JACKIE'S FINAL PERFORMANCE
For Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the spirit of Camelot never died. But we went too far. We deified Jackie. No one understood her exalted status after the president's funeral better than she did. It was an event she had successfully orchestrated. She knew that from that point on, no one would dare find fault with anything she did. She became the great American heroine.
"Anybody who is against me will look like a rat unless I run off with Eddie Fisher," Jackie admitted to William Manchester, the author of The Death of a President, a few months after the assassination. And so she went on to freely live the life of a courtesan. Openly, she was attracted only to men of great power or vast wealth. Despite this hunt for the gold, Jackie was able to maintain her revered status until she succumbed to cancer at age 64. Any other public figure would have been pilloried by the press. She remarried for a $3 million prenuptial agreement that even contained a clause as to the number of times she would submit to marital sex with Aristotle Onassis, the aging Greek shipping magnate, who also happened to be one of the world's richest men.
They were on their way to divorce when Onassis died.
After Onassis came Maurice Tempelsman, another extremely wealthy man, who left his wife to move in with Jackie. Despite this, the aura did not really end for the millions of people who witnessed her heroic, televised performance as the widow of the slain president, John F. Kennedy. No one could, or would want to, erase the vision of the stately, regal Jackie, dressed in mourning black, her two children by her side. Those stunning, appalling November days in 1963 that started in Dallas and ended with Jackie lighting the eternal flame at her husband's grave in Arlington National Cemetery have become a part of our national consciousness.
Who can forget the riderless horse with the boots hanging backward; little John John's salute to his father; the march in the street to the church by many of the world's great leaders, like Charles de Gaulle, Haile Selassie and Prince Philip of England? And above all, there was the valorous Jackie. This vision of her lasted a lifetime, and enabled her to hold a significant portion of the civilized world in thrall until the moment of her own burial alongside her husband last Monday. Norman Mailer explained how the murder in Dallas affected most Americans who had voted for JFK.
"It was our country for a while," Mailer said. "Now it's theirs again."
In order to marry Mrs. Kennedy, Onassis had to end his long romantic dalliance with Maria Callas, then one of the great opera singers of the world.
Callas was distraught.
"First I lost my weight," she screamed to reporters, "and then I lost Onassis."
Callas' mother, Litza Kalogeropoulos, was livid.
"Why did he marry that Jackie?" she asked. "She is ugly, with horrible legs, the skin of a hen, fat in the wrong places and eyes too far apart from one another. She's a big nothing."
Yet no one could deny that Jackie was a true patron of the arts. She saved historic buildings. She restored the White House. She helped create the Kennedy Center. At her New York City funeral the other day, Jessye Norman, the great opera diva, sang the Ave Maria. Unable to gain access inside the church, television was forced to rerun old clips of Jackie and her husband John. That was Jackie's fine hand at work once again. This was not the death of an aging woman. It was a rebirth of the Kennedy legend.
The eulogy was given by a tired, jaded Senator Ted Kennedy. One of those in the audience was Hillary Rodham Clinton. She would be joined at the Arlington burial by her husband, President Bill Clinton.
@body:When Aristotle Onassis began to complain that Jackie spent too much money on clothes, the public didn't blame Jackie for extravagance. Instead, it pilloried Onassis for his parsimony. When Onassis died, Jackie sued to make sure she got what she considered her fair share of his vast fortune.
Jackie never had a reason to fear she would fall into disfavor with her public. It had made a lasting bond to the death with her on that historic weekend.
Jackie spent weeks being interviewed by Manchester, taping her memories of her days in the White House with Jack Kennedy while they were still fresh. This was a masterful effort at controlling history. During all of those hours, she never once mentioned her husband's infidelities, which had reached massive proportions. Jack Kennedy was the only president in history who shared the favors of a Mafia don's mistress. Jackie was often unpredictable. Just when The Death of a President was about to be published in serial form by Look magazine, she rebelled at the whole idea. She filed suit against Manchester, attempting to halt its publication. At the time she was announcing her opposition, Jackie had still not even read the book. Too late, Manchester realized what had happened. Jackie and the Kennedy family were using him to prevent other writers like Jim Bishop from publishing books on the assassination. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Jack's brother, was still alive. He had presidential aspirations. He feared that unfavorable revelations in Manchester's book about then-president Lyndon B. Johnson might prove costly to Kennedy election chances.
Jackie said she was incensed upon learning that the magazine was going to pay Manchester a $600,000 fee for the excerpts. She wanted Manchester to donate the money to the John F. Kennedy library, but had forgotten to tie up magazine rights in the original agreement with him.
The fault did not lie with Manchester. Actually, it had been the Kennedys who sought Manchester out to do the book for them. President Kennedy had been pleased with a magazine article Manchester had written about him when he was still alive. Manchester, flattered to be singled out by the Kennedy family, agreed to drop his other writing projects and accepted $35,000 for the writing-and-researching job that took four years. Manchester readily agreed that all the rest of the proceeds would go to the library. After filing a legal action which cost Manchester $100,000 in legal fees to defend, Jackie just as quickly decided to drop her suit and allow the publication of the Look articles.
They were was a phenomenal success by publishing standards. That single issue of Look magazine sold out nationwide within three days. Every one of the 1,800 copies of the magazine placed in binders for the passengers of United Airlines was stolen within 24 hours.
That was all so long ago. Who remembers the days of the front-page stories about the magazine controversy now? Who even remembers Eddie Fisher as being something other than the father of actress Carrie Fisher? In the Sixties, Eddie was a well-known singer. He made the gossip columns by deserting his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, and running off with Elizabeth Taylor, the Madonna of her day. Not long after, Fisher got his. Taylor fell in love with actor Richard Burton while both were on location filming Cleopatra. Taylor abruptly dumped Fisher. Burton deserted his English wife. Despite the attendant scandal, Cleopatra was both an artistic and financial flop.
@body:Jackie had a sense of history. It was she who, despite her grief, took time to research the funerals of presidents past and determine how to conduct her husband's. It was her idea that she would march in the street behind her husband's casket. She told Manchester that she "refused to ride in a fat black Cadillac" the six blocks from the Capitol to the funeral Mass in Washington, D.C.'s St. Matthew's church. She was a natural at the art of public relations. She understood that the way to control reactions to her life was by preventing others from getting so close they could gain access to her secrets. She blue-penciled Manchester's accounts of her peering into mirrors and looking for wrinkles and that she got her idea for wearing scarves from Grace Kelly. No one ever learned she wore a size 10 shoe or that she had spent $100,000 on clothes during her first year in the White House.
Jackie forced Manchester to cut out accounts of Jack Kennedy strolling around the White House in his shorts.
Manchester, however, was allowed to use the fruits of the hours of conversation for his book. But the actual tapes, reportedly running more than 40 hours, remain sealed by their initial agreement.
"None of the interviews for the book were as affecting as those with Jackie," Manchester later wrote.
"Future historians may be puzzled by the odd clunking noises on the tapes. They were ice cubes. The only way we could get through those long evenings was with the aid of great containers of daiquiris."
Jackie's state of mind can be measured by a single anecdote from The Death of a President.
While preparing to meet the gathering heads of state who had come to the funeral, she called Angie Duke, the White House protocol chief, and asked whether she should bow before Prince Philip.
She was told that the wife of a chief of state never curtsies before anyone.
Manchester recalls: "Turning with a smile like a lost leaf, she said gently, 'Angie, I'm no longer the wife of a chief of state.'"
Manchester told how he placed his tape recorder out of sight so that Jackie would not be inhibited in what she said. But in order to look at the red light which told him that his recorder was still functioning, Manchester had to hunch over repeatedly and peer at it. To camouflage what he was doing, Manchester lighted a cigarette each time he looked for the red light on the recorder. This proved quite taxing to his health.
Before starting the interviews, Manchester had managed to quit smoking for two years. After finishing the interviews with Jackie, it took him another eight years to break the smoking habit again.
Manchester recalls his first meeting with Jackie:
"Mr. Manchester,' she said in that inimitable, breathy voice as she stepped into the living room, closed the sliding doors behind her with a sweeping movement and bowed slightly from the waist. She was wearing a black jersey and yellow stretch pants. She was beaming at me, and I thought how, at 34, with her camellia beauty, she might have been taken for a woman in her mid-20s. My first impression--and it never changed--was that I was in the presence of a very great tragic actress."
@body:One of the prime disagreements following the assassination had been over the choice of a burial site. The Kennedy family wanted the president's body taken to the family grave site in Massachusetts on a funeral train like Lincoln's. They planned to bury him in a previously purchased family plot in Brookline.
Manchester describes how Jackie chose the grave site:
"Her first visit to Arlington [following the assassination] was like the opening of the final act of Our Town. The steady rain was glacial, numbing. The arrival of the commander in chief's widow raised martial chivalry to a new pitch, and she stood beneath massed umbrellas, contemplating the silent scene for 15 minutes. "She remembered her intuitive flash of nearly three years before. She reflected how lovely the Robert E. Lee Mansion could be when you drive across the Memorial Bridge and saw it all lit up."
She saw history in the making. Jackie Kennedy, even in her grief, was able to look ahead and make a decision which would secure her a place in history. Manchester's 700-page book was a blockbuster hit upon publication in 1967. It sold 558,419 copies in bookstores and another 812,813 through the Book-of-the-Month Club. An additional 314,000 copies were sold in 11 foreign countries for which records were available. There are currently no figures available about paperback sales.
As Mary Schmich wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "We knew her face as we knew our own from magazine covers, tabloid photos and too many lousy docudramas."
Jackie's entire life was played by the rules she set down. We know of only one interview other than the ones she granted to Manchester. The second came this past year in a trade journal titled Publisher's Weekly. She did it only because of her job of editing books at Bantam-Doubleday. But even on this occasion, Jackie gave orders that there were to be no cameras or tape recorders, and she also demanded the right to approve any quotes that were to be used.
The general public really doesn't even know what she looked like at the time of her death. Whenever she was photographed, she was wearing a scarf and oversize sunglasses. For all we know, she hadn't changed from the last time we all saw her in Dallas in that pink Chanel suit. She had begun that fateful ride in Dallas as a first lady and finished it as a legend. We know that in her work as a senior editor at Doubleday, she came to the office three days a week and ate a lunch of carrot sticks or celery at her desk. Her fellow workers insist she was a marvelous editor who really remembers what books she edited. Her spending habits on clothes and makeup reached mythical dimensions. Is it any wonder then that we remember how smart Jackie always looked?
Who remembers anything about the clothes of Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Rosalynn Carter or Barbara Bush?
And yet Jack and Jackie brought something to the White House that we have not seen there since.
There was a night that playwright Tennessee Williams, actress Julie Harris, novelist Saul Bellow and conductor Leonard Bernstein were guests. On another occasion, dozens of Nobel Prize winners were entertained at a single sitting.
For President Kennedy's funeral, Jackie was warned by church authorities that Washington's St. Matthew's was too small. "I don't care," she said. Then, speaking of the visiting dignitaries, she said, "They can all stand in the streets if they have to."
At her own funeral in New York City on Monday, the general public was forbidden entrance to the church. Arlington National Cemetery was closed to the public for the day, too. In the end, she made everyone stand in the streets for her own funeral. When it was announced that Jackie would be buried alongside her first husband at Arlington National Cemetery, a final piece of the puzzle fell into place. It became apparent Jackie had planned for this eventuality more than 30 years ago--the weekend of the assassination. So her arrangements with Onassis and Maurice Tempelsman never had permanent status. Onassis and Tempelsman were merely stations of the cross on her way to her place in history. Her destination had always been Arlington and the vacant space at the side of President Kennedy. The journey to Dallas was finally ended. But Camelot lives.
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