The late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis speaks candidly about life in Camelot.
Just before publication of this collection of interviews with journalist/historian Arthur Schlesinger, conducted in 1964, a few leaked bits of conversation revealed that Jacqueline was content to leave the politics to her husband. This led to Kennedy’s being lambasted as a lightweight at best, a betrayer of feminism at worst. The interviews, gathered in transcribed form with elegant introductions by first daughter Caroline Kennedy and historian Michael Beschloss, indicate that she was anything but a lightweight, even if, as Beschloss wryly notes, “well-bred young women of Jacqueline’s generation were not encouraged to sound like intellectuals.” Jackie preceded the generation of feminists that would soon arise (and then became a role model, speaking frankly in Ms. and other movement publications). But the real defense comes through her words here, gathered only a few months after JFK’s assassination. They reveal a nimble if worried mind. Personally, JFK wasn’t the easiest man to live with, due in part to the sour stomach born of nerves and “those awful years campaigning…living on a milkshake and a hot dog,” as well as the terrible general health that he bore stoically in public but that caused him private agony. Jackie is shrewd in her assessments about people: Stewart Udall rose to head the Interior Department, she notes, because he delivered Arizona to JFK in the 1960 election—but then emerged as a real leader. She also provides on-the-spot commentary about unfolding world events, such as the ever-more-urgent specter of Vietnam and a divided Germany (the only ambassadors JFK “really disliked” were those from Germany and Pakistan).
All politics is local—and personal. These interviews are invaluable in providing a fly-on-the-wall view of life in the Kennedy White House—and there has never been so intimate a view from a First Lady’s perspective.