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Backtalk 

KENNEDY CONNECTION: Kevin Costner plays a convincing Kennedy confidant in the new movie 13 Days. That’s according to the son of the man who held that job — Kenneth O’Donnell — when the United States was on the brink of nuclear war. Now a resident of Westford, Kenny O’Donnell Jr. was a freshman in high school when his father disappeared for two tense weeks during the Cuban missile crisis. “We knew something was up, but not until the fourth or fifth day,” the younger O’Donnell says, adding, “We were going to be in a different bomb shelter than he was.” O’Donnell Sr. and Kennedy got to know each other playing football at Harvard. O’Donnell worked on JFK’s senatorial campaign in 1952 and later joined his administration, serving as chief of staff for the duration of Kennedy’s presidency and into the Johnson years. His published memoir, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was an important source for the screenplay. So was Bobby Kennedy’s Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. O’Donnell Jr. says the movie was already in the works when he found out about it. But the studio flew him to Hollywood for the screening, where he met all the stars, including Costner. On Friday, he took his two kids to opening night at the Nickelodeon in Burlington. O’Donnell recalls, “It was their first view of how powerful my father was. We never bragged about it, as he never would have.” O’Donnell Sr. died of a heart attack at age 53.

WORDS WORTH: Move over, David Budbill. Garrison Keillor’s favorite Vermont poet has got some competition in Calais. The host of the public radio program “Writer’s Almanac” read a poem by Geof Hewitt on the first Wednesday in January, from his new collection of verse, Only What’s Imagined — appropriately titled, in this case. Hewitt, a regular competitor in local poetry slams, had sent the book to Keillor three months before and received the expected “kiss off” letter. Two days later, he got word that Keillor wanted to read “The Sailor” on 200 public radio stations across the country. Describing it as an odd choice, Hewitt thought it might have been a poetic reference to the Hollywood movie Cast Away. The poem launches, “In my movie the boat goes under, and he alone survives the night in the cold ocean. Swimming he hopes in a shoreward direction… ” Budbill, whose own verse has been featured on the “Writer’s Almanac” 11 times in the past 13 months, confirms that Keillor has quirky taste. But, hey, at least he reads poetry, unlike the soon-to-be leader of our country. Bush’s upcoming poet-free inauguration should prove once and for all that Dubya doesn’t stand for “wordsmith.”

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Middlebury College Center for the Arts has been without a director for nearly four months. Susan Stockton left in September to run a concert series at Pennsylvania State University. The job is no longer just “coordinating” activities in the arts center — an arrangement that allowed poli-sci prof Paul Nelson to program the concert series. He was all set to retire at the end of this season, but revised his plans when Stockton gave notice. Now he says he’ll be out of a job no later than two years from June, at which point the incoming “director” will also take over his programming duties . . . Five years after she left the Onion River Arts Council for a job at the Flynn Theatre, Telos Whitfield is back in Montpelier as programming director at the capital city arts organization. She replaces former “Point” man and current “Switchboard” host Steve Zind, who is devoting more of his energies to Vermont Public Radio. He’ll be working with John Van Hoesen, who left the Rutland Herald after more than 20 years to take the news director job recently vacated by Steve Young.

MEDIA WATCH: “Spread O’Brien” may not have quite the same ring to it as “Spread Fred,” but it sure describes the coverage of Vermont’s only farmer-filmmaker in the current issue of Country Journal magazine. John O’Brien shares the cover with retired farmer-actor Fred Tuttle, but the article focuses almost exclusively on the man behind the moviemaking in Tunbridge. In seven photo-filled pages, O’Brien comes off as quite the sophisticated shepherd . . . Last month, she was rubbing literary elbows with Benazir Bhutto and Doug Coupland in the Slate Diaries anthology. This month Vermont cartoonist Alison Bechdel — and her strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For” — made The Utne Reader’s short list of “top 10 cultural achievements of the 20th century.” She ranked right up there with James Joyce’s Ulysses, the Complete Blue Note recordings of Thelonious Monk and the works of Marc Chagall . . . Vermont is the “coolest Food State in the Union” in the current issue of Saveur magazine, filled with its 100 favorite foods, restaurants, recipes, people, places and things. The write-up gushes, “We love Vermont — the mountains, the maple trees, the whole progressive, cottage-industry nature of the state,” then singles out Shelburne Farms, New England Culinary Institute, Ben & Jerry’s, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Blueberry Hill Inn and Vermont Butter and Cheese’s award-winning goat Impastata. Amazingly, it also recognizes how the Vermont Land Trust, The Vermont Seal of Quality and the Vermont Fresh Network help preserve the unique flavor of the state . . .

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About The Author

Paula Routly

Paula Routly

Bio:
Paula Routly is the cofounder, publisher and coeditor of Seven Days.

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