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People Top 5
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- October 12, 1998
- Vol. 50
- No. 13
Facing Despair as a Young Widow, Jackie Kennedy Sought Escape in Passionate Affairs Before Finally Finding Love and Fulfillment as a Working Mother
"She kept her feelings to herself even with friends," says Klein, who grew not only to know Onassis but also to write about her. She was, he admits, "very disturbed" by a 1989 profile of her he wrote for Vanity Fair, at which he has been a contributing editor since 1988. Though the article was positive, she interpreted it as an invasion of her privacy, and it strained, but did not end, their friendship. After her death in 1994, Klein wrote the 1996 bestseller All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. "I knew her as a very complicated, very intelligent, strong and yet insecure person who struggled all her life against a lot of odds," says Klein. In his new book, Just Jackie: Her Private Years (Ballantine), Jackie beats the odds to find happiness as a single working mother who loved not just the good life but good books, a good dessert and, not least of all, good dish. "She could get down and dirty and gossip," says Klein. "She had a wicked sense of humor and liked to have fun. Yet she was also able to be serious and knew literature and music. She was just a rare human being." In the excerpt that follows, Klein details the life, the loves and the losses that made Jackie so rare—and so human.
Two months after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Jackie moved into a Georgian town-house in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown. She was assigned 10 Secret Service agents—the first time the widow of a President had been given round-the-clock protection. Visitors such as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara were stunned by the throngs—people with binoculars, standing on boxes and ladders—gathered outside her door.
"I'm a freak now," Jackie told McNamara as she escorted him into the living room. "I'll always be a freak. I can't take it anymore. They're like locusts, they're everywhere. Women are always breaking through the police lines trying to touch the children as they go in and out. I can't even change my clothes in private because they can look into my bedroom window."
Jackie had not counted on becoming a national institution as a result of her televised performance after Dallas. Her eyes were rimmed in red. Her uncombed hair looked dry and brittle. McNamara felt pity for her. She had been elevated to the position of a mythical folk heroine, and yet she was a prisoner in her own home.
Jackie yearned for companionship and emotional support, but for the President's young widow, a private life proved all but impossible.
More and more, Jackie was thrown back on the company of the one man in Washington who did not seem to excite any prurient gossip, her Secret Service agent, Clint Hill. Tall, handsome, and as laconic as a movie cowboy, Hill had all the attributes of an American hero. One evening, about two months after the assassination, Jackie and Hill drove to the Embassy Row section of Washington. They slipped through a back entrance of the Fairfax Hotel, an unpretentious, family-style establishment that housed such permanent tenants as the family of a future politician by the name of Al Gore.
Jackie and Hill were greeted by Jack Scarella, the maitre d' of the hotel's famous Jockey Club restaurant, where she had dined not long before with actor Marlon Brando. Jackie had telephoned Scarella in advance and asked him to reserve an area in the back room, which customers called "Siberia." After they were seated, Jackie ordered a vodka martini. As the evening wore on, she drank two or three more. At one point during dinner, she got up from the table and staggered to the powder room. She did not look any steadier when she came back.
"Then something really crazy happened," said a diner who was sitting with a friend in the Royale section and had a clear view of Jackie and Hill from his table. "Jackie and Clint began engaging in what appeared to be a lot of heavy necking and petting. At first, I couldn't believe my eyes. Maybe Jackie was just crying on Clint's shoulder. Maybe he was just comforting her.
"After a bit, they slumped down in their red-leather banquette and disappeared from sight," the diner continued. "Every once in a while, they would appear, then disappear again. This went on from eight-thirty to ten-thirty. Jackie's hair was all messed up, and she looked like a mental wreck. But she didn't seem to care who saw her."
In 1964, feeling closed-in by the capital, Jackie moved to a 15-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where she tried to establish some semblance of a normal life for herself and her children.
Jackie enrolled Caroline at the Convent of the Sacred Heart school not far from her Fifth Avenue apartment. Shortly before Christmas vacation, Caroline turned up with a note for her biology teacher Teresa Gorman from Jackie written on a piece of yellow-lined paper that had been torn from a notebook. "Dear Mrs. Gorman," it said, "Caroline has my permission to bring home a mouse." Teresa phoned Jackie: "Are you sure you really want this mouse?"
"Caroline's in love with the idea," Jackie said. "She absolutely insists."
A few days later, Jackie, Caroline, Teresa, Bobby Kennedy and two Secret Service agents all went shopping for a mouse cage at Bloomingdale's. Bobby, who had just been elected senator in a landslide, moved down the crowded aisle with both arms extended, allowing people to shake his hands. It was utter pandemonium. "I don't mind for myself," Jackie told Teresa, "but I'm nerve-wracked about the children's safety. There are so many nutcases out there."
Caroline chose a cage that looked like a Chinese lantern. "You'll need some wood chippings and something for the mouse to nibble," Teresa said. "I'm beginning to think it would have been simpler to send the children away to camp for the holiday," said Jackie. A couple of days after the school closed for Christmas, the mother superior asked Teresa to call Jackie.
"You must come and take this mouse away," Jackie said. "It's stinking up the apartment."
"But won't Caroline be heartbroken?" Teresa asked.
"Yes, she will," said Jackie, "but the mouse is killing my social life."
Jackie did have a social life—more than anyone knew. Soon after Kennedy's death, she had called upon renowned architect John Carl Warnecke to design a grave site. Just before the first anniversary of the assassination, and after they had worked together for months, Jackie approved Warnecke's design—and the two began a secret romance.
Shortly before Warnecke publicly announced approval of the design, he and Jackie got into her black Mercury convertible, put down the top, and headed for Cape Cod. The Secret Service followed at a discreet distance. It was a fine autumn day, and Jackie and Warnecke felt exhilarated as they sailed along with the wind in their hair. When they arrived at Jackie's house in Hyannis Port, they found that Jackie's housekeeper had arranged for Caroline and John to spend the night at another house in the Kennedy compound. "We were all alone," Warnecke said.
Jackie showed Warnecke her collection of landscape paintings by André Dunoyer de Segonzac. Warnecke admired the seascapes that she had done herself. They had dinner, then Jackie gave him a tour of the rooms upstairs. Warnecke's head almost hit the sharply slanted ceiling in Jackie's bedroom. He stood with Jackie for a few moments at the window, looking out at the waters of Nantucket Sound. Then, wordlessly, he led her over to the bed that she had once shared with Jack Kennedy, and they began to make love.
"After a year of pent-up feelings," said Warnecke, "it was like an explosion. I remember saying to myself, 'What am I doing here? What's happening?' A lot has been written about Jackie's being cold," he went on. "That image is all wrong. There was nothing inhibited or cold about her. All those aspects that made Jackie so delightful—her sense of fun and joy—were also part of her love-making." Afterward, Warnecke told Jackie that he loved her. "I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you at the British Embassy [in 1963]," he said.
"I love you too, Jack," she said. Unknown to all but close family and friends, the romance continued for almost two years. But it was not meant to be. Also courted by multimillionaire Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Jackie opted for the life of luxury—and isolation from the public eye—that he offered. After marrying Onassis in 1968, she, Caroline and John Jr. spent a great deal of time on his private island of Skorpios.
While Ari was away on business, Jackie often stayed on Skorpios, walking, meditating, reading, and painting watercolors of the sea. Ari was constantly flitting from Athens to Paris to London. Jackie also spent a good deal of time in New York, where her children went to school. Yet Jackie enjoyed her solitary life. In Ari, she had found a man after her own heart; he was so absorbed in himself and his work that he left her mostly alone. When they were together, she doted on him, sketching his portrait, buying him modish neckties to offset his somber suits and a cigar cutter so he would not bite off the tips of his long Havanas.
Ari gave Jackie expensive jewelry and lavished attention on her and her children; she was happier than she had been since the last few months of her marriage to Jack Kennedy. "One day we were relaxing on the beach," said Jackie's friend Vivian Crespi. "We were lying in the sun drinking wine in our bikinis. And Jackie turned to me. 'Do you realize how lucky we are, Vivi?' she said. 'To have gotten out of that world we came from. That narrow world of Newport. All that horrible anti-Semitism and bigotry. Going everyday to that club with the same kinds of people. Don't you feel sorry for them? You and I have taken such a big bite out of life.' "
But life took a tragic turn in 1973, when Onassis's only son, Alexander, was killed in a plane crash, at 24. An inconsolable Onassis soon saw his fortune shaken by the Arab oil embargo, and his health began to fail. Irrationally, he blamed Jackie for many of his troubles. Society columnist Aileen Mehle, known as Suzy, witnessed the distress in 1973, when Onassis, Jackie and her children arrived for lunch at the Florida home of British banking magnate Loel Guinness and his wife, Gloria.
"Always before when I had seen [Jackie], she was marvelously pulled together, secure in that throwaway chic that was so much a part of her," said Mehle. "But this day was another matter. One look and it was clear that she had been to hell and back: no sign of makeup, an unbecoming cotton dress that didn't know where it began or ended. An odd cotton scarf, knotted at four corners, was tied on her head, covering her hair completely.
"While we took startled note, Ari took revenge—he had an audience. 'Look at you,' he said, pointing. 'How can you be seen looking like that? You don't see Gloria and Aileen in that kind of getup. What is your problem?'
"Her 'problem' was doing the pointing. We cringed—but Jackie didn't. For a second, a look of hurt and sadness crossed her face, but then she smiled her brightest smile and said, 'Yes, don't they look great!' And then without missing a beat, 'Loel, after lunch will you take John for a ride in your helicopter? He has been looking forward to it all day.' Her husband had humiliated her in front of her friends, and while another woman might have snapped back in anger, she handled this awkward moment with grace, turning aside an ugly incident."
After his son's death, Onassis threatened to divorce Jackie. But he had taken no official action at the time of his death from bronchial pneumonia in 1975. Following protracted legal wranglings between his daughter Christina and his widow, Jackie ultimately inherited $25.5 million. She returned to Manhattan and there sought out an old friend, diamond broker Maurice Tempelsman, for financial advice—and, in time, more.
Jackie and Tempelsman struck many people as an unlikely pair. She was a living legend, athletic, outdoorsy, fun-loving, a Roman-Catholic who had been reared in aristocratic surroundings. He was an obscure diamond merchant, overweight, physically unfit, intellectual, a Jew who had grown up in modest circumstances. Her friends found it hard to grasp how someone from Jackie's class could embrace a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Europe as her significant other. They found it even harder to imagine that she slept with him. "My gut tells me they were not intimate," said one of her closest friends.
What these friends failed to appreciate, however, was that in many ways Jackie had risen above her narrow-minded class. What was more, she had always been attracted to men like Tempelsman, paternal figures who fulfilled her emotional needs. After she was widowed for the second time, Jackie grew aware of her tendency to abdicate power over her life to men. This discovery—that all her adult life she had been a willing pawn in the hands of men—came as a humiliating shock to her. She was almost fifty years old, an age at which most women want to direct their own lives. She wondered if it was too late to change.
It was not. Tempelsman, who moved in with Jackie in 1982, made her a very rich woman—worth close to $200 million by 1989. Ironically, she was now finding her greatest happiness in everyday pleasures: family, friends, and her work as an editor at Doubleday.
"She telephoned me one day from Doubleday," said John Loring, the former design director of Tiffany & Co., who worked with Jackie on a series of six Tiffany lifestyle books. "Some people had called an editorial meeting to get us to do certain things that she and I did not want to do. And she said, 'We have to psyche them out on this one. You know, we're not going to argue. We're just going to psyche them out.'
"She did her homework thoroughly before the meeting," Loring continued, "and she knew what every man and woman was up to, and what they were trying to put over, and who was siding with who and who wasn't. And she knew how to tip the balance at the right moment in a meeting to get it the way she knew it should be done."
At Doubleday, Jackie occupied a cramped, nondescript office on the twentieth floor. "There were a lot of books and paintings around her office," Loring said. "But there was no decoration, no personal touches of anything whatsoever. Well, maybe a photograph or two, the children or something. But there was nothing that would have told you that this was in fact her office. She was not being Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was being an editor at Doubleday.
"She changed a great deal over the years," said Loring. "In the beginning, she still seemed very haunted by things. She still seemed to be pursued by her own demons. But all that changed as the years went on, and one can suspect that had a lot to do with Maurice Tempelsman and finally having a very satisfying and good relationship with someone who was a very strong and a very brilliant and quiet and charming and companionable person to be with. That undoubtedly was a tremendous influence on bringing her back to the happy person again. I think also she was delighted with her children, that as they grew up she was beginning to be so proud of them and so happy with them. And her enthusiasm was boundless."
Just as suddenly, her hard-won happiness was threatened when, in 1993, at age 64, Jackie was diagnosed with cancer.
"The moment I realized there was really something wrong with her was the last time we ate lunch at Le Cirque [in early spring of 1994]," said Loring. "Sirio [Maccioni, Le Cirque's owner] loved to send over a sampling of desserts after lunch. Jackie would never touch them. She might stick her fork in and eat two crumbs and say, 'Isn't that wonderful,' and that was the end of that.
"She was not looking terribly well, but she was in a wonderful mood, and we were having a good time. And at the end of the lunch, the usual four or five desserts appeared. And she said, 'You start that one. I'm going to start this one.' And she actually started to eat this dessert. And I thought, 'Well, that's remarkable.' So I said, 'You're not going to finish that, are you? I'm going to have the waiter take this away right this minute.' She said, 'If anyone tries to touch one of those, I'm going to stab them in the hand with my fork. I'm going to eat every one of them.' And she did. We sat there and plowed through every single dessert on the table. It was astonishing, but it was also terrifying, because it was like she decided that this was not going to work out, and so why not eat all the desserts."
About a month later, Jackie, usually optimistic about her chances for survival, was hospitalized with a perforated ulcer.
When she came out of the hospital, her whole mental outlook had changed. She now seemed prepared for the worst. She reviewed her living will, which stated that doctors were not to use aggressive medical treatment to keep her alive. She went through the books in her library, picking out a few as gifts for friends and her doctors. And she summoned her longtime friend Nancy Tucker-man to her apartment. A roaring blaze was going in the fireplace when Nancy entered the library. Jackie was sitting before the fire, an astrakhan over her lap. On the table beside her were bunches of letters that Jackie had received over the years from famous people.
Jackie unbound the letters, and read some of them to Nancy. Then, when she was finished, she tied them together again with the ribbon, and tossed them into the crackling fire.
On Wednesday, May 18,1994, having learned that the cancer had spread, Jackie returned to her apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, as she told one of her doctors, "to die." As a crowd and several TV crews gathered outside, John F. Kennedy Jr. greeted family and friends, who came to say a last goodbye. A Gregorian chant played softly on the stereo; visitors took turns sitting with Jackie, holding her hand as she lay in bed. She died at 10:15 p.m., May 19.
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