E. Duke Vincent tells good stories, be it in the pages of his stand-alone historical thrillers, or tales from his own amazing career. The author started his professional life as a Naval aviator, flying a two-year tour with the legendary Blue Angels. He then transitioned into television with the series Man in Space, and in 1977, joined Aaron Spelling as executive producer of Spelling Television, working on projects ranging from Charlie’s Angels to And The Band Played On.
Over his 40-year career, Vincent has produced more than 2,300 hours of television and penned four novels. In his latest, The Camelot Conspiracy, Vincent researches the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Read more books about famous conspiracies and assassinations.
So, where do we start with The Camelot Conspiracy?
The book is about the fact that the CIA asked the Mob to assassinate Castro. They obviously failed, but these same men then went after John F. Kennedy, and they succeeded.
There have been thousands of books written about the Kennedy assassination. What made you feel you had a new story to tell?
When John F. Kennedy was running for president, I was a naval aviator flying with the Blue Angels. The new president was not only young and handsome and charismatic, but he was also a former Naval officer and a war hero. We were all very proud of him, and we thought of him as one of us. So when he was assassinated, it was a big shock. These conspiracy theories about his assassination just became more and more fascinating to me over time. For my fourth novel, I used what I learned—and what I suspect is probably very close to the truth.
Talk to me about characters. What sort of guy is Dante Amato?
My other three books have Mob backgrounds, and my father was connected, so I go back a ways with this subject. There were, at the time, a couple of people in the Mob who found out they were going after Kennedy, mainly because of Bobby gunning for them. So I created a character based upon that kernel of knowledge. He’s basically a hit man and the right arm for Johnny Roselli, a real-life gangster.
Did you ever run across any of these guys in real life?
I knew Johnny Roselli, and I met John F. Kennedy once. In 1950, I met Sammy Davis at a club up in Harlem. Over the years, I saw his shows from time to time. When I was flying with the Blue Angels, I dropped in at the Sands to see Sammy. That’s when I met Dean, Frank, Joey and the bunch.
In 1962, I was in New York, and I was invited to this party. Kennedy came into the Carlyle for a reception. All the guys were there, plus about 20 of the most gorgeous starlets I had ever seen in my life. The president walked in, charismatic, beaming. He was a superstar, and the world just stopped when he walked in the room. I’ll never forget it. I understood then and I understand now how he enthralled almost everyone he touched.
What appeals to you about writing thrillers?
The easiest thing to do is to write what you know. My first book, Mafia Summer, is semi-autobiographical. The second novel comes from my experience flying with the Navy, and the third one came from doing the television series Vega$ with Bob Urich.
The Camelot Conspiracy grew out of reading G. Robert Blakey’s The Plot to Kill the President. Blakey believed that Carlos Marchello along with Giancana and Trafficante were complicit in planning the assassination. At least two of these men confessed on their deathbeds that they were involved. I took it to the point where I believe I know who was firing from the Grassy Knoll, and it’s in the book.
There’s a real trick to moving thrillers along. Stylistically, where do you draw inspiration for the writing of this novel?
I think the most important thing in a thrill is taking the story and moving it fast. My characters suffer a little bit because of it. I tend to write short chapters, and I want to move things along as rapidly as possible. Some of that is because I came out of television. In TV, you have 48 minutes to do a beginning, middle and end, split into four acts. You better move it if you want to have a hit.
That said, writing a novel is completely different from producing a television series. With TV, you have casting, actors, screenplays, lighting, cameras, soundtracks, locations, wardrobe, setting and mood. A writer has to do it all with words.
What will surprise readers most in The Camelot Conspiracy?
I don’t think most people know that there were actually three attempts on Kennedy’s life. The first was in Chicago and the second in Tampa. I think Kennedy wanted to appear strong, but I also think he trusted that he would be protected. And they hit him.
There’s a great quote that I put in my book. Mohandas Ghandi said, “A small body of determined spirits fired by unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” That’s what you had with the Mob.
Any plans for a sequel?
I think there’s an interesting historical novel in what comes immediately after these events. All the doctors that examined Kennedy’s corpse at Parkland confirmed a wound that came from the front. Then all the autopsy photographs disappeared. Then a magic bullet is discovered. When the plane carrying the president’s body lands at Edwards, two hearses appear. What the hell was that about? It’s a good story. Who did what to whom, and why?