Globally respected as American royalty and a dynamic cultural symbol, graceful Jackie O. inspired, charmed, and shaped the world during the ’60s as the young, dignified, style-setting wife of President John Kennedy.
Girlfriend/Wife, Writer and TV Star, though Jackie really belongs in her own category — there was no other woman during the decade who was such a political, cultural, and social force.
BIRTH: Jacqueline was born July 28, 1929, making her already 31 when JFK won the presidential election in ‘60. Her exotic birthplace: Southampton, New York. Her moniker at birth was Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, she entered the ’60s as a Kennedy, and she died an Onassis (we’ve titled this page Jacqueline Kennedy in honor of her early ’60s life, when she gained her greatest fame).
The world admired her, and America cherished her; a 1964 Gallup Poll showed that she was the most-admired woman in America. So strong was Jackie’s impact, she has been the subject of hundreds of books and thousands of articles, many coming after her death, and at one time she was the most prized photo subject in the world. When she toured India, more people came to see her than came to see Queen Elizabeth. At her eulogy Ted Kennedy praised her part during the awful days in November ‘63 after the JFK assassination in Dallas: “She held us together as a family and a country.” At her eulogy she was remembered as being the idealization of the American woman: “No one else looked like her, spoke like her, wrote like her, or was so original in the way she did things.” Here are just a few of the items that show what an impact she had:
the Franklin Mint memorialized her with a porcelain Jackie doll, wearing the white sleeveless gown from the ‘61 inauguration; Life magazine had so many pictures of her that in ‘94 they published a photo book called Remembering Jackie; Mattel created Jackie-style fashions for Barbie; there was a Broadway play about her called Jackie–”The history, the headlines, the gossip, the auction, and now this” read the ads; in ‘53 the Republic of Niger created a postage stamp honoring her wedding to Jack, while Gambia created nine different stamps devoted to her; in ‘99 there was a beanie bear created in her honor; her image was used for a Kennedy-family set of paper dolls; a ‘62 board game called The Kennedys showed her alongside the Kennedy brothers as busts on Mt. Rushmore; Carlton Cards made a Christmas ornament of her in a ballgown; and when People magazine put out an issue called “Unforgettable Women of the Century,” there was only one photo on the cover — Jackie’s.
She shunned celebrity for most of her life, but somehow she was always in the spotlight. Her most glaring exposure came in November of ‘63, when she and JFK toured the South to raise support for the upcoming presidential campaign. On November 22, 1963, they attended a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce reception, she in a pink dress and pink hat. In Dallas that afternoon, while riding in an open-top limo, JFK was assassinated by gunshots, allegedly fired by Lee Harvey Oswald from a sixth-floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository building. At one point during the melee, Jackie climbed from her seat in the back out on to the trunk, she never remembered doing it but some speculated that she saw skull fragments of JFK lying on the trunk and wanted to retrieve them. He died at 2 p.m. EST that day, sending the world into shock. That night, Jackie solemnly watched the swearing-in ceremony of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson on board a plane. On November 25, 1963, JFK was buried, with the funeral conducted according to Jackie’s wishes. His casket was carried through Washington, D.C. on the same carriage that had carried Abe Lincoln’s body some 100 years earlier. Throughout the televised event, Jackie, wearing a black veil, mourned stoically and silently, helping the nation ease through this crises by always keeping control and maintaining her gallant, proud dignity. Perhaps because of the terrible traumas she endured under the public microscope in late ‘63, Jackie would always try to shy away from cameras and publicity.
Born into an aristocratic, rich family, Jackie was riding horses at age four and winning equestrian championships at age five. After her parents divorced when Jackie was eleven, her mother remarried and moved the family to a Virginia estate called Merrywood. Jackie attended prestigious private schools and vacationed at a huge Rhode Island farm, where she helped care for the animals. She was known as a quiet, private girl. She attended a Connecticut charm school, and in ‘47 her yearbook listed these traits for her: her favorite song was “Limehouse Blues,” she was always saying “play a rhumba next,” she was most known for her “wit,” and her ambition was “not to be a housewife.” After her coming-out party in ‘47, the regal Jackie was named Deb of the Year. She attended Vassar, then after her sophomore year she spent a happy, carefree year at the Sorbonne in Paris. She graduated from George Washington University in ‘51 and got a job as a reporter/photographer at the Washington Times Herald in ‘52 before she met JFK and became his wife. After the ’60s, Jackie worked at Viking, and she devoted her life to raising her kids, Caroline and John. “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much,” she once said. In ‘88 she became a joyous grandmother. In early ‘94 she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and on February 28, 1994 she was on the cover of People with the coverline: “She confronts cancer with grace, courage–and the love of her family.” In April of that year, knowing she would soon die, she left the hospital to return to her New York apartment, where she could be surrounded by family and friends. Jackie died on May 19, 1994, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to JFK. “Too young to be a widow in 1963,” eulogized Ted Kennedy, “and too young to die now”; President Clinton also spoke at her final service.
TALENT: One of her best talents was writing: As a young student she was writing and illustrating her own poetry, and throughout her life she was known as a prolific letter writer. In fact, at her funeral, her writing was praised in a speech by her son, John, who commended her “love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure.” In ‘51 she won a national writing contest held by Vogue magazine, the prize a trip to France; that article was reprinted in Vogue in February, ‘61, to inspire a new generation. Jackie used her talent in ‘61 when she wrote a guidebook called The White House. Appalled at the condition of the White House when she first moved in, she wrote the book to help raise funds for the restoration of the White House. The book sold for $1 and generated $250K in the first three months. She also sold the rights to a documentary, starring her, called “A Tour of the White House,” it was broadcast on February 14, 1962. Her efforts put more emphasis on the arts and culture than had before been seen on a national level. Much later, after the death of her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, Jackie put her writing skills to good use as an associate editor at Viking Press. Taking the job in September ‘75, she worked on special-interest books and helped publish books by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, plus a children’s book by Carly Simon. Jackie’s ability to charm people was legendary, and she used that charm to raise more funds for the White House restoration. She set up a fine arts committee to plan the work, and she charmed contributors and patrons to bring in more cash for the project. She also spoke four languages, a skill that served her husband well when she helped campaign for him in ‘58 for senator and in the early ’60s for president; she spoke in French and Spanish for JFK at various rallies and to different ethnic groups and organizations, helping to boost him to victory each time. Her language skills enabled her to charm foreign dignitaries such as France’s Charles DeGaulle when she toured Europe with JFK in the early ’60s, in fact when they returned he said, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”
Some people considered her one of America’s gorgeous women in her prime; others don’t put her on quite that high a level but admit that she made a lot out of what she had — wide-set eyes, a big smile, and a glamorous, though not classically beautiful, appearance. Photographers and magazine editors loved her, for her youthful, pleasing looks were quite a contrast to elderly aspects of previous First Ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower. Jackie was on countless magazine covers, including such gossipy movie tabloids as Photoplay, which usually covered sizzling movie stars. She made the following Life covers:
in ‘53, an article about the JFK/Jackie courtship, the cover showing them boating; an August 24, 1959 cover showed her in pink and with pearls; on May 26, 1961, wearing bright red and her trademark pillbox hat; in September of that same year, showing off her restoration work at the White House; on December 6, 1963, while showing JFK’s funeral; an April 26, 1963 issue about her childhood; a cover shot of her in Cambodia on November 17, 1967; on November 1, 1968, the coverlines read “Jackie’s Wedding” and the article showed her wedding to Aristotle Onassis; in ‘72, a cover story about her battles with an invasive photographer; in July ‘89, a 60th birthday tribute; in August ‘99, this time with her daughter.
Tall and lean, Jackie had impeccable, aristocratic, cultivated style and brought a new youthful beauty to the White House. For the inauguration in ‘61, she hired designer Oleg Cassini to create her wardrobe, telling him she wanted to dress as if “Jack were President of France.” Her glamorous clothes dazzled the nation and inspired a whole look, making her a role model for American women. Women even copied her hat style when Jackie accidentally dented a pillbox hat — similar hats with similar dents suddenly became fashionable. According to the book Wild Women in the White House, a maid once pulled some sexy black lingerie from JFK’s bed and handed them to Jackie, thinking the lingerie was hers. Jackie handed them to Jack with the quip, “Not my size.” The same book also claims that Jackie told a reporter that she wore “sable underwear.”
LIFESTYLE: Before she married JFK, Jackie was engaged to a New York broker named John Houston when she was 23. However, while engaged she met Senator JFK at a society dinner in Washington, and once they began dating she broke off her engagement. She also switched political allegiance, because up till then she was a Republican. Even back then, in ‘52, JFK had a rep as a womanizer and a playboy, but he was also seen as the future hope of the Democratic Party and so was considered quite a catch for Jackie. He proposed to her while she was in London for Queen Elizabeth’s investiture, and on September 12, 1953 they married in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church in Newport, Rhode Island. It was the social event of the year, but she was given away by her stepfather because her real father wasn’t invited, at the request of Jackie’s mother. Jackie and JFK moved into a Georgetown home in early ‘54. He was having chronic back pains from his fall on the deck of the sinking PT-109 during World War II, and he had surgery to try to heal his back though he was never pain-free again. She had a miscarriage in ‘55 and a still-born baby in ‘56. In November ‘57 she gave birth to daughter Caroline. On November 25, 1960 she gave birth to JFK, Jr. JFK continued to have health problems all through his presidency, even being diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, but that didn’t preclude him from having extra-marital affairs. Among those he was linked to were Angie Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield. Jackie never addressed these rumors in public, preferring to keep them a family matter, which was a pretty cool attitude to have, and pretty fortunate for JFK. The closest she ever got to discussing his infidelities was this quote: “I don’t think there are any men who are faithful to their wives.” During this time Secret Service agents pegged a possible affair Jackie might have had with Sinatra, though others deny that it ever happened. Frank did escort her to the January ‘61 inauguration ball he planned as the celebration of JFK’s triumph. Kitty Kelley’s book His Way said that in the ’60s Jackie hated Frank and was “unattainable” by him, and she wasn’t even friendly to him until the ’70s. Meanwhile, in August ‘63 Jackie gave birth to another son, Patrick, but he died after only 39 hours. Jackie then went on a Mediterranean cruise with her sister to recuperate, and there she met shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, the world’s richest man. After JFK’s death, she moved to New York City for some privacy and to get away from the Washington memories. In Manhattan she tried to raise her kids as normally, and with as little press attention, as possible. Though she wanted a low-profile, she was still written and talked about, and in the mid-60s stories started to circulate that she was having a romance with her escort while on a diplomatic trip to Asia. In ‘68 she announced plans to marry Aristotle Onassis, hoping she’d be able to start her life over as something other than the wife of a dead president. They married on October 20, 1968 on the Greek island of Skorpios. The public, unfortunately, condemned the marriage, seeing her as a golddigger and him as an opportunist trying to gain power and prestige. On January 23, 1973 Ari’s son Alexander died in a plane crash, and Ari was never the same again. He drank, became morose, and basically lost the will to live. Jackie had security and was out of the limelight, going on spending sprees and traveling. In March ‘75 Ari died of pneumonia. The last rumored romance she had was with diamond merchant Maurice Templeton.
EXTRAS: Jackie was born to “Black Jack” Bouvier, a successful banker, and a mother, Janet Lee, who was a talented equestrian … the family could trace its background into French aristocracy … her younger sister Lee, who grew up to become the jet-setting Lee Radziwell, was born four years after Jackie … Maria Shriver, who is married to Arnold Schwarzenegger, is her niece … of the title First Lady, Jackie once said, “it sounds like a saddle horse,” and she asked her staff not to call her that … though Jackie was a chain smoker, there are almost no photos of her actually smoking, as per her requests … after JFK’s death, a week later Jackie gave an interview to Life magazine about the tragedy, and in it she told how he loved the show Camelot with its song that reminded, “don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for happy-ever-aftering, that was known as Camelot” … Jackie and JFK’s years at the White House have since come to be known as the “Camelot era” or the “Camelot years” … not only was she interested in preserving the White House, Jackie also helped save Grand Central Station in ‘78 by lending her name to a fund-raising drive that restored the magnificent terminal to its former glory … she made the cover of Vanity Fair twice: first in August ‘89 with the coverline “Jackie, Yo! You’re Rich, You’re Gorgeous, and Along Came Maurice,” and then in July ‘94, after death, with a coverline that read “Forever Jackie” and also called her “Camelot’s Queen” … she was the subject of a ‘62 documentary called Jacqueline Kennedy’s Asian Journey, showing her trip to India and Pakistan … the ‘78 movie The Greek Tycoon was loosely based on her romance with Aristotle Onassis, Anthony Quinn played an Ari-styled character named Theo and Jackie’s character, Liz Cassidy, was played by Jacqueline Bisset … the ‘81 TV movie Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy starred Jaclyn Smith from “Charlie’s Angels” as Jackie and James Franciscus as JFK … the book The Kennedy Women claimed that a famous topless photo of Jackie was actually set up by an angry Aristotle Onassis, supposedly mad at her spending sprees and her distance from him … Jackie once said that she used to have interior dialogues with Abe Lincoln when she sat and concentrated in the Lincoln Room of the White House, “I’d sort of be talking with him, I could really feel his strength, she said … one of the recommendations in her will was that her children could auction off some of her possessions if they wanted — when they did, the Sotheby’s auction of 5,500 pieces of jewelry, art, and books from her estate on April 23-26 in ‘96 drew widespread attention and raised over $34 million, an amazing $29 million more than was predicted … among the items sold were thirteen pairs of salt and pepper shakers for $11,500, a monogrammed tape measure for $49,000, a monogrammed lighter for $85,000, a triple strand of faux pearls for $211,000, and the 40-carat engagement diamond she got from Onassis for $2.6 million.