Tonight Natalie Morales of NBC News Today presented a Reelz Channel two-hour special titled “Jackie: Behind Closed Doors.” This special features the inimitable Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Natalie explained that Jackie was an icon and everyone always wanted to learn more about her.
Very few understood what transpired from that September 12, 1953 day in Newport, Rhode Island when the rich and famous gathered in St. Mary’s Church for the wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. However, this love match had many unanswered questions as this woman won over the most eligible bachelor.
Jackie was born before the 1929 crash of the stock market. Her family lost its fortune, but her father “Black Jack” Bouvier wanted to continue partying with his wine, women and song life. Her mother, Janet relied on her father’s support to keep her family going. Jackie grew up in a home with instability and uncertainty. She found security in the horses in the stable as she became more withdrawn. In 1923, her parents divorced and because her parents were divorced, her religion shunned her. For a Catholic to have a divorce was cause for scorn.
Jackie and her sister were living on Park Avenue with funds supplied by her grandfather who despised her father. But children have their favorites, and both Jackie and her sister Lee adored their father. When her mother married the wealthy Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr., both she and her sister were introduced into high society. She attended Vassar, and spent a year abroad in France where she traveled third class and became a part of the French lower class. She even roomed with a woman who was part of the French Resistance and fought against the Nazis. She studied for a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and when she came home, she went to George Washington University rather than return to Vassar. Always aware of her financial status, she lived in wealthy places but her grandfather’s meager allowance left her nearly broke. So she decided to go into journalism for a career. She landed a job with a major newspaper in Washington, D.C. as their inquiring photographer who asked people on the street questions and took their pictures for publication. As she became well known, she met politicians and people of wealth. Her mother wanted her to marry someone of substantial wealth, so she could live the life her mother wanted. She heard about the most eligible bachelor, John Kennedy and heard he had enormous wealth. Although he truly loved being a bachelor, she won him over as an intellectual person who was also Catholic. She knew her life would be unpredictable with him, and his father pushed him to marry because he wanted him to become president. Jack dragged his feet, so she took an assignment in England to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He read her articles every day, until he could not control his desire and sent her a telegram that she was missed and met her at the airport with an engagement ring.
Their wedding was nothing like her dreams, but orchestrated by Joe Kennedy to be a media sensation. With several photographers and politicians capturing the event, the senator’s wife was now in the public eye at all times. After their honeymoon in Mexico, they settled down in Georgetown in a two-bedroom apartment. Jackie was ready to do whatever necessary to promote Jack’s campaign with eyes on the presidency; even giving up her career.
She was aware of his infidelity from early on. However, unlike her mother who despised her father for the same thing, she took a different approach. At a dinner party, he would slip away, and she was heard to say, “Oh Jack, not another blonde.” She was very concerned with his health, and when it was learned that he had Addison’s Disease, he was hospitalized just one year into their marriage. Although she nursed him and took care of his wounds; this philanderer continued to write letters to women, especially one in Sweden. He recovered at the Kennedy home in West Palm Beach, Florida and after a year, he was ready to jump back into politics.
While Jackie was about to give birth, she went to stay with her mother in Newport. Jack took a sailing adventure in France and while Jackie gave birth to a stillborn girl, Jack was incommunicado on a yacht filled with bikini-clad women. Bobby Kennedy gave the news to Jackie that they lost the child, and she was devastated at the loss and for the fact that Jack was not there for her. Eventually, she got over it and became pregnant again; this time he stayed by her side. She gave birth to Caroline in November of 1957 and photos of them and the baby were adored by many. Jackie was the star when John announced his candidacy for president, and the public was enamored by her. She knew that this was the way it was supposed to unfold.
While on the campaign trail, Jackie, pregnant again took all precautions to protect her baby and went back home. She gave birth to John Jr., and both mother and child remained in the hospital for a week. When she came out of the hospital, still in pain, she took the tour of the White House by Mamie Eisenhower and stood on her feet for a long time, remaining her cheerful self. Once in the White House, she chose Oleg Cassini to be her stylist and design all her clothes. Soon everyone wanted to look like the First Lady.
Traveling across Europe, she charmed the likes of Charles de Gaulle, who had little liking for Americans. After Jackie completed her project to redesign the White House, Americans had to pleasure of watching the tour on television with moderator Charles Collingwood presented February 14, 1962. The program was viewed by 80 million viewers, and globally syndicated to 50 countries, including Russia and China.
In the spring of 1963, Jackie announced her pregnancy, but before the child could reach full-term, he died two days after birth with the same lung ailment as the stillborn girl, Arabella and John Jr. and was named Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. After his death, Jackie went into a deep depression and went on a trip to the Mediterranean where she met Aristotle Onassis. Jack called her and begged her to come home. She obliged, and he wanted her to take a trip to Dallas with him where his popularity was waning. She was not sure it was the right thing to do, and John Jr. did not want them to go. However, the Secret Service assured them that all was well. They arrived in Dallas, and the motorcade was greeted by hoards of people just waving and showing affection. Governor Connolly’s wife said, “you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” Then moments later, the sound of gunfire and the President grabbed his throat. In an instant, Jackie is a widow and the nation lost its beloved president. Jackie would not leave the Jack’s body and remained with his body as they loaded it into an ambulance for transport back to Washington. Before leaving the ground Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President while Jackie remained in her blood-stained suit. When Lady Bird Johnson asked her if she wanted to change, she preferred to “let them see what they did to her husband.”
His funeral was a worldwide event, and one could not forget John-John saluting his father’s flag-draped coffin as his mother remained stoic. Later that evening Bobby Kennedy accompanied Jackie to visit the eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery. After the funeral, Jackie retreated to Hyannis to grieve. When she heard that Theodore White was writing an article for Life Magazine, she summoned him, and he read his article to her in its entirety. She changed the last line from one of their favorite musicals to, “Lest not there be forgot, for one brief shining moment, there was Camelot.”
On December 6, she and her children settled in Georgetown, where they lived when Jack was a senator, but there she was a private person in a public arena. So she moved to New York with the children hoping for more anonymity. One person who was there for her through her grief was Aristotle Onassis, who the Kennedy family looked upon as a thief. While Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency, Jackie agreed to remain behind the scenes until after he was elected. However, she was unnerved about him running for office; fearing something may happen to him. When she watched on television as he won California, she went to bed. When she was awakened during the night, she expected to hear that he won California, but instead the dreaded news that history repeated itself. After Bobby’s death, she was inconsolable.
She wanted to leave the country that was in turmoil and decided to marry Aristotle Onassis, who had an army to protect him and lived on a private island and adored Jackie and her children. All was not well in the relationship, and she returned to New York to settle the children in school, and he went to Paris to continue a relationship with ex-lover Maria Callas. Still married, when Ari’s son Alexander was killed in a plane crash, he and his constituents blamed her for bring the Kennedy curse upon him. They remained married until his death in 1975. He died in Paris while she was in New York.
She worked at Doubleday, where she spent the rest of her career. Her life was a secret, and all friends were sworn to secrecy. If they talked; they were out. But she could not escape fate, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive type of cancer. She retreated to her Park Avenue home to spend the rest of her life with family and friends, and she died May 19, 1994, and was buried in Arlington next to her first husband and their two deceased children, Arabella and Patrick. When once asked what her greatest accomplishment was, she replied, “I kept my sanity.”