Looking for the real Jackie

Featured image
Sunset as seen from Central Park West through Central Park and towards Fifth Avenue. Photo: JH.

Monday, February 7, 2022.  Sunny and a very dry cold, yesterday in New York. With a bit warmer temperatures forecast for today. It’s mid-winter and if not storms, this is what we can expect and usually get these days in New York. The best part is that it stays light longer with each day leading up to DST.

Click to order Jackie Stories: Eight Friends of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

I got accidentally caught up in reading a (fairly) new book that was sent to me last week called Jackie Stories; Eight Friends of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by William Kuhn. If I had seen it in a bookstore I would have bought it out of curiosity, if for no other reason than the photograph of her on the cover of the book has a look in her eyes that is uncharacteristic of her public image. And of course, I was curious to know what those “Friends” would say a/k/a reveal about her.

I never met her; nor was I ever in the same room with her. Although I know and knew several people who knew her well and occasionally mentioned her in conversation. I had a strong impression of her because of the two times I happened to spot her passing by.  So therefore she lived in my imagination.

The first time was in the mid-’70s. It was a weekday afternoon in autumn. I was walking up Madison Avenue in the 80s when I noticed the pavement on the west side of the avenue was jammed with pedestrians. I observed a young woman in a belted trenchcoat up ahead moving with a strong wide gait very quickly on the edges of the masses.

She was seriously in a hurry. I am one who is fascinated by the differences in our gaits. This woman was coolly determined; that was the message I was getting. She was gonna get there!

I stopped just to watch her. And as she got directly across from me (for a split second), I saw it was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In a hurry.

When she reached the end of the block she turned to the left and crossed the avenue with several small hops. Ahh, an athlete.

By then I was fascinated. I was seeing who she was. Determined, energetic, apt and directed. It was a pleasure to watch as she disappeared on her way over to Park Avenue, and remains a pleasure to think about.

The only other time I saw her was another weekday afternoon in 1990 as I was walking with a friend in from L.A. down Fifth Avenue to the business district. As we crossed 58th Street and the Plaza Fountain, across from Bergdorf’s I noticed Jackie exiting the side entrance with several packages. She crossed the walk to a dark green Buick sedan with a grey suited driver holding the door for her. I stood on the corner to watch. As she lowered herself into the back seat with all her packages in her arms (and the driver holding more), she looked up at him with a big smile on her face, as if a little embarrassed by the mass of purchases.

What I saw remains the most reliable information for me of WHO she really was.  I also grew up hearing about her family – mother and father — because my father as a young man in New York was their chauffeur here in New York back in the late 1920s, and he very rarely mentioned them. However my mother was fascinated and would ask questions at times. He particularly loved her father Jack Bouvier as he was called — or as he was known in the press, Black Jack, as my father referred to him).

I could tell by his enthusiasm that he really loved working for Bouvier. Although he loathed Mrs. Bouvier.  When I recall that today, I realize the two men were likeminded when it came to speed (cars were the fancy then) and women. Wives were often referred to as “the little woman” and Mrs. Bouvier was not “little.”

18-year old Jaqueline Lee Bouvier and her father John Vernon Bouvier III in 1947.

In those early years of mine — which was long before they were all made famous to the world because of Jack Kennedy’s Presidency — I was suspicious of my father’s dislike of Mrs. B. My father often had aside-complaints about wives and their demands. In my eyes it reflected my mother and father’s relationship. Decades later I learned much more about Mr. and Mrs. Bouvier’s relationship which did not end happily. For him.

Bouvier was obviously a playboy who worked on Wall Street and drank too much to the point where he couldn’t even walk his oldest daughter down the aisle when she was getting married to our future President. But the Bouviers had long before been divorced and Mrs. remarried to Mr. Auchincloss.

My knowledge about the lady and her family was always limited to gossip columns, hearsay, and the two moments when I actually saw her on the streets of New York.  Both were passing moments and both remain clear, like a motion picture clip in my memory.

So when I received the aforementioned Jackie Stories;  Eight Friends of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis I naturally was curious as to what they had to offer, and what I could learn. I am also somewhat jaded as “recollections” of celebrity are often tainted. This is especially true in the world of wealth and fame.  Would it be real gossip? The title offers that possibility. There are always those stories in everybody’s life. But Jackie?

It’s a short book and the opening chapter is his meeting and interviewing Nancy Tuckerman who was a lifelong friend of Mrs. Onassis, from back in the days when they shared a room at Miss Porters, or Farmington as the students amd alumna call it. Nancy  ended up devoting her life mainlyto Mrs. Onassis.

The author shares his feelings about his situation with those he interviews. He sets the scene. Nancy Tuckerman was a very smart woman, a hard worker as Jackie’s assistant. She worked.

Jackie Kennedy with Nancy Tuckerman, who was White House Social Secretary at the time. She would become Jackie’s personal secretary until her death in 1994.

She wasn’t really interested in talking but she did. You have the feeling that these people really know The Story about a person but it’s private and maybe a lot of other things.

You learn a lot about what Nancy Tuckerman is like. She could be difficult because the subject is touchy. Everybody looks for dirt; after all, we’re only human. But even though it was well known that Mrs. Onassis knew how to take care of herself and really enjoyed and loved the company of various men in her lifetime, her image remained intact.

For me, I think it started the morning in her black veils as she emerged from the White House with the leaders of the Western world and started their walk down Pennsylvania Avenue while the world watched on their televisions almost 60 years ago. That is who she is. I think the child was doing it for the father, she was righting his image in the family lore. As she did for her murdered husband.

Kuhn’s interviews — which are presented visually and even emotionally at times keep you on the course of learning what about Jackie. It had me thinking about that woman I saw those two times as I was passing by. She was a beautiful woman and it wasn’t skin deep. You could see that in her.  She was also strong, and clever, and self-oriented. She liked people and the life of the city (and the world). But she was serious, always serious about getting something out of it and putting something into it. The book was a pleasure, like seeing the lady herself. Real …

Recent Posts