Picks and Pans Review: A Lady, First: My Life in the Kennedy White House and the American Embassies of Paris and Rome
Mrs. Kennedy The Missing History of the Kennedy Years
By Barbara Learning
At least the Jacqueline Kennedy industry isn't in recession. These two new books focus solely on Jackie's years in the White House, a time when she launched her considerable charms onto the world stage. From the wings, Baldrige and Learning offer different views, the former looking at place settings, the latter at a place in history. Take Jackie's 1961 state visit to Paris. In Learning's book, the First Lady warms up relations between De Gaulle and President Kennedy by acting as their interpreter. Baldrige, whose six books on etiquette have made her the maharishi of manners, makes more of French coiffeur Alexandre's effort to confect Jackie's "brioche" do. Both books recount JFK's remark: "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it." For the Jackie-phile, the words still stir a frisson.
Too bad the thrills are familiar. Baldrige has the home-court advantage in this derby. A friend of Jackie's from their days at the Connecticut private school Miss Porter's, Baldrige was the First Lady's social secretary, a position that included directing replies to fan mail. (One letter read, "How many rollers do you put in your hair at night, and does the President object?") But Baldrige is too polite to dish about her employer's grooming or most other personal matters. The rest of her book details her life working in embassies and later in PR—details for which the Jackie fan is not searching.
Leaming, who wrote the best-selling biography Katharine Hepburn, draws on declassified documents and Secret Service records to give a tick-tock of Jackie's travels. She argues that Jackie's role has gone missing because historians don't appreciate the importance she had in upgrading JFK's image when he was floundering. Readers, though, won't appreciate the paucity of quotes from Jackie. (Baldrige: Viking, $26.95; Leaming: Free Press, $25)
Bottom Line: Secondary works on a vital First Lady