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With admirable obsession, biographer Leaming (Marilyn Monroe, 1998, etc.) has plumbed the vaults of the many official libraries (JFK's, LBJ's, Oxford's Bodleian) and consulted with Secret Service personnel, Kennedy friends, and White House log books to create a convincing day-by-day chronicle of the Kennedy marriage and presidency. Armed with a remarkable level of detail and turning an eye toward psychological anaylsis, the author briefly explores her subject's childhood, and then dives into the Kennedy's life together. In Leaming's view, the personal and political spheres of the Kennedys are inseparable. Thus, the Bay of Pigs fiasco is explained as a son attempting to compensate for his ambassador father's perceived weakness when, decades before, the elder Kennedy coundeled conciliation in the face of Hitler. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam is traced back to Jack's inability to focus on foreign affairs after the death of his newborn son. Meanwhile, Jackie's determination to be a good wife is what spurred her to enter the world's stage. Leaming paints a portrait of a political creature whose every action was premeditated, from her whispery voice designed to project a non-threatening femininity, to her decision to quit Washington every weekend in order to allow Jack to conduct his extramarital affairs out of her sight. Full of such interesting theories, Leaming is particularly convincing when arguing that Jackie was to Jack nothing so much as the perfect replacement for his beloved sister, Kick, who died very young. The standard tasty details of dress, design, and glittering social circle are not neglected; indeed, Jackie's sense of style writ large is seen as her particular genius, equally useful for charming world leaders and the crowd back home.
Admirably detailed, stunningly successful, and likely to become the definitive biography of the Kennedy marriage, with all the intimacy and international scope implied."
A fascinating work.
The Washington Post
Bona fide new material...meticulous research...achingly moving.
Leaming paints a moving portrait of Jackie as she tried valiantly to make her marriage work and find a place for herself and her gifts.
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Likely to become the definitive biography of the Kennedy marriage.
From Chapter 1: Modus Vivendi
Shortly before noon on January 18, 1961, two Secret Service cars loaded with baggage waited outside Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy's Spanish-style mansion on North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, Florida. For the better part of two months, the moldering house and grounds, unofficial transition headquarters of President-elect John F. Kennedy, had swarmed with family, friends, aides, and advisers. On any given day when he was in residence, every spare room had been occupied. Some houseguests had had to double up in maid's rooms, others camped out in odd quarters. For weeks, a formidable press contingent, as well as crowds of the merely curious, had watched visitors pour in and out of the massive, weather-ravaged, iron-grilled gate at the foot of the driveway.
On this particular Wednesday, two days before the Inauguration, the ocean-front house had a lonely, abandoned air. The houseguests, crowds, and commotion had vanished, and the only people in sight were a trio of Secret Service agents. Joe and Rose Kennedy and their brood, which included the forty-three-year-old president-elect, had left for Washington, D.C., where pre-Inaugural festivities had been in full swing for days. This was an event the Kennedy family had been awaiting for much of their lives. Only one family member remained in Florida, and the time was fast approaching when Jacqueline Kennedy, who had put off her departure as long as possible, simply had to leave. The following night, Inauguration eve, she was expected to attend the Inaugural gala staged by Frank Sinatra and Jack's brother-in-law Peter Lawford, the actor, to help pay off the Democratic National Committee's campaign deficit.
Finally, thirty-one-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy appeared at the door. Her brown hair arranged in a bouffant style, she wore outsized dark glasses and kid gloves to complete a traveling costume of a narrow tweed jacket, slim skirt, and low-heeled alligator pumps. To many Americans who had seen dozens of pictures of her during the campaign, a glimpse of the hair, sunglasses, and gloves would have been enough to identify her as "Jackie." To people who knew little else about her, that was who she was. In fact, like so much in her life, the aim of her signature style was concealment. A chemical straightener disguised the naturally kinky hair she hated. The teased bouffant masked a low hairline. Kid gloves covered large, strong, mannish hands that an early boyfriend had likened to those of a peasant. The cut of her suit jacket artfully concealed the breadth of her shoulders, and her muscular back and arms. The skirt disguised hips she thought much too broad. The shoes were specially cut to make large feet look smaller and more feminine. Sunglasses hid brown eyes set so far apart that her optician had had to special-order a suitably wide bridge. Dark lenses had the additional advantage of guarding emotions that since childhood she had taken tremendous pains to hide.
A Secret Service agent opened the rear door of a large Mercury sedan for Jackie to slip into the back seat. With her Secret Service detail, Jackie tended to be quiet and reserved. Despite her youth, a ramrod straight posture gave her an air of dignity and unapproachability. Once she was in the car, the agent went around to get behind the wheel, while the other men took their places in a follow-up car. There were no friends or family members to see her off or accompany her to Washington. Jackie avoided the intimacy of close friendships, and coolly made a point of keeping people at a distance. By her own design, she was, as she had so often been, alone. In a sign of things to come, as she left at the last possible minute to start a new life in the White House, silent Secret Service agents provided her sole companionship.
These men in their regulation dark suits and white shirts were strangers, and their presence in Jackie's life was a difficult and unsettling accommodation. It was the agents' job to protect her, but, as far as she was concerned, they were a reminder that she had lost the privacy with which she had long sought to protect herself. The prospect of their perpetual presence, she said, appalled her. However considerate and carefully trained the agents were to minimize any sense of intrusion, there remained the fact that for the next four years and more, every time she stepped outside she could expect to see them. It was a situation each new president and his family faced, but for someone like Jackie, fanatically obsessed with her privacy, the idea that she was under constant observation was particularly difficult. As her car rolled down the driveway, she was aware that the agent in the driver's seat, as well as those in the follow-up car, knew some of the most intimate secrets of her deeply troubled marriage, had seen the harsh private reality behind the enchanting family pictures in the press. Jackie's husband of seven years cheated on her compulsively, a fact that was painful and humiliating to her. Now that he was president, she would have to live that nightmare in full view of a group of strangers. Taught to observe and interpret the smallest details, these men would see not just what Jack did, but also whether Jackie was happy or sad, nervous or depressed. They would witness, in short, all the signs of emotion she had spent a lifetime learning to conceal. They would be privy to the body language between her and her husband in places and circumstances where no other outsider was permitted. The fact that her Secret Service detail consisted entirely of men -- there were then no female Secret Service agents -- was also unsettling. Would they admire Jack's womanizing, as many of his male friends seemed to do? Or would they pity her, though she had worked all her life to avoid pity?
As the Mercury passed through the gate and headed toward Palm Beach International Airport, one of the agents in the follow-up car automatically glanced at his watch and jotted down the time. The moment was a significant one. At exactly six minutes past twelve, Jacqueline Kennedy entered history -- the written record of power. Nothing in her life would be the same again. Each time she emerged from her home, whenever she took her children to the park or went for a late-night walk with her husband and the dogs, a member of their Secret Service detail would note down the pertinent information. Jack's movements would be noted even within the White House. Whenever he disappeared from a party with a female guest, frolicked in the pool with girlfriends, or had a visitor in the family quarters when his wife and children were away, that too would be recorded. All phone calls would be cited, the progress of every trip detailed.
Jackie, an avid student of history, understood the uses to which such records could be put by future chroniclers of the Kennedy years. It was one thing to enjoy reading stories of dynastic intrigue, the love affairs of kings and the conflicts of royal wives and mistresses, but quite another to realize that she and Jack would one day be the subject of similar accounts. Jackie also understood that Secret Service agents and the Chief White House Usher, who maintained a book listing every person who went up to the family quarters, were far from the only record keepers. She herself did not plan to keep a diary, but in Washington a small army of highly sophisticated letter-writers, diarists, and memoirists waited to report on every facet of her husband's presidency. Surely the story of her marriage, sightings of Jack's mistresses, and other scandalous details would be part of that voluminous record.
There were moments already when she felt as if she had become some sort of sideshow, and her every instinct was to revolt against any incursions on her life by the press and public. Days after Jack's nomination the previous summer, Jackie had spoken to Adlai Stevenson, head of the Democratic Party's liberal wing and himself a former presidential candidate, of her distress about her lost privacy. Confronted by a group of tourists as she strolled with Stevenson at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Jackie said, "I can't bear all these people peering over the fence...I may abdicate." "Steady, kid," Stevenson replied, "you ain't seen nothing yet." At times, the onslaught of curiosity became unbearable, as when newspapers reported where Jackie, then pregnant with John Jr., bought her maternity clothes. She reacted with such hysterical indignation that at least one of Jack's close friends and political supporters, the powerful newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop, stepped in to try to calm her down. Alarmed that she might alienate voters, Alsop risked offending her by pointing out that she had permitted herself to become violently upset about something essentially meaningless. Jackie knew he was correct, but that did not change the way she felt. What Alsop and other friends and advisers of the President failed to understand was that more than mere distress over the fact that people now knew she shopped at Bloomingdale's had prompted her overreaction.
A tormented childhood, in which there had been much to be embarrassed about, had taught Jackie that her emotional survival depended on her ability to keep the world at a distance. By the time she was ready to start school, the marriage of her parents, Jack and Janet Bouvier, had become a battle. Fueled by alcohol, her mother and stockbroker father fought ceaselessly over his infidelities and financial failings. When, as they frequently did, the shouting matches of charge and countercharge took place in front of others, Jackie felt humiliated. Not only did she witness these ugly exchanges, she was a pawn in them. Neither parent hesitated to use Jackie, the older of their two young daughters, to wound the other. When her mother tired of shrieking at her husband, she would pour out her wrath on Jackie. He, in turn, would shower Jackie with praise, his genuine affection compromised by an awareness that his attentions infuriated Janet. Compliments to Jackie were a way to anger his wife, just as Janet's verbal assaults on the child were, as even the household help could see, really an attack on him.
Jackie reacted to the family turmoil with courage and spirit. Constantly criticized by her mother, she fought back. Whether attempting to defend herself or her father, she was in a perpetual state of conflict with Janet and her violent temper. But the trouble at home had an insidious effect. More and more, Jackie retreated from other people. The reason was simple: she wanted to conceal a situation that filled her with shame. Intimacy with outsiders became a threat, feelings something to be hidden. Though Janet would later imply that Jackie was by nature unemotional, in fact she was a turbulent, passionate person, who, since childhood, had applied her own strong will to finding ways to make herself less vulnerable. Her sister, Lee, three and a half years younger, shared her painful home life -- a powerful bond -- but not her intelligence or sensitivity. Early on, Jackie became a voracious reader and spent inordinate amounts of time alone, retreating into a fantasy world in which her closest companions were the horses and dogs on which she lavished the emotions that were otherwise suppressed. She also learned to channel her passion into an intense response to visual beauty, developing an eye for color and form, an intense appreciation of art and dance. Jackie could be warm and bitingly funny, but other children quickly sensed that she let no one close. She even learned to hide her feelings from her parents. She made a point, partly to annoy Janet, of gushing over her father. Yet the fact that her mother and, increasingly, others saw Jack as a drunken failure and pathetic fool was not lost on such an alert child. Perhaps inevitably, in her eyes it made his love and praise worth less.
Jackie was seven when in 1936 Jack and Janet separated for the first time. The divorce three years later, after several further separations, deepened the child's sense of humiliation, when details of the court case and her father's philandering were reported in the press. To make matters worse, Jackie's picture appeared in print, along with lurid accounts of her home life that included testimony about her own fights with Janet. Jackie had tried desperately hard to conceal all this, and the knowledge that her classmates and teachers had access to some of her most embarrassing secrets sent her further into retreat.
The situation only grew worse with Janet's remarriage in 1942, a month before Jackie turned thirteen, to the wealthy investment banker Hugh D. Auchincloss, known as Hughdie. Seeing that she lived at the Auchincloss estates in McLean, Virginia, and Newport, Rhode Island, most people assumed Jackie was an heiress. In reality, with the exception of room and board provided by her stepfather, she depended on the modest finances of blundering Jack Bouvier. The need to maintain the illusion that she really did belong in her mother's new family gave the teenage girl one more thing to hide. The birth of a half brother and half sister to add to Hughdie's own brood from previous marriages triggered a new conflict. Jackie was not a real Auchincloss in terms of wealth, and she had little interest in being thought of as Hughdie's daughter for any other reason. Homely, unintelligent, and utterly lacking in flair or curiosity, Hughdie -- the very opposite of dangerous, dissipated Jack Bouvier -- held no allure for Jackie. Seeking her identity in her father's French roots, and hoping to differentiate herself from the people around her, she cultivated a passion for all things French, particularly the lives of the French kings and aristocracy. In truth, her father's family background was far from grand. Nonetheless, what began as a form of mourning for an absent parent, as well as an escape from the ordinariness of Hughdie and his narrow, self-satisfied world, became a serious lifelong interest in French history, particularly that of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Janet seemed to have attained everything she wanted with her marriage to Hughdie, but her hatred of Jack Bouvier remained undiminished. In his absence, she directed that ill feeling squarely at Jackie. While Lee, fine-featured, petite, and conventionally pretty, looked like their mother, Jackie had inherited their father's exotic looks. She had Jack's broad square face, heavy features, wide-set eyes, large frame, and dark Mediterranean coloring. As though wrestling with a ghost, Janet relentlessly found fault with Jackie's appearance. She pointed with disgust to Jackie's big masculine hands and feet, her broad shoulders and wide hips. Her favorite target was her daughter's kinky hair, which was highlighted by a low hairline also inherited from Jack. No matter what Jackie did with her hair, Janet's criticism of its texture and unruliness persisted. With reference to both her hair and her clothes, Janet accused her of sloppiness and compared her unfavorably to Lee. The conclusion was always the same: Jackie's looks were not feminine. If she failed to find some way of concealing her flaws, no man would ever find her desirable. Indeed, Janet may actually have believed that to be the case. At the same time, it was clear that all Janet could see in Jackie was Jack Bouvier. It was as if, having been sexually rejected by Jack, Janet was sending him a message that she had never really wanted him anyway, that he was as undesirable as the daughter who so strikingly resembled him. Jack didn't get the message, but, unfortunately, Jackie did: her mother found her physically revolting. Step by step, Janet slowly destroyed Jackie's self-image. In time, Jackie came to hate her mother, but more than that she began to hate herself -- especially her physical self.
Janet was equally disapproving of her older daughter's mind. Never known for intelligence herself, Janet lived by the credo -- shared by many women of her class and period -- that men disliked women who had their own intellectual interests and opinions. Frequently she repeated that the worst thing a woman could do was permit a man to see she had serious interests. The skills a man valued in a woman were the ability to make him feel important and fascinating, and the ability to put together an attractive, well-managed house. Disparaging the very things that made Jackie special, Janet criticized her love of books and learning, notably the fascination with French history and culture that, for Janet, served as yet another reminder of Jack Bouvier. Janet taught her daughter that in addition to disguising what she really looked like, Jackie must also conceal how bright she was. Otherwise, there was no chance that she would ever land a husband, certainly not one of the wealthy young men, junior versions of Hughdie, whom her mother viewed as attractive suitors.
Jackie may have resembled Jack Bouvier, but she was also endowed with her mother's strong will, which, ironically, permitted her to stand up to Janet as well as to retain an important skepticism about certain of her values. Still, the incessant attacks left their mark. Much as she fought Janet, Jackie internalized many of her mother's harshest judgments. She was often defiantly sloppy, yet she dressed more and more to disguise her size and strength. She was forever anxiously redoing her hair. She found the boys her mother praised predictable and boring, yet though she didn't particularly want them, she needed to know that they wanted her. In view of what Janet insisted was her utter lack of physical allure, she cultivated seductive mannerisms such as a whispery, baby voice and the habit of looking into a man's eyes so intensely that he felt as if there were no one else in the room. She trained herself to behave in an extremely flirtatious manner and presented herself as a fragile airhead, the antithesis of the strong, clever, curious young woman she really was. Later she would recall that one of the things she had loved best about her junior year in France was that for the first time she felt that she did not have to conceal her intelligence or the fact that she had serious intellectual interests. Nonetheless, when Jackie graduated from college, virtually every aspect of her appearance and manner attested to her mother's victory. Persuaded that no man would be interested if she revealed her true self, she went about in what was in effect a carefully crafted disguise.
By the time Jackie met John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a dinner party in June 1951, just after her college graduation, her belief in her own desirability had been utterly destroyed by her mother. Twelve years her senior, the thirty-four-year-old congressman from Massachusetts was extremely attractive and amusing, and that first evening at the home of their mutual friends Charles and Martha Bartlett, they seemed to get along, but almost immediately Jackie was off to Europe with Lee on a vacation provided by their stepfather. When she encountered him again, in 1952, an enormous amount had changed in her life. She had won a competition run by Vogue, whose prize was the opportunity to work for six months in the magazine's New York and Paris offices. Ever since her junior year abroad, Jackie had longed to return to France and retrieve the sense that it was acceptable to be her bright, intelligent self. But at the last minute, the crippling doubt with which Janet had infected her prevented Jackie from seizing the opportunity. On Janet's advice, she rejected the Prix de Paris and returned to live with her mother and stepfather in Virginia. A family friend, Arthur Krock, head of the Washington bureau of The New York Times, found her a job at the Washington Times-Herald, the same newspaper where he had previously placed Jack Kennedy's younger sister Kathleen, as well as the beautiful Danish woman said by many to have been the love of Jack's life, Inga Arvad. Both high-spirited young women, who had been close friends, had long since departed the Times-Herald but were still talked about there, and Jack Kennedy figured prominently in the newsroom mythology because of his connection to them. Day after day, Jackie was regaled with stories about the adventures of the dashing congressman and his family. A widely chronicled war hero, he had already written one bestselling book and had announced his intention to run for the Senate in the November 1952 election, with an eye toward the presidency. Meanwhile, Jackie, now twenty-two and eager to escape life with Janet, had rushed into an engagement to a nice if rather predictable young stockbroker, a decision about which she quickly had second thoughts. When she saw Jack Kennedy again, all she had heard at the office invested him with a distinctly romantic aura. He seemed like everything her stockbroker -- indeed, all the young men Janet had had in mind -- decidedly was not. Soon she called off the engagement.
There was something else that, far more than aura or ambition, gave Jack Kennedy a deep hold on Jackie, one that would last a lifetime. Rich and handsome, he was one of America's most eligible bachelors, pursued by movie stars, heiresses, and a great many other desirable women. When he showed interest in Jackie, it was for her as if a miracle had occurred. Years of scathing criticism of her hair, eyes, hands, feet, shoulders, and sloppy appearance were rendered null and void. Jack's reputation as a playboy, far from being a deterrent, was a great advantage in Jackie's eyes, making it all the more significant that he had been drawn to her. If Jack Kennedy, who could have almost any woman he chose, wanted Jackie, Janet must have been wrong about her desirability -- or so it appeared.
Certainly, Janet had been wrong in another respect. Far from being put off by Jackie's intellectual interests, Kennedy was delighted by them. Like Jackie, who had sought an identity in books, Jack, a sickly child often confined to bed, had invented himself out of his reading. Like Jackie, his great obsession was history. While her specialty was French history, his was English, but they shared a particular taste for the eighteenth century. He was thrilled that they seemed to fill in each other's intellectual and cultural gaps in dozens of ways. He was as curious to learn from her about art history and design as she was to share his knowledge of the movies. While he had read every word of Churchill, she was an admirer of de Gaulle. They both loved poetry and competed in memorizing each other's favorite poems. His idea of a present was a book he loved, and he was much given to snatching away the books Jackie was reading if they looked interesting. Jackie, starved for conversation about books and ideas, was captivated when, early on, Jack gave her two of his favorite books as a way of explaining to her who he really was. None of the young men touted by her mother had ever done anything like that. One of these books was John Buchan's Pilgrim's Way (Memory Hold the Door in the U.K.), from which Jack had derived the credo that public life is "the worthiest ambition," politics "the greatest and the most honorable adventure." The other was Lord David Cecil's The Young Melbourne, set in a world of complex and fascinating political men, the Whig aristocrats of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who moved constantly and determinedly between episodes of high political seriousness and those of intense pleasure. Their sexual life, Cecil observed, was "not of a kind to commend them to an austere morality." Jack, so much older, was clearly the more learned, worldly partner, but Jackie prized the fact that he sought information from her as well. With Jack, no part of her curiosity about the world had to be concealed. Fully accepting the superiority of her knowledge of France and prepared to trust the reliability of her reports, he soon asked her to read and summarize articles on contemporary French politics to assist him in his work. That he not only accepted but actually relished her intelligence was salve to her damaged ego.
Jack and Jackie shared a huge enthusiasm for life, for history and ideas, but also for gossip and fun of every description. She delighted in his extraordinary range of experience, as well as an unpredictability that was completely at odds with everything that Janet valued and Jackie had longed to escape. Unlike the young men she had dated in the past -- men who rejected the best in Jackie but also bored her, men who left her with ambivalent feelings about herself -- there was nothing dull or predictable about Jack. His interests were diverse, a mixture of the high and the low. He could expound on Churchill, but also do a dead-on imitation of Noël Coward. One minute he might speak of the differences between the British statesmen William Pitt and Charles Fox, and the next of his most recent encounter with the actor Gary Cooper in Hollywood. Janet's life had always struck Jackie as stultifying and vacant. She wanted something more, a life of substance and meaning, a big life that, as she would later say, called on the best in her -- and Jack Kennedy seemed to hold out precisely that promise. Fiercely intelligent, full of curiosity and interests, hungry for knowledge and experience, committed despite his love of pleasure to the ideal of public life, he suggested possibilities no other man had. Before long, Jackie was desperately in love.
When he finally proposed in 1953, Jackie did two extremely telling things. She called relatives with the news, but insisted that they keep the engagement a secret until after the publication of the following week's Saturday Evening Post, which would feature Jack on the cover as "Washington's Most Eligible Bachelor" -- proof that Janet had been mistaken about her allure. And, in what Jackie later recalled as one of the high points of her engagement, she translated and summarized twelve books on Indo-China to help Jack prepare his first major foreign policy speech as senator. That sent a further message to Janet: not only did Washington's most eligible bachelor find her sexually desirable, he treasured her intelligence. It also signaled the sort of life Jackie expected to have with Jack. She intended to take an active role in his political career, to work at his side on the great projects that absorbed him.
Jack and Jackie were married in Newport in 1953, and after a honeymoon in Acapulco she returned to Washington with every expectation that she had finally put the years of unhappiness behind her. She plunged into classes in American history at Georgetown University, in order to better understand the issues that faced Jack as a senator. But even before the Kennedys returned from their honeymoon, there had been a sign that something was terribly wrong. Although Jack had wired his parents from Mexico about how happy he was with Jackie, when the newlyweds stopped off in California, Jack suggested that Jackie go on ahead to Washington while he spent a few days alone on the coast. She had married, reflected a long-time female friend of Jack's, with "eyes filled with dreams." She did not expect a difficult marriage, assuming that once they were married he would give up his many other women. Her confidence buoyed by his having selected her when he had so many women to choose from, Jackie had blithely dismissed the words of caution offered by one of his closest male friends. In California, she declined to fly home without him, but she was powerless when, back in Washington, he proceeded to behave as if he was still a bachelor. Uninhibited by Jackie's presence, he would slip off with women from Georgetown parties, leaving his young wife stranded and humiliated.
Jackie had entered marriage with deep scars from Janet's assault on her self-image. When Jack began to cheat on her so thoughtlessly, the old wounds reopened. Long told that no man would want her, Jackie blamed herself for Jack's philandering. She did not consider that it might be something in Jack that caused him to behave as he did. As if her mother were still hissing in her ear, she did everything possible to change her appearance and make herself sexually attractive, but nothing seemed to work. She cut off her kinky mop of hair in favor of a short, Audrey Hepburn-style pixie cut. She bought new dresses from Paris in which to re-create herself as the elegant wife of a senator and future president. Yet the infidelity persisted. Any bride would have been devastated, but the situation was much worse in Jackie's case. Jack was supposed to have been her salvation from years of feeling unattractive, but his actions reinforced everything Janet had said. Jackie, who had gone into this marriage in search of sexual validation, found destruction instead. In the first year she suffered a miscarriage, further eroding her sense of herself as a woman. In childhood, the shame of her parents' warfare had caused Jackie to seek emotional isolation; now, the need to conceal the truth about her own marriage drove her to withdraw.
The marriage entered a new phase when, in the summer of 1954, Jack was nearly crippled by a bad back. During their courtship, he had often been on crutches, but in Jackie's eyes that was simply part of the romantic aura that surrounded him. She had barely registered the vague talk that he suffered from Addison's disease, which had to be kept secret lest his political enemies use the information to short-circuit his ambitions. It had merely added to Jack's Byronic air when he spoke of having nearly died in England in 1947 before he found out he had Addison's; or when he mentioned that, as the disease was controlled by the injection of cortisone pellets under the surface of his skin every three months and the daily ingestion of cortisone tablets, his father had set up safe-deposit boxes around the world to ensure that he would never be without cortisone were he to have a crisis when traveling. But when he announced that he was intent on surgery, Jackie was faced with the fact that there was nothing at all romantic about marriage to a man this ill. His condition was so dangerous that his own doctors refused to operate, the wisdom being that sufferers of Addison's disease were too susceptible to infection to risk elective surgery. Jack, who had lived all his life with illness and pain of one sort or another, was so desperate that he found other physicians willing to try.
Jackie had been married for one year when she found herself accompanying her husband to a hospital for an operation she knew he might not survive. As it happened, he developed a post-operative infection and hovered near death. This was followed by months during which he failed to recover, then a second major operation. In the course of some nine months, as Jack lay helpless face down or sat immobile much of the time, with an open wound in his back that refused to heal, Jackie took attentive care of him, and a new kind of peace developed between them. She read to him for hours. They competed in memorizing long passages of their favorite poetry. She taught him to paint, like his hero Churchill. She kept him focused, doing research and talking through ideas for his book, Profiles in Courage, which would win a Pulitzer Prize when it was finished. Jackie was his lifeline to a world into which, confined mostly to his father's house in Palm Beach, he could no longer venture. She brought him gossip and made him laugh with acid observations. At a time when for obvious reasons there were no other women in the picture, husband and wife rediscovered and solidified their bond.
The peace did not last. As soon as Jack was able to get about on crutches again, he went off to Europe with his friend Torbert "Torby" Macdonald and, like a starving man, resumed his compulsive womanizing. By the time Jackie joined him in Cap d'Antibes, it was evident that, whatever she might have hoped, her marital problems had by no means disappeared. Shell-shocked, she returned to America to a life of unending sexual betrayal that she took as confirmation that Janet had been right all along. At the same time, Jack and Jackie were capable in quiet moments of making one another very happy. She became pregnant again and they bought a house in McLean, Virginia, not far from Janet. Lonely and desperate when night after night Jack simply failed to come home, Jackie, who had long disparaged her mother's life as empty and trivial, struggled to lose herself in the minutiae of putting together the perfect house.
The situation reached a crisis when Jackie was seven months pregnant. Still fully intending to play an active role in Jack's political career, she accompanied him to the Democratic convention in Chicago. His speech as he put Adlai Stevenson's name in nomination on August 16, 1956, made him an instant star in his party, and he came surprisingly close to becoming its vice presidential candidate. Though he lost to Estes Kefauver, his concession speech made another major impact. Everyone seemed to be talking about his great future and, as Jackie watched, his dream of the presidency rushed many steps closer to reality. After the convention, the Kennedys headed east. Jack, unfazed by the fact that his twenty-seven-year-old wife, who had already suffered one miscarriage, was due to give birth in less than two months and had been forbidden by her doctor to accompany him to Europe, took off for the south of France to unwind. Jackie was sent to stay with her mother at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. Visibly exhausted after the heat and commotion in Chicago and desperately anxious that this baby be delivered safely, Jackie had the additional strain of facing her mother, of all people, with the mortifying news that her husband had deserted her at such a critical time.
In France, Jack made little effort to conceal his activities. At Cap d'Antibes, he sent a male friend to pick up bikini-clad girls on his behalf. On August 21, he took off with friends and a number of girls for a few days of sailing and carousing. Two days after he set sail, Jackie began to hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. A cesarean section was performed, but the baby girl was stillborn. With Jackie's own life in danger, Janet called Hyannis Port, only to be informed that Jack was unreachable. His brother Bobby left immediately for Newport. As it turned out, it was Bobby who told Jackie, when she woke, that her daughter was dead. Jack still had not been located when, two days later, Bobby buried the child in Newport. When the couple's friends called to inquire about Jackie, Janet announced that Jack was off on "a toot in the south of France." Jackie, who had never really recovered from the newspaper accounts of her parents' divorce, was crushed when the press reported her baby's death and the fact that Jack, who had just made such a sensation in Chicago, had yet to be reached. Of all the betrayals to which he had subjected her in three years of marriage, this was by far the worst.
Finally, on August 26, Jack checked in with his father. The callousness of his response to the news would be hard to overstate. Sorry as he was, at first he saw no reason to interrupt his holiday. The baby was dead, Bobby had handled the burial arrangements, and there was nothing more that Jack could do. Joe Kennedy brought him sharply back to earth with the brusque order to go home "at once!" Unrepentant, Jack traveled to Newport, and even then the enormity of his actions appeared to elude him.
For Jackie a turning point had been reached. She could no longer deceive herself that Jack's pursuit of other women would stop. A man who could abandon a pregnant wife, as Jack had just done, and linger with girlfriends after she had lost their child and become gravely ill herself was hardly about to change. If Jackie were ever to seek a divorce, the time had certainly come. No longer sure that she should or could remain in this marriage, she returned to her mother's house both to recuperate and to decide about Jack.
It was now that the full measure of the damage Janet Auchincloss and Jack Kennedy had done to Jackie became clear. Many women would have walked out on such a husband, no matter how much they loved him. Jackie, in contrast, seemed to see what had just happened as the final, terrible proof of her own inadequacy. Rather than point an accusing finger at her husband, Jackie behaved even now as though she herself were responsible for his infidelity. The entire episode, the loss of a second baby coupled with Jack's careless absence, was the final nail in the coffin of what little self-confidence she possessed. It proved with stunning finality that her mother had been right after all. Jackie was a failure as a woman.
In the end, as if she were convinced that what he had done attested to her own sexual undesirability and that, in view of her shortcomings, any man would probably have done the same, she chose to stay with him. As one of the couple's closest friends would later say, from then on Jackie did not "demand" fidelity. But that doesn't mean she didn't want a faithful husband. It was just that she appeared finally to decide that she didn't deserve one.
There were also positive reasons for her decision not to seek a divorce. Her marriage did continue to prove her mother wrong in one important way. Jack found her interesting and engaging, as Janet had insisted no man ever would. As they always had, husband and wife still seemed ideally matched in every respect other than the sexual. After three years together, they continued to fascinate and amuse each other. In this area at least, the marriage remained vibrant and Jackie was determined to protect it. If Janet were correct, as she seemed to have been about Jackie's desirability, it was unlikely that any other man would be drawn to her in this way. In 1956, the question of whether Jackie would leave Jack was settled once and for all. The young woman who had entered the marriage with such high hopes had accepted defeat; she made up her mind that she was lucky to have as much as she had, when she could so easily have had nothing at all.
The timing of the crisis, coming as it did so soon after she had witnessed the moment, at the Chicago convention, when Jack's long-held dream of the presidency suddenly seemed capable of fulfillment, surely also played a role in her decision. Close friends of the couple recognized that Jackie, whose imaginative life owed much to her extensive reading of history, had shared her husband's longing for power. To leave him would be to abandon her own dreams of a life of historical significance at the very moment when they finally seemed within grasp.
Jackie's decision not to seek a divorce meant that Jack was free to make a decision of his own. During Thanksgiving at Hyannis Port, he conferred with his father and then informed his family that he wanted to run for president in 1960. For Jackie, the announcement meant that for the next four years Jack would be campaigning and their life together would change dramatically. He would spend those years constantly on the road. He would speak to every group that would have him and charm the local political bosses in the hope that by election time he would have established himself as a national figure. Jackie, aware of the impact his traveling would have on their home life but also still intending to take an active role in his political career, supported the plan vigorously.
Soon after Jack's decision to seek the presidency, Jackie became pregnant for a third time. Fearful of another lost child, she drastically scaled back her plans to travel with him, especially as the pregnancy advanced. The fact that in this period politics came to mean campaigning made it easier for her to reconcile herself to playing a much more limited role. She soon learned that days spent shaking hands in supermarkets or sipping coffee in church basements bored her. Behind the scenes, another factor contributed to her growing reluctance to participate. Jack, encouraged by his inner circle of political operatives known as the Irish Mafia, began to worry that Jackie might prove a liability on the campaign trail. At campaign strategy sessions attended by Jackie, he dissected, item by item, the qualities in her likely to alienate the average American voter. Not without humor, he cited her rarefied interests and pointed to the very clothes, by the Paris couturiers Balenciaga and Givenchy, with which she had sought to reinvent herself for him, suggesting that ordinary people would regard her as a "snob from Newport." On more than one occasion, her husband's remarks caused Jackie to run from the room in tears. No wonder she was soon speaking of politics with the tone of anger and disdain usually reserved for her mother. If Jack and his operatives doubted her political skills, she soon doubted them even more. Indeed, on the few trips she took, she seemed increasingly less effective as a campaigner. Had things been otherwise, almost certainly she would have drilled herself to perform, but Jack and his advisers had stripped away another layer of her self-confidence, and she was soon eager to avoid a public role whenever possible.
After months of anxious waiting, terrified that she would lose another baby, on November 27, 1957, Jackie gave birth to a healthy daughter. Friends noticed that from the moment Caroline (named for Jackie's sister, whose full name was Caroline Lee) arrived, Jack seemed to discover long-buried emotional depths, as well as an ability to express them openly. He was besotted with his tiny blond daughter, and almost from the time she opened her eyes, she was fascinated by him. Jackie's bond with the baby, though outwardly less emotional, was equally strong. Henceforth, the shared intensity of their love for their daughter immeasurably deepened the connection between husband and wife.
Jack's philandering continued unabated. The first summer after Caroline's birth, when Jackie took her up to Cape Cod for the season, leaving Jack at their new Georgetown house during the week, he embarked on an affair so reckless that it threatened to derail his presidential ambitions. The young woman was a receptionist in his Senate office named Pamela Turnure. Her landlady, incensed by the married politician's late-night visits, launched an assault on his candidacy that included letters to the press and important figures including Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as calls to his father and cardinal. Jack moved Pam temporarily into the home of an old friend from boarding school days, a divorcee named Mary Meyer. For the duration of the presidential campaign, the indignant landlady, Florence Kater, continued to fire off letters about the Turnure affair, but, though Kennedy's sexual appetites were not unknown to the Capitol Hill press corps, the era's journalistic etiquette ruled out most coverage of politicians' sexual lives. Only when issues such as integrity or competence arose was it permissible to peek into bedrooms.
Turnure was not the only woman with whom Kennedy was involved. In these years, whether he was on the road or in Washington alone, there was always a steady stream of available women. If no one more interesting was available, he turned to female staff members, who had grown accustomed to the candidate's telephone calls at the end of the day. His line was always the same. Without otherwise identifying himself, he would say in his unmistakable Boston accent, "This is your friend. Would you like to come up later and have a few drinks?" If the young woman demurred, he would go on to another. There was always someone ready to say yes.
Jackie complained that in these years she rarely spent two days in succession with Jack. But out of this situation a modus vivendi evolved that made her troubled marriage somewhat more tolerable, even if it did not eliminate the anguish of a life with a compulsively unfaithful husband. In the past, she had been constantly confronted with Jack's infidelity. During the four years of the campaign, by contrast, he was home so rarely and had so much free time on the road that even he found it possible to restrict his womanizing to periods when he and Jackie were apart. He continued to cause her tremendous pain, but without a doubt the philandering hurt less now that Jackie did not have to witness it. She seemed grateful for whatever small relief she could find.
Unable to prevent Jack's infidelities, she concentrated on protecting her dignity. With the many people around her aware of the sad reality of her marriage, she developed two lines of defense. With most people, Jackie simply pretended not to know and left the impression that she was either incredibly naïve or above such sordid thoughts. In contrast, with certain of Jack's friends, both those who chased women with him and those who abetted matters as either beard or procurer, Jackie sometimes indicated that she knew full well what her husband was up to but did not care. In either case, the pose was easier to maintain with her husband's other women out of view.
Jackie began to train herself to narrow her focus to that part of her marriage that was good and wear blinders to the rest. When Jack was at home with Jackie and Caroline, he was the picture of a devoted husband and father, and increasingly Jackie seemed able to concentrate on these happy times. She was by no means impervious to depression, and in Jack's absence she often descended into perilously dark moods, which she sought to master by riding her horse for hours on end in the vicinity of Hughdie's estate. At other times during days and nights alone, she read rapaciously, stuffing her mind with information with which to divert and intrigue her husband when he came home. She consciously stored up her energy and excitement for the moment of his return, and the better she became at maintaining focus on those hours of his that belonged to her, the more intensity she packed into them and the more vibrant they became. Even as her visible participation in Jack's public life became rarer, she operated more and more as his secret weapon, a source of the images and ideas with which he was forever re-creating himself. Often her contributions were directly political, as when she translated portions of de Gaulle's memoirs and read them aloud to him. In his own speeches about America, he was soon reworking the general's marvelous evocation of the image of France.
The perception, soon set in stone, that Jackie hated politics dated back to this period, when she learned to associate campaigning with her husband's infidelity. She had once longed to share fully in Jack's public life, and she paid an immense price for her decision to participate as little as possible. In these years, she abandoned her dream of a life of substance and meaning at her husband's side. She accepted the bargain of a smaller life where the pain caused by his womanizing was more bearable.
Jackie became pregnant again just two months after Jack officially announced his candidacy on January 2, 1960. This meant that she was available to campaign even less, and they lived apart as much as together. Though he was now in the spotlight, Jack engaged in some of his riskiest behavior yet. As a Secret Service agent who later guarded him remarked, he was "the kind of guy that liked to run through a fire with a full gasoline can." So he seemed to do during that last year of the campaign. The month Jackie became pregnant, he began an affair with a woman named Judith Campbell, to whom he had been introduced by Frank Sinatra, who soon afterward also put her together with Mafia boss Sam Giancana. The presidential candidate also continued to show up regularly with various young women at the New York nightclub El Morocco, behavior that prompted Joe Kennedy's friend Arthur Krock to warn privately that Jack, whose wife was pregnant after all, had better "watch his step" or suffer the grave political consequences that would follow a newspaper exposé of his scandalous private life. Joe Kennedy, as cavalier about sexual matters as his son -- indeed, his example -- fired back that the American people didn't care "how many times he gets laid."
On November 8, 1960, Jack was elected president in a close race against Richard Nixon. The following day, Jackie, wearing a bright red coat tightly buttoned over her bulging stomach, stood beside her husband as he made a brief acceptance speech in the Hyannis Armory on Cape Cod. After the election, their life continued much as before. Jack moved restlessly between Washington, Texas, Palm Beach, and New York as he began work on his transition, while Jackie stayed in Washington to await the birth of the baby. Three weeks after the election, shortly after midnight on November 25, Jackie gave birth one month prematurely to their second child. Jack was en route to Florida when he learned that she had been rushed to the hospital. By the time he reached Washington at 4 A.M., his son had been delivered by caesarean section. John Jr. was a sickly baby, who was diagnosed with a lung ailment known as hyaline membrane disease.
One week later, Jackie and the baby were released from the hospital. They were to leave for Florida the same afternoon, but before they did, Jackie had to fulfill one of the ritual duties of an incoming First Lady, a tour of the White House with her predecessor. While the baby waited with his nurse at the Kennedy residence in Georgetown, Jackie, fresh from major surgery as well as an extremely difficult pregnancy that had taken a tremendous toll on her normally robust health, toured the White House with Mamie Eisenhower. Jackie's doctor's request for a wheelchair had been overlooked, and Jackie, too nervous to protest, climbed stairs and walked long halls as her hostess pointed out the building's every nook and cranny. With the discipline inculcated in her by Janet, Jackie managed to complete the visit without collapsing. Still, the exertion, coupled with the four-hour flight with a sick baby that immediately followed, set back her recovery by weeks.
In Florida, her doctor ordered rest, but there was little chance for it in the chaos of her father-in-law's house. In addition to Jack's work on the transition, Jackie had a tremendous amount to do before Inauguration day. She had to plan their living quarters at the White House, hire staff, deal with requests from the press, and make countless other decisions about the new life that faced her and her family when Jack became president. She was also intensely anxious about John Jr., who failed to gain weight satisfactorily and had trouble sleeping, and uneasy about the need to leave both children in Palm Beach for the time being. Tradition required that the new president wait until the swearing-in ceremony was in progress to move into the White House. Jack and Jackie would have to camp out in temporary quarters at one end of the family quarters during renovations, and a nursery for the children would not be ready for some time. Moreover, she was deeply worried about how, once the children did arrive, she would preserve their privacy so that they could lead some semblance of a normal life.
The hulking Mercury with Jackie in the rear seat pulled up to the terminal at Palm Beach International Airport twenty minutes after it left the Kennedy estate. Here, to greet her, was another reminder of how her life had changed. In addition to press, a small crowd had gathered on Southern Boulevard to watch her departure. Wherever she went, it would be like this. She was merely boarding a plane, yet here were people calling out "Hey, Jackie!" and assessing her with the same critical glare that Janet had so often directed at her. The public was intensely curious about Jackie, so young and so different from her conservative, grandmotherly predecessors, Mamie Eisenhower and Bess Truman. A great many people had yet to decide whether they liked the stylish new First Lady. As Janet delighted in pointing out, numerous letters to Jackie had criticized her "messy" hair. But even her detractors evidenced a keen interest, not least perhaps because she had kept such a low profile during the campaign.
As Jackie stepped out of the Mercury to confront the crowd, a faint trace of what an agent later called the "deer in the headlights" look appeared on her face. Her Secret Service detail helped her through the crowd of excited onlookers to the Caroline, the Kennedy family's plane, a twin-engine converted Convair. Jackie climbed the steps and disappeared inside the small cabin, but even now, of course, she was not alone. Her Secret Service detail, the only other passengers, would share the flight to Washington.
As the plane took off that January afternoon, Jackie was at a turning point. Its signs were everywhere: in the crowd at the airport, but also in the gun-toting men in the cabin. Jackie had long been a woman under siege, but in Washington she faced the loss of the two main defensive weapons in her armory. Privacy had protected her in a lifelong struggle against humiliation, first because of the fights in her parents' marriage and later because of the compromises in her own. The constant separations from her husband during the campaign years had permitted her at least the pathetic consolation that she did not have to witness his compulsive womanizing. In the absence of both defenses, Jackie would have to find new ways to protect herself. In the weeks since the election, self-protection had been the common thread in nearly all her major decisions concerning the immediate future.
Aware that by the very nature of things history would afford her no real privacy, she had nonetheless taken steps to limit her public life dramatically. Having long ago abandoned her dreams of power in the interest of holding on to the small part of Jack's life that was unquestionably hers, she presented herself now as a reluctant public figure. She issued a statement that she would not be an active First Lady, and that as much as possible she would pursue a private life devoted to the priorities of her husband and her children. Determined to limit access to that private life, with all its mortifying complications, she ruled out press interviews and photo opportunities. In the interest of further secluding herself, she even attempted to limit her duties as hostess during state visits by directing the Chief of Protocol to encourage foreign leaders to leave their wives at home.
The likelihood that, living full-time with Jack again, she would soon be confronted with his philandering was much trickier to plan for. Some women in Jackie's situation might have moved to the White House and just waited, hoping against hope that it wouldn't happen, even though, as Jackie did, they knew perfectly well that it would. Jackie was not given to that sort of passivity. She was a fascinating combination of crippling insecurity and iron will. Despite her carefully constructed aura of fey innocence, Jackie was very much a realist, a woman who had lived an emotionally brutal life. Though she worked hard to appear helpless, she was anything but that.
To understand what she was capable of, one had to see her astride one of the massive hunters she favored, galloping headlong across the Virginia hunt country. The mother who had so relentlessly battered Jackie's ego had also painstakingly nurtured her fearless streak. Day after day, since the time when Jackie was little more than a toddler, Janet, herself a champion rider, had put her daughter in the saddle and drilled her for hours, creating an expert horsewoman. The image of the adult Jackie on horseback, strong, wild, and physically fearless, provides the best picture of that part of her character she called on to devise a plan for protecting herself against the constant proximity of her unfaithful husband. That image also suggests why she would have believed herself able to put such a plan into practice.
As Jackie sat in one of the plane's big, upholstered seats en route to Washington, every element of her plan was in place. Her plan would place tremendous emotional demands on her, demands she had never had to live with before. In the past four years, she had simply remained at home while Jack traveled, and pretended that all was well in her marriage. Henceforth, Jackie would be the one to leave and, in effect, make it possible for her husband to pursue other women in her absence. In the past, she had merely been required passively to accept what he was up to. Now, in order to guard against being confronted with things she preferred to avoid, she was going to have to take active steps to make it possible for him to cheat.
Central to her plan was a country retreat close enough to Washington to use on a regular basis. The moment Jack was elected, she had begun to seek the right spot, and while in Florida they had finalized arrangements to rent an estate in the Virginia hunt country just outside Middleburg. In addition to weekends in the country with Jack, she intended to withdraw there with the children several days during the week, in order to give him his freedom at the White House. In the summer, she would spend three months with the children on Cape Cod, at the house they already owned in the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port. Jack would remain in Washington during the week, a summer bachelor, and join her on weekends. Her absences had to be part of a routine that was largely predictable, as well as extensive enough to provide an adequate substitute for the freedom he had enjoyed on the campaign trail.
As the Caroline descended over a frigid Washington, it remained an open question whether Jackie, for all her carefully considered plans, would be able to manage the new life that faced her. Anyone about to become First Lady would be entitled to feel anxious and pressured. But Jackie's personal resources were already stretched to breaking point. The deeply insecure woman about to arrive in Washington was barely hanging on in a painful marriage that had originally promised to repair the years of damage she had suffered at the hands of her mother. For the past seven years, Jackie had pushed herself beyond the limits of most women -- not just to tolerate the humiliation of Jack's infidelity, but also to reinvent herself ceaselessly as the wife she believed he wanted. As if all this were not enough, at the last minute fate had added to her burdens. She had not recovered from the birth of her son before it was time for her to begin her duties as First Lady.
It was nearly 5 P.M. when the Caroline landed. Accompanied by Secret Service men, Jackie descended the steps of the plane, her oversized dark glasses in place, as press and another crowd of the curious watched her. A whole new set of responsibilities awaited her at the White House. Jackie, feeling a long way from fresh and confident, had reason to wonder whether she was up to them.
Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Leaming
Had it not been for the fact that Jacqueline Kennedy was married to the President of the United States, it is unlikely that a single book about her would have been written. And yet, in the dozens of books about her, specific details of that presidency have been largely excluded. Even more striking, and of greater consequence, is the fact that the histories of John F. Kennedy's presidency are comparably flawed, missing as they do the story of Jacqueline Kennedy and her crucial role. In an effort to fill the gap, I have tried to tell her story in those years with as much attention to the presidency as to the events of her private life. The role of Jacqueline Kennedy is probably less understood than any other part of the Kennedy presidency; equally, her personal story cannot be grasped without seeing it in the context of the unfolding events of one of the twentieth century's most dramatic presidencies. Her life was changed by historical events in ways she had never anticipated. She, in turn, influenced certain of those events in ways that until now have remained largely unexamined.
The chronicle of any presidency is incomplete without a consideration of the president's private life. That is even more true in the case of John F. Kennedy, because his private life repeatedly put his presidency at risk. Oddly, Kennedy's detractors -- those seeking to portray his so-called dark side -- have largely excluded Jackie from their versions of events, every bit as much as his apologists have. I would argue that one can come to terms neither with Kennedy's darker aspects nor with his fundamental decency -- nor, ultimately, with what was perhaps his most stunning unfinished achievement, his own personal struggle against unimaginable odds for a moral compass -- without being intimately familiar with the unusual nature of his life with her.
What follows is Jacqueline Kennedy's story in the White House years told fully for the first time in the larger and inseparable context of the presidency. It is also, in important ways, the story of the Kennedy presidency, with a tremendous missing piece filled in. To view the presidency afresh, rather than start with published memoirs and established histories, I have reconstructed the story from scratch, using the vast documentation produced during the Kennedy administration: letters, memos, transcripts, reports, diaries, and other primary sources. Using Secret Service reports of presidential movements, appointment books, gate logs, and other records, I have tracked the President and First Lady, as well as their intimates and associates, on a day-by-day, often minute-by-minute basis. With the aid of transcripts and minutes of meetings, I listened to what was actually said, by Kennedy himself and by key participants, during the many tumultuous events that made this presidency such an exciting one. I followed the President afterward, whether upstairs to the family quarters or to the Kennedys' weekend retreat in the country, to see him unwind with his wife and close friends. I considered what certain of those friends had to say about the Kennedys, whether in letters or diaries of the period, or in interviews. And I listened carefully to Jackie's own voice, in letters and other documents.
No experience can have been more valuable to me than the opportunity to study Jackie's extraordinarily moving, uncharacteristically frank correspondence with Harold Macmillan, written after her husband's death. As I encountered the passionate, emotionally turbulent, unguarded voice in those letters, and made sense of the allusions, both hers and Macmillan's, to certain defining events in the presidency, I was struck by how little has ever really been known about Jacqueline Kennedy or her intimate life with Jack in the White House years. In telling that story, it is my hope that, as I did, the reader will come to a better and more sympathetic understanding of two flawed but good and remarkable people, both of whom, each in his or her own way, came to exemplify the virtue both valued most: courage.
Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Leaming
Three days previously in Dallas, Texas, Jacqueline Kennedy had been inches from death, as a sniper's bullet shattered her husband's head while she fought to pull him down to safety after an earlier gunshot. Still, back in Washington, she had declared that, at her husband's funeral, she would follow his coffin on foot through the wide streets, which suddenly seemed so full of menace. She had insisted that she must "walk behind Jack," despite the desperate pleas of U.S. government officials that her plan was too dangerous. Warned that further violence might erupt, she made it clear that she would not permit terror to rule. In the hours that led up to the procession, there were numerous assassination threats on the world leaders assembled in Washington. Nonetheless, Johnson, de Gaulle, and others, following her example, insisted that they wanted to "walk with Mrs. Kennedy." That morning she, whose husband admired courage above all virtues, symbolized courage to a shaken and frightened world.
To anyone who saw Jacqueline Kennedy march behind President Kennedy's coffin, it would have been hard to imagine that, three years before, she had arrived at the White House plagued by insecurity, defeated by a difficult marriage, and determined as far as possible to play no active role in the presidency. How had this young woman who, only a thousand days prior to the assassination, had been filled with trepidation that she was inadequate to her responsibilities, become the emblematic figure who offered the American people a much-needed image of strength in the face of violence, of dignity and stability in the face of chaos? How did the shy, self-doubting 31-year-old of Inauguration Day become the powerful presence who comforted and inspired a nation in its time of tragedy? That is the story I have tried to tell in Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years. Using letters, diaries, and a wide range of other primary documentation, as well as interviews with Kennedy friends and associates, I have reconstructed Jacqueline Kennedy's day-by-day life, both public and private, as First Lady. Her story is a shocking, often-painful journey, one I hope readers will find as fascinating and deeply moving as I did. (Barbara Leaming)
Posted March 22, 2002
This is a truly engaging and enlighting portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and one that has not been explored in much depth before this book. Her role as first lady and all she accomplished is explained in great detail, and one can't help but admire her more than ever. As one old enough to remember the scorn heaped on Mrs. Kennedy when she married Onassis, this book gives much background and a deeper understanding why she chose Onassis as her second husband. Her humanness as well as her amazing talents and accomplishments come to light in this book, one of the best I have ever read on Jackie Kennedy. I highly recommend it.
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Posted May 31, 2002
This book does not deal with Mrs. Kennedy as one would want to believe. The author is focused on Sex and Drugs. Her interest in President Kennedy sexual affairs and the need for drugs to keep going is not backed up with suporting evidence. She fails to really talk about or discuss Mrs. Kennedy. I feel this author is using the Kennedy name in order to make a profit and that is all.
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Posted April 24, 2002
The book reveals the courage of a remarkable women. There is no doubt that she loved her husband very much despite his flaws. She is indeed an American queen.It also proves that Mrs Kennedy had brains as well as beauty. Besides, we can understand the political and personal transformation JFK underwent during his presidency.
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Posted November 3, 2001
This story is the best book that I have read on Jackie in a long time! She goes into depth about how much JFK's womanizing hurt her, not only that, but how her mothers verbal abuse affected her for years. It also shows the deep love that JFK felt for her, yet he was in conflict with that love and what he was taught to do by his father. It also goes into depth about how Jack sought a replacement for his beloved sister Kathleen Kennedy, and he sought that in Jackie. I definitely reccommend this wonderful book! Clarissa
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Posted November 12, 2001
Outstanding research about the Kennedy marriage played out simultaneously with the American presidency. Mrs. Leaming's frank information about the Kennedy marriage, politics,sex,drugs,children,and Mary Meyers was unsettling, sad, and sometimes nice. It is a testimoney to the grit of Jackie Kennedy. The great mystery would be: if JFK had lived, would the marriage have survived the eventual presidential sex outting by the press.
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Posted February 5, 2012
A very detailed book, however there seemed to be more detail about JFK's presidency and what HE was dealing with than Mrs. Kennedy. I was okay with that - since the subject interests me - however I wish there would have been more on Jackie and what she was going through all the way up to her marriage to Onassis... After all, she was "Mrs. Kennedy" until she remarried. The ending seemed a bit abrupt. Other than that, a worthwhile read.
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Posted December 23, 2004
If you thought that 'The Dark Side of Camelot' and 'A Question of Judgment' were one-sided diatribes against JFK, you ain't read nothing yet. The President Kennedy that emerges from these pages is sex obsessed, amoral and incompetent. Unfit to hold high office, shameless and cruel in his treatment of Jackie - a saint who bears every burden with love and fortitude. More than 150 pages are an 'expose' of the affair between JFK and Mary Meyer (a woman I have never heard off before I read this) and a thoroughly nasty sleezey business it was indeed. JFK slipping off for sex with MM again and again, doing drugs with her during the Cuban Missle Crisis, rubbing Jackies nose in it at function after function. A never ending cavalcade of decadance and filth. If it wasn't for the fact that I have studied JFK's life from more than one distorted viewpoint, I could have fallen into the trap of swallowing a load of old rubbish like this!
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Posted September 6, 2002
The last chapter and the Epilogue where what the whole book should have been like. I wanted to know about Mrs. Kennedy, who she contacted to redecorate the White House, her correspondence with them and her family and friends. What fund raisers did she have to accomplish this, who donated what? What did she do when she went to Glen Ora alone. She was a great gossip and wanted to know everything that was going on. People must have thousands of stories about her that don't contain the name Mary Meyer. If Leaming wants to do a book about M.M., don't call it "Mrs. Kennedy." There was talk she had someone else during that time, surely she could have gotten information if she had really wanted to. This book is totally sterile where Jackie Kennedy is concerned.
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Posted April 2, 2002
I think this book is a very good book for anyone to read if they enjoy history or the Kennedys. The book portrays her life well. You get a better look at what Jackie's life was like!
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