Jacqueline Kennedy

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Jacqueline Kennedy Pencil Portrait
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Long before Diana, Princess of Wales, there was Jacqueline kennedy. In contrast to other prominent women in Washington, DC, in the early 1960s, she was young (barely in her 30s), chic and, with her Irish and French ancestry, indefinably and refreshingly “exotic.”

Dressed in her custom designed Oleg Cassini outfits, throwing formal White House dinner parties for artists, writers, scientists and diplomats, traveling the world, utilising her command of French and Spanish, she was the face not only of a new era but of an utterly new type of American woman; at once warm and elegant, youthful and sophisticated, fun-loving and serious and most refreshingly of all, self-deprecatingly funny.

She was greatly admired by millions and recognised as the greatest of political allies by no less a luminary than her first husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America. By June 1968 however, and with her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy cut down in his prime in the same manner as her husband four and a half years earlier, she sought refuge in marriage to Aristotle Onassis, a wealthy Greek shipping magnate, who was able to provide the privacy and security she needed for herself and her children. The American public’s love affair with her was over.

She seemed very conscious, at an early stage of her husband’s presidency, of establishing an enduring legacy for his time in the Oval Office. In early 2012, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library released some of her personal papers, including notes she made for a famous TV tour of the White House that had aired 50 years ago. The newly released papers included Jackie Kennedy’s own personal hand writings that show how the first lady was intimately involved in the elaborate restoration process, from sketches of the draperies to scripting the entire television tour. The Valentine’s Day 1962 broadcast, showed the first giving CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood, and America, a first ever televised tour of the White House. Viewed by 80 milllion people at the height of television’s golden age, Mrs. Kennedy was seen at ease while showcasing a $2 million renovation that she had launched to restore the home with an eye to returning it to its historic roots. The scripted broadcast helped drive the perception that the Kennedy White House was different from its predecessors, one of grace and elegance, and it was the public’s most extended view of their new first lady.

Presidential historian Barbara Perry said, “(The TV broadcast) introduced Jacqueline Kennedy to the American people in a way they hadn’t seen her. She wanted to show people the entire process that she had worked through in the entire year that she had been first lady.”

The release of the library papers showed that fifty years after the broadcast, her own changes to the original script indicate that the notion of “Camelot” was hers from the very start. “Camelot was not simply a myth, but rather it was an image that the Kennedys began before the president death, and before Mrs. Kennedy ever applied that label,” Perry said.

Known for her meticulous attention to detail, Mrs. Kennedy made sure individual donors were publicly acknowledged in the broadcast’s script. She also made sure to recognize the contributions of past administrations. The White House tour marked a turning point in television history. It was seen as the first prime-time documentary explicitly marketed toward a female audience, and helped make Mrs. Kennedy an instant celebrity both in the U.S. and around the world. Unfortunately, viewed with hindsight, it’s a rather understated affair in which Mrs Kennedy singularly fails to imbue her dialogue with suitable vocal inflections. It’s all rather slow and deliberate with ‘girly’ overtones. In addition, her dress sense, for once, lets her down and she appears to be hiding a hat underneath her hair. I recall my mother telling me years later that she had been disappointed with the programme and it’s hard not to concur. Matters are hardly helped by the quality (or should I say ‘lack of’) in the copy available on YouTube and after a quarter of an hour I found myself fast forwading to JFK’s appearance in the last ten minutes. Jackie’s performance in this programme was superbly lampooned in the “First Family” album issued that same year in which impressionist Vaughn Meader rose from virtual obscurity to became a national celebrity with his uncanny impression of JFK. Sadly, his career was assassinated the moment the bullets rang out in Dallas and the following link recounts his meteoric rise and fall in showbusiness.


The nation went into mourning, sales of his records plummeted as stores removed them en masse from their shelves as the nation went into mourning and his act was no longer in demand. Even appearances that were already booked, including those for the Grammy Awards show, ‘The Joey Bishop show, and ‘To Tell the Truth’ were canceled.

According to several sources, avant-garde comedian Lenny Bruce appeared at a New York nightclub only days after Kennedy’s assassination. As if testing his audience’s readiness to find something funny so soon after tragedy, Bruce was silent for several moments before announcing, “Vaughn Meader is screwed!” Certainly, Meader discovered that he was so completely typecast as a Kennedy impersonator that he could not find anyone willing to hire him for any of his other talents. He recorded comedy albums for Verve Records, including sketches on almost anything except the Kennedys, but sales were virtually nonexistent.

I actually had tape recordings of both albums for years courtesy of my cousin, who unbelievably managed to obtain vinyl copies in the 70’s. Several years ago, (I cannot remember precisely when as I must spend on average between £2.50 and £5.00 per week on my addictions), I managed to obtain a CD copy of Meader’s first LP. For the princely sum of 99p I was once again able to enjoy political satire in its earliest incarnation. JFK himself loved the recordings as the following link explains:


An understanding of the true dynamics within the Kennedy marriage has perplexed biographers for decades. ‘Financially seduced’ by her father in law within a year of her nuptials in order to maintain the public facade of a blissfully contented couple, she endured her husband’s cortisone fueled womanising and forged a separate identity for herself as a fashion icon, mother, First Lady, interior designer and multi linguist. It is, of course, possible to view both Jack and Jackie in a distinctly unflattering light, as a couple of pampered children born onto rich men, whose highest calling was toward their own best interests and constant diversion. She was a shopaholic who loved to party and ride horses and vacation in the most happening ports of call, to settle her boyish, perfectly dressed frame into well-upholstered chairs with her pack of Salems and her glass of champagne and to exercise her savage gifts for mimicry and comic malice. She was attracted to her husband’s singular masculinity, and his very callousness and recklessness with women barely blighted his appeal. We can surmise that Jackie, like millions of women, was attracted to the kind of man whose every inclination ran counter to her best interests. It is a widely accepted fact that a significant number of women are desperately, often tragically, attracted to that very trait.

Nevertheless, she was a singularly focused woman and acutely aware of her position in her husband’s political life. He greatly admired her and she knew it. Facing professional ruination if he had ever divorced her, she could be outwardly dismissive of his female dalliances whatever her inner pain.

According to biographer Darwin Porter’s book ‘Marilyn: Rainbow’s End,’ the actress had an emotional showdown with America’s former First Lady Jackie Kennedy a month before her death in 1962 over her reported romance with the President.

The tragic actress had threatened to go public over her affairs with John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby (who was America’s Attorney General at the time), if her lover didn’t divorce his wife and marry her, and Jackie reportedly stepped in to make a personal plea to Monroe during a tense meeting at New York’s Carlyle Hotel.

The author writes, “Jackie begged Marilyn not to publicly humiliate her children in front of the world. She also pleaded with Marilyn not to make John, Jr. and Caroline the victims of a divorce.”

Porter goes on to claim that Monroe was touched by her heart-to-heart with Jackie and agreed to keep her romances with the President and his brother a secret, but the biographer alleges the actress had one more big surprise for Kennedy on the day before her death in August, 1962, namely that she called to tell the President she had aborted his baby.

These revalations appear unlikely. Taking into account, her litany of failed pregnancies, it is inconceivable the actress would have aborted, whoever the father. She reportedly craved motherhood and irrespective of the father involved, her financial independence would have enabled her to forward plan. Having JFK’s child would have secured additional emotional leverage, for the Kennedy men had a strong family ethos, whatever their pecadillos. In all probability, this allegation is little more than salicious biographical fodder to increase sales. As for the suggestion of a summit meeting between the two women, this is plainly absurd. As First Lady, it is most unlikely she would have been so concerned over her children’s reaction to such scandal. Firstly, they were five and and two years of age respectively, hardly old enough to comprehend the reverberations involved. Secondly, her husband had a long held fascination for Hollywood, a family trait that harked back to the 30’s when Joseph Kennedy senior, had an affair with the actress Gloria Swanson. JFK had been involved with Gene Tierney before his marriage to Jackie and subsequently with Angie Dickinson, amongst many starlets. Marilyn was simply another in a long line of star fodder, if undoubtedly the most famous of them all. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Jackie would almost certainly have belonged to that elite group of wives who feel absolutely no compunction to challenge their love rival head on, since such encounters invariably cede the emotional upper hand to the mistress. In any event, they are only concerned with their husband’s state of mind, the other woman’s motivation comparatively easy to reason. Of course, as two of the most famous women of their time, they were well aware of each other and the President showed no sign of switching allegiance. No, I feel we can safely dismiss this assertion as pure fantasy.

If we are therefore to presume that Jackie was not a slave to the ostentatious life she had carved out for herself, and her detractors would argue otherwise, then we must consider the positives she clearly felt could be derived from the marriage. Talking to Arthur Schlesinger in 1964, a few months after the assasination, Jackie described a man whose deep affection for his children was central among the many pleasures of his life. He liked having them underfoot, and he complained bitterly when she delayed moving them to the White House until their rooms were painted. He was forever opening the door of the Oval Office to them, or catching sight of them playing outside and sneaking them candy. In the morning, as his wife dreamed on in her own bedroom, he would eat breakfast from a tray in his, while the children sat near him, blasting cartoons or Jack LaLanne on the television.He was hugely proud of them, showing them off to people in the midst of important meetings, and he was also fond of them, waking them early from naps to play, making dignitaries at state dinners wait for their first glimpse of the president because he always wanted to have time with John and Caroline at the end of the day.

Mindful of the fact that Schlesinger could not possibly corroborate jackie’s recollections, the tapes nevertheless persuasively recall a relationship that was not a cold or mercenary arrangement. With a retinue of domestic staff and the sanctuary of her own bedroom, their time together was unsullied by domestic drudgery and enriched by their shared love of reading and gossip, made meaningful by the joy of raising two children and the sorrow of losing two others. Their homeliest routines were those of rich people from an earlier era, and so seem novelistic and appealing in descriptions. He loved to give her gifts of the antiquities and watercolors she adored and whatever the uncertainty surrounding his final selection, his wealth ensured he was never likely to make an inexplicably bad choice; a form of immunity millions of men would love on special occasions. She would equally, remain attentive to his interests. On the weekends, he would read the New York Times book section and mark the titles he was interested in, and the following week, she would place his order at the Savile Book Shop.

Jackie makes a point of describing to Arthur Schlesinger the “naps” she and Jack would take together, on those afternoons when they were both in residence at the White House. They would sometimes eat lunch from trays in bed, and then she would open the window for a breeze and close the curtains. As if to underscore her message, she lets him know that Jack always undressed for these naps, and the point is clear – whatever the level of indiscretions in the marriage, the couple remained intimate despite the inordinate risks she was taking with her health.

Nevertheless, and despite her public persona, a significant number of Americans were genuinely and lastingly shocked when Jackie, the sacred widow, married a ‘vulgar Greek’ like Aristotle Onassis. Nevertheless, the singer Andy Williams, a guest on his yacht after the marriage to Jackie, recalled the shipping magnate as a charming host if often distracted by worldwide telephone calls to business associates. For many Americans, Jackie divides into two: the Camelot wife in the exquisite ballgowns, and the vast-sunglassed plutocrat in white slacks and silk shirts. When I was in my early teens it appeared as if the woman had no desire to ever show her eyes again to the world. There were rumours of the most bizarre pre-nuptial arrangements including an outlandish spending allowance and a restricted monthly quota on sexual relations – I recall a figure of three times being bandied about in the tabloid press. If true, I sincerely hope the man simply used the prestige of his marital acquisition to boost his worldwide business interests and completely avoided her bedroom at all times. I doubt it though as many sources suggest he was accustomed to paying for sex. For a woman who, in 1961, famously spent nearly $50,000 of her husband’s presidential salary on her wardrobe, she was always going to require an extremely wealthy man to fund her extravagant lifestyle.


She was ultimately a woman and whilst she could be used, she was equally manipulative. She could be shallow, used and then discarded people, massaged the media, and ruthlessly controlled and protected JFK’s image as if it were her personal copyright.

At both the White House and Onassis’ island home she would undertake massive redecorating as if to control at least some part of her world, for after all she had lived through the horror of Dallas, an experience most of us cannot begin to comprehend. When I was young, I believed she was leaning back on the motorcade to assist the secret service man after the fatal head shot rung out. Years later when the realisation hit me that she was merely attempting to flee the scene – she was overheard by others in the stretch limousine to say “My God they are going to kill us all” – I was embarrassed to wonder how I could ever have interpreted the photograph differently.

With the horror of JFK’s brain splattered all over her outfit, and the recurring nightmares she must have had over that split second in time, we can excuse her refusal to look beneath the surface of life because it was too painful to contemplate. She was on the surface of life, trying to remain there.

Recommended reading

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (Caroline Kennedy & Michael Beschloss) 2011

In 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy recorded seven historic interviews about her life with John F. Kennedy. Now, for the first time, they can be heard and read in this deluxe, illustrated book and 8-CD set.

Shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, with a nation deep in mourning and the world looking on in stunned disbelief, Jacqueline Kennedy found the strength to set aside her own personal grief for the sake of posterity and begin the task of documenting and preserving her husband’s legacy. In January of 1964, she and Robert F. Kennedy approved a planned oral-history project that would capture their first-hand accounts of the late President as well as the recollections of those closest to him throughout his extraordinary political career. For the rest of her life, the famously private Jacqueline Kennedy steadfastly refused to discuss her memories of those years, but beginning that March, she fulfilled her obligation to future generations of Americans by sitting down with historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and recording an astonishingly detailed and unvarnished account of her experiences and impressions as the wife and confidante of John F. Kennedy. The tapes of those sessions were then sealed and later deposited in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum upon its completion, in accordance with Mrs. Kennedy’s wishes.

The resulting eight and a half hours of material comprises a unique and compelling record of a tumultuous era, providing fresh insights on the many significant people and events that shaped JFK’s presidency but also shedding new light on the man behind the momentous decisions. Here are JFK’s unscripted opinions on a host of revealing subjects, including his thoughts and feelings about his brothers Robert and Ted, and his take on world leaders past and present, giving us perhaps the most informed, genuine, and immediate portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy we shall ever have. Mrs. Kennedy’s urbane perspective, her candor, and her flashes of wit also give us our clearest glimpse into the active mind of a remarkable First Lady.

In conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s Inauguration, Caroline Kennedy and the Kennedy family released these beautifully restored recordings on CDs with accompanying transcripts. Introduced and annotated by renowned presidential historian Michael Beschloss, these interviews add an exciting new dimension to our understanding and appreciation of President Kennedy and his time and make the past come alive through the words and voice of an eloquent eyewitness to history.

Mrs Kennedy and me (Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin) 2012

An insightful memoir into the parallel lives enjoyed by the Kennedys during the White House years. Short on scandalous revalations, Hill’s charming account of his years protecting America’s First Lady is the story of a relationship between two strikingly different people in close contact evolved into genuine intimacy. Defining the dynamics of this liason is a less than obvious process. The Secret Service agent was clearly infatuated with her yet he addressed her as Mrs Kennedy and she called him Mr Hill.

Now, looking back fifty years, Clint Hill tells his story for the first time, offering a tender, enthralling, and tragic portrayal of how a Secret Service agent who started life in a North Dakota orphanage became the most trusted man in the life of the First Lady who captivated first the nation and then the world.

On that tragic day in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Hill was in the Secret Service follow-up car, Halfback, directly behind the Presidential limousine. When the first shot was fired, he leapt from Halfback and ran as fast as he could to catch up with the limousine carrying President Kennedy, the First Lady, Texas Governor John Connally, and the Governor’s wife. Before Hill could reach the Presidential limousine, however, the fatal shot struck President Kennedy in the head. For those wondering why it took nearly 50 years for Clint Hill to tell his story, perhaps the haunting details of those seconds as he tried to catch up to the Presidential limousine will help you understand. On page 290, he writes:

“The impact was like the sound of something hard hitting something hollow — like the sound of a melon shattering onto cement. In the same instant, blood, brain matter, and bone fragments exploded from the back of the President’s head. The President’s blood, parts of his skull, bits of his brain were splattered all over me — on my face, my clothes, in my hair.”

Hill shoved The First Lady into the backseat, covering both her and the President with his body. Observing JFK’s eyes in a fixed stare, he saw the amount of blood and devastation in the car, and witnessed the inside of the back of the President’s head because of the gaping wound in his skull. He recalls Mrs Kennedy screaming, “My God! They have shot his head off! Hill knew instinctively that the president was dead.

His description of the ensuing events is gut wrenching, even down to the minutiae of unforseen problems; the in-house fighting with the Texan Authorities over the autopsy and the breaking of the casket’s handles in order to place it aboard Air Force One.