The First Family

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The Kennedys were easy targets for parody, and the First Family recordings rose to the top of the charts during the height of Camelot.
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The First Family was a comedy album that for a brief moment became one of the most successful recording projects in history, and just as quickly vanished in the wake of a national tragedy. In 1962, Bob Booker and Earle Doud were a pair of comedy writers brainstorming a new project when they struck upon the idea of making an album devoted to material about the then-current President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. With his good looks, quick wit, high public profile, and large and colorful family, Booker and Doud regarded Kennedy as a "movie star president," and began writing humorous sketches that turned the tables on his reputation, imaging how Kennedy, his family, and his colleagues dealt with the ordinary details of daily life. Booker and Doud teamed with a third writer, George Foster, and put together a script featuring 17 sketches that poked gentle fun at the Kennedy family and their public reputation. To provide the voice of the president, the writers recruited Vaughn Meader, a struggling stand-up comic from Massachusetts who could replicate Kennedy's accent with impressive accuracy, while actress Naomi Brossart delivered a breathy exaggeration of his wife Jacqueline Kennedy' voice. With Booker, Doud, and a handful of comic actors rounding out the cast, The First Family was recorded at a small studio in New York City on October 22, 1962 -- by remarkable coincidence, that same evening President Kennedy delivered a speech alerting the nation to the presence of Soviet weapons in Cuba, and the producers had to scramble to keep the small audience on hand from hearing Kennedy's address and spoiling the evening's mood. A small independent label, Cadence Records, released the album, titled The First Family, in November 1962, and thanks to extensive radio airplay and positive press, it quickly became a sensation, selling seven-and-a-half million copies in six months, establishing a long-standing record for the fastest-selling LP of all time. The album made Vaughn Meader a star practically overnight, and he and the album's cast set out on a personal appearance tour, performing the album's routines for live audiences across the country. John F. Kennedy himself commented on the album, joking at a press conference that he thought Meader sounded more like his brother Teddy; Kennedy also was said to have played the album at a staff meeting, very much amused at Meader's interpretation of his voice, and even gave out copies as Christmas gifts. The First Family quickly spawned imitators: comic Marc London released an album, The President Strikes Back!' which imagined JFK responding to the success of The First Family by making a comedy record of his own, while The Other Family, featuring Larry Foster and Marty Brill, poked less charitable fun at Nikita Khrushchev and his household. As The First Family continued to sell briskly and earned a Grammy Award as Album of the Year, Booker, Doud, and Foster began writing a sequel, and on March 18, 1963, they brought the cast back to the studio to record The First Family, Vol. 2. While the sequel wasn't as immediately successful as the first LP, it quickly rose to the top of the charts after its release in May 1963, and was still selling respectably on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Cadence Records immediately recalled all copies of both First Family albums, determined not to capitalize on the tragic event, and they remained out of print until 1999, when they were reissued on CD. (A 50th Anniversary CD release followed in 2012.) In 1966, Booker and Foster wrote and produced The New First Family, 1968, a curious album that imagined Cary Grant (voiced by Will Jordan) as president of the United States, while in 1981, Doud co-produced The First Family Rides Again, starring Rich Little as Ronald Reagan.