A LADY, FIRST by Letitia Baldrige


My Life in the Kennedy White House and the American Embassies of Paris and Rome
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A vivacious memoir by etiquette and style maven Baldrige that recounts, with humor and personal insight, her experiences in the diplomatic corps, the White House, and as a Tiffany senior executive, among others.

Baldrige (Public Affairs Private Relations, 1990, etc.) chronicles her life from her Depression-era childhood in Omaha through an illustrious career that included serving as personal assistant to the US Ambassadors to France and Italy, and as White House Social Secretary to Jackie Kennedy. Though in no way a tell-all, the account of Baldrige’s rather charmed life brings the reader into contact with some of the most renowned figures of the 20th century: Clare Booth and Henry Luce, the Kennedy Family, postwar European artistic and political society, and many others. Always central among the roll call of famous figures, of course, is Baldrige herself, who with luck, pluck, and drive forged an adventurous and inspiring career at a time when women were expected to be stenographers or to get married. The numerous anecdotes are the highlight here, many of which include Baldrige’s own foibles. (On one occasion, she accidentally locked her then-new boss, publisher Henry Luce, underground in the catacombs of his Italian villa.) The author’s personality and charm make for engaging reading, but she tends to dump her tales and insights one upon the other. And with sentences like “Mama Mia, was she strict!,” one might, in the end, concur with her former English professor at Vassar, who leads Baldrige to admit, “I was not a good writer. I was, however, an ‘excellent communicator!’ ” That she is, and her energy and will to tackle new experiences as well as the exciting company she keeps, has given her much worth communicating.

Vibrant and delightful, if a touch self-indulgent—but a humanizing look at the rich and famous of the past six decades above all.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-670-89453-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2001


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