Part 5 of 5. Shattering The Jackie Myth.
The popular perception of Jackie of a queen above it all seems to be as much a creation of the media as anything else. Magazines would have a writer prepare a story without much factual basis of an idyllic White House akin to some French Court or Camelot because it sold magazines to the average reader. Thus extending and reinforcing the myth. Nobody before Ms. Smith has looked too closely at Mrs. Kennedy or the true facts. A lot has been said about Jack and his medical problems, philandering and his political mistakes but Jackie has always been placed on a pedestal. This book identifies her as a spoiled, self absorbed young woman devoted to her pastimes like clothes and fashion, horses or entertaining the glitterati and not much interested in her duties as First Lady or her husbands political life or his private life for that matter. This was not a close marriage if anything it was a marriage for her to a wealthy and powerful man that was also advantageous in it gave her access to the upper strata of society. The author suggests Jackie saw it as a typical patrician marriage in the European sense, where after an heir and a spare are produced the partners are free to pursue their own private interests. Jackie may have seen it that way, but I doubt that Jack did.
This book is one of the best on the relationship between Jack and Jackie and worth reading. The Author has taken a look at the White House and its inhabitants with out the benefit of rose colored glasses
AT HIS BIRTHDAY PARTY
Part 4 of 5. Other Women.
Jackie according to this Author was aware that her husband was seeing other women but chose to ignore it. Often these women were invited to White House social occasions over which she planned and presided. They would appear alone or with very transparent beards. It is almost as if Jackie was a facilitator of her husband’s infidelities. Also since she was absent much of the time she gave Jack ample time if not motivation for his amorous pursuits. How could she not suspect something was going on between her husband and Marilyn Monroe after the birthday song at the event in Madison Square Garden, which she did not attend? What about when she identified Fiddle and Faddle, two White House secretaries, as her husband’s mistresses, in French, to a high ranking French visitor who she was giving a tour of the White House. One wonders why Mary Meyer who has Jack’s lover for his last two years was so often in attendance at White House social events at which Jackie was also present. This holds true for Helen Chavchavadze another of his paramours who was often in attendance at the White House. This was a strange marriage, but the author says it was more than a political marriage or a marriage of convenience. Those relationships came later in her life. Indeed they had two children and three unfortunate miscarriages. Two before the Presidency and, a child Patrick, that died upon birth during the Presidency. The marriage resembles the marriage of Joe and Rose. A wildly successful but absent husband, many children to whom she is devoted, the wife turns her back on Joe’s infidelities, travels to France every year for the fashion shows and deeply involves herself in her religion. Most of these could be said of Jackie except she was a much more soignée person than Rose ever was, she had fewer children and her religion was that of being a sports woman. However both women were the glue that kept their marriages together and raised their children in commendable fashion. NEXT PART 5 OF 5 THE SHATTERING OF THE JACKIE MYTH.
Part 3of 5. Absent First Lady
The author points out that for much of the year Jackie was not in residence at the White House. In the late spring she would go to Hyannis Port and Hammersmith Farm for the summer and not return until October. In December she usually went to Palm Beach until February or March. When she was at the White House she spent long weekends at Glen Ora in the Virginia horse country riding to the hounds with her patrician friends. Jack would be with her on the weekends when he desired. However he decidedly was not interested in riding to the hounds and probably could not if he wanted to because of his back. The book discloses that Jack suffered greatly because of his back and needed constant medical attention for it. The author discusses the feelgood shots of Dr. Max Jacobson that were administered to the President and also the First Lady. These treatments, a mixture of vitamins and amphetamines, were even administered when Jack and Jackie went to Europe to see de Gaulle and Khrushchev. Needless to say these meetings were political failures and did not stop the withdrawal of France from NATO and its going alone on nuclear policy and of course they may have emboldened Khrushchev to cause the Cuban missile crisis.
While Jackie was interested in certain aspects of the White House life like the historical restoration of the interior about which she made a televised documentary and the more spectacular balls and dinners of the season, as said, she was not interested in the day to day duties of the First Lady which she delegated. Almost all the public daily duties were delegated to her staff or to stand in First Ladies. The picture comes through of a self-absorbed woman interested in her own life and patrician pursuits and not much interested in the duties of a First Lady, (Pressing the flesh was a chore she abhorred.). The press protected her from this abandonment of duty to focus on her elegance and beauty. Also it concealed she was not greatly interested in the political life of her husband. NEXT PART4 OF 5 OTHER WOMEN
This book is the first that I am aware of to dispassionately examine the activities of Jackie as First Lady. Ms. Smith notes that after the election Jackienever campaigned again with her husband until the fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963. This was a trip that Jackie reluctantly consented to go on only
because Texas was crucial state in the next election and her popularity there was a great asset to her husband. Further her absence on the trip might be seen as affront by Texans and the Texas media.
The author also makes the point that Jackie was a reluctant First Lady concerning the day to day chores of attending meetings, charity events or public appearances when one group or another came to town. In this regard LadyBird Johnson did yeoman service filling in for the First Lady and was often assisted by Janet Lee Auchincloss, Rose Kennedy and Jackie’s sisters in law. The evidence indicates that Jackie echewed the more mundane aspects of the job of First Lady. However for the more spectacular social events she was without equal in planning and execution, inviting the best minds and artists to the White house for these occasions that gave rise to the aura of the White House as “Camelot.”
NEXT PART 3 OF 5. ABSENT FIRST LADY
Part1of 5. The Debt.
This is an excellent and insightful look inside the Kennedy White House by a biographer of great skill particularly when she casts her eye on the lives and activities of other women. This book begins the day after John Fitzgerald Kennedy has won the presidential election of 1960 and ends on the day his widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and her two small children leave the White House. Before that it has a section entitled the “Kennedy Court”, which describes the main players in a social, cultural and political sense. These people were relatives, intimates, friends and political associates of the President and the First Lady and the book ends with an epilogue stating what happened to those people after the Kennedy Presidency. Sally Bedell Smith’s book is richly detailed regarding the marriage relationship of Jack and Jackie and the conduct, development and stresses on their personal and social lives as political and cultural events unfold around them and their “Court.” This book gives the facts without the author’s opinions and is meant to be more of a social and cultural history rather than a political analysis of the Kennedy years. The author does not rely on the tabloid or pop culture press or unfounded gossip for her sources but rather one hundred forty interviews of persons in a position to know facts or about one hundred other high quality sources. This is not another puff piece on the Kennedy’s. This is work of scholarship as well as a history of the White House that is well written and eminently readable. Although much of the material has been divulged before, Ms. Smith has assembled the facts and in a way which gives a new understanding and meaning to them. Also she is not blindly smitten by Jack or Jacqueline and offers no apologia for their faults or gushing reminisces of their successes