In the midst of Presidential fever, the Hollywood feature film Jackie, soon to be released, is set to tell the story of the assassination of President John F Kennedy and the aftermath of this event, from the perspective of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
“Jackie” tells the story of the first lady fighting “through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.”
Knowing that President John F Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie I had a very close relationship and the Emperor was a special guest of honour at the funeral of JFK, I set off to find out if His Majesty would be depicted at all in this feature film and explore the history of Haile Selassie in cinema.
Scenes of the funeral in the trailer did not give us a glimpse of a depiction of the Emperor. However, searching further I found the His Imperial Majesty is supposedly depicted in the film, appearing in an uncredited role, played by an actor / extra called Kelsey Saunders.
This uncredited role means it is unlikely the true story and importance of Emperor Haile Selassie I ‘s attendance at the funeral will be told in this film, especially from the perspective of “Jackie” Kennedy.
In October 1963 Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia made a return visit to the United States, meeting President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., with a visit to the White House, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial where Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall reads the Emancipation Proclamation, a trip to the Capitol with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a visit to New York City / United Nations (UN) headquarters, a visit to Georgetown University and a meeting with Ethiopian students.
President Kennedy publicly addresses Emperor Haile Selassie I
On behalf of all of my fellow citizens, I want to express our great appreciation to you for having traveled across so many thousands of miles to visit us once again and also for the pleasure that you have brought us all in bringing with you your granddaughter, and the benefit you have brought us in bringing the members of your Government.
As you say, Ethiopia and the United States are separated not only by geography but by history and culture, but I think that they are bound together by necessity, and that is the necessity for all sovereign free countries to maintain the most intimate association.
So we are very proud to have you here because of what your country has done, what it is doing, because of the hospitality you have shown to my fellow countrymen when they have gone there to work or to visit.
Most of all, we are glad to have you here because of your own extraordinary record. Those of us who have held office for a comparatively brief time are somewhat awed to realize that you have borne the responsibility of leadership in your country for more than
45 years. For a good part of this century, with all the changes that it has brought to not only your own country but to the continent of Africa, and so much of the West during this whole period, the central thrust of burden has been borne by you. And to have borne it with such distinction in other days and to still bear it with such force-demonstrated by the fact that your capital was chosen by your fellow leaders of Africa to be the center of this great, cooperative movement which was symbolized by the summit meeting in your capital and which was made a success by your own very patient efforts–brings accord out of what could have been on occasion perhaps a disagreement.
So, looking to a long past, looking to a promising future, we want to say, Your Majesty, that we are proud to have you here, we have been honored by the visit, and I hope that this short time here in Washington will remind you once again of how strongly your place is secured in the affection of all of the people of the United States. I hope all of you will join with me in a toast to His Imperial Majesty.
Note: The President spoke at the Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. at a luncheon given in his honor by Emperor Haile Selassie. In his opening remarks the President referred to Princess Ruth Desta, the Emperor’s granddaughter.
The Emperor, speaking before him, began by mentioning the warm and friendly relationship between his nation and the United States. He referred to the growing number of Americans who go to Ethiopia–as members of economic and military aid missions, in the Peace Corps, as businessmen, and as tourists. Such associations, the Emperor continued, cannot but help the Ethiopian and American peoples to know each other better. Mutual understanding has also been broadened, he pointed out, by the many young Ethiopian leaders who have studied in the United States. “If their number now declines,” he added, “it will be because of the new university which has, with the generous help of the people and the Government of the United States, now assumed the responsibility for providing higher education in Ethiopia.”
The Charter of Unity recently signed in his capital by African heads of state demonstrates, said Emperor Haile Selassie, the will of their peoples, inspired by America’s example past and present, to prepare for themselves a future of unity and brotherhood.
He concluded with a toast to the President and to the two peoples, who are, he said, distant in geography but proximate in friendship and in spirit.
No sooner had Emperor Selassie returned to Ethiopia than he received the horrifying news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Once again he “traveled across so many thousands of miles” to the United States, to be one of 220 representatives from 100 nations to attend his funeral.
The following passages describe Emperor Selassie’s relationship with President Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline and children, Caroline and John, six and three years-old respectively:
The Death of a President
by William Manchester
“…Overhead, St. Matthew’s choir sang the Gregorian “Subvenite” while the ushers struggled to seat the marchers quickly…. The snag was over the dignitaries. This was Angie Duke’s worry, and it was a stupendous one. The slight, sensitive chief of protocol had been working without rest for three days and three nights. Ahead of him, after the funeral, lay two crucial receptions – Mrs. Kennedy’s, in the executive mansion, and President Johnson’s, at State. Nevertheless it was his hour in church that was to be his hour of trial. First he found that the pews he had earmarked last night had been confiscated by Jack McNally for President Kenney’s staff. He was obliged to lead his chiefs of staff off to the right, to St Josephs Chapel – from which, he discovered in horror, the main altar was invisible.
Angie improvised. He seized a church functionary and demanded a television set. There was one in the cathedral, he was told, but using it in church during Mass was unthinkable. It had to be thinkable, said Angie, arguing furiously; diplomatic relations with ninety one countries were at stake. The set appeared and was plugged in. It would be the only one in the cathedral, he told his charges, and they looked immensely pleased. Their pleasure diminished, however, when he started seating them. It was then he realized that in failing to allow for overcoats he had miscalculated badly. He had forgotten something else; the Emperor of Ethiopia, the King of the Belgians, and the husband of the Queen of England were all carrying bulky swords, more space-takers. Putting four bodies in a pew instead of five made a difference of twenty people – twenty world leaders who would have to stand. It wouldn’t do. He would have to start cramming. Like a conductor on a crowded bus he kept urging them to move over. They complied, grunting. Some situations were especially awkward….”They were jammed in like sardines,” Angie said of the foreigners later. “I stood throughout the Mass and suffered. Somehow we had got them all seated, but I hate to think how it was done.”
From the front pew in the main well of the church young John saw Haile Selassie. The Lion of Judah, who looked like a midget next to Larry O’Brien, but was a giant to John. Last summer he had come to the mansion bearing gifts : a leopard-skin coat for Mrs. Kennedy (which she, as a token of respect, had worn at the time despite the sweltering heat) and two toys carved of ivory, a doll for Caroline and a warrior for John. Since then the children hadn’t stopped talking about Haile Selassie, and John pointed toward the side chapel and gazed across at him admiringly. Then the formalities became boring to the boy. He fidgeted. St. Matthew’s bronze doors had clanged shut behind the last four persons to enter–Judge Sarah Hughes, Bunny Mellon, Martin Luther King, and Mary Ryan from Ireland. Luigi Vena was singing Leybach’s “Pie Jesu” as the crucifer slowly returned the cross to the altar, accompanied by two other acolytes carrying candles. The Cardinal followed them, chanting in Latin. Behind him the casket team, moving stiffly like drugged automatons, wheeled the coffin into position in front of the first pew, a few feet from the widow….
None of this had any meaning for the President’s little son. From across the aisle Nina Warren and Joanie Douglas, in the Supreme Court section, heard him say “Where’s my Daddy?!” The boy lifted his arms. “Somebody pick me up.” Agent Foster, lurking near, carried him to the back of the church….
…Indeed, everything was over – the burial service, the state funeral, the strangely congruous blend of Old World mysticism and American tradition, the parade of uniforms and vestments, of judges and secret agents, of princes and prelates and anonymous, nondescript citizens who had surged across the bridge in the wake of the marching columns because they couldn’t bear to be left behind….
Cradling the flag under her left arm…she walked down the hill holding Bob Kennedy’s hand….In the car Mrs. Kennedy and the two brothers talked of the funeral – of how splendid it had been – and as the procession of returning cars came off the Washington side of the bridge and turned left, Robert Kennedy ordered the chauffeur of their car to leave the line and circle the Lincoln memorial from the right. That way he could see the statue. He told the driver to draw over in front of it, and they did, as thousands of tourists do each day. From the back seat President Kennedy’s widow and the two heirs of his political legacy inclined their heads leftward to look up between the columns at Daniel Chester French’s nineteen foot figure of the sad, strong, brooding President Lincoln, the marble chin tilted in thought. After a while Bob tapped the chauffeur. They drove on without having spoken…
The Kennedy’s duty lay downstairs, where Angie Duke was leading their exotic guests to two buffets in the state and family dining rooms…
It s doubtful that any woman has ever prepared herself for a state function in less time. Before Peter Lawford entered the West Sitting Room to sit with Evelyn and his mother-in-law Jacqueline Kennedy had removed her veil and black beret, raked her simple coiffure into shape, and was in the Oval Room, ready to meet people. She was not going downstairs just yet, though. Here as everywhere she had her own way of doing things. For a little while she was going to be nearly as great a trial to Angie Duke as Jack McNally. A protocol officer must think in terms of nations, not people; he must pretend that every country is like every other country, distinguishable only by the alphabet. Sovereigns understood that. At the buffet Angie proposed that Queen Frederika precede President Lubke, on the ground that she was a woman; she recoiled, pointing out that Germany comes before Greece.
Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t like those rules. She only wanted to see four men in private, and she named them: Haile Selassie, Charles de Gaulle, Eamon de Valera, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The first stage of the Kennedy reception therefore had three foci: her salon in the oval study, Rose Kennedy’s group in the sitting room, and the others downstairs. Various intermediaries shuttled in and out of the study – the Attorney General usually, assisted by Mac Bundy, by Angie, who had reluctantly agreed to “slip them up,” and, unexpectedly, by the Presidents son and daughter. Caroline and John had been assigned no role. They were supposed to be playing with Miss Shaw. Their impromptu appearances were welcomed , however,because famous men are just as susceptible to the magic spell of the very young as their constituents, and brother and sister scored their own triumphs, notably with the Lion of Judah.
Bundy noted how he saw their mother “Charm the Old black Emperor and let him charm her children – which he did most sweetly.“ Really they were the charmers. The language barrier was formidable – Jacqueline Kennedy and Selassie spoke French, for his English was extremely limited – but the children had their own ways of communicating. ” He was, “ Mrs. Kennedy remembered, “their hero”; she fetched them from across the hall, and as they entered timidly at first, she pointed to his glittering chest and said, ” Look John, He’s such a brave soldier. That’s why he has all those medals.“ The boy crept up into his lap and touched one. Then Caroline ran to get the doll he had given her last summer. Her brother darted after her, and suddenly they were both in the Emperors lap, showing him the ivory carvings they had treasured. Haile Selassie examined John’s toy. “You will be a brave warrior,” he said haltingly. “Like your father.” They sat there for about twenty minutes , and to their mother the bond between them and the bearded old man in the gorgeous uniform was almost mystical. “He had this thing of love, and they showed him their little presents,” she recalled later. “And they were so happy, just staring at him and worshipping.”…
While Haile Selassie was in the study de Gaulle had stepped into the sitting room to tell Rose Kennedy of it, and Selassie, at Jacqueline Kennedy’s suggestion, had followed him there. Here again the Emperor was especially effective. The President’s mother recited his childhood diseases in French; “He was never a strong boy,” she said, “but he was so determined.”Selassie nodded and described how he had lost his own son, his crown prince. He and Rose discovered that they were the same age. “It’s wrong for parents to bury their children. It should be the other way round,” she said. He agreed: “It’s a violation of nature.”
Although we wait to see, it’s unlikely that the importance of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I ‘s attendance and the comfort he gave to the grief-stricken Kennedy family will be honestly portrayed in this feature film. In fact, very rarely is H.I.M Haile Selassie ever mentioned or touched upon in historical films or documentaries in-spite of having been described as the most famous human being of the 20th century, the most bemedalled and accoladed person as recorded in the Guinness World Records and the subject of the 1st colour photo ever to be printed in a newspaper.
Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in film
Below you will find a very small list of cinematic films where His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari) has been featured; if you compare this to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mussolini or Hitler (other very well known figures of the 20th Century) it is vastly disproportionate.
Mission to Moscow 1943
At the very beginning of the film, the story begins with the historic and prophetic speech spoken by the Emperor at the League of Nations in 1936.
The movie chronicles the experiences of the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union and was made in response to a request by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was made during World War II, when the Americans and Soviets were allies, and takes a more benign view of the Soviet government than most Hollywood films.
The brief film role of the character of the Emperor is actually very significant as unlike other films from this time which would “black up” white actors for black roles, the role of African Emperor Haile Selassie is played by an African actor, Leigh rollin Whipper (October 29, 1876 – July 26, 1975) who was an American actor on the stage and in motion pictures. He was the first African-American to join the Actors’ Equity Association, and one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild of America.
Born Free 1965
Although H.I.M Haile Selassie I does not feature in this film, it does feature his own Lion cubs, the producers have made a special thank you to him in the credits for his assistance.
”the producers are also most grateful for help received from His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia)”
Orde Wingate Tv series 1976
H.I.M Emperor Haile Selassie’s character features in two episodes of this series.
Major – General Orde Charles Wingate was instrumental in the operation to liberate Ethiopia in 1940 – 1941.
At the outbreak of WW2, Wingate was the commander of an anti aircraft unit in Britain. He repeatedly made proposals to the army and government for the creation of a Jewish army in Palestine which would rule over the area and its Arab population in the name of the British. Eventually his friend Wavell, by this time commander-in-chief of Middle East Command which was based in Cairo, invited him to Sudan to begin operations against Italian occupation forces in Ethiopia. He created the Gideon Force, an SOE force composed of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian soldiers.
Gideon force was named after the biblical judge, who defeated a large force with a tiny band. Wingate invited a number of veterans of the Haganah SNS to join him. With the blessing of the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, the group began to operate in February 1941.
Chariots of Fire 1980
Whilst protesting a play based on a 1970s communist propaganda book “The Emperor Downfall of an Autocrat” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, I met an elderly lady who asked if I knew that an actor/extra portrayed Negus Tafari (Haile Selassie as he is later known) at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. I have watched the movie but am yet to spot this feature! Perhaps it didn’t make the final cut.
The movie is about Two British track athletes, one a determined Jewish competitor and the other a devout Christian, who compete in the 1924 Olympics.
It could be very possible that the future Ethiopian Emperor is portrayed in this film as Ras Tafari Makonnen (Haile Selassie) did in fact attend the 1924 Olympics on his first visit to Europe as a representative of Empress Zawditu accompanied by a number of other Ethiopian dignitaries .
In 1924, Ras Tafari toured Europe and the Middle East visiting Jerusalem, Alexandria, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Geneva, and Athens. With him on his tour was a group that included Ras Seyum Mangasha of western Tigray Province; Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam province; Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu of Illubabor Province; Ras Makonnen Endelkachew; and Blattengeta Heruy Welde Sellase. The primary goal of the trip to Europe was for Ethiopia to gain access to the sea. In Paris, Tafari was to find out from the French Foreign Ministry (Quai d’Orsay) that this goal would not be realized. However, failing this, he and his retinue inspected schools, hospitals, factories, and churches. Although patterning many reforms after European models, Tafari remained wary of European pressure. To guard against economic imperialism, Tafari required that all enterprises have at least partial local ownership. Of his modernization campaign, he remarked, “We need European progress only because we are surrounded by it. That is at once a benefit and a misfortune.”
Throughout Ras Tafari’s travels in Europe, the Levant, and Egypt, he and his entourage were greeted with enthusiasm and fascination. He was accompanied by Seyum Mangasha and Hailu Tekle Haymanot who, like Tafari, were sons of generals who contributed to the victorious war against Italy a quarter century earlier at the Battle of Adwa
Coming to America 1988
Although H.I.M Emperor Haile Selassie is not directly mentioned in the film, it has been said that the inspiration for the Wedding scene, the costumes and grandeur of the African royalty were based on the Coronation of His Majesty and Empress Menen which took place on the 2nd of November 1930.
Athetu “The Athlete”2009
By far the best film depicting the character of H.I.M Haile Selassie I, The Athlete is a portrait of the legendary marathon runner from Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila. In 1960, with great significance he participated in the Rome Olympic Games as a complete unknown. Running barefoot (as he was not comfortable in the running shoes he was supposed to wear) and won the gold medal. Four years later, he repeated his feat at the Tokyo Olympic Games, becoming the first man to win the Olympic marathon twice in a row. A few years later, he suffered a car accident and lost the use of his legs. Very sadly, He died four years later.
Abebe Bikila was one of H.I.M Haile Selassie’s personal Imperial Bodyguard and the character of the Emperor features greatly in the film. In the closing scenes, Abebe is shown a screening of a film about his achievements, in the audience is the Emperor, who comes straight to greet and thank Abebe for his great service to Ethiopia at the end of the film. The film was made in 2009 and was directed by Rasselas Lakew and Davey Frankel.
Upstairs, Downstairs Television Series 2010
In one of the episodes of the 1st season of the (2010) reboot of Upstairs, Downstairs, the character of Emperor Haile Selassie I makes an off-camera appearance.
The synopsis of Season 1 Episode 2 provides this description:
”On a diplomatic assignment, Hallam meets with one of the fascist movement’s prime victims in 1936, the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Arriving in England in exile after being deposed by Mussolini’s armies, Selassie warns ominously, “It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.””
From Synopsis at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/upstairsdownstairs/synopsis_ep2.html
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Ras Benji 2017