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Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House

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In GRACE & POWER: THE PRIVATE WORLD OF THE KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith takes us inside the Kennedy White House with unparalleled access and insight. Having interviewed scores of Kennedy intimates, including many who have never spoken before, and drawing on letters and personal papers made available for the first time, Smith paints a richly detailed picture of the personal relationships behind the high purpose and poiltical drama ...
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Overview

In GRACE & POWER: THE PRIVATE WORLD OF THE KENNEDY WHITE HOUSE, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith takes us inside the Kennedy White House with unparalleled access and insight. Having interviewed scores of Kennedy intimates, including many who have never spoken before, and drawing on letters and personal papers made available for the first time, Smith paints a richly detailed picture of the personal relationships behind the high purpose and poiltical drama of the twentieth century's most storied presidency.
At the dawn of the 1960s, a forty-three-year-old president and his thirty-one-year-old first lady – the youngest couple ever to occupy the White House – captivated the world with their easy elegance and their cool conviction that anything was possible. Jack and Jackie Kennedy gathered around them an intensely loyal and brillant coterie of intellectuals, journalists, diplomats, international jet-setters and artists. Perhaps as never before, Washington was sharply divided between the “ins” and the “outs.”
In his public life, JFK created a New Frontier, stared down the Soviets, and devoted himself to his wife and children. As first lady, Jackie mesmerized foreign leaders and the American people with her style and sophistication, creating a White House renowned for its beauty and culture. Smith brilliantly recreates the glamorous pageant of the Kennedy years, as well as the daily texture of the Kennedys’ marriage, friendships, political associations, and, in Jack’s case, multiple love affairs.
Smith’s striking revelations include new information about what drew Jack to his numerous mistresses – and what effects the relationships ultimately had on the women; about the rivalries and resentments among Kennedy’s advisers; and about the poignant days before and after Kennedy’s assassination.
Smith has fashioned a vivid and nuanced portrait not only of two extraordinary individuals but of a new age that sprang to life around them. Shimmering with intelligence and detail, GRACE AND POWER is history at its finest.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Of the making of Kennedy books, there is apparently no end. But according to Robert Kennedy biographer Evan Thomas, Sally Bedell Smith's Grace and Power is truly unique: "After all the hundreds of books written about JFK and Jackie, this is the one that really tells the truth, that gets behind the layers of gossip and conspiracy and innuendo to tell the reader what life was actually like in the White House of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. And what a life it was!" Smith, the author of the well-sourced Diana in Search of Herself, has outdone herself in uncovering the rivalries and pillow talk of the Kennedy crowd.
From the Publisher
“After all the hundreds of books written about JFK and Jackie, this is the one that really tells the truth, that gets behind the layers of gossip and conspiracy and innuendo to tell the reader what life was actually like in the White House of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Sally Bedell Smith is a phenomenal reporter with a sure command of her subject and a keen eye for telling detail and personal nuance. This is it: the last – and true – word on the Kennedy White House.”
-EVAN THOMAS, author of Robert Kennedy: His Life
GRACE AND POWER has the readability and texture of an absorbing novel of manners, but it is also a social history of an event-making president and first lady and their entourage at the center of a fateful time. Sally Bedell Smith has done an impressive job of revealing geological layers of the Kennedy world that, despite hundreds of previous books, have remained unseen until now.”
-- MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, author of The Conquerors
“Sally Bedell Smith has produced a mesmerizing account of the Kennedy years that is filled with rich reporting, sophisticated insights, and riveting tales all put into historical perspective. Both Jack and Jackie come into vivid focus. We see the complex relations they had with their court of friends and advisers, and we feel the poignancy of such moments as the death of their son Patrick.
It’s a fascinating book written with grace and intelligence.”
-WALTER ISAACSON, author of Benjamin Franklin: an American Life
“The Kennedys and their crowd always seemed just out of earshot. In GRACE AND POWER,
we at last hear what they were saying.”
-JOSEPH J. ELLIS, author of Founding Brothers
“Sally Bedell Smith has not just come up with new information and fresh insights – she has made the story itself seem new and fresh and more compelling than ever. For those of us who remember the Kennedys, this book helps us better understand an episode that shaped our lives. For younger readers, GRACE AND POWER brilliantly captures a moment in history that shaped their world.”
-- STROBE TALBOTT, author of The Russia Hand

From the Hardcover edition.

William E. Leuchtenburg
The book is impressively well researched and smartly written. It is rich in character sketches, anecdotes and accounts of events.
The Washington Post
Deirdre Donahue
Is it humanly possible to write something fresh and original about the Kennedy White House? Experienced biographer Sally Bedell Smith in Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House certainly presents a nuanced and balanced portrait of the Kennedy couple, drawing on interviews with their intimates.
USA Today
The New York Times
What Ms. Smith has done is to write the first substantial narrative that captures what daily life was really like in the inner sanctum of the White House during the Kennedy years, with Jack and Jackie appropriately cast as the lead actors in the intriguing drama. It is not a high-minded policy book. Those interested in gleaning new information about the Cuban missile crisis or the Peace Corps or the Berlin Wall will be disappointed. Power is a forgotten ingredient in Ms. Smith's kiss-and-tell stew. But she does bring into focus a marriage that still has the world talking.—Douglas Brinkley
Publishers Weekly
Smith, a Vanity Fair contributing editor (and biographer of Princess Diana and Pamela Harriman, among others), does a workmanlike job of narrating familiar scenes from the Kennedy White House, aka Camelot. Although publicity for this volume is at pains to emphasize that Smith has interviewed "scores of Kennedy intimates, including many who have never spoken before," the few new witnesses unearthed by Smith attended the same parties, concerts and picnics as all the other sources we've heard from in previous years. So once again Smith waltzes through portraits of the Kennedys entertaining, with greatly varying degrees of success, the likes of Gore Vidal, Ben Bradlee, William Walton and JFK's frequent "squeeze" Mary Meyer. Not a few of the people who loom large in Smith's volume (Bradlee, Theodore White, Paul "Red" Fay, Vidal, Lee Radziwill, Walton, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Dave Powers and Ken O'Donnell among them) have previously-as Smith's profuse footnotes attest-written their own accounts of the Camelot scenes in which they play. Endeavoring to interweave her somewhat redundant yet eloquently rendered social history with the political history of the Kennedy administration, Smith tends on occasion to oversimplify and understate major strategic discussions and initiatives, these being sketched much better in such books as Richard Reeves's President Kennedy. For those who seek yet another highly readable account of the White House milieu shaped by John and Jackie Kennedy-the place we've all gotten to know so well through the years-Smith's book does the job. 48 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Amanda Urban. (On sale May 4) Forecast: With a 10-city tour and author appearances on the Today show and The Early Show, and an excerpt in the May issue of Vanity Fair, the 100,000 first printing should sell briskly. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
All that was not politics in Camelot. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345480828
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/10/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 262,152
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

SALLY BEDELL SMITH is the author of bestselling biographies of William S. Paley, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Princess Diana. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 1996, she previously worked at Time and The New York Times, where she was a cultural news reporter. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Stephen. They have three grown children.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

preface

They certainly have acquired something we have lost–a casual sort of grandeur about their evenings, always at the end of the day’s business, the promise of parties, and pretty women, and music and beautiful clothes, and champagne, and all that. I must say there is something very 18th century about your new young man, an aristocratic touch. –british prime minister harold macmillan on john and jacqueline kennedy and their white house circle

On November 29, 1963–a week after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas–his widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, summoned presidential chronicler Theodore H. White to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. She wanted White to write an essay about her husband for Life, the magazine that had celebrated the Kennedys in words and photographs for more than a decade.

Jackie Kennedy spoke for four hours, until just past midnight, with “composure,” a “calm voice,” and “total recall.” It was a rambling monologue about the assassination, her late husband’s love of history dating from his sickly childhood, and her views on how he should be remembered. She didn’t want him immortalized by “bitter” men such as New York Times columnist Arthur Krock and Merriman Smith, the AP White House correspondent. Well versed in the classics, she said she felt “ashamed” that she was unable to come up with a lofty historical metaphor for the Kennedy presidency.

Instead, she told White, her “obsession” was a song from the popular Broadway show Camelot, by Alan Jay Lerner (a JFK friend from boarding school and college) and Frederick Loewe, which opened only weeks after Kennedy was elected. The sentimental musical popularized the legend of the British medieval King Arthur, his wife Queen Guinevere, and the heroic knights of the Round Table. Jackie recounted to White that at night before going to sleep, Jack Kennedy listened to Camelot on his “old Victrola.” “I’d get out of bed at night and play it for him when it was so cold getting out of bed,” she said. His favorite lines were at the end of the record: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

White spent only forty-five minutes writing “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” a thousand-word reminiscence for Life’s December 6 issue. With close editing by Jackie Kennedy (among her numerous alterations, she changed “this was the idea that she wanted to share” to “this was the idea that transfixed her”), the piece set forth the Camelot metaphor that has defined the Kennedy presidency for four decades. At an exhibit of Jackie Kennedy’s designer clothing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington in 2001 and 2002, the Lerner and Loewe tune played over and over, a soothing loop of background music.

As a child, Jack Kennedy would “devour [stories of] the knights of the Round Table,” according to Jackie. After the Wisconsin primary during the 1960 election campaign, he read The King Must Die, by Mary Renault, about the martyrdom of such folk heroes as Arthur in Britain and Roland in France. Given Kennedy’s middlebrow fondness for show tunes, it was only natural that in May 1962 Jackie invited Frederick Loewe to a small dinner at the White House. At the President’s request, the composer played the score of Camelot on the piano.

Still, many of Kennedy’s friends, especially the intellectuals, have tried to dismiss or downplay the Camelot image as inapt and mawkish, suggesting that it would have made the cool and brainy JFK wince. Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith said Jackie regretted the Camelot association as “overdone.” Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called it “myth turned into a cliché. It had no application during President Kennedy’s life. He would have been derisive about it.” Jackie’s conversation with Teddy White, he said, was “her most mischievous interview. The image was mischievous and legendary . . . Camelot itself was not noted for marital constancy, and it ended in blood and death.”

For those very reasons, Jackie Kennedy might well have wished to retract her words. Although the Arthurian legend evoked battlefield bravery (King Arthur and his knights fighting to regain his kingdom) and idealism (the quest for the Holy Grail of perfection by the knights), it also, as Schlesinger pointed out, featured treachery (Arthur’s nephew Mordred seizing his kingdom and taking the queen captive) and adultery (the love affair of Guinevere and Arthur’s valiant knight Sir Lancelot).

But Jackie Kennedy never backed away from Camelot. What she wanted to convey was the “magic” of her husband’s presidency–an interlude marked by grand intentions, soaring rhetoric, and high style. At the end of January 1964, in a letter to former British prime minister Harold Macmillan, she conceded that Camelot was “overly sentimental,” but maintained it was “right” because those 1,036 days had been a “brief shining moment” that would not be repeated.

Two years after the assassination, in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, the book that set the template for the Kennedy years, Schlesinger himself described the period’s “life-affirming, life-enhancing zest, the brilliance, the wit, the cool commitment, the steady purpose.” It was a view that remained undimmed for him, and for many others, despite forty years of tawdry revelations about JFK’s reckless womanizing and his administration’s decision to enlist the mob to assassinate Fidel Castro.

The picture of the Kennedy White House has been blurred by this competition between the Camelot mythology and the powerful impulse to tear it down. Thousands of books, articles, and television documentaries have created a fun-house mirror in which reflections of the Kennedys jump-cut from clarity to distortion. Hopes had been so high, the romance so strong, and the tragedy so great that the everyday reality of the Kennedy White House seemed insufficiently dramatic.

Because Jack and Jackie were such magnetic stars, their supporting players–and their complex interactions with the Kennedys–were often overlooked or given short shrift. But with the passage of time, emotions have softened, and members of the Kennedy circle, including many who have never spoken publicly before, discussed their years in the limelight with detachment and a sense of perspective. Fresh insights were also drawn from previously unavailable letters and personal papers. The story that emerges, recounted in this book, is more compelling than the Kennedy mythologies. It is a story of people selected by history–some with extraordinary talents, others blessed with the gift of loyalty–struggling to guide the United States through perilous times even as they wrestled with their own frailties and the temptations of power. From the remove of four decades, the Kennedy White House emerges not as a model of enlightened government nor as a series of dark conspiracies, but rather as a deeply human place.

The Kennedys may have been Democrats, full of compassion for the poor and dispossessed, but the image of Jack and Jackie as king and queen surrounded by their court had occurred to many people familiar with the administration. The British political philosopher and formidable Oxford don Isaiah Berlin–a guest at several private White House dinners–saw the Kennedys as “Bonapartist,” finding parallels in Napoleon’s brothers who, like Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general and Edward M. Kennedy as U.S. senator, held responsible positions in the government. Berlin found further similarities in the aides who served their leader: “devoted, dedicated marshals who liked nothing better than to have their ears tweaked.” Kennedy’s “men with shining eyes,” Berlin observed, had a “great deal of energy and ambition” and were “marching forward in some very exciting and romantical fashion.” David Ormsby Gore, the British ambassador during the Kennedy administration and one of the President’s most intimate friends and advisers, likened the administration to a “Tudor Court.”

Richard Neustadt, then a professor of government at Columbia University, mused that the Kennedy “court life,” a cynosural arrangement last seen in the White House of Theodore Roosevelt, had the equivalent of “apartments at Versailles” and “latch keys for the weekends.” The columnist Stewart Alsop complained after one year of the Kennedy administration, “The place is lousy with courtiers and ladies in waiting–actual or would be.” As with court life in earlier centuries, the Kennedy entourage made a stately progress: from the White House to expensive homes in the Virginia hunt country, to Palm Beach, Hyannis Port, and Newport–all playgrounds for the rich and privileged.
“Jackie wanted to do Versailles in America,” said Oleg Cassini, her official dress designer and self-described “de facto courtier close to the king and queen.” “She said this many times,” Cassini added. “She had realized some very smart women encouraged a court throughout history.” In particular Jackie admired Madame de Maintenon, who presided over a legendary salon before marrying Louis XIV, and Madame de Récamier, the early nineteenth-century hostess famous for the wit and intelligence of her gatherings.

Jackie organized her life in the White House according to what interested her, handing off many of the ritual obligations to others and delegating the paperwork to subordinates. “My life here which I dreaded & which at first overwhelmed me–is now under control and the happiest time I have ever known–not for the position–but for the closeness of one’s family,” Jackie wrote to her friend William Walton in mid-1962. “The last thing I expected to find in the W. House.”

On any given day, President Kennedy would be managing what veteran Democratic adviser Clark Clifford called “the cockiest crowd I’d ever seen in the White House,” a group of West Wing aides that National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy likened to “the Harlem Globetrotters, passing forward, behind, sideways and underneath.” At another moment JFK might be swimming in the White House pool (heated to 90 degrees for his ailing back) with his trusted factotum Dave Powers and a couple of fetching West Wing secretaries, or having a tête-à-tête lunch (grilled cheese, cold beef, consommé) with Jackie, or clapping his hands three times to welcome his three-year-old daughter, Caroline, into the Oval Office.

Jackie, meanwhile, might be at the long table in the Treaty Room on the second floor of the White House, smoking her L&M filtered cigarettes and scribbling memos on foolscap, or composing a letter to French culture minister André Malraux, one of her mentors. Perhaps she would be bouncing on the canvas trampoline on the South Lawn to relieve stress, or curled up with Marcus Cheke’s The Cardinal de Bernis: A Biography, or ducking into the White House school in the third-floor solarium, where the squeals of children competed with the yelps of five dogs and the chirps of two parakeets: part of a menagerie that brought to mind Teddy Roosevelt’s days in the Executive Mansion.

In the evening Jack and Jackie would typically host a dinner for eight–a collection of close friends with an imported New York artist or writer as a “new face”–as Italian songs played softly on the Victrola. The conversation, invariably informal and candid, might touch on the queen of Greece (“nothing but a busy-body . . . seeming to save the world [but] basically, building herself up,” according to Jackie), the origin of the French ambassador’s pin-striped shirt (Pierre Cardin, not Jermyn Street in London), the character of Richard Nixon (“nice fellow in private but . . . he seems to have a split personality and he is very bad in public,” in Jack’s view), or JFK’s concerns about NATO (“Europe wants a free ride in its defense”).

The Kennedys gave memorable private dinner dances as well–a half dozen in less than three years–where waiters carried large trays filled with such exotic mixed drinks as the Cuba Libre, a lethal combination of rum, Coca-Cola, and lime juice. “They served the drinks in enormous tumblers,” recalled writer George Plimpton. “Everybody had too much to drink because they were excited.” State dinners set new standards for culinary excellence (with menus in French for the first time) and cultural entertainments featuring Shakespeare’s sonnets and Jerome Robbins’s ballets. “It was Irish, which made it fun,” wrote television correspondent Nancy Dickerson, “and blended with the spirit of Harvard and the patina of Jackie’s finishing schools, the mixture was intoxicating.”

Highbrow seminars brought in “great guns” to provoke “great thoughts” for a select group of friends and administration officials, in the irreverent view of Arthur Schlesinger’s wife, Marian. “It was rather self-conscious though harmless,” Marian said, “sort of like Voltaire at the court of Frederick the Great.” Guest lecturers included noted historian Elting Morison on Teddy Roosevelt (“Not so,” TR’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth periodically murmured in a stage whisper, a malicious glint in her eye) and philosopher A. J. Ayer on logical positivism (“But St. Thomas said,” Ethel Kennedy twice interjected before her husband barked, “Drop it Ethel, drop it”). The sober atmosphere collapsed entirely during Rachel Carson’s talk on “The Male Screw Worm” when Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon’s giggles caused the gathering to dissolve in laughter.

Such levity masked a more shadowy reality–a hedonism and moral relativism that anticipated the sexual revolution of the following decades. Behind the scenes, Kennedy engaged in private sexual escapades in the White House, Palm Beach, Malibu, Manhattan, and Palm Springs, activities that many in the Kennedy court heard as rumors, others refused to acknowledge, and a select few–primarily trusted White House aides Kenneth O’Donnell and Dave Powers, as well as inner-circle crony Charles “Chuck” Spalding–witnessed and sometimes abetted. Jackie knew what was going on, and confided as much to her sister, Lee Radziwill, several intimate friends, and even administration officials such as Adlai Stevenson. But publicly she stoically chose to ignore her husband’s infidelities, which gave her greater latitude in pursuing her own rarefied life of foxhunting and hobnobbing with jet set friends in Europe.

Some, like her friend Eve Fout in Virginia, saw occasional evidence of Jackie’s sadness and noticed that “she didn’t have the easiest marital situation.” Many assumed that Jackie simply shared the European aristocratic view that it was natural for husbands to stray. “All Kennedy men are like that,” she once told Ted Kennedy’s wife, Joan. “You can’t let it get to you because you shouldn’t take it personally.” Jackie adored her father and her father-in-law, both of whom had been openly unfaithful to their wives. “She had made a bargain with herself,” said her longtime friend Jessie Wood. “She discovered Jack was a real philanderer, but she decided to stick it out. I think she loved him.”

Because of their youth, beauty, and social pedigree, along with their pursuit of fun and intellectual stimulation, Jack and Jackie Kennedy attracted a glamorous coterie of friends and colleagues–what Harold Macmillan characterized as the “smart life” (international socialites and Hollywood stars), “the highbrow life” (pundits and professors), and the “political life” (chosen aides and cabinet officers). Perhaps as never before, Washington was sharply divided between the “ins” and the “outs.” Washington society columnist Betty Beale, who observed from outside the circle, commented that Washingtonians invited to private parties at the Kennedy White House “adopted a comical air of smugness.”

Within the court, “very few really had much in common with each other,” said newspaperman Charles Bartlett, a Kennedy intimate. Some were accomplished athletes, others hopelessly uncoordinated. The socially prominent carried equal weight with those from modest backgrounds; neither Jack nor Jackie could be accused of snobbery.

Only two personal friends of the first Catholic president shared his religion, along with three of his close aides. A remarkable number in the inner circle–five personal friends and three members of the administration–were Republicans, not to mention Jackie Kennedy’s entire family, including her half sister Nina Steers, who wrote anti-Kennedy articles for a Tennessee newspaper during the 1960 campaign.

Several Kennedy insiders were thought to be homosexual, although only one, the columnist Joseph Alsop, ever acknowledged it. Despite the macho image of the Kennedy administration, JFK was comfortable with homosexuals, perhaps, some friends believed, because he understood the tensions of having a secret life.
Most members of the Kennedy court were stars in their fields, lending what Kennedy biographer William Manchester called “an elegant, mandarin tone.” They tended to be “cheerful, amusing, energetic, informed and informal,” observed Kennedy’s chief domestic aide Theodore Sorensen. Nearly everyone in the Kennedy court was attractive–and even those of lesser looks, such as the pockmarked artist William Walton, were clever and debonair.

Brainpower and a talent to amuse were the most highly valued traits. JFK “enjoyed . . . almost anyone from whom he could learn . . . communicating on the level of the Bundy brothers and the Cassini brothers,” wrote Sorensen. Both Jack and Jackie abhorred the mundane. JFK said he “hated the suburbia-type existence” with its endless cocktail parties. Even as a teenager Jackie had confided to her sister a distaste for country club women who could converse only about monograms on guest towels and the progress of their children’s teeth.

JFK expected “real ping pong in the communication,” in the words of White House aide Fred Holborn. Katharine Graham, then the mousy wife of the Washington Post’s glamorous president and publisher, confessed that her “terror” of boring JFK “paralyzed and silenced” her. When Suzanne Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., hosted Jack and Jackie for dinner, she caught the President’s attention by quoting Lincoln. “My God, I said something that interested him,” she recalled thinking at the time.

Kennedy “hated dimness,” said Isaiah Berlin. “Anybody who was dim, no matter how virtuous, how wise, how . . . noble . . . [was] no good to him.” Nor was anyone with less than one hundred percent loyalty. “The Kennedys were pretty tough eggs,” said Marian Schlesinger. “Either you were in or you were out. . . . I think the Kennedys really turned people into courtiers. . . . They manipulated and used people in a rough way.”

Jack and Jackie Kennedy would quite literally command their courtiers to sing and dance. Paul “Red” Fay, who became friendly with JFK during World War II, routinely performed “Hooray for Hollywood,” yelling out the lines as JFK doubled over with laughter. Oleg Cassini would launch into his “Chaplin walk” or the latest dance step from New York nightclubs. “Kennedy knew he was a potentate, and at a dinner for 150 he would point a finger at you and say, ‘Talk,’” said Cassini. “Was I a performing seal? Yes, and it was a slightly naughty thing. He did it to a lot of people. In Palm Beach after a heavy lunch he told everyone to do pushups and everyone did, trying to impress him.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

ONE

"Where's Jackie?" asked Jack Kennedy, looking around his Hyannis Port home the day after his election as President of the United States. A dozen family members were organizing themselves for the formal victory photograph, but his wife had disappeared. Wearing low-heeled shoes and a raincoat with a green knitted cowl collar to ward off the early November chill, Jackie had gone for a solitary walk on the beach. Kennedy headed out across the grassy dunes to retrieve her. When the couple finally arrived in his parents' living room, the family hailed them with a round of applause.

It was a moment that captured the contrasting personalities of the forty-three-year-old President-elect and his thirty-one-year-old wife. On election day, the Kennedy clan had gathered at the compound on the shore of Nantucket Sound, the family's nerve center for thirty-five years. Throughout the day and into the night, as the returns fluctuated between hopeful and nail-biting, Jackie had stayed away from the commotion, keeping track of the results from her cheery white and yellow living room, with its chintz sofas, hooked rugs, Staffordshire lamps, heaps of patterned pillows, and what Lady Bird Johnson called Jackie's "pixie things"--droll watercolors and sketches of family and friends in the style of her artistic mentor Ludwig Bemelmans. (Norman Mailer once patronizingly observed that a "fairly important young executive" in Cleveland might be expected to own such a room.)

Jack, however, had restlessly shuttled among the three Kennedy homes: the cozy three-bedroom cottage he shared with Jackie; the home of campaign manager Bobby across the lawn that was acommunications hub of news tickers and banks of telephones; and his father's seventeen-room white clapboard house with its wide veranda and commanding ocean views.

Besides his immediate family, Kennedy had sought information, reassurance, and amusement from the close aides and friends stationed in various places. The "Irish mafia"--Kenny O'Donnell, Larry O'Brien, and Dave Powers--along with Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's shadow for nearly four years of campaigning, shared the candidate's anxiety as he paced about, his ever-fidgety right hand tapping his teeth, or drumming tabletops. His childhood friend Lem Billings, a guest of Joe and Rose Kennedy, knew how to break the tension. Lem's mock weeping drew a wisecrack from JFK: "He's lost another state. His record is still minus one hundred percent. He's lost every county and every state of which he was supposed to be in charge."

The Washington artist Bill Walton had stayed over at JFK's house to keep Jackie company after a quiet dinner in their red-carpeted dining room. The closest to Jackie among JFK's intimates, Walton diverted her by talking about painting. When the returns looked promising at 10:30 p.m., Jackie turned to her husband, using her pet name for him, "Oh, Bunny, you're President now." "No," he replied. "It's too early yet."

Jackie went to bed before midnight; she was nearly eight months pregnant and dared not risk harming the baby by overextending herself. She had already lost two babies, one in 1954 after their first year of marriage. A daughter arrived stillborn in 1956, the result, Jackie's doctors said, of "the heat and crowds" at the Democratic convention in Chicago. She had borne another daughter, Caroline, in November 1957 after months of self-imposed rest and relaxation. Once again, she was taking no chances.

She had awakened when Jack turned in at 4 a.m., and he told her the outcome remained uncertain, but he was optimistic. As they both slept, Secret Service agents quietly infiltrated and secured the property. Seated on his bed in white pajamas at nine-thirty the next morning, Kennedy learned from Sorensen that he had won. He emerged after breakfast to stroll along the beach, accompanied by a swarm of siblings and friends. An hour later, as family members tossed a football around on the front lawn, it was Jackie's turn to walk, and she typically slipped out of the house alone, unnoticed by her husband.

That afternoon they stood together on the platform at the Hyannis armory--as beautiful a couple as had ever entered the presidency. At six feet and 165 pounds, he looked bronzed and vibrant, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. Like a TV anchorman, he had a big head--his hat size was an "unusually large" 7L. His thick chestnut hair (a source of vanity, pampered by secretaries who routinely administered scalp massages) was carefully combed, his heavy-lidded gray eyes cool and impenetrable. Kennedy's warmth and magnetism came entirely from his gleaming, high-wattage smile.

Jackie, on the other hand, telegraphed every emotion through her extraordinary eyes--large hazel orbs fringed with black lashes--so melting that a Cape Cod reporter once wrote that "it would be unendurable--indeed actually impossible--to write anything uncomplimentary about anyone with such eyes." Her face was square and unusually photogenic, framed by dark brown hair teased high in a style that gave her "the look of a beautiful lion." Her eyes, she once wrote, were set "unfortunately far apart," and she had full dark brows, porcelain skin, a slightly pudgy nose, and a supple mouth above a strong chin. In deference to her pregnancy, she wore a "bouffant purple coat." Ordinarily, at five foot seven, she had the slender figure of a mannequin.

In different ways, Jack and Jackie had been preparing for this moment for years. They had taught each other a great deal, held the same ambitions, and looked forward to recasting their respective roles in the White House. They were both bright, inquisitive, and bookish, with enviably retentive memories. Each had a quick, ironic wit that sprang from high intelligence. Jack's humor was more deadpan. Asked to explain how he became a war hero, he responded, "It was involuntary. They sank my boat." Jackie usually wore a mischievous glint, like "a very naughty eight-year-old," observed Norman Mailer, and drew on a highly developed sense of the ridiculous. When a hard-boiled reporter once asked her to translate the French phrase spelled out in gold letters on her belt, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (Evil to him who evil thinks), she said, "It means, 'Love me, love my dog.'"

The new first couple shared the Catholic faith, and came of age in a similarly wealthy and rarefied world--she in Manhattan, Paris, Easthampton, Newport, and Washington; he in Bronxville, London, Palm Beach, Hyannis, and the French Riviera. Jackie had the additional gloss of high WASP society through her mother's second marriage to Hugh D. Auchincloss II, a stockbroker from a venerable family. Jack and Jackie could each boast extensive travels as well. Jack had spent time in the Middle East and Asia, and had summered in Europe nearly every year since his adolescence. By her twenty-fourth birthday, Jackie had made five European trips. They had comparable academic bona fides as well: Choate and Harvard, Miss Porter's and Vassar. "The coat of arms for this Administration," quipped Jackie, "should be a daisy chain on a field of crimson."

She had broken an engagement to John Husted, a New York stockbroker with a proper social pedigree, after she began seeing Jack Kennedy. "All I ask is someone with a little imagination, but they are hard to find," she had told her sister, Lee, a year before her first evening with JFK. "It is having an open mind that counts." Their Newport wedding in September 1953 was a political and social extravaganza with 1,400 guests. But the marriage had nearly fractured in its first few years, as Jackie endured the political wife's persistent loneliness, aggravated by what Lem Billings described to Doris Kearns Goodwin, the authorized Kennedy family biographer, as the "humiliation she would suffer when she found herself stranded at parties while Jack would suddenly disappear with some pretty young girl."

When their relationship hit bottom in 1956, Jackie sat for a filmed interview in which she revealed her wounds. "You're pretty much in love with him, aren't you?" asked the interviewer in one of the outtakes. Jackie squinted, averted her eyes, laughed, and said, "Oh no." Returning her gaze to the interlocutor, she pondered and added, "I said, 'no,' didn't I?" In a retake she was asked the same question, only to reply, "I suppose so," adding, "I've ruined [the interview], haven't I?"

Jack was initially thrown by such moodiness, which "really drove him out of his mind," said Billings, and by Jackie's undisguised distaste for politics. Now, after seven years of marriage, they had come to understand each other's strengths and frailties with sophisticated objectivity. "She breathes all the political gases that flow around us, but she never seems to inhale them," JFK once said of Jackie. She kept that cheeky detachment, ultimately turning it to his advantage with her shrewd assessments and wry observations. She learned to devote herself to his interests but guarded her own strong character, refusing to be what she called "a vegetable wife...sort of humdrum [and] uninteresting."

Jack Kennedy responded to Jackie's cleverness, along with her passion for history, and her interests in what he called "things of the spirit--art, literature and the like." Comparing her to his sisters--"direct, energetic types"--he came to appreciate that Jackie was "more sensitive. You might even call her fey. She's a more indirect sort." Jackie adored his self-deprecation and his "curious inquiring mind that is always at work. If I were drawing him, I would draw a tiny body and an enormous head." She said she was "fascinated by the way he thinks. He summons every point to further his argument." In his political life, she admired his "imperturbable self-confidence and sureness of his powers."

Those who saw them privately sensed a deep connection when they "exchanged eyes," as Dave Powers described it. "Jackie was the only woman I saw him show affection to," said Vivian Crespi, a longtime friend of both. During the campaign a reporter from Louisiana named Iris Turner Kelso was "mesmerized" when she happened to witness Jack greeting Jackie with "a long kiss." "We loved them in every way that a woman loved a man," Jackie would write to Governor John Connally's wife, Nellie, after JFK was assassinated. "Our husbands loved us and were proud of us." Yet the intimate life of Jack and Jackie Kennedy puzzled even those closest to them. JFK's persistent womanizing was a mystifying trait, given the beauty, brains, and luminous style of his wife. It may have been that her capacity for love was greater than his, that "Jack's love had certain reservations but hers was total," in the view of Robin Chandler Duke, who knew him for nearly two decades.

Their manner together often seemed formal, mostly because each had been raised with the upper-class, boarding-school taboo against public displays of affection. "I would describe Jack as rather like me in that his life is an iceberg," Jackie would write to journalist Fletcher Knebel shortly after the election. "The public life is above water--& the private life--is submerged--I flatter myself that I have made his private life something he can love & find peace in--comfortable smoothly run houses--with all the things he loves in them--pictures, books, good food, friends--& his daughter & wife geared to adapt to his hours when he comes home." For Jackie in particular, life in the White House held the promise of a new togetherness, with the incessant years of campaigning behind them.

Looking pale, her chin raised slightly, Jackie watched her husband intently while he read his acceptance speech, holding sheaves of congratulatory telegrams with trembling hands. "My wife and I prepare for a new Administration and a new baby," he concluded, coaxing a slight smile from Jackie. "Hard-hearted Jack with tears in his eyes and his voice," journalist Mary McGrory reported to Teddy White, "the very first time I have seen the slightest display of emotion in the candidate and his team."

Flanking Jack and Jackie on the crowded platform were his parents, two brothers, and three sisters--"all made out of the same clay," the British aristocrat Diana Cooper once observed, "hair and teeth and tongues from the same reserves"--along with their handsome spouses. The eldest brother, Joe Jr., and a sister, Kathleen, both long dead, were ghosts of youthful promise in the family tableau. Absent, as always, was JFK's forty-two-year-old mentally retarded sister, Rosemary, who had been cared for by nuns since a failed lobotomy arranged nearly two decades earlier by her father. Joe Kennedy had intended to curb her aggressive behavior, but instead she was reduced to infantile incoherence. Rosemary's fate was known only within the family; for public consumption, she was a "childhood victim of spinal meningitis," an affliction, Joe Kennedy baldly asserted to Time magazine, that was "best to bring...out in the open."

Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the seventy-two-year-old family patriarch known by all as "the Ambassador," had himself come out in the open at the Armory. Almost twenty years earlier to the day, in November 1940, Joe had fled public life in disgrace after Franklin D. Roosevelt forced him out as the American envoy to Britain for advocating conciliation with the Nazis. As the mastermind of his son's political career--three terms in Congress, twice elected to the Senate--Joe had stayed behind the scenes, declining even to appear when Jack won the Democratic nomination the previous July. But this time Jack Kennedy overruled his domineering father, delaying the family's public appearance until the Ambassador joined them. On the platform, Joe Kennedy looked "grim and pale," and he balked when JFK tried to nudge him into TV camera range, an "awkward moment," observed Teddy White. The hesitancy belied Joe Kennedy's elation over his son's election. It had taken many years of hard work and iron determination, along with substantial infusions of money, to make Jack the first Irish Catholic president. His election was not only a triumph for the son, but also a personal vindication for the father.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2005

    A New Perspective

    The nuances of this book are so finely tuned that the Kennedys step out of the history books and somewhat convey their private personalities to the reader. It is a fresh read about the Kennedy lifestyle.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2004

    Glamor Days

    If you're curious about the Kennedys, or if you want to relive a singular moment in American politics, this is the book for you. It's hard to believe, but a senior in college in 1963, when JFK was assassinated, would be over 60 years old today, leaving most Americans familiar with the mythology of the Kennedys but not with the facts and texture of their lives. I've read widely about the Kennedys and thought I knew almost everything there was to know about them, at least until I read this book. My hunch is that it will stand as the definitive account for years to come. Ms. Smith makes you feel as if you're inside the Kennedy White House, alongside their dazzling circle of friends and advisers, dealing with great events while partying deep into the night and shuttling between Washington, Hyannis Port, and Newport. Unlike most Kennedy books, this is not a cut-and-paste job. Ms. Smith convinces many Kennedy intimates to speak for the first time, and persuades others to disclose material that they had never discussed before. JFK's philandering is compulsive, and hearing his lovers talk about him reveals the core of the man. If you're interested in journalism, the footnotes show a masterful reporter at work. Only one question lingers: How does she get all these people to talk? Wait until you read the comments from a physician who speaks for the first time about his phone calls with Jackie, an emotionally fragile woman seeking advice about the most intimate aspects of her marriage. In today's poisonous political climate, 'Grace and Power' comes as a welcome tonic. It reminds us that politics and journalism in America were once civil, glamorous, and hopeful. We may have been overly innocent in the early 1960s, but, as Ms. Smith shows, the times were also sweeter then.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2006

    Kennedy's Flaws and Triumphs

    I have recently finished reading this book and I have to say it has become my all-time favorite. I couldn't imagine it being more researched. Every page is filled with quotes from the President, his family and friends, or politcal advisers. The book places a greater emphasis on his personal life, which makes it a very interesting read.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    Simply fantastic

    I wish I would have purchased this sooner... One of the most well written books about the Kennedy white house years I have ever read and I've read just about everything. A MUST READ.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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