Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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Despite hundreds of books and thousands of articles on Jackie Kennedy, surprisingly little is known about her mother's role in her life and achievements. Often dismissed as a social climber who faded into the woodwork after she divorced Jackie's father-the dashing, disreputable "Black Jack" Bouvier-and married the rich Hugh D. Auchincloss, Janet not only played a pivotal part in Jackie's own wedding to JFK, but often served as a stand-in for Jackie during the White House years, and helped her cope with John and ...

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Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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Despite hundreds of books and thousands of articles on Jackie Kennedy, surprisingly little is known about her mother's role in her life and achievements. Often dismissed as a social climber who faded into the woodwork after she divorced Jackie's father-the dashing, disreputable "Black Jack" Bouvier-and married the rich Hugh D. Auchincloss, Janet not only played a pivotal part in Jackie's own wedding to JFK, but often served as a stand-in for Jackie during the White House years, and helped her cope with John and Caroline after the assassination.

The only book to explore this fascinating mother-daughter relationship, Janet & Jackie is filled with stories that shed new light on the personal life of an American icon.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Yes, another Jackie book. But, unlike its hundreds of predecessors, this one reveals Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in a different role: that of daughter. Although sometimes portrayed as a social climber, Jackie's mother was a decisive, opinionated woman capable of taking charge, even in the White House. (On the night of November 22, 1963, for instance, it was she who instructed the nanny to tell Caroline and John-John the devastating news of their father's death, thus sparing her daughter the emotional torment. Examining the relationship of Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss and Jackie, one realizes that mother-daughter relationships always resound more than we think.
Jay Mulvaney
An intimate look at the complex and absorbing relationship between two extraordinary women. —author of Kennedy Weddings
From The Critics
By combining beauty and reticence, style and simplicity, gaiety and dignity, while playing a pivotal role in history, Jacqueline Kennedy became as tantalizing a figure as Cleopatra, a woman to be written about until books are written no more. Now a pair of new biographies claim to reveal for the first time information central to an understanding of Jacqueline Kennedy's character. Yet these two volumes could not be more different in style, content, seriousness of purpose or usefulness to the reader.

Pottker's focus on the former first lady's relationship with her mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss, is a great waste of time, really, considering that the meandering presentation of evidence largely demonstrates—albeit against the author's will—that Jackie became the woman she was despite, rather than because of, her conventionally minded, critical and exacting parent. Painting Janet as a charming woman unfairly reviled as "cold" and a "social climber," the author immediately substantiates those criticisms by making two concessions. First, she admits that Janet entered into a second marriage to Hugh Auchincloss because he had money, although he was so dull as to resemble, in the words of his stepson Gore Vidal, "a magnum of chloroform." Second, Pottker acknowledges that Janet, the grandchild of poor Irish immigrants, pretended to be a descendant of Robert E. Lee because it would impress the society in which she hoped to move.

Janet is revealed to be not only an absorbed, selfish woman, but a hypercritical parent as well. She told Jackie that her hands were too big, her clothes too sloppy, her shoulders too wide. She took little notice of her daughter'sintellectual interests. When Jackie won Vogue magazine's Prix de Paris, which would have allowed her to work in France for a year, Janet dissuaded her from going, saying, "You're making the biggest mistake of your life. You're going to be twenty-two years old in July and you're not engaged yet."

Some qualities inculcated by or inherited from her mother were indeed useful: From Janet, who ran enormous households and rode horses competitively, Jackie learned to be brave, meticulously well prepared and beautifully dressed. She learned French because Janet, wishing her children to be fluent, spoke it at meals. But despite Pottker's claim that this book clarifies the nature of their relationship, the reader never gets a sense of what their time together was like. For all Pottker's protestations, it is quite possible that Jackie found her mother a pretentious and onerous presence whose criticisms helped make her private life not a refuge from public clamor but merely another trial to be endured.
—Penelope Mesic

Publishers Weekly
Although Jackie Kennedy Onassis's relationships with the men in her life her father and husbands in particular have been the subject of much biographical attention, Pottker asserts that these were actually of less significance in shaping Jackie's identity and legacy than was her relationship with her mother, Janet Lee Auchincloss. This, then, is meant to be a dual biography, in which Pottker (Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren) assesses the daughter's life in relation to her mother's and traces the ways in which Janet's ideals and ambitions influenced both Jackie's life and the Kennedy White House. Claiming to have uncovered several new facts about Jackie and many about Janet, this is meticulously researched and ably narrated. But while Pottker is insistent that Janet's role in Jackie's life merits a book-length study (and certainly, her point that Janet was actively involved in her daughter's life for 60 years is well taken), this remains less a real assessment of that mother-daughter relationship than yet another retelling of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis story, with details of Janet's life thrown in. But Janet is clearly a fascinating subject in her own right and, portrayed here sympathetically but warts-and-all, seems more human and more compelling than her celebrated daughter. A ruthless social snob, for example, she was also capable of selfless and spontaneous acts of kindness; and while her obsession with money and prestige lurked behind much of the advice and social training she gave Jackie, she also appears to have been a very devoted mother. If this is a less than groundbreaking retelling of Jackie's story, it's still noteworthy forits rich and nuanced portrait of Janet. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Pam Bernstein. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Though this biography covers an intensely intimate subject the relationship between Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her mother, Janet it possesses a decidedly surface appeal. Pottker (Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren) foregrounds issues of status, wealth, lineage, and style, offering plenty of information about "social Newport" and Georgetown society, the family's various estates, how they were decorated, and so on, but very little about the emotional dynamics between mother and daughter. For example, Pottker proudly cheers when Janet eagerly steps in to fill the social vacuum when Jackie Kennedy inexplicably withdrew from public events, but she gives little insight into how the two women really felt. Was Janet a gracious protector or a garish social climber? Was Jackie an independent spirit, prone to depression, or merely private? Pottker doesn't push for intellectual or psychological depth, and the book's gossipy tone and society-page anecdotes ultimately make for a flat and one-dimensional read. Not recommended. Amy Strong, East Boothbay, ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bloated, stumbling account of Janet Auchincloss, her family, and the social world that produced Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It is certainly curious that for all of America's obsession with its de facto queen, Jackie Kennedy, there has been so little said of the Queen Mother. This could be attributed to Janet Auchincloss's social set, which shunned vulgar publicity, but today's curious reader need no longer suffer in ignorance; Pottker (Crisis in Candyland, 1995) has dragged the woman, warts and all, into the spotlight. With the assistance of Auchincloss's two sons and countless relatives and staff, Pottker moves from the roots of the Lee and Auchincloss families through the lives of Janet and Hughdie and the world that sheltered Jackie until she married Jack. The work is remarkably detailed-and surprisingly drear. Although for the most part (following a deadly pair of opening chapters), the story moves along at a steady clip, the author has hobbled the narrative with over-reporting, reducing her dramatic cast of characters-Black Jack Bouvier, iron-willed Janet, mercurial Jack and Jackie-to a collection of minutiae. From the very beginning, the author lacks discernment; it's as if she determined to include every detail recorded in her research, from how Janet wore her stockings to the style of young Jackie's headboards (they had cane inserts). Equal space is accorded to the story of Jackie's second miscarriage and an account of the decor of Janet Jr.'s debutante ball. This is an odd editorial choice, but the author's judgment moves from questionable to shocking when she informs us that immediately following JFK's assassination, Jackie "used the bathroom and noticed, again, that she hadher period." Although Pottker has succeeded in evoking the wealth and lifestyle of her subjects, she has done little to bring their relationship to life. Well-researched, but vulgar and plodding.
From the Publisher
"An intimate look at the complex and absorbing relationship between two extraordinary women."-Jay Mulvaney, author of Kennedy Weddings: A Family Album

"A rich and nuanced portrait."-Publishers Weekly

"Pottker divulges startling vignettes."-Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312302818
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 976,928
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Pottker is the author of five previous books, including Celebrity Washington, as well as the co-author of Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. She first noted the public's interest in Janet Auchincloss while conducting walking tours through Georgetown, in Washington, D. C., where the Auchincloss house was a particular point of interest. Jan Pottker has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her husband, Andrew S. Fishel.

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Read an Excerpt


Janet and Jackie: the first a private woman, and the latter a public woman. During her lifetime, we knew Jackie as Jackie Bouvier, Jackie Kennedy, and Jackie Onassis. As her life drew to a close, she acknowledged her legend and accepted the name that most people identified her with: Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Jackie's last names represented, of course, the men in her life. Each of these men—Jack Bouvier, Jack Kennedy, and Ari Onassis—influenced her and helped shape her personality. But each was with Jackie only briefly.

First, there was her father, Jack Bouvier. She lived with him for only eleven years, and he died when she was twenty-eight.

While married to Jack Kennedy and through the drama of his assassination and its aftermath, she became an international icon. But the time arc from their first date through the final disaster spans a mere eleven years.

Jackie shocked the world when she married Ari Onassis, but he also was in her life for only eleven years—from when she cruised on his yacht after her baby died until Ari's death.

The last man in her life, Maurice Tempelsman, was a serious presence for, once again, about eleven years.

On the other hand, Jackie's mother, Janet—the greatest influence on Jackie, more important to her character than any of the men in her life who came and went—was there for a full sixty years, from Jackie's birth till Janet's death.

So, for sixty of the sixty-five years that would be allotted to Jackie, Janet Auchincloss was her daughter's permanent anchor and lifelong guiding spirit. Who was this woman, and how did she influence the womanwho would define an era?

In the decades when Jackie grew up—the 1930s and 1940s—American parents dreamed of their daughters becoming First Lady. They believed that to be the wife of the President of the United States was a noble and worthy goal. Only later—after cynicism about political leaders and more equal ambitions for girls and boys alike took hold—did they turn from this ideal.

If a mother's highest dream was to see her daughter on the Inaugural stand in front of the Capitol, then Janet achieved what others aspired to. By that measure, Janet's upbringing of Jackie was a success. No one questioned Rose Kennedy, after all, when she said that her greatest accomplishment was being the mother of the President. In fact, a survey of college historians rate Jack and Jackie Kennedy equally: of the Presidents and First Ladies, both Kennedys are ranked number eight. The only other couple held in equal esteem are Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, who come in at number one.

If Janet hadn't had the strength to walk out on a drunken, womanizing Jack Bouvier and take her daughters with her, their childhood would have been even more difficult than it was.

If Janet hadn't married Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr.—or a man like him—she never would have had the resources to raise Jackie as she wished. The expensive ceremonies, the debut, and the wedding reception at Hammersmith Farm were not so important to Jackie in themselves but were the pillars that supported the life she was brought up to lead.

And if Janet hadn't raised Jackie to speak French fluently (it was the language spoken every night at dinner), enabling her to study at the Sorbonne and live abroad; if Janet hadn't nurtured in Jackie the strength and discipline it takes to become an excellent rider (Janet was a top-notch equestrian herself, winning the hunter championship three times at the National Horse Show); and if Janet hadn't encouraged Jackie to develop her writing, her drawing, her love of literature and the arts (even if Janet herself was not artistic or intellectual, she admired those traits in others)—then Jackie would not have caught the eye of a canny Joe Kennedy, who vetted the marital candidates for the son he had such ambitions for.

Moreover, if Jack Kennedy hadn't married Jackie, he arguably would not have become President. Although her appeal was interpreted (by mostly male reporters) as one of dress and style—she drew larger crowds than Jack from the start—she added to the campaign a substance that went largely unrecognized at the time. Her radio spots in Spanish, for instance, which drew tens of thousands of voters to her husband, are acknowledged as among the most effective political advertisements of all time.

Despite the hundreds of books, thousands of magazine articles, and myriad newspaper stories on Jackie, Janet's role in her achievements has gone unacknowledged. Does the aura of the Kennedy name shine so bright that anyone outside it is eclipsed? Janet seemed invisible during the White House years and after. There's a wire-service photo of a group of women watching Jack Kennedy's State of the Union Address. The ladies pictured are Janet, her daughters Jackie and Lee, and Joan Kennedy. The caption says, kennedy women in full force. In other photos—for example, at Caroline's graduation from Concord Academy— Janet posed for the cameras with Jackie, Caroline, John, and Ted Kennedy but was cropped out before the photo service sent the image over the wire. It is as if she didn't exist.

In fact, this writer, requesting a photo of Janet at the White House with Lady Bird Johnson at the 1965 commemoration of the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Garden, was told by the LBJ Library audiovisual department, "Oh, so that's who that lady is with Mrs. Johnson! We never knew."

It's time to put to rest the old myths in which Janet plays a marginal role in Jackie's life. Is there any mother who could be reduced to such a small role—particularly the mother of one of the world's most celebrated women? The truth is that Jackie's greatest ongoing influence was Janet.

This is what Janet instilled in Jackie: charm and flirtation; reserve and privacy; manners and consideration; creativity and artistic endeavor; patriotism and hero-worship of military leaders; individuality and a strong sense of self; a passion for helping where it is needed; love of riding and horses; love of art; a belief that the finest things in life are necessities rather than luxuries; and, underpinning it all, the recognition that money is needed to support these undertakings.

Jackie, in turn, wanted to emulate and please her exacting mother. And Janet was there in times of crisis: whether Jackie was nearing the end of a troubled pregnancy and her husband was in Capri with his mistress or whether she needed her mother's tacit approval of her marriage to a Greek tycoon, Janet stood by her daughter—whatever her own doubts.

"Janet was much misrepresented in the press. The stories were really inaccurate," says Letitia Baldrige, Jackie's White House social secretary.

Janet was made out to be some kind of wicked fairy godmother who made an occasional appearance only to cast a spell on the beautiful princess. The most common characterizations of Janet are "cold" and "social climber." Yet paradoxically, everyone who knew her—even her detractors—in the next breath speaks of her charm and warmth. As for social climbing, while she did get silly about her putative ancestry, using her maiden name Lee to claim a relationship to General Robert E. Lee when there was none, that is hardly an uncommon or heinous crime. In fact, Jackie did the same thing when she gave the impression that her background was French, even though she was actually mostly Irish.

And it is true that Janet would not have married Hugh D. Auchincloss if he had been a poor man. To be fair, however, she had no skills, only two years of college, and an alcoholic ex-husband whose younger brother had already died of acute alcohol poisoning. What would the future have held for her two young daughters if she hadn't married well? Janet did what she knew she had to for them as well as for herself.

She did it well. Her second husband, Hugh D. Auchincloss, loved her, and his friends accepted her immediately. Had Janet been a social climber, social Newport—seasonal home to the most prominent names in American high society—would have spotted her in an instant and rejected her. It's unjust to dismiss her as a mere climber just because she married a man with money, particularly given her own impressive grandfather and father, James Lee and James T. Lee.

Then, too, Janet handled her daughter's fame appropriately. She was there when needed—which was often—but she did not intrude. This very reserved woman, married to a man who "hated" publicity, managed to acclimate to her daughter's metamorphosis from a naive twenty-four-year-old bride to the country's most celebrated First Lady in a mere seven years. Not only did Janet adapt to the transformation, but she kept her balance as the more mannerly white-gloved society coverage of the First Lady still in force at the end of the Eisenhower administration gave way to the incessant tabloid culture that devoured her daughter with such a voracious and ruthless appetite.

Janet Lee Auchincloss was a remarkable woman who passed her unique traits on to her famous daughter. To understand Jackie, you must understand Janet.

Here is a portrait of Jackie's life that you have never seen before. Here is a tale of Jackie from a perspective that you have never read before. This is the story of Janet and Jackie.

Excerpted from Janet and Jackie by Jan Pottker. Copyright © 2001 by Jan Pottker. Excerpted by permission.
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    Not much substance.......

    Despite lengthy notes and a huge bibliography, there is little new in this book about either Jackie or her mother, Janet Auchincloss. It is also hard to believe that a book so supposedly well researched is so badly written. There is no insight into the mother-daughter relationship - and only a sprinkling of new information about either of them. It would have been very interesting to read about Jackie's half-siblings - Janet Jr., who she loved and Jamie, who she did not. Jamie was even barred from her funeral until he protested. Why? No explanation is given. Also nothing new in the area of the whole Jackie-Lee Radziwill dynamic, which also would have been a new and welcome area to explore. Again, nothing new. Disappointing overall.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2013


    Painful reading - ponderous prose. Hardly does the title justice. Shallow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Highly recommend

    This is a charming and revealing biography of the formidable Janet Auchincloss and her relationship with her numerous children and stepchildren. It sheds light on the times she lived through and the people (many famous) she encountered. Fascinating stuff - I loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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