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- October 19, 1981
- Vol. 16
- No. 16
Acting the Part
As Jackie Kennedy on TV, Ex-Angel Jaclyn Smith Relives the Legend of Camelot, but Off-Camera She Looks for a Fairy-Tale Ending in Her Own Life
"When faced with having to cope with a very public life, Mrs. Kennedy remained an enigma, which is not an easy thing to do," says Smith. Her own fishbowl life has been unsettling. There were all those rumored spats on the Angels set, her marital problems and recently her evident dismay that her August trip to the altar, with British cinematographer Anthony Richmond, 39, was her third. "It's a constant problem," says Smith. "You learn to numb yourself to the gossip—and Jackie seemed to handle it beautifully."
The film itself, which gingerly traces her life from girlhood through the White House years, initially had Mrs. Onassis' cooperation. She provided a reading list of 29 books (e.g., Theodore H. White's In Search of History and Mary Van Rensselaer Thayer's Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy), and suggested sources, until she discovered the project was a "docudrama" and not a documentary. She need not have worried about the outcome. "Jackie Kennedy is a much maligned lady," says writer-director Steven Gethers, who glossed over controversy in the production. He dismissed most of JFK's rumored affairs as "apocryphal, pure hearsay," and instead set out to shoot "a romantic comedy in the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn tradition." Is that less of a heresy than hearsay history?
Regardless, the film will bring Smith her first major role since Charlie's Angels ascended to rerun heaven last March. "The fun part of that show was in the beginning when we didn't know what was going to happen or if it was even going to take off," reflects Smith, the only seraph to persevere through all five seasons. Though the adventure and cameraderie cooled, the experience was rewarding. "I got stronger and became more secure within myself," says Jaclyn. "I'm very happy I stayed." And not just because she avoided the career stalls that co-stars Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Shelley Hack encountered after flying the coop; the series also provided Smith with a stabilizing regimen during her sometimes turbulent marriage to actor Dennis (The Young and the Restless) Cole, 41.
"I believe in marriage, I believe in commitment, I'm not casual about anything," says Smith, who was disheartened that the 1978 marriage folded after two and a half years. (Her first marriage, a seven-year hitch to TV actor-real estate dealer Roger Davis, had ended in 1975.) "I tried with all my heart," says Jackie of her second union. "But you can only try so much. I'm a dreamer, but you have to live in this world." In part—and only in part—she blames her fame. "All the publicity contributed to the breakup," says Smith. "I guess a man doesn't want competition, and I understand that. I'm not one of those big women's libbers. I understood Dennis wanted to be the head of the house, and the papers were calling him 'Mr. Jaclyn Smith.' "
Memories of what she calls baseless gossip still rile her. "Dennis got a rough go and it was all false," says Smith. "I never asked for one job for him, and he didn't gamble." Nor, she steams, did they publicly tiff. "Yes, everybody has a fight or two, but that's behind closed doors. It clears the air and it's healthy. But I was brought up in a certain way—I'm not a screamer, and I certainly couldn't argue in public." Yet all those difficulties are only part of the tale, says Smith, and as for the rest her attitude would do Jackie Kennedy credit. "No one knows the inside story, and it's no one's business," states Jaclyn. "I can say that Dennis and I came out friends."
Nevertheless, her recovery took a while. After she and Cole separated she began filming last December's TV terror movie, Nightkill, and was required to kick, scream and cry a lot. "I was in the mood, all right," she recalls. "You could call it natural acting. It was like primal therapy." During the shooting she struck up a friendship with the film's cinematographer, hirsute Tony Richmond, who liked what he saw through the camera lens. "The first thing that strikes you is her physical beauty, no doubt about that," observes Richmond, who won a 1973 British Academy Award for his work on the acclaimed suspense thriller Don't Look Now. His best-known films are The Man Who Fell to Earth and, ironically, the Jackie & Ari cinéma à clef, The Greek Tycoon.
Richmond soon discovered Smith was also "kind and funny, and knew who was taking her for a ride and who wasn't." Once Nightkill wrapped in Arizona, they began dating back in L.A. "I knew I was in love," Richmond says, "when Jackie named her dog after me." After Richmond's "difficult" divorce from movie makeup artist Linda DeVetta, 34, his wife of 11 years and mother of his three children, he and Jackie wed. Only three friends and Smith's decked-out three poodles (Vivien Leigh wore a white bow, while Richmond and Albert sported white bow ties) attended the brief ceremony on the uppermost terrace of the pricey two-story Bel Air home she bought last year. "I thought it should be just between Tony and me," says Jaclyn. "It was sort of emotional for me. After all, I was not the blushing bride."
Their honeymoon in England was equally emotional—but not for all the right reasons. A hotel thief walked off with $120,250 worth of her jewelry, including heirlooms and all uninsured. "It has," Richmond said at the time, "taken the edge off the honeymoon."
But that and any other problems, Smith says, are in the past. "I'm a positive thinker," she maintains. "Dwelling on anger or hurt only stagnates you and there is no growth." Professionally, the couple want to collaborate. In the meantime, she is working on a movie about actress Gene Tierney to be made by her G.H. Productions (named for her beloved grandfather, Gaston Hartsfield, a Methodist minister who died in 1976 at the age of 101). And Richmond is slated to work for Don't Look Now director Nicolas Roeg on Eureka, about the mysterious death of a wealthy British baronet, starring Gene Hackman.
Currently, they're extensively remodeling Smith's sixth housing project—her 10-room French Colonial minimansion. "The house was in perfect condition," admits Jackie. "It just wasn't to my taste." They're finishing the master bedroom (marble fireplace, fabric-covered walls and his-and-hers bathrooms) and are heading for the kitchen, where Richmond, who specializes in Italian and Chinese dinners, presides. As for other plans, a recent visit by Tony's two sons, George, 10, and Jonathan, 8 (his daughter, Antonia, 3, stayed home), quickened her oft-expressed maternal interest. "We're hoping," says Jackie. "He's the ideal man—I've finally found him," adds Smith, aware that particular refrain has a familiar lilt. "But listen—after two failures and a lot of fear and doubt about my judgment, he had to be special."
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