendly with me and tells me, “You want to see the cells? Come with me.” I could’ve gone up to Oswald’s cell and shot him. And I didn’t even give him $5.
Q: Oswald and Jack Ruby have taken on this mythological status, but having run across both of them, you have a very different take.
[Ruby was] a vulgar, salacious, small-time loser. This book has been debated on French TV. And one day I said, “Look, you guys, the time has come to understand that [Oswald’s killing] was a trivial news story between two pathetic, paranoid losers. Full stop.” But nobody wants to accept that because everybody craves plot.
Q: Do people of a certain age in France all remember where they were when Kennedy was shot?
Oh yes, oh yes. They were absolutely stunned. Sorrow is the word. Because they loved Jackie. She’s French! Her name is Jacqueline Bouvier. And they were mesmerized like everyone else by the allure, the look, of Jack. I mean, Jack is Hollywood. He’s the biggest star Hollywood never produced. He’s a bigger star than Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, whatever, in those days. So he’s the embodiment of the French dream of what the great, the tall American male must be.