To mark the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, British author Sarah Bradford has updated her acclaimed biography of Jacqueline Kennedy and sheds new light on her complex relationship with the sexually voracious JFK and her sometimes waspish views of the major world figures she rubbed shoulders with…
It was Jackie’s state visit to Paris in 1961 that made her an international superstar. She was, as one reporter put it, ‘news 24 hours a day’. The fashion journal Women’s Wear Daily could have been re-christened What Jackie Wears Daily.
The ‘Jackie look’ was a regular selling point on Seventh Avenue. Even behind the Iron Curtain a Leningrad fashion magazine carried advertisements for ‘Jackie look’ clothes, and the Polish magazine Swait wrote that she had ‘entered the group of a few women in the world who set the style and tone of their epoch’.
It was at this point that Kennedy’s Chief of Protocol, the worldly Angier Biddle Duke, told his future wife, Robin, ‘The deck has shifted’. Indeed, the balance of power had tilted subtly towards Jackie, both in the eyes of her husband (which was all important to her) and the Kennedy entourage. If Jack was the Sun King, Jackie was by now most definitely America’s Queen.
Gore Vidal recalls that Jackie had said: ‘I never saw Jack until we got to the White House. He was always away and gone.’
Vidal added: ‘I don’t even think he thought anything about her until he began to see pictures of her in the paper, this glamorous woman who happened to be married to him.
‘And he started calling her “the sex symbol” – as in “Will you tell the sex symbol lunch is ready?”.
He found that pretty funny and I think it awakened his interest.’
However, their relationship remained complex.
Jack was becoming like Jackie’s idealised father ‘Black’ Jack Bouvier – the dashing womaniser who still came home to envelop his family with love. The birth of JFK’s children had awakened a strong paternal streak in him, But he would not, and could not, give up his sexual habits; nor did he feel the least bit guilty about them.
As Jackie’s sister Lee Radziwill was to tell Cecil Beaton in June 1968: ‘Jack used to play around and I knew exactly what he was up to and would tell him so. And he’d have absolutely no guilty conscience. He said, “I love her deeply and have done everything for her. I’ve no feeling of letting her down because I’ve put her foremost in everything”.’