Gus Russo Papers

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Gus Russo, investigative journalist, author, and musician, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Mount St. Joseph High School. Although known for his research of the Kennedy assassination, music was his first passion. Russo explains, “I love to read, but I never thought I’d be a writer. But when you think about it, writing is very much like music: it’s all about the rhythm, the dynamics, the feeling - it’s all about flow. I spent my whole life as a musician. I guess that translates.” Russo keeps up both interests, boasting a successful writing career in which he published 6 nonfiction books, and as professional musician/producer.

As a young man he was active politically, opposing the Vietnam War and working for Robert Kennedy in the 1968 Presidential Campaign. His interest in the Kennedy assassination began at an early age. Russo describes his memories of the assassination: “I was in the hallway before 8th period, Mr. Hall’s biology class. Just going down the hall and there was a whisper, ‘Did you hear? Kennedy’s been shot.’ELWe went to our homeroom and then the announcement came that he was dead. A room full of boys and half of them were crying.” Thirty years later, Russo was one of two leading reporters on the documentary Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) project aired in 1993 and was an unforgettable experience for Russo. He recalls, “With a huge research budget, we divided into four teams. All of us were given great latitude. I was allowed to follow up on every lead (conspiratorial and otherwise) I had always wanted to test. We went everywhere Oswald went, from Minsk, Russia to Atsugi, Japan. I crisscrossed the US for eighteen months.” That same year, Dan Rather selected Russo to appear on his TV special Who Shot JFK? Russo also found work with ABC News and Peter Jennings for the piece, “Dangerous World, The Kennedy Years.”

In 1998, Russo published Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, Brothers In Arms: The Kennedys, Castros, and the Politics of Murder was released and awarded the 2008 History Prize by the New York Book Festival. In 2011, Russo looked introspectively and published his autobiography, Boomer Days.

As the 50th anniversary of the assassination approached, Russo’s friend and 60 Minutes Producer, Harry Moses, reached out to him. They partnered with Tom Brokaw and NBC and devised an idea for a documentary. Where Were You? features the stories of everyday Americans and their recollections of November 22, 1963. With only four weeks to prepare, Russo explained, “It’s really tough to do something like this in a very short period of time. With any of these [documentary] shows, you film people for an hour and you use about eight seconds. It’s frustrating having an hour of great material whittled down to a few seconds, especially something as emotional as this.” To do the project justice, a companion guide to feature the full interviews would be published. The program aired on NBC on November 22, 2013.

The Collection

The Gus Russo papers range from 1932-2006, with dates representing both primary and secondary source documents which make up Russo’s research. Materials are related to his 1998 publication of Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK. These are organized topically or by name, and include newspaper clippings, government documents, publications, and other research material related to the Kennedy assassination. Additionally, most of the folders in Boxes 33-35 are testimonials before the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations.

The collection consists of 43 document boxes measuring 17.94 linear ft.