Grace &Amp; Iron

IT'S NOT CLEAR FROM THE PICTURE WHO IS more doting, the throng of reporters and photographers, or her proud husband, the president. Jackie Kennedy was a national treasure, and almost everyone, even jaded members of the press, felt a little proprietary. Maybe she did spend too much money on clothes and for new wallpaper at the White House, but so what? She deserved the best. In a way, many Americans of that era believed that they deserved her. After the dull '50s, the nation had entered an age of "poetry and power," according to Robert Frost, the poet laureate who spoke at JFK's Inauguration. If Americans were willing to pay any price, share any burden, why shouldn't they be entitled--if only briefly--to a queen? Jackie Kennedy was regal, yet also vibrant and so young (31 years old in 1961, the year she became First Lady). In this New Frontier, the pioneers would dine with silver spoons.

When, after only a thousand days, the age came to an abrupt end, she taught her country how to mourn with grace. She refused, after her husband had been shot down beside her, to change out of her blood-spattered suit; she wore it as a badge of national shame. But then she set about, as methodically as if she were arranging the seating for the next state dinner, to lift the nation's spirit and restore its dignity. She sent an aide to the Library of Congress to research Abraham Lincoln's funeral. She decided that her husband's coffin should be followed by a riderless horse, that his body should rest beneath an eternal flame, that he should be buried not in his old hometown of Boston, but alongside other soldiers who died for their country, at Arlington National Cemetery. When JFK's bier passed by, she gently nudged her 3-year-old son, John-John, to salute the fallen commander in chief Throughout she slept little and, in public, wept not at all.

Camelot was Jackie's creation. A few days after the funeral, she summoned historian Theodore H. White, who was writing a eulogy for Life magazine. She told him that she believed, and that her husband believed, that history belongs to heroes, and that heroes must not be forgotten. At night, she said, JFK liked to listen to a recording of the Lerner and Lowe musical, and he identified with the words of the last song: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

White knew perfectly well that Jackie was misreading history, but he was mesmerized by the romance and passion in her breathy voice. "At that moment," he later wrote, "she could have sold me anything from an Edsel to the Brooklyn Bridge." AU she was really asking for, he rationalized, "was for me to hang this Life epilogue on the Camelot conceit. It didn't seem like a hell of a lot ... So I said to myself, why not? If that's all she wants, let her have it."

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THUS DID THE PRESIDENT'S WIDOW ENSHRINE A NATIONAL myth. Teddy White was only one among many men, beginning with her father and ending with her son, whom Jackie bent to her will. She ""always knew what she wanted, and how to go about getting it,'' says novelist Louis Auchincloss, an old friend from childhood days. Somehow she managed to be genteel, gracious, dignified, even as she was shrewd and fierce.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis -- ""Jackie O'' to the tabloids who feasted on her celebrity -- was a delicious enigma. She may have put up with womanizing men (her father and two husbands), yet she hardly carried herself as a helpless victim. She raised two children burdened by fame and surrounded by the temptations of wealth, and miraculously they turned out to be quite normal (or, in JFK Jr.'s case, as normal as one can be when described by People magazine as ""the sexiest man alive''). Her face was plastered across every newsstand in America for three decades -- yet she barely spoke a word to the press.

She confounded expectations. With her cooing, childlike voice, her frail limbs and society airs, she always seemed a little overwhelmed by the rough-and-tumble world of the Kennedys -- too fragile for touch football, too fey for politics. The Kennedys valued ""toughness'' above all; how could the 1947 Deb of the Year, of Miss Chapin's and Miss Porter's schools, possibly be tough enough?

She was, from the beginning, tougher than all of them. She had to be in order to survive her childhood. The Social Register friendships, the proper nannies, the forelock-tugging retainers of Fifth Avenue and East Hampton were a comforting facade, her highborn heritage a bit of fraud. The family liked to pretend that the Bouviers were old French aristocracy; actually, their forebears were petit bourgeois who came to America and made their fortune speculating on land (the name Bouvier means ""cowherd''). Jackie's parents were separated when she was 7, divorced when she was almost 11. Her father was ""vile,'' says Louis Auchincloss. ""Black Jack'' Bouvier was a philandering lush who was too drunk to attend Jackie's wedding. Her mother, Janet Lee, was an icy social climber who tried to disguise her Irish roots.

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Jackie learned at a very young age to protect herself, to manipulate, to be wary. She was, inside her gilded cocoon, worldly and prematurely cynical. At Miss Porter's, she pouted and vamped for the camera like Veronica Lake, schoolgirl sweater pulled low off her shoulder. In her dorm, she laughed scornfully with her roommates about her mother's teary confession that her father had commenced his first extramarital affair two days into their honeymoon. In the Porter yearbook, Jackie wrote that her ambition in life was ""not to be a housewife.''

It is ironic, given her later disdain for paparazzi, that her first job was as a $42.50-a-week ""inquiring photographer'' for the old Washington Times-Herald. She needed the money; Black Jack had squandered the family fortune, in part by spoiling his daughters. Yet she was so elegantly turned out that the young rake she was dating, Congressman Jack Kennedy, ""never dreamed that she was virtually penniless,'' said a cousin, John H. Davis.

Kennedy was a cold suitor. There were no flowers or love letters (only a postcard from Bermuda: ""Wish you were here,'' it said). When JFK proposed, in June 1953, he did so by telegram from London. But he was intrigued by Jackie's aloofness and air of portent. She was not swept away; she told her friends that Jack was ""so vain you can't believe it,'' and that his family was ""terribly bourgeois.'' One evening, she watched with amusement as Kennedy played up to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In his cups, Churchill failed to recognize Kennedy. As the young couple left, Jackie eyed her dejected escort, slumped over in his tuxedo, and suggested, ""Maybe he thought you were the waiter.''

To the family patriarch, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, Jackie was about perfect: lovely, cunning, aristocratic, Roman Catholic. He helped stage the wedding of the year in 1953, inviting the entire U.S. Senate as well as the Newport set. Jackie and her father-in-law formed an alliance: he paid her bills and she discreetly put up with his son's philandering.

She had been conditioned by her own father's behavior. ""I don't think there are any men who are faithful to their wives,'' she told a friend. Still, she hadn't bargained on the Kennedy appetite. (Kennedy ""hunted'' with his colleague, Florida Sen. George Smathers, meeting young secretaries, sometimes several at once, at a hideaway apartment on Capitol Hill. ""He liked groups,'' said Smathers.) After the first year, a friend observed, Jackie was ""wandering around looking like the survivor of an airplane crash.'' She did not find comfort from the other Kennedy women, who mocked her as ""the debutante'' and made fun of her ""babykins'' voice. When, at the Hyannis Port dinner table, she pronounced her name as ""Jacklean,'' sister-in-law Eunice murmured, loud enough to be heard, ""rhymes with queen.'' The barbs were returned. Jackie, who had a miscarriage and a stillborn child before Caroline was safely delivered in 1957, regarded the fecundity of Bobby Kennedy's wife, Ethel, with a certain awe. ""She drops kids like rabbits,'' Jackie remarked.

Jackie was not a dutiful political spouse, at least in the ordinary sense. As a senator's wife, she announced in the late 1950s that she was tired of ""listening to all those boring politicians.'' After he was elected president, Kennedy feared that his wife would become a political liability, especially after she passed up a lunch with the National Council of Negro Women to go fox hunting, and refused to attend a reception for congressional wives, whom she found dreary. The president had to go instead, to avoid offending their husbands.

STATE TRIPS ABROAD WERE MORE TO HER TASTE. WITH her pillbox hats and understated elegance, she conquered Paris in the spring of 1961, rousing the French crowds to cheer ""Vive Jackie!'' and charming Charles de Gaulle, no easy task. At the end of the trip, the president deadpanned, ""I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.''

That same year, Jackie set about to ""restore'' (not ""redecorate'') the White House. Out went Mamie Eisenhower's dowdy furniture; in came antique furnishings from ""the James Monroe era,'' which meant French. Walls painted seasick green were covered over in 19th-century wallpaper carefully (and expensively) stripped from old farmhouses. Costs soared; her husband, who was tightfisted despite his own high life, grumbled about the bills. Yet in a televised tour watched by 56 million Americans in February 1962, she made the White House seem like a living stage and transformed her own image from spoiled rich girl to elegant conservator of the national heritage.

Along with the Empire breakfronts came a parade of classical musicians, literary figures and intellectuals. Igor Stravinsky, Andre Malraux, Carl Sandburg and the like added tone to 66 state dinners over a thousand nights. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan wistfully complimented the First Lady on bringing to the White House the pj""casual sort of grandeur''pj that Britain had lost. The high culture was a little wasted on the president. Kennedy ""had no interest in opera, dozed off at the symphony, and was bored by ballet,'' said his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. (The only music he liked, joked his wife, was ""Hail to the Chief.'') When the Bolshoi ballet came to town, the president instructed, ""I don't want my picture taken shaking hands with all those Rus-sian fairies.''

But Kennedy knew what made him look good, and that, he increasingly realized, was his wife. In November 1963, he begged her to come with him and the vice president on an early swing for the 1964 campaign, to Texas. Although she regarded LBJ and Lady Bird as ""Uncle Cornpone and his Little Porkchop,'' she agreed, and packed her pink suit.

After Dallas, she worked hard to polish her husband's myth. ""Bobby gets me to put on my widow's weeds and go down to [LBJ's] office and ask for tremendous things,'' she told a family friend, journalist Charles Bartlett. On one such mission, she persuaded Johnson to ask the governor of Florida to change the name of Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy. But she felt claustrophobic in Washington and increasingly upset by the policies of the Johnson administration, particularly the escalation of the Vietnam War. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was shocked when, at a small gathering, she began to beat on him with her fists, crying, ""You've got to stop the killing!''

A move to New York, to an apartment overlooking Central Park in 1965, could not keep the paparazzi at bay. Her lawyers trooped into court to win restraining orders against her flash-bulb nemesis, Ron Galella. The assassinations of her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in the spring of 1968 really shook her. ""I hate this country,'' she told a friend. ""I despise America and I don't want my children to live here anymore. If they're killing Kennedys my kids are No. 1 targets. I want to get out.''

Her escape was Aristotle Onassis. That October she married the Greek shipping tycoon and became the mistress of Skorpios, with 70 servants and a ruby on her finger ""the size of an egg.'' ""The American public will never turn on me unless I run off with Eddie Fisher,'' she once said, but Onassis tested their faith. The disappointment was global: how could you? demanded a Swedish newspaper. The Kennedys had tried to head off the marriage. ""For God's sake, Jackie, this could cost me five states,'' Bobby had warned her, before he was killed as he campaigned in California. The Catholic hierarchy fretted that if she consummated her marriage to the divorced Onassis, she would be living in sin.

It did seem odd that the woman who brought Nobel laureates to the White House would marry a man who covered the bar stools on his yacht with the tanned leather of whale testicles. But Onassis ""had great charm,'' said Louis Auchincloss. ""He was funny, and he had enormous intelligence.'' Jackie was puckish about her new mate. ""I like seeing all these politicians dealing with Ari's squiggly name,'' she said. Besides, it took a great deal of money to buy the kind of privacy and security she craved.

She very nearly lost out on the money. The marriage predictably soured. Onassis kept up with his old flame, diva Maria Callas, and the Greek magnate's daughter, Christina, regarded Jackie as the wicked stepmother. Badgered by Christina, Onassis persuaded the Greek Parliament to change the law ensuring widows a quarter of their husbands' property. When he died in 1975, Christina had to buy off Jackie for $26 million.

Widowed once more, back in New York, Mrs. Onassis found a wise investor, Andre Meyer, who multiplied her worth times 10. In addition to the Fifth Avenue apartment, there was the 464-acre estate on Martha's Vineyard and the farm in New Jersey horse country. Jackie herself went back to work four days a week, as a book editor who sat in a small office and made her own coffee. She was earnest, discerning and productive, editing up to a dozen books a year. She asked other famous people to write their autobiographies, persuading singer Michael Jackson to deliver ""Moonwalk'' and ballerina Gelsey Kirkland to write ""Dancing on My Grave.'' Meanwhile she stayed mum about herself, while becoming the subject of 22 biographies. (She has more listings in the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature than any living American woman.) She almost singlehandedly propped up the woman's magazine industry, appearing on the cover of the Ladies' Home Journal at least 16 times, on McCall's 13 times. ""She was our Lady Di,'' said Ellen Levine, the editor of Redbook. ""I would have killed for an interview. Ultimately, I respect her more for never giving it.''

""I am convinced that she never read the articles about her,'' said Auchincloss. But her publicist, Nancy Tuckerman, did; she was once observed on an airline poring over C. David Heymann's ""A Woman Named Jackie'' between a false dust jacket.

She went to charity balls, she protested against buildings that cast shadows on Central Park, she was a patron of the arts. For the last 15 years, her steady companion was Maurice Tempelsman, a wealthy diamond trader with a comforting manner and an easy sense of humor. (Long separated from his wife, Tempelsman lived with Jackie.) She was a devoted mother and grandmother. She loved her children, and warned them about the press. ""I can't talk,'' John Jr. told one reporter, ""my mother will kill me.''

Over time, people gradually gave her a measure of the privacy she deserved. She still got letters at her office, saying, ""I love you. Please send me $10,000'' and worse, but the paparazzi backed off. When people came up to her on the street and told her how wonderful she looked, she would fix them in her perfectly glazed smile and say nothing. She had achieved a kind of icon status. Like a fine painting, she was too valuable to touch.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was fascinated by her. During the summer of 1992, the would-be First Lady met with the former First Lady and asked ""how she had managed so well to carve out the space and privacy.'' The Clintons have not yet managed to put to good use whatever wisdom Jackie passed along, but perhaps even she would have had a hard time maintaining appearances and dignity in today's rude political milieu.

This week, Jackie will be buried alongside her first husband, at Arlington National Cemetery. She had wanted JFK to be buried there, she said, because he ""belonged to the people.'' Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis does, too, even if there was nothing common about her.

PHOTOS: She was a delicious enigma, born to privilege in the Hamptons (above), yet poised and playful in public, as when she introduced her son to astronaut Gordon Cooper Jr. in 1963

PHOTOS: Debutante of the Year in 1947 (left), she still needed money and went to work as an "inquiring photographer" for the Washington Times-Herald (above). In 1963 she was pregnant with her third child, Patrick, who was born prematurely and died 39 hours later.

PHOTO: Jackie taught the nation how to mourn with grace; at JFK's grave on what would have been his 47th birthday in 1964



THE FORCE OF THE SADNESS at her death took women by surprise. They hadn't expected to feel such a loss, but they couldn't shake it. They pointed to her children, her grandchildren, and said, ""But they weren't ready to lose her.'' The truth is, howev-er, they were really talking about themselves. We weren't ready to lose her. For a generation of women who were Jackie's age, and for the women who were their children, she would be the last woman we could idolize.

We are not allowed to believe fairy tales anymore. And we demand so much from women now: no one woman can ever embody all our dreams. But we fell in love with Jackie in a simpler time. When we wanted to grow up to be princesses, she was our princess. And later, when we wanted to be independent, she was independent. And she was always one step ahead, and one step better. She made it all look so easy, when for the rest of women it always seemed so hard -- the mothering, the wifing, the beauty routine, the ""staying interesting'' thing.

We balanced books on our heads, desperate to move like models, but the books always slid. ""There's a string at the top of your head and it's pulling up, up, up,'' dance instructors hectored little girls so we could stand like angels, but we looked like chickens, and would afterward return to our slumps. We fussed with Peter Pan collars and bizarre undergarments and Toni home perms that never turned out right. And then here was Jackie, with her chiseled collarbones and elegant, clear arms -- arms that could juggle babies, dance with giants, rein in large animals. Most women felt so uncomfortable in their skins, but she was radiant in hers.

When she fled the country and ran off with Aristotle Onassis, the spell seemed broken for a while. But what was most crushing was that she had run off with a toad. Did she let him touch her? This was not what we aspired to, and this did not look easy. This was working too hard for your money. But that chapter didn't last long, and it was the late '60s; our internal gyroscopes were out of whack. We were all wobbly. And, we liked to think, learning from our mistakes.

As Jackie did, or so it seemed a decade later when we'd see her striding out in Central Park -- long and lean-torsoed in her T shirts and slacks, with that determined look that said no one was going to fence her in. No man with a camera was going to send her scurrying back to her pad, and if that meant shoving a paparazzo to the ground now and then, so be it. And no New York sniggering would keep her from pursuing a vital, interesting life. When she landed her first job at Viking, there was sniping about town: ""She's taking someone's job; that money could go to someone else.'' Critics be damned, she became an accomplished editor. But that is almost beside the point, which is this: She belonged to a generation of women who felt they had to apologize for everything, but she was not going to. She was not going to apologize for picking up a proper paycheck any more than she was going to apologize for her past. And when she decided to keep company with a married man, she took his arm in pub-lic and smiled at the cameras -- when she felt like it.

At her estate on the Vineyard, care-takers sometimes rode out before she took her long walks and scattered birdseed by the road, so the birds would descend and her walks would be magical. A rich woman's trick, perhaps. But nothing to apologize for. We all want to live in a fairy tale, sometimes.

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