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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words

So, I contemplated a lot whether or not to do this post. If you don't know, Jackie Kennedy, who was First Lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963, did a series of recorded interviews with historian Arnold Schlesinger four months after her husband was shot. They were kept away for 47 years until now; in which, Caroline Kennedy, Jackie and John's only living offspring, has decided to release the eight and a half hours of content as audio tapes and a book for the commemorative fifitieth anniversary of her father's election into the White House. Last night, the highlights of the tape were aired on a two hour special on ABC hosted by Diane Sawyer.

I, of course, watched it. I thought it would be a intersting idea to blog about what I thought of it, but the thing that keeps restraining me that this is, above all, a classic movie blog and this isn't about Classic Hollywood. However, I did say there would be occasional exceptions and this is one of them. I hope no one minds!

Before I start, though, there are a few things I want to mention that are Classic Hollywood. The first is today is the twenty-ninth anniversary of Grace Kelly's death.

Grace, who was Princess Grace of Monaco at the time of her death, died in a car accident on her way back to Monaco from a short vacation she'd spent in France with daughter Stephanie. It was just the two of them and Grace was driving. She suffered a stroke on the road and as a result of this, she lost control of the wheel and the car went tumbling. She died the next day. She was only fifty-three.

Grace is one of my favorites and I think it's so unfortunate she had to come to that very awful, early, disturbing death. The rumor has always been that Grace was driving on the same road she drove on in "To Catch a Thief" in that famous scene where she is driving so fast she is sending Cary Grant's blood pressure up.

That would be sadly ironic, but it is not true, however, and only a piece of fiction.

Anyway, in commemoration of this sad day I am sharing with you a tribute I made for Grace perhaps a month ago or so but I never posted on here. The piece of music is "Clair de Lune" by Debussy, which was Grace's favorite as a child. I love it too, of course.

Also, a quick note: I have once again thrown my hat into the current review contest  Film Classics is holding. The theme is Bette Davis. I am sure this time around it will be.... less stressful writing my piece, as Bette is a topic I am more comfortable with. The banner with other details will be in my sidebar and I'll tell you more and all of that jazz when I actually write the piece.

Now, let's get on with it!


Jackie Kennedy never wrote her memoirs. She rarely ever gave interviews, either. This is despite the fact that so much has been said, whispered, and claimed about the Kennedy Administration. 

It was 1964 when she sat down with historian Arthur Schlesinger to tell the story of her time at the White House. This was before Jackie O, before she was an editor at Doubleday, before she became an independent woman of the world. Instead, this still the First Lady of the United States we listen to.

The tapes had been sealed and put it away according to Jackie's wishes, but now her daughter Caroline has pulled out this corpse. Leaving it unedited, she has brought it to the public for the first time in a book and audio tapes. I have yet to read the book though I do plan to. I did, however, watch the special on ABC last night and so most of the opinion I have of the tapes I have gained from that.

The tapes are in pretty good condition though one can tell it was recorded a while ago; it hints at fuzziness. It opens with the sound of a glass being filled with ice, a cigarette being lit, and the noise of Caroline and her brother, John playing in the background someplace. From then on, however, it is mostly Jackie. John makes a special guest stint and Schlesinger can be heard asking a few questions and making some comments, but from the snippets of the tapes (which, in its entirety would run eight and a half hours) I heard it was mostly Jackie's identifiable "little girl" voice, with a hint of a New York accent.

It starts from the beginning of the Kennedy administration, the day John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. It was a cold January day in Washington, D.C and there was snow on the ground. Jackie had asked Robert Frost to please come and recite poem; she comments here on how Frost couldn't see the poem because of the snow's reflection. Lyndon B. Johnson, the vice president, offered his hat to shade the words but eventually Frost recited it from memory. Jackie speaks of how right after the president was sworn in she wanted to hurry over to him, but a huge crowd of people separated the two and it was not util later that she could finally see him.

She talks about how the White House staff got used to having young children in the White House once again, of how they were startled by finding rubber toys in the tub that belonged to John-John or being shocked by the sudden noise of the early morning cartoons on the television set. Then come the darker subjects; the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis - how, when the country was threatened by nuclear war, the President wanted to send her and the kids to Camp David to be safe, but Jackie told him that she wanted to - and the kids wanted to - die with him if anything were to happen.

John-John can be heard somewhere in the tapes; Schlesinger asks him about his father. "Oh, he's in heaven now!" John says in a boyish, loud way like all little boys have a habit of doing. Does he remember his father? "Yes!", but when asked to recall certain memories, he says, "Oh, I don't remember anything!"

Jackie gives some quite frank opinions on some famous figures. Charles deGualle was "egotistical", Indira Gandhi was "pushy and horrible", and what some found most shocking of all, she found Martin Luther King to be a "tricky" man. It also seems she wasn't a fan of Mamie Eisenhower or Lyndon B. Johnson all the time.

One thing that is not discussed on the tape is the day her husband was shot, or that Awful November Day in Dallas. I think it was fair for them to not bring this topic up since he had only been killed four months before. Can you imagine how deep and sore that wound still was? And always would be?

Despite this, I did find Jackie's voice to sound mostly pleasant. Her voice does not throb with tears or anything, and for the most part she sounds cheery. She giggles a little at certain parts and drops her voice to a girlish whisper at others. Most of all, she is forever defensive of the President. She tenderly refers to him as "Jack" and defends him in everyway possible. She remembers him fondly, of how he was "always reading." She does not discuss the many rumors that have plagued the Kennedys for years; of how the President was a womanizer and possibly had an affair with Marilyn Monroe. She sticks by her husband through and through.

I was glad she did, though. Yes, she casts him in a glowing light that is probably a bit too favorable but the man had died just four months before. You can hear her voice lilt with not tears but still strong emotion when she speaks of him and you know she means what she says. I think this was very respectful and classy of her instead of throwing him under the bus or something. There are not even any snide marks that hint at cracks in their relationship; though I have to admit, I am sure they were there.

As for her comments about the other figures, I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, even Jackie Kennedy. However; she didn't straight up call MLK "tricky" as it suggested. She says she got "phony" sort of vibes from him upon first meeting him, and also speaks of a rumor that he had poked fun at her husband's funeral. Caroline who also gives her input in the special thinks her mother truly admired MLK. The rumor about MLK making fun of her husband's funeral would be hurtful to her, considering it had only been four months, though I'm sure it's not true, and hope it isn't either.

Though the above comments, considered "explosive", another thing that maybe gave people a little start was how she does not come across as the femenist, everyday woman Jackie O who would write a piece for Ms. magazine about why a woman doesn't need a man. I think that though Jacqueline Kennedy and Jackie O were the same person and shared several qualities, there is the difference that the First Lady Jackie was restrained in her opinions and a little bit of the woman behind the man. Jackie O was more outspoken and a symbol of woman's rights, even. In the tape Jackie makes some claims of how she got a lot of her opinions from her husband and also kind of states how she can't really understand feminists. Though these are strange statements, I most certainly think her opinion on this changed over time.

All of this considered however, I don't think the tapes bring anything new or explosive to light. However, being the fan of Jackie I am I loved listening to them. Since she never wrote her memoirs this is the best thing we'll ever hear from Jackie in her own words, in that girlish lilt. I just found it interesting to hear her personal opinions. Though she became slightly brutal when it came to particular people, I think she remains classy, intimate to the listener, and above all unceasingly elegant throughout the tapes.

That is why I suggest you take a peek into the tapes if you are a history buff, a fan of the Kennedys, a fan of Jackie, or it just pulls on your interest. Don't except to hear something really scandalous like: "Yes, my husband and Marilyn Monroe had an affair and I HATE her!" (okay, yeah, I wish). No, you won't get that. But you will still get an interesting portrait of life in the White House during the Kennedy administration and Jackie's personal thoughts.

Didn't catch it on TV or it wasn't broadcasted where you live? You can watch the full thing here on ABC News's website

That's all, folks. I hope you didn't mind something not exactly Classic Hollywood related. :)

Till later!


Maria Sofia Teixeira said...

I don't mind at all that you write about the Kennedys :) I heard about those tapes, I think... yesterday, on the Colbert Report. I can't wait to hear them.

Rianna said...

I'm glad; I think the Kennedys were the closest thing to Hollywood without actually being Hollywood - if that makes sense! :) I think you'll enjoy them!

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