Producer looks back on Jackie Kennedy WH tour

CBS producer Perry Wolff remembers the behind-the-scenes work on the historic broadcast of the first lady's tour of the White House.
CBS News

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Jackie Kennedy's famous televised tour of the White House. The vintage video shows Mrs. Kennedy with CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood. But we wanted to know the inside story of that historic broadcast. "Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley caught up with the CBS newsman who produced it.

It was a public debut for the newly-restored White House. The tour was broadcast on three networks and, altogether, 50 million people tuned in.

"There was still an unfinished room or two upstairs," recalled Perry Wolff, now 90, who produced the broadcast for CBS News.

He added that Mrs. Kennedy was "slightly nervous. Her voice was difficult, a little bit difficult for her."

From the footage 50 years ago, Collingwood asked the first lady: "Are there many state dinners?"

"Yes there are," she said. "There were almost two a month last year."

Jackie Kennedy's devotion to White House revealed
Video: Jackie Kennedy Onassis: America's sweetheart
JFK Library to make Jackie Kennedy's papers public

Wolff's team worked for months on research and writing. Mrs. Kennedy made some handwritten changes on the script.

"We had been told by some of her staff that she would go from room to room," said Wolff. "So I had written a bunch of questions. But we didn't need them. She was so well-versed. She knew what she was doing."

He added: "There were no retakes. We would go into a room, she would tell us roughly what she was going to do, and we'd just do it."

Even though she had no retakes, President Kennedy did ask to redo his part.

"He came up and said, "I gotta do it again. You know, I must do it again, Mr. Wolff,'" said Wolff.

That evening, as Wolff showed the couple some of the taping, he caught an intimate moment between them.

"I was seated right behind the Kennedys," said Wolff. "And there was a moment where he put his arm around her and she put her head on his shoulder, and there was genuine affection."

In interviews recorded in 1964, but not released until last year, the first lady said the broadcast was a hit with the President. "The White House television tour he used to watch all the time," she said. "He was so sweet the way he was proud of me."

There will be more from that historic tour this weekend on "Sunday Morning."

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"