For a Woman of Independent Means, An Uncluttered, Fulfilling Life

updated 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Nearly a quarter century has passed since the fall of Camelot, and its Queen has not only survived but flourished. At 58, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has brought order to a life buoyed by triumphs and fissured by tragedies. Today's Jackie is an independent woman with a career (editing books for Doubleday & Co.) and a social conscience (lobbying on behalf of New York City's historic landmarks). She has buried two husbands, raised two children, distanced herself from her rowdy in-laws and, apparently, chosen to live alone. "Jackie is in the driver's seat. She knows what's right for herself," says an acquaintance, decorator Mario Buatta. "She leads a relaxed, controlled, uncluttered life."

It is a life that is both pampered and purposeful. As a measure of her stability, Onassis keeps to a tidy routine: twice-a-week facials, comb-outs at Kenneth's, shopping on pricey Madison Avenue and midmorning jogs in Manhattan's Central Park. "She runs rather slowly," says New York Road Runner President Fred Lebow. "She's what I call a dainty runner—she gingerly raises her feet." On her infrequent appearances at social galas, Jackie is radiantly dressed (often by designer Carolina Herrera) and usually squired by portly, polished Maurice Tempelsman, 58, a Belgian-born diamond dealer and international businessman who is estranged from his wife. Jackie's at-home dinners are said to be relaxed, cozy and understated, a fitting backdrop for her formidable charms. "She can talk on any subject," says one recent guest. "She makes you feel like you are the only person in the world."

Allure is what Doubleday executives may have been after when they hired Onassis as an editor in 1978. In the combative arena of publishing, she was thought to be a cosmetic addition to the company, like Cartier lending its name to K mart. Her early projects were precious, but not profitable—coffee table ornaments that reflected her highbred sensibilities. Since then Onassis has wooed Michael Jackson (his long-overdue autobiography, tentatively called Moonwalk, is expected next spring), landed her first best-seller (ballerina Gelsey Kirkland's Dancing on My Grave) and beguiled her friend Carly Simon into scribbling a volume of autobiographical sketches.

At the office, where she works only three half-days a week, editor Onassis is simply Jackie. She dresses informally in slacks and shirts with padded shoulders, trots to the cafeteria for her own coffee, and dips into a co-worker's bag of M&Ms when invited. Colleagues call her warm, unaffected, self-effacing. "She is quiet and shy with a sense of humor that's really endearing," says one former associate. "The other editors take her seriously. She is the one they turn to for a second reading of a book proposal if it is related to anything cultural. Her remarks are always cogent and to the point."

Even so, the question begs to be asked: Does Jackie really work? Three half-days a week, after all, is not slavery. "She is one of the most brilliant editors I've ever had," gushes Jonathan Cott, one of her current nonfiction authors, who may be forgiven a bit of starry-eyed hyperbole. "She's tough. If she doesn't like something, she can be extremely convincing. I have hundreds of detailed notes from her." Novelist-lawyer Louis Auchincloss, a relative of Jackie's stepfather who has contributed to four of her book projects, puts it this way: "She's a shrewd and imaginative editor of prose and she has impeccable taste in illustrations. She has always done things very well, ever since she was a little girl."

Not only is she a good editor, adds Auchincloss, "she's absolutely tops as a mother. It's very difficult to bring up children in a political atmosphere, but they are very nice, well-bred children." Caroline, 29, who married exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg last July, is about to enter her third year at Columbia Law School; her interest is said to be entertainment law. Brother John, 26, will begin his second year at New York University's school of law this fall. Both children remain close to their mother.

When the occasion arises to go public, Jackie is ready to use her clout. As a member of the New York Municipal Art Society, she has worked to preserve the city's historic landmarks and to halt overzealous construction that endangers the environment. She speaks out at Art Society board meetings, writes statements for press conferences and often serves as co-chairman for fund-raising dinners. With Jackie in attendance, a throwaway invitation becomes a media frenzy. In 1984, when she joined other advocates on a train bound for Albany to protest a bill removing landmark status from religious properties, the press eagerly lapped along. "She gets a little nervous because photographers are always clicking," says Joyce Matz of the Art Society, "but she's a pro. She stays calm and courteous." Recently Jackie campaigned against a plan to build 68-and 58-story towers that would cast a long shadow over Central Park's playgrounds. "Monstrous," declared Jackie at a Manhattan press conference, and the television cameras whirred.

When she chooses to retreat, Jackie does so in style at sanctuaries in Massachusetts and New Jersey. On autumn weekends she often rides to hounds with the Essex Hunt Club not far from her estate in Bernardsville, N.J. (In 1985 she won the Lady Ardmore Challenge trophy for vaulting fences up to 39 inches higher than her rivals, before being indecorously tossed by her mount.) She is usually among the spectators at the annual steeplechase event in nearby Peapack, but she isn't one to mingle with the locals. "We see Malcolm Forbes and John DeLorean [both New Jersey landowners] quite a bit, but it's the rare occasion we'll see Jackie," observes one resident.

In 1981 Jackie built an oceanfront compound on 356 prime acres of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. In the summers she has been seen tucking into a seafood pot-au-feu at the resort's trendy Oyster Bar, sailing and waterskiing with Tempelsman, who docks his luxury yacht in Menemsha. Onassis was a no-show at last month's celebrity tennis bash on the island, which regularly draws more neighborly summer folk with familiar names like Walter (Cronkite), Art (Buchwald) and Mike (Wallace). But then, no one really expected her presence. In fact the most familiar image of the Vineyard's most elusive inhabitant is that of a woman alone, camouflaged in scarf and shaded glasses, strolling along her private beach: a woman who seems content to have confidently staked her claim to the palpable world. After all, Camelot was only a myth.

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