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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Oliver Stone with "JFK Revisited" Crucifies Clay Shaw Once Again

Today is the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was only 46 years old when he was gunned down in Dallas, and few presidents have ever imbued the nation with such enthusiasm. He asked all Americans to put their country first -- "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

There will be articles, TV shows, blog posts (like this one) and tweets about his life, and his death. There will be arguments about conspiracy theories and whether Oswald was the lone gunman. And there will be people bemoaning the fact that there are more JFK assassination documents to be released.
There are two things we should do today. First, take some time to remember JFK, his life and his Presidency. JFK brought hope to many people within the United States and to many people around the world. It was a time for optimism. Boy, have times changed.

There will probably be some op-eds by Oliver Stone bemoaning the fact that Joe Biden has not released all the documents. He's also upset that his so-called documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, doesn't seem to be getting any traction.

We can all have our disagreements over JFK Revisited. But there is something really obscene about the fact that Oliver Stone has crucified Clay Shaw once again.

When Oliver Stone released his epic film JFK in 1991, he found himself embroiled in a controversy with gay rights activists. David Ehrenstein, writing in the Advocate, a popular gay magazine, called JFK “the most homophobic movie ever to come out of Hollywood.”

Why was he upset? Oliver Stone based his movie on the real-life prosecution of Clay Shaw, a gay man in New Orleans who was accused in 1967 by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison of conspiring to kill JFK. It took two years for the case to come to trial and the jury acquitted Shaw in less than an hour. A few days later, Garrison charged Shaw with two counts of perjury and it took another two years before it was quashed by a higher court.

Clay Shaw with his attorneys after his acquittal

With a substantial part of his savings spent on his defense, Clay Shaw had to come out of retirement and go back to work. He then sued Garrison for $5 million in damages, but he unfortunately died of cancer before the case could be heard. The best years of Clay Shaw’s life were stolen – he had retired to write plays and restore properties in the French Quarter of New Orleans – and for what?

In the early part of his investigation, Garrison told journalists Hugh Aynesworth, James Phelan, Jack Anderson, Jerrold Footlick, Merriman Smith, Art Kevin, and Max Lerner that a homosexual conspiracy killed JFK. Ultimately, JFK conspiracy theorists got him to move away from that theory and view the CIA as the culprit.

Even so, Clay Shaw's name was raked through the mud. Here is a short excerpt of the infamous Sciambra memorandum, written right after Andrew Sciambra first interviewed Perry Russo:

Clay Shaw admired and voted for John Kennedy. This memo was actually read out loud in court during the Shaw trial. What a homophobic slur!

I should add that because of his status, Clay Shaw was allowed to invite people to join him at the Nashville wharf to see President Kennedy. He invited Label Katz of the B'nai B'rith:

So, for Oliver Stone to use a homophobic prosecution as the basis for JFK was not just vicious; it victimized Clay Shaw a second time, and this time in front of a world-wide audience.

Stone believed that Jim Garrison was a crusading prosecutor who was trying to take on the CIA, the military-industrial complex and the national security infrastructure. Stone claimed it was “worth the sacrifice of one man,” and so Stone kept Clay Shaw as the evil mastermind along with his band of conspiring homosexuals.

Stone met with gay rights activists to assure them that he wasn’t homophobic. He asked them to wait and see the final film and then render their verdicts. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Defamation went to a screening. They wrote a letter to the LA Times saying “We are particularly concerned about an unlikely and gratuitous scene depicting gay characters dressed in elaborate costumes and involved in some kind of sadomasochistic activity. We also question the inherent imbalance in the portrayal of the gay characters as kinky, bizarre and pathetic, while Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner, is a classic Hollywood hero – whitewashed, according to most critics, of real historical blemishes.”

Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1991

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, mentions Clay Shaw’s arrest “on charges that he was part of the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy …”

Nowhere in the film does it even say that Clay Shaw was tried and was acquitted of conspiracy. This is an astounding error of omission, because Stone makes a big deal out of the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald never had his day in court.

Nor does the film mention what Judge Herbert Christenberry said in 1971 after three days of hearings regarding the perjury charges. He found that Garrison “undertook his baseless investigation with the specific intent to deprive Shaw of his rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments ... the only conclusion that can be drawn from Garrison’s actions is that he intentionally used the arrest for his own purposes, with complete disregard for the rights of Clay Shaw.”

Stone also alleges that Clay Shaw was a CIA agent. For conspiracy theorists like Oliver Stone, this is consorting with the enemy, and certainly enough to suggest participation in an assassination conspiracy. And on this he falls flat on his face. Shaw did have an association with the CIA, but he was just a source for the Domestic Contact Service from 1948 to 1956. Shaw’s career was in international trade and the CIA took an interest in his trips to the Caribbean, Central America and South America in 1949 and another trip to South America is 1951. When Shaw curtailed his international travel in 1956, his association with the CIA ended.

Clay Shaw was an outstanding citizen of New Orleans. There is a reason why a plaque celebrating his life hangs outside one of the many properties he refurbished during his life. There is also a reason why there are no commemorations of Jim Garrison in New Orleans.

Mr. Stone, shame on you.


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