Democratic Convention 1960 – JFK’s New Frontier

watching the Democratic Convention 1960 on TV Kennedy For President

Exactly 56 years ago a fresh faced democratic Senator won his party’s nomination for president and beckoned us into the New Frontier.

The 1960 Democratic Convention was a high-steppin, wild west of a  good time, and my family and myself had front row seats in front of our Philco. It was as rip roarin, rip snortin a time as any western on TV.

I wasn’t but knee-high to a lamb when Walter Cronkite shepherded me into the New Frontier that hot summer of 1960.

A trustworthy thoroughbred if ever there was one, Walter “Curly” Cronkite safely steered me and my family through the rough and tumble, wild west that was the 1960 Democratic Convention.

1960 Democratic Convention Life Magazine cover

Life Magazine Cover July 25, 1960 Democratic Convention

That July was as hot as a whorehouse on a nickel night.

As the blazing sun set in the East, TV turned to the West for the coverage of the Final Showdown at the OK Corral Convention Arena in Los Angeles.

democrats candidates convention 1960 scorecard

A Score Card For the Democratic Nomination 1960. The cart indicates the 4 top runners and votes committed to them, along with votes uncommitted or pledged to others. John Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Stuart Symington are classed as liberals. Johnson is middle of the road.

In those days, the nominee for President wasn’t a done deal. And the Vice President sure as  shootin’ hadn’t already been picked earlier like today.

The whole purpose of the convention was for persuading them there delegates still on the fence, to take a shine to your candidate. Then all fired up, they’d choose their party’s nominee for president.

It had the makins’ of  rootin-tootin, good-time.

Giddy Up to the Convention

Democratic Convention 1960 Rifleman

(L) Kennedy sisters and sister in laws at the Democratic convention (R) Chuck Connors as Lucas McCainin ABC’s “The Rifleman”

Mom was fixin’ to get us cowpokes some cool ice cream, as the TV set warmed up.

My brother and I sure were hankering to watch The Rifleman on channel seven, but we were outnumbered.

“Hold your horses,” Dad calmly said.

He explained that the Presidential convention that only came around every four years  was as rip-roarin’, rip-snortin’ a time as any western on TV.

collage deal makers on the convention floor and cowboys fighting

Last minute horse trading and fighting at the convention could rival that of the wild west

There’d be a lot of whoopin’ an’ hollerin’, fightin’ and cussin’; plenty of folks dickerin’ and goin’ at it hammer and tongs,” described Dad as his eyes lit up.

“It would be chock full of scalawags and boot lickers, pow wows and Indian Givers, and a whole lotta last-minute horse-trading, gambling, and  bellyaching; there’d be stallions and geldings a courting and a wooin’, and plenty of filly’s, fine as cream gravy, prancing around.”

“There were curmudgeon Congressmen who were mean enough to steal a fly from a blind spider, and Senators ornery enough to eat off the same plate as a snake. Some fellers were as crazy as popcorn on a hot stove, and so dumb they couldn’t track an elephant in snow,” he continued.

The main stars of this ultimate rodeo show filled with hope and a lot of gumption were a   young cowpoke from Massachusetts Senator Jack “Fandango” Kennedy, and Texas’s favorite cowboy and master of the Senate Lyndon “Longhorn” Johnson. Pulling up the rear was smiling Senator Stuart Symington and long shot Adlai Stevenson the Democrats favorite egghead.

“Mark my words,” Dad promised, “at the end of the convention one of ‘em will be grinning like a weasel in a hen-house and as pleased as a pup with two tails when he becomes the new Sheriff in town., and more than one of ‘em will be hurtin’ like the dickens, and high tailin’ it outta Dodge madder than an old wet hen.”


Democratic Convention 1960 Cronkite

L) Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in television covered the raucous presidential convention 1960

The convention  was crawling  with glitter, a continuous blaze of color with Kennedy cuties bedecked in red white and blue sundresses, sporting JFK buttons, banners and bows, snake dancing through the delegates.

This fandango of frenzy, flashbulb- popping fiddle- faddle, glad-handing gadabouts trading guffaws and favors, with party brass a huddlin’, and scalawags a scamperin’ was brought to you in  basic black and white, with the color enhancement courtesy of Walter Cronkite and his well honed ear to the ground.

The dense, smoke-filled hall full of scuttlebutt, was a bedlam of balderdash, brass bands and brass balls.

With scouts sent boldly  onto the convention floor to ambush any delegates willing to spill the beans, a vigilant Cronkite listened to every sound.

“Kennedy went through a heap of trouble to get that nomination,” Cronkite commented. “His high falutin’ Harvard friends did a bang up job. And his daddy who was powerful rich didn’t hurt none. And now by gum, he was the biggest toad in the pond.”

Photo 1960 Democratic Convention

Photo Life magazine- 1960 Democratic Convention

Dad was dumbfounded; he thought anyone was plumb crazy to support a tenderfoot like Jack Kennedy.

“Criminy! He ain’t worth a hill of beans!” Dad snorted. “He’ll have a hard row to hoe if he runs against Vice President Nixon.”


Jack Kennedy 43 the youthful front runner taps Lyndon Johnson, 51, the Senate Master for his vice president 1960. Photo Life Magazine 7/4/60

Later when the new sheriff chose his deputy, a tall Texan who sounded just like Deputy Dawg, Dad was incredulous.

“What in Sam Hill are they doing,” Dad cried out. “They got the wrong pig by the tail choosing Lyndon “I-don’t-play-second-fiddle-to-anyone” Johnson!”

New Frontier

photos JFK Campaign president 1960

Photos by Jacques Lowe (L) Kennedy addressing Connecticut voters (R) Jan. 2, 1960 Senator Kennedy declares his candidacy for Democratic nomination for President

Just before it was time for me to skedaddle off to bed, the victor climbed to the top of the podium and looked out at the wilderness spread out below him.

Just like Dad said he would , JFK was grinning like a weasel in a hen-house.

John Kennedy was one of the best woodsman in the frontier.

He was a hard livin’, hard lovin’, hard fightin’ believer in freedom, who like Lariat Sam couldn’t see anything but good in anybody.

After weeks of hard travel through every one horse town, he had reached the last Mountain in Los Angeles by the skin of his teeth.

He knew he would face many dangers.

But he had a mind to face them. Political life was not for the lily livered, or yellow-bellied, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy was tall hog at the trough.

Under skies that were not cloudy all day, a young, hell-fired up John Kennedy was fixin’ to accept his party’s nomination that blazing summer in 1960, inviting us all to “Saddle up Pardner,” hitch our wagon to his train and be pioneers in a New Frontier.

vintage children costumes cowboys and indians Wards catalogue

Boomer cowpokes and cowboys ready to enter the New Frontier. Wards catalogue 1959

With my Matt Dillon gen-u-ine leather holster embellished with bright metal jewels hugging my hips for fast draws, my matching pair of shootin’ irons with the big hammer-head for quick fanning action – A-RAT-TA-TA TAT and A RING A DING DING – I was ready to be a pioneer in that New Frontier that Kennedy beckoned us to.

Copyright (©) 2016 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved




  1. Susan

    I was too old for my cowgirl suit, but watched Chet Huntley and David Brinkley cover the conventions. We switched to Cronkite occasionally, but Huntley-Brinkley made the conventions fun. I’m thinking of 1956, when I was still in elementary school — sitting on the floor with my friend Janie and eagerly watching convention coverage — for three days at a time! By 1960 I was in high school, and, again, we watched the conventions — where it seemed that anything could happen; we saw delegates from all over the country negotiating on the floor; there were favorite son nominations (“The great state of …. casts four votes for [some guy you never heard of.]” And the parties even read out their party platforms! –as if ideas mattered as much as personalities. We 11 year old kids (and 15 year olds) watched with enthusiasm. It seems hard to believe….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your memories, they certainly resonate for me. I do wonder if young children today watch the convention or have any interest. I was so aware of the history involved, and the chaos that enthused made for must-see-TV


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