Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jacqueline on JFK, 44 Years Late

An old wound reopens with news that a book of Jacqueline Kennedy interviews about her husband will be published next year, recalling a story of my naïveté that ended in disappointment and insight in how the Kennedys protected their legend.

In 1965, I had asked Mrs. Kennedy to become a contributing editor of McCalls, but she seemed too deep in grief, musing, "If there were only some way to keep President Kennedy’s spirit alive...But it wouldn’t be natural for me to do it directly. Perhaps I could work with a man I trusted completely. Robert Kennedy would be ideal but, of course, that’s not possible...“

Two years later, she agreed to take part in a project for what would have been JFK’s fiftieth birthday in May, 1967, prompted by Ted Sorensen’s remark that he was being remembered too much for how he died rather than what he lived for. She would talk to Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who had been Kennedy advisors and written books about his Administration, and the results would appear in McCalls.

Just before the taping date, I was offered US rights to an article to appear in a British magazine, The Queen, about Mrs. Kennedy’s unguarded conversations with a British journalist, Robin Douglas-Home--a smarmy piece, ostensibly admiring but showing her as the bitter, bitchy consort of a detached husband, “the original ‘bird in a gilded cage,’ too intelligent, too proud and too stubborn to accept her captivity.” I turned it down, alerted her to its existence and was duly thanked.

Soon afterward Mrs. Kennedy backed out of our project, and not long after that, a my-life-now interview with her appeared in another publication, which had bought American rights to The Queen piece and negotiated with her to grant an interview rather than see it published.

Wooing the Kennedys sometimes worked, but blackmail was apparently better. Clare Boothe Luce, who knew them well and was one of my contributors, tried to assuage my disappointment. "The Kennedys," she said, "leave no good deed unpunished."

Now we are told by Caroline Kennedy, in announcing publication of the 1964 Schlesinger interviews, "My mother's passion for history guided and informed her work in the White House. She believed in my father, his vision for America, and in the art of politics, and felt it was important to share her knowledge and excitement with future generations."

Perhaps I can be forgiven for feeling that she might have shared that "knowledge and excitement" 44 years earlier.

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