Written By: Ben Cosgrove

America’s first televised presidential debates—four TV showdowns between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1960—immediately showed how they could change the course of politics.

The details of the debates have been recounted innumerable times in the subsequent decades. The stories, meanwhile, of how Nixon showed up to the very first debate looking pale and glistening with sweat beneath the glare of the studio lights, while JFK looked (literally) tanned and rested, haven’t lost any of their power simply because they’re true.

The photos here back up those stories: Nixon did look like death warmed over; Kennedy did look like a movie star. And while pundits and armchair historians like to assert that Kennedy’s media savvy won him the election while Nixon won the debates, no data exists anywhere that positively proves either point.

The fact is, both men were formidable candidates. Each had a strong grasp of the major issues facing the country—the Space Race with the Soviets; America’s role in an increasingly complex global economy; the Civil Right Movement—and each man had very little trouble articulating his and his party’s position on them. But it’s remarkable now, however, to recall that Nixon was just four years older than Kennedy. By the look of the two men in these photographs by Paul Schutzer, they might as well have been from different generations.

Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon (right) speaks during a televised debate while opponent John F. Kennedy watches, 1960.

Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon (right) spoke during a televised debate while opponent John F. Kennedy watches, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

The Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo made prior to the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, 1960.

The candidates chatted prior to the first of their four televised debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

(Left to right) Presidential candidates Sen. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon stand at lecterns as moderator Howard K. Smith presides at first debate, 1960.

John Kennedy and Richard Nixon stood at lecterns as moderator Howard K. Smith presided at their first debate, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

John F. Kennedy during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John F. Kennedy during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jackie Kennedy watches from the wings as her husband debates Richard Nixon, 1960.

Jackie Kennedy watched from the wings as her husband debated Richard Nixon, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of Richard Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of JFK's hand made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John F. Kennedy gripped his lectern during the debate, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

John F. Kennedy gestures during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John F. Kennedy gestured during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Richard Nixon's hands during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon’s hands during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Two images made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Two images made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A shot of a TV screen during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

The candidates here are seen as they appeared on television, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of JFK made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John F. Kennedy during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of Richard Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

The Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

The Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of JFK made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John F. Kennedy during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of Richard Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of JFK and Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

John Kennedy and Richard Nixon after the second Kennedy-Nixon debate, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of JFK and Nixon made after the second Kennedy-Nixon debate, 1960.

John Kennedy and Richard Nixon after the second Kennedy-Nixon debate, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of Richard Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon at the time of the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Photo of Richard Nixon made during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Richard Nixon during one of the Kennedy-Nixon debates, 1960.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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