Monday, September 8, 2014

America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford

"Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man." -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Unbeknownst to most, Jackie was a geisha. That's how the author typified her. She was a woman who was mysterious to the world, and even to herself. She craved independence and freedom, yet her daddy-complex, resulting from her "semi-incestuous" relationship with "Black Jack," her father who loved her daughter tremendously and which she reciprocated with equal gusto, who taught Jackie life lessons that she would carry with her for the rest of her life. Her father also served as her ideal man, her target were men who like her father was dashing, leisurely, and who showered her with constant adoration and attention. Maurice Tempelsman, the Belgian-American businessman and diamond merchant, proved to be the answer to all her longings for a man, as admired (and even envied) by members of her close circle.

According to Alastair Forbes, Jackie advised Michael Canfield (with an average trust fund, government salary, international and English society contacts, and royal ancestry), the first husband of her sister, Lee, to "get more money, Michael." Further adding that if she wanted to retain her sister's marriage with him, Jackie repeated to him, "No, Michael. I mean real money." Such hunger for money was actually the result of the psychological trauma imprinted by the Great Depression, and the nuclei of this desire lied at the insecurity, and childhood experience of growing up in a household where one's stepdad was endowed with an inheritance of Rockefeller proportions. (His step-dad's maternal grandfather was one of the original stockholders in Standard Oil, and his maternal grandaunt was the wife of the Standard Oil co-founder William Avery Rockefeller, Jr.)

She always did things theatrically, and her own way, she was fascinated by Greta Garbo, as stated by Richard de Combray. Both women wanted two paradoxically and contradicting things, admiration and awe on one hand, and privacy and controlled publicity on the other. "They required you to look at them…but when someone she didn't know tapped her on the shoulder, she became almost crazed with fear and anger." He added. 

Her annus mirabilis during her life was post-Onassis-till her death, when her devoted partner, Maurice made a fortune out of her inheritance-settlement with Cristina Onassis, when she was an editor, testimonies by colleagues and writers she published praised her devotion to her job (au contraire to critic's lament of her editorship simply as a means of legitimization), her unpretentiousness, and support towards her would-be author didn't go unnoticed. 

Notre-dame's aqua vitae were Caroline and John-John, post-mortem of JFK, she established as her raison d'être. In the name of her existence she needed security and money (lots of it) especially after another traumatic post-mortem of RFK and Dr. MLK, Jr..

From the fashionable off-piste ski resort of Verbier in the Swiss Alps, Truman Capote wrote to Cecil Beaton on the 9th of February 1962, "Had lunch today with your new friend Princess Lee, my God, how jealous she is of Jackie. I never knew, understand her marriage is all but finito." From Bradford's point of view "The Bouvier sisters' extraordinary capacity to maintain a façade concealed their deep rivalry from almost every observer." Worry need not as in Jackie's last will signed and sealed on the 22nd of March 1994, she declared her  "great affection" for her sister but opted not to leave anything for her as "I have already done so during my lifetime," but left Lee's children a trust fund of half a million dollars each.

Was she a feminist? She wrote in her high school yearbook from Miss Porter's School that her life ambition was "not to be a housewife." Hers of course was reminiscent of the feminism of Helena Rubinstein, Emma Lazarus, Coco Chanel, and Marie Curie, not the in your face "feminism." 

She was a serious civil rights advocate, enabling Ebony to publish a 1964 article entitled "The Lady in Black-US Negroes look with nostalgia on former First Lady's White House reign." She socially revolutionized the White House in a lot of ways, besides the other things she turned the White House into, she made sure there was no racial segregation at the White House. Famous for her glamorous parties thrown in the White House, Black writers and singers were regulars.

In 1962, at the Women's Press Club show, the renowned journalist Helen Thomas performed a skit-dressed in a pink evening dress with her hair in a Jackie bouffant style in a breathy little girl voice-that would merit a grin on the President's face the following day. "I've been reading all about you. Some party." Pres. Kennedy.

If I want to give a ball
For just me and Charles de Gaulle 
I have absolutely all the gall I need
I'm ...Jah-kee!
If I like to water-ski
And maintain my privacy
Am I to blame?
You would do the same
If you were me
I'm Jahhh-keee!
If I want to fly away, without taking JFK
Or if I'm fond of French champagne
And I'd rather not campaign
That's me...Jah-keee!

This was for what Thomas (and her other friends) called her "PBO" (Polite Brush Off) treatment. What was crucial for her at this critical junction in her life was to maintain as much as possible the most "normal" life possible, hardly anyone would believe she wanted that due to the glamour and mystique she successfully radiated, and the subsequent "Camelot-ological introspective tool" everyone uses to view her.

Knowing her brush with chlamydia (via JFK's gonorrhea) and the couple's (along with most celebrities of their time) regular shot-sessions with Dr. Max Jacobson, which alleviated Jackie's headaches, and chronic depression, and aided JFK's stress-problems, and energy deficiency  (as a result of his back problems), I could easily see them for who they were, just like us. But in so many ways they're not, at the end of the day, it boils down not to the magnitude of the problem, but how you deal with it which in their case involved strength, tenacity, and graciousness.

Knowing all this, I still admire her tremendously, actually more so than ever. For she proves the unwavering value of a fighting spirit we all possess, and must exercise constantly. She is an inspiration, not just to me, but to millions of people. She might forever live in that gilded cage she's in, a myth, an icon, evidenced by the hysteria the Kennedy auction produced, etc., but underneath it all, she's Jackie. A woman who lived her life.

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