Thursday, May 30, 2013

Washington Social Diary

The steps in Rose Park, which appear in the Jackie video, looking much the same today as they did in 1957.
by Carol Joynt

Gems come in all kinds of packages. Last weekend one arrived in an email from a neighbor, David Abrams. The gift inside was a link to a circa 1957 video of Jackie Kennedy and JFK. Better still, it was Jackie in Georgetown, taking a walk around the village with her dog, visiting the dry cleaner, the butcher, and a nearby park. Just when we think every last little bit of Kennedy imagery has been unearthed, here comes something new and fresh. Among Georgetowners, these images are experienced as a home movie; the Kennedy imprint on the village remains that strong.

In it Jackie is an adoring young Senate wife. JFK is honing his candidate-to-be self but what jumps out is that he’s oh-so-young. Their dynamic together is he’s "the man" and she’s the nurturing helpmeet. If there’s anything more going on, or less, it doesn’t show. She’s charming and beautiful. He’s self-possessed and purposeful. If you watch “Mad Men” you’ll experience a Megan and Don flash frame, but then, of course, Megan and Don are derivatives of Jackie and Jack.

The house on P Street where Jackie and Jack Kennedy lived in 1957.
The show is called “Home” and it’s hosted by Arlene Francis. It takes place at the Kennedy home at 2808 P Street, one of a few in Georgetown where he, they or she lived before and after the White House. The questions aren’t hardballs, but still Jackie answers them directly and candidly. It goes quickly. Only 9 minutes. It’s mostly Jackie, who is joined by Jack at the end. The microphones they wear are laugh out loud funny, and the cars are date stamped, but substract Jackie’s “little miss senate wife” mode  and put it in HD color, and it could almost be today. She was always modern.

The best part of the video is Jackie taking a walk around her neighborhood. “I love living in Georgetown,” she says, nearly skipping along the bricked sidewalk with the dog, gliding down the steps at the park, and then on a path that overlooks Rock Creek. By today’s reduced standards, she’s dressed to the nines. She’s poised and excited for what’s coming with her husband’s political career. She knows something is coming. She hits her marks while followed by a film crew.

As she talks to Arlene Francis, Jackie is trying out a persona, the one that would lock-in as her public and famous self. That’s what makes it compelling. We see her in that brief cut of time, call it pre-fame, when she still had something of a private life, before the onslaught of the global frenzied glare that never allowed her to hide in its shadows, except when she shut the door on it. (And even then, those who got behind the door still talked.) Once the 1960 presidential campaign started there was never privacy again. Not as you and I know it.

The persona Jackie has in this video is not one of a celebrity, which reminds us she never sought that role. Mere celebrity was too small, empty and without purpose. She saw the world as a bigger stage and herself as a bigger player. Arguably she created modern celebrity — the fact that a famous person could be a cash cow for media scrum in hot pursuit — but that happened to her. She didn't seek it.  She learned to game it, though, and became a master.
This lovely young woman, in this soft, faded moment, also cannot foretell the sadness to come. She had a wild and difficult father, a demanding mother and a dashing husband, and that was about it for emotional challenges at this point. Sadness would come, and come, and come. I shared the video and received a range of comments in return, but a poignant one was this, “On a sad note, during their time (at 2808 P), Jackie gave birth to their first child, who was stillborn ..." 

We know that but for the gleaming beauty of this young couple, their vitality, and the aura of “Camelot,” in truth so much of the Kennedy arc is catastrophe and heartbreak. That little happy moment in Georgetown was just that. That little happy moment. 

Christopher Kennedy Lawford and CJ.
Which brings us to the other video I have to share. It is an interview I did last month with Christopher Kennedy Lawford on “The Q&A Cafe,” which was taped in Georgetown only a handful of  blocks away from the P Street house. We talked for almost an hour and he tells his harrowing personal story pretty well himself without me spilling much of it here.

In brief, Chris Lawford is very much a Kennedy. His mother, Patricia Kennedy, was JFK’s sister. His father was actor Peter Lawford. Both his parents were addicts. He became an addict, too. His life, at least until he was 30, was a hyper coaster of family tragedy, parental drama, and lots of drugs and alcohol. He got it back on track almost 25 years ago and he’s worked to keep it there and what helps him is being an author, activist and advocate in the field of addiction and recovery.

He’s a father, currently not married, and likes to spend as much time as possible on Hawaii — far, far away from the world he knew growing up a Kennedy. He’s attractive, well-spoken and likable. He has the Kennedy charm gene.

Lawford has his own Georgetown story, too, from when he was in college. Georgetown is where he took a head first dive into heroin addiction. 

A few nights before I interviewed Chris I was at a party where I had a conversation with his cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Ethel and Robert Kennedy. I mentioned the upcoming interview and Chris’ two books. Kathleen — like her late aunt Jackie — was very direct and candid. In the interview, right at the top, I share it with Chris. A little family moment. Her words weren't mean, only telling, and another glimpse into this complicated family. 
Photographs by Carol Joynt.
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