Friday, July 28, 2006


Since the rise of Hollywood, Washington had not seen anything resembling the arrival of a glamorous first lady until Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House. Indeed, the previous three first ladies (Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Truman and Mrs. Eisenhower), covering a period going back to 1932, were known for their almost stubbornly maintained lack of charm. At the age of 31, she was the youngest to arrive since Frances Folsom Cleveland, but she also had a style which was a breath of fresh air -- with her youthfully coiffed brown hair and coquettish smile, she appeared on the covers of America's magazines wearing glittering evening gowns, and sleek suits and pillbox hats. Her path into the pop culture consciousness was even further helped by the popularity of a kind of Jackie Kennedy housewife-alter ego, "Laura Petrie," the character played by Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Born on this day in 1929 in Southampton, New York and raised amid wealth in Newport, Rhode Island, Jacqueline Bouvier was dubbed "Queen Deb of the Year" by the newspapers, and studied at Vassar and the Sorbonne before receiving a degree in art from George Washington University in 1951. She briefly worked as the "Inquiring Camera Girl" for the Washington Times Herald before meeting the dashing young senator John Kennedy. They married in September 1953, receiving a long-distance blessing from Pius XII and a lot of press coverage. She and John had two children, Caroline and John, Jr. (a third was stillborn and a fourth died at birth), and Americans enjoyed for the first time since the dawn of the television era pictures of a president's young children playing in the White House when the Kennedys moved in after the 1960 election.

Jackie was an energetic partner in the creation of a White House culture that the press dubbed "Camelot": she directed the restoration of the White House and conducted a TV tour of the White House in February 1962; and she indulged her interest in the arts by inviting the world's finest musicians, artists and intellectuals to visit. She accompanied her husband to Dallas on that fateful day in 1963 when, as they sat together in an open convertible, John Kennedy was mortally wounded by an assassin's bullets. Dressed in couture suits, she was the focus of the nation's mourning.

The facts that later emerged about her less-than-perfect marriage -- with the president cavorting around the White House pool with naked internettes and engaging in countless other dalliances -- were unknown until the 1980s, which is why it probably came as such a complete shock to Middle America that Jackie would marry a Greek shipping millionaire (Aristotle Onassis) in 1968 -- after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy would cause her to want to flee the limelight completely, and move to a private island. The nation's curiosity about Jackie and her children would not subside, however, as tabloids scrambled for any unfocused photo of them enjoying their self-imposed exile.

After Onassis' death in 1975, she returned to New York and, while trying to maintain her privacy, became a book editor for Viking and Doubleday, shrewdly using her own celebrity to snare celebrity bestsellers (such as Michael Jackson's Moonwalk), but nonetheless employing a keen intelligence and discrimination in her work.

She died of cancer on May 19, 1994 in New York City. Portions of her art collection and personal effects were auctioned by Sotheby's in 1996, taking in over $34 million.



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