Kennedy Library screens ‘Letters to Jackie’ with writers of condolence letters on hand

Oscar-winner Chris Cooper, historian Ellen Fitzpatrick , and documentarian Bill Couturié visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on Tuesday night for a screening of Couturié’s film “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy.” The work is based on Fitzpatrick’s book about condolence letters sent to the White House after President Kennedy’s assassination. But the real VIPs at the event were the authors of the original letters. Janis Hirsch, Gabriele Gideon, and Patricia Kelleher were there to see the film and to talk about what compelled them to send their best wishes to Washington 50 years ago. Kelleher, who now lives in Wellesley, told us before the event that when Fitzpatrick reached out to her about the “Letters to Jackie” project, she was shocked. She hadn’t considered that her note ever made it to the first lady. Kelleher wrote the letter on her 23d birthday, when she was mourning her own husband, John J. Wiley , who died in the USS Thresher disaster. “Just seeing her stricken, stunned face . . . [it] was how I had been feeling,” Kelleher told us. “I felt I could say something her.” The film “Letters to Jackie,” which airs on TLC in November, features celebrities such as the locally based Cooper, Newton’s John Krasinski, Zooey Deschanel, and Channing Tatum reading the notes. Kelleher says hers is read by Allison Janney of “The West Wing” and “Juno.” “She has a nice quality to her voice,” Kelleher said approvingly. Also at Tuesday night’s screening were Liz Walker, who moderated the discussion, and film presenter, Boston’s own Christy Scott Cashman.

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