Cover image for Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis : a life
Title:
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis : a life
Author:
Spoto, Donald, 1941-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xiii, 348 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312246501
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The first full biography of Jackie Onassis since her death offers revelations about her life and the life of JFK, chronicling her work as a mother, editor, and spiritual seeker.


Author Notes

Donald Spoto was born on June 28, 1941 in New Rochelle, New York. He received a B.A. from Iona College in 1963 and a M.A. and Ph.D. in theology (New Testament studies) from Fordham University in 1966 and 1970, respectively. He taught theology, Christian mysticism, and biblical literature at the university level for twenty years.

He has written more than 25 biographies of film and theatre celebrities including The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams, Diana: The Last Year, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life, Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford, and The Redgraves: A Family Epic. He also wrote biographies on religious figures including The Hidden Jesus: A New Life, Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi, and Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Billed as the first biography of Jackie since her death, Spoto's account does include some new material here about her illness, how she dealt with it, and her last days. Much of the rest, however, will be familiar to veteran Jackie watchers: her unhappy childhood as the daughter of divorced parents; her troubled married life with John Kennedy, which saw its happiest days in the few months before his assassination; her surprising marriage to Ari Onassis; and her last years as a gainfully employed book editor. What is different about this book is its tone. Rather than gossipy, it's almost reverential. Veteran biographer Spoto portrays Jackie as gracious, smart, kind, and loving, an understanding wife and a consummate mother. Although she gets depressed, she almost never gets angry. She faces her death with what can only be described as spunk. Spoto tries to singlehandedly dispel every rumor that ever tarnished Jackie's reputation: she didn't take a million dollars from old Joe Kennedy to stay with Jack, and she didn't take money upfront from Ari, either. She got along famously with Onassis' daughter, Christina; Onassis wasn't planning to divorce her before his death; the wife and daughters of her last companion, Maurice Templesman were on friendly terms with him, despite the fact he and Jackie were a couple for 12 years. And, oh yes, allegations that she had an affair with Robert Kennedy are nothing but nasty lies. Perhaps it is all true the way Spoto paints it. In any case, it makes a lovely, even gracious story. Just like Jackie. (Reviewed December 1, 1999)0312246501Ilene Cooper


Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran film biographer Spoto (Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, etc.) does a masterful job of capturing--and explaining--the complex personality of a figure who was arguably the most important icon of American womanhood of her day. Particularly attentive to the ways in which his subject both shaped and was shaped by American social history, Spoto finds that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose stated ambition upon graduating from high school in 1947 was "not to be a housewife," virtually embodied the shifting and often contradictory notions of ideal womanhood that defined her generation. A fierce intellectual and a compulsive shopper, a craver of solitude who nevertheless shone in the spotlight, a snob with a strong social conscience, a would-be career woman who also sought out the security of marriage to wealthy, prominent husbands, Jackie is indeed a study in contradictions. But Spoto convincingly accounts for each facet of her personality as a consequence of her upbringing (as the child of unhappily wed, social-climbing parents), of a cultural climate that at once encouraged women to nurture their talents and expected them to view themselves primarily as wives and mothers, and of her inclinations and abilities. While this is an unreservedly sympathetic and admiring portrait, it is also a candid one, detailing the ups and downs of Jackie's marriages and of her other relationships. Spoto concludes that Jackie found personal and professional fulfillment in her later years: in her relationships with her children and with Maurice Tempelsman, and in her career as an editor--a vocation at which, he maintains, she truly excelled. 32 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Spoto joins the ranks of other Kennedy chroniclers with this expansive and well-documented biography of the former First Lady. A celebrity biographer who has written several best-selling biographies (on Marlene Dietrich and Alfred Hitchcock, among others), Spoto draws from interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, published materials, and psychological insight to paint a picture of Jackie as an incredibly intelligent and complex person. Especially interesting is the first half of the book, in which he describes Jackie's early life, her insatiable reading habits, and her mostly unknown but indispensable efforts to aid her husband both before and during his Presidency. Although at times overly reverent, this well-written work is a nice contrast to the gossipy and unflattering recent biography by Christopher Andersen, Jackie After Jack: Portrait of a Lady (Warner, 1999). Recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/99.]--Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One 1929 To escape New York City's annual waves of summer heat and humidity, the privileged few find suburban or rural retreats. The breezy New Jersey shore or the cool hills of Pennsylvania, the rocky coast of Maine, the dunes of Cape Cod, an island off the Connecticut banks: these are among the most popular and desirable sanctuaries for a week, a month or longer. But the proximity of Long Island has always made it especially attractive to New Yorkers. About a hundred miles east of the city is a collection of sleepy hamlets, rustic and quiet--except from late May to early September.     Native Americans once dwelt there, and some villages of eastern Long Island still bear names from that bygone culture: Quogue, Cutchogue, Shinnecock, Sagaponack, Amagansett, Montauk. With the arrival of the British in the seventeenth century, sturdy English names were added: the county itself was named for Suffolk, and soon there were Calverton, Jamesport, Water Mill, North Haven and a medley of towns stretching over thirty miles and known collectively as the Hamptons--Westhampton, Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Bridgehampton, Southampton and with proud, orthographic insistence on the separation of two words, East Hampton.     By the end of the nineteenth century, East Hampton was well established as a haven for a few wealthy citizens. The village, according to a journalist of the time, "excluded the vulgar parvenus that so often make life wretched at the conventional summer resort"--perhaps because the distance of six miles to the nearest railroad stop, at Bridgehampton, "keeps off the rabble." The "summerites," as the seasonal visitors were known, at first rented from year-round residents: only in the next decades did they build their own vast estates. "None seeks it except such as wish for comfortable quietude," wrote a reporter for a New York City newspaper about East Hampton in 1894. "It is distinctively a village of cottages. No hotel, no band, no merry-go-round, no Vanity Fair ... The natives of East Hampton live in their back lots in summer. Their homes are, almost without exception, leased to wealthy city people, who will pay extravagant prices to occupy during the summer months these queer old homesteads, many of them more than one hundred, some more than two hundred years old."     According to a well-bred woman writing at the same time, the village was "almost completely unknown" to those who did not brave the railroad from New York. "How we suffered to get there!" she confided to her diary. "Four hours of torture from suffocating clouds of smoke and dust, prostrating heat from parboiled cars and endless jerky stops at every crossroad. Not until the always revivifying first whiff of sea air did we cease to bemoan our folly on this hideous journey." Once there, however, she apparently forgot these hardships, for she went often. DURING THE SUMMER of 1929, America was dancing on an economic volcano, but East Hampton's summer denizens were blissfully high-stepping the Charleston and the Black Bottom at merry weekend parties. On the oppressively hot and humid Sunday, July 28, Janet Lee Bouvier was driven fifteen miles to the nearest hospital, in Southampton. An hour later, her husband, John Vernou (Jack) Bouvier III, dictated telegrams announcing the birth of a girl they at once named Jacqueline Lee, the two names neatly honoring him and his father as well as the infant's maternal grandfather. The baby, according to doctors' calculations, was a month overdue but arrived easily, serene and healthy. Weighing eight pounds, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier had a dramatic tuft of brunette hair, silken ivory skin and, it was soon determined, velvet-brown eyes.     Twenty-one-year-old Janet Bouvier was an earnest, bright, ambitious socialite. Her great-grandfather had come to New York from Ireland during the nineteenth-century famine; his son became a teacher and city school administrator and married a pretty nurse named Mary Norton, also from hardy Irish stock. Their son, James Thomas Lee, Janet's father, was born in New York on October 2, 1877. He attended City College of New York, where he took a diploma in engineering in 1896; three years later he earned his law degree from Columbia University.     James T. Lee was the clan's first real success story in the New World. A short, stocky man with a prominent nose, an expressive mouth and intense dark eyes, he munched cigars, did not suffer fools gladly and interrupted his business day at three o'clock for a half hour of boxing lessons. He married the gentle Irishwoman Margaret Merritt in 1903, and she bore him three daughters--Marion, Janet (born December 3, 1907) and Winifred. From Margaret, the girls learned the craft of housewifery; from James, a sense of determination and the fine art of ingratiating oneself into polite society.     In the sparring ring as in business, James Lee fought to win and usually did. After quitting his six-dollar-a-week job as a law clerk, he opened his own office, whence he gazed down to see the first work on what was to become the Seventh Avenue subway. Almost at once, he purchased properties along the proposed route, which soon quadrupled in value as Manhattan business became more firmly entrenched above Fourteenth Street.     By 1910, Lee was involved mostly in real estate and banking, and to hell with the practice of general law. He built several of the city's grandest residences, among them the luxury building at 998 Fifth Avenue, which offered elite apartments with as many as twenty-three rooms. For the units he built at 740 Park Avenue, he advertised leases on twelve- and fourteen-room apartments for the outrageous sum of $2,000 per month. Friends and colleagues told him that he was mad, but Lee was resolute. "Better a bad decision today than a good one three weeks late," he replied gruffly. This odd wisdom was justified within six months, when he announced that all the units at 740 Park had been leased. Other successful investments soon followed, and eventually Lee complemented his property speculation with positions as vice president of the Chase National Bank and, later, president and chairman of the New York Central Savings Bank. By 1922, his real estate holdings amounted to $35 million.     A conservative Republican, James Lee had little social grace. His lack of polish and his Irish Catholic heritage were distinct liabilities in both town and country, but would not stop Lee from improving his family's social fortunes. Eager for their daughters to be accepted in the right circles and to marry into so-called good families, the Lees began, as early as 1920, to pass the summers near the established "old money" families of East Hampton. Here he installed his family in a splendid house called Avery Place, on Lily Pond Lane, where the Lees and their three daughters repaired, accompanied by Margaret's mother, a plain woman who cooked, sewed and laundered for them all. Old Mrs. Merritt's only compensation, however, was the summer's lodging; otherwise, the family treated Grandma like a servant and never included her in events involving outsiders, because they considered her thick Irish brogue a threat to their grand social aspirations. JANET ATTENDED A private girls' academy, then Sweet Briar and Barnard Colleges; at eighteen, she was presented to society by her parents at a tea dance. Slim, neat, bright and energetic, she had a practiced patrician manner and a lively interest in anything social; this made her an agreeable presence at any fashionable event. At her father's insistence, she mastered all the requisite graces quickly. In her teens, she learned to play a ferocious game of bridge, to speak good French, and to excel in just about every sport, particularly riding, for which she had a great passion. Her slight build, small bosom and athletic legs were no liabilities either at the hunt club or on the dance floor: if she took no prizes at the latter, she more than compensated as an expert horsewoman who accumulated one blue ribbon after another at shows in the city and the country.     Quietly confident and calmly aggressive, Janet was an independent thinker; she was also, it seems, not particularly warm or emotional, but sentiment rarely softens one fiercely dedicated to establishing a secure place in society. Nevertheless, she knew how to flatter the male ego, and although dozens of young ladies were prettier and many just as wealthy, Janet had no trouble attracting beaux in Manhattan or East Hampton. Among her many talents, none was more refined than knowing the proper word to impress at the right moment.     Her social skills were, however, exercised with such apparent ease that she never offended--even when she claimed that her family was related to "the Lees of Maryland." She may have meant "of Virginia," for there are no Maryland Lees. But few people, it seems, caught the gaffe. Ever her father's daughter, Janet had her cap set for a brilliant marriage to the wealthy heir of a properly old family. She would not grow up to be like her grandmother, whom (also like her father) she virtually ignored. Mrs. Merritt ceased to exist outside Avery Place, and the Lees of Maryland rode on triumphantly. In this complex game, with its subtle class snobberies, Janet Lee was scarcely the only player. It was, after all, an era brilliantly captured in F. Scott Fitzgerald's unctuously ingratiating character, the popular arriviste Jay Gatsby, born lames Gatz. SIXTEEN YEARS OLDER than Janet, John Vernou Bouvier III (born in 1891) came from precisely the class of people the Lees most admired. His great-great-grandfather Michel Bouvier--the surname means "cowherd" or "cattle driver"--emigrated from the south of France and settled in Philadelphia, where he prospered as a carpenter, cabinetmaker and designer of first-rate furniture. As he traveled around the eastern United States, Bouvier's talents as an artisan quickly expanded to speculation: his success enabled him to acquire 153,000 acres of coal-rich land in West Virginia and choice Main Line real estate.     After the death of his first wife, Michel Bouvier married Louise Vernou, daughter of a tobacconist; of his nine children, only two sons survived. He saw his children married into Philadelphia's venerable families--the Drexels, Ewings and Pattersons, for example. To cap his career, he bought two seats on the New York Stock Exchange and built a thirty-room Renaissance palazzo on North Broad Street--a sumptuous residence boasting two reception rooms and large formal dining room, a conservatory, library, gaming room, chapel, formal gardens and lavish fountains, for which he had reserved some of his finest imported marble. Michel Bouvier died at eighty-two in 1874.     His surviving sons, Michel and the first John Vernou Bouvier, invested wisely and poured more millions into the family fortune: by 1914, the Bouviers had amassed a sum equivalent to $40 million in later valuation. The Bouvier wealth increased still further during the 1920s, thanks to real estate holdings in the Middle Atlantic states and enormous investments in a number of successful companies; by 1929, the aggregate, it was confidently asserted, would guarantee the Bouviers' opulent lifestyle for generations to come.     Most important of all to the Bouviers, their wealth and intermarriage with prestigious American families put their names in the New York Social Register in 1899--no easy feat for Catholics at that time--and there they remained for sixty years, until the death of Jacqueline's father. The Bouvier name, as donor, is also etched on an altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral. John Vernou Bouvier wed Caroline Ewing, one of the great beauties of New York society, of whom it was said that she was a great hostess who made their home on East Twenty-sixth Street a glittering salon during the city's belle epoque.     Until Bouvier's death, his son, also named John Vernou, kept "Jr." appended to his name. Born in 1864, he graduated with honors from Columbia University Law School, became a trial lawyer, and was so successful that he opened his own firm. John Vernou Bouvier Jr., Jacqueline's grandfather, was so highly regarded by no less an influential lawmaker than Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo that he was appointed major judge advocate for the army during the Great War. Forever after, he delighted in being addressed as Major Bouvier. The bulk of his wealth, however, came from his association with his uncle, M. C. Bouvier, a Wall Street tycoon for whom he put aside his law practice and worked, to their mutual financial advantage.     As consequential as wealth and military title were for him, neither satisfied the Major's constant ambition to improve his social status. To that end, he successfully sought membership in Manhattan's Union and Racquet Clubs and, on Long Island, the Maidstone and Piping Rock Clubs. His name was also on the roster of fashionable associations in Washington, D.C., Florida and Cuba. In 1890, he married Maude Sargeant, the handsome, English-born daughter of a rich pulp merchant and paper manufacturer. They had five children--dark-haired John Vernou Bouvier III, born in 1891; the fairer William Sergeant Bouvier, born in 1893 and always known as Bud; honey-blond Edith, called Edie (1894); and the redheaded twins, Maude and Michelle (1905), who bobbed their hair but not their names.     The children were born on an estate called Woodcroft in Nutley, New Jersey. Subsequently, the family relocated to a series of ever grander Fifth Avenue addresses, and eventually they settled permanently into a sumptuous, twenty-four-room apartment at 765 Park Avenue, a home lavishly decorated with, among other accessories, Italian marble and French wood. The Bouviers' first summer residence in East Hampton was a clapboard-and-shingle house called Wildmoor, on Appaquogue Road, which the Major bought about 1910; in 1925, he purchased an additional estate on Further Lane called Lasata ("place of peace" in an American Indian dialect). With the twitter of summer's first cuckoo, the family betook themselves to Long Island, and there the Bouviers remained in stately splendor until the pumpkin harvest.     The Major typified a sort of Victorian gentility. His hair was trimmed twice weekly, and long after they were fashionable, he continued to wear spats and English tweeds; high, starched collars; a mustache tortured several times daily into neatness with wax; and, even in summer, a tie with an Edwardian suit jacket. BUT THERE WAS an even more remarkable eccentricity.     Apparently unsatisfied with the family genealogy, John Vernou Bouvier Jr.--a man who was otherwise a stickler for accuracy--eventually published a little book called Our Forebears in which, with shameless gravity, he invented the most outrageous accounts of a noble ancestry. These stories he had told for years with rhapsodic fervor.     The line of Bouviers, Jack's father insisted without a shred of evidence, had sprung from the patrician house of Fontaine and included illustrious French patriots and titled aristocrats from the royal courts. With that stroke of his imaginative pen, a modest Provençal clan was at once transformed into a family of barons and marquises. Every Bouvier child and grandchild was thenceforth subjected to excerpts from Grandfather's solemn family saga, which was understood to be true.     John Davis, Jackie's first cousin and later the scrupulously accurate historian of the Bouvier clan, felt that Jack's father was not a deliberately deceptive charlatan. "I think," Davis reflected, "[that] it was simply inconceivable to him that the residents of the palatial mansions of his grandfather, uncle and aunts could have stemmed from anything but noble stock." The proudly American, flag-waving Republican John Vernou Bouvier Jr. never appreciated the irony of his arrant pretense to blue blood.     No wonder, then, that his children and grandchildren assimilated an unfortunate kind of folie de grandeur , a sense that their progenitors were so eminent, their privileged place so much their due, that the Bouviers were a tribe apart. For lesser mortals even to meet them ought to be benediction enough in this life.     But families are nothing if not complex. The Bouvier haughtiness was tempered by the reminder that noblesse ought to oblige: Grandpa loved to insert French phrases, however hackneyed, into any available chink in the conversation. Because they had impeccable manners and a concomitant respect for the comfort of anyone they met, the Bouvier offspring projected politeness and even genuine warmth of the kind that had never characterized the Lees. Remarkable for these qualities was Maude Sargeant Bouvier, Jackie's paternal grandmother--a highly refined woman whose love of nature bore fruit in numerous horticultural prizes. At Lasata, Grandma Bouvier often took Jackie around the gardens, pointing out this flower and that plant and spicing her instruction with legends and folklore about each species.     Regarding religious affiliation, the Bouviers were like the Lees--nominally Roman Catholic, but scarcely devout. Fervent defenders of their faith only if someone attacked it, they worshiped mostly at the altars of money, position and influence. JOHN VERNOU (JACK) Bouvier III, who was Janet's husband and Jacqueline's father, graduated without distinction from Yale in 1914 and then served in the Signal Corps during the war. His father's influence secured Jack a position with the Wall Street brokerage firm of Henry Henty & Co. and bought him a place on the New York Stock Exchange. Hence Jack was, for the record, a stockbroker.     But his real career was that of playboy and roué Charming and poised, he cultivated a life of pleasure, was indifferent to the worlds of art and culture and had no interest in matters of the mind or spirit. But Jacqueline would later say that to the world he cut "a most devastating figure," with his movie-star good looks, expressive mouth, high forehead, intense, sensuous eyes, pencil-thin mustache and dark hair invariably slicked with brilliantine. All this was highlighted by a perpetual dusky tan, combining to produce an effective sorcery with women that earned him the sobriquet "Black Jack" while still in school. Expelled from one preparatory school and barely tolerated at the second, he graduated, a year late, from Yale. His respectable position as a stockbroker notwithstanding, Jack Bouvier excelled most of all at gambling, womanizing and prodigiously consuming liquor. Unlike his brother, Bud, who never did much of anything, Jack was for a time what would later be called a functioning alcoholic.     More than once before he married, Jack had proposed to one junior miss or another while they were both gulping contraband whiskey during a weekend spree--Prohibition be damned. On April 7, 1920, for example, The New York Times reported Jack's engagement to Miss Eleanor Carter, "a first cousin of Lady Acheson of England." The wedding never occurred, thanks to the timely intervention of Miss Carter's parents, who dragged her back home and arranged a marriage to a Baltimore tycoon.     The newspaper reference to Lady Acheson had been included at the insistence of Jack's father and with the willing collaboration of the Times . Thus did one of America's leading newspapers avidly advance the cause of the Yankee caste system, which mimicked many characteristics of English country life. In this spirit, there was horseback riding in rigidly prescribed costume; tea or a cocktail hour; a fresh wardrobe several times daily; the christening of estates like the Lees' Avery Place and the Bouviers' Woodcroft and Lasata; and the retention of servants for every possible task. There was, as well, a timetable for genteel pastimes: letter writing in the morning room; luncheon at poolside; games at the club; cards and billiards after supper. The twin forks that formed the land of Long Island's eastern extremity seemed like fingers, pointing directly to Mother England, where, it was presumed, civility, manners and values were virtues that America ought gratefully to replicate.     Rich but reckless, Jack realized a handsome income during the 1920s. But he led an irresponsibly high life, spending prodigally on clothes, gambling, whiskey, cars and women; by the end of each year he had usually saved little. Some family members claimed he made and lost more than $7 million during that decade, and often his father or his uncle, who was even richer, had to rescue him from creditors--until in 1929 the worsening economy forced the Major to survey his own assets with more than ordinary caution. BY 1927, TWENTY-YEAR-OLD Janet Lee had met and sufficiently charmed the young Bouvier twins, Maude and Michelle, so thoroughly that she was often invited to summer parties at Lasata. Inevitably, she met Jack, for whom she was initially just another diversion. For her part, Janet was at once struck by the dashing, courtly and apparently wealthy John Vernou Bouvier, the third of that name.     During the following winter in Manhattan, Janet and Jack met frequently, danced and attended parties at the Waldorf and jazz fests in speakeasies. By spring 1928, her persistence, occasionally artfully disguised as indifference, had sustained Jack's interest. The notorious, somewhat louche playboy would at last be tamed by a gentlewoman--and one, it could not be ignored, who was sixteen years younger. Their engagement was announced at Easter.     As time would reveal, the couple shared one paramount concern: the acquisition of money and the indulgence of its rewards. Jack's parents had to admit that they seemed a good match, for Janet was a serious girl without any apparent social liability or ill repute; the Lees, of course, were delighted with a further link to wealth, which mattered more to them than ancestry. "Long Island society mostly bases its claims on money rather than lineage," wrote that formidable, clear-eyed doyenne Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer in The Social Ladder in 1924. "Wealth and worth are interchangeable terms."     In addition, Jack was undoubtedly warmhearted and generous, whereas Janet was, as even her parents admitted, a bit statuesque, too reserved, her manner a trifle arch. Jack's drinking, frequently to excess in public, was dismissed by Janet's family as devil-may-care high spirits--a reaction typical of that era. As for poor, alcoholic Bud, he was shuttled off to various clinics and retreats in Connecticut, New Jersey and as far away as California; he was not much seen by anyone, and died of drink at the age of thirty-six, two months after Jacqueline's birth.     The wedding was held on Saturday, July 7, 1928, at St. Philomena's Church, East Hampton. The little frame church on Buell Lane, decorated with a profusion of white ribbons and flowers, was filled to overflowing with five hundred guests, and the Lees hosted a reception afterward at Avery Place, where an orchestra played popular tunes, rags and tangos. Next morning, the newlyweds sailed for Europe aboard the Aquitania . When they returned and settled into Jack's bachelor apartment at the end of August, it was just in time for another family wedding, that of his sister Maude. (Continues...) Excerpted from Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by DONALD SPOTO. Copyright (c) 2000 by Donald Spoto. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.