Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams
“. . . no apologies made, no stones unturned. . . . A highly entertaining if somewhat barbed biography of the American Queen of Camelot. And a perfect book companion for a vacation at the beach.”
To begin by bastardizing a Cole Porter lyric: What is the voodoo that they do so well?
The “they” in question are Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, the partners behind Blood Moon Productions and such biographies as Inside Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat; Pink Triangle (a joint biography of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal); and the Blood Moon masterpiece, Those Glamorous Gabors, a pop culture masterpiece giving deep insight into the shallow lives and multitudinous loves and Zsa Zsa and company.
The “voodoo” is the secret recipe behind all the Blood Moon products, the peculiar blend of love and lust with which Mr. Porter and Mr. Prince approach their subjects—to say nothing of the completely unique structure of their books, 700-page tabloids. Reading about the Gabors, for instance, is like reading a decade’s worth of Enquirer articles, all dishing the dirt on those Hungarian darlings, joyously, even recklessly.
The fact that the authors have chosen to issue their exhaustive biographies in the form of dozens and dozens of bite-sized pieces, all organized in something like a linear format creates books that are as addictive as they are entertaining. Chapters dissolve in the mind like candy cotton, leaving a sweet, sweet residue.
The Blood Moon voodoo continues in the authors’ latest work, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams. The book, like the others, is comprised of chapters with True Hollywood Story-styled titles like “The Resident White House Queer” (which spotlights Jack Kennedy’s nearly lifelong friendship with Lem Billings, whose deep affection for JFK was said to have reached across boundaries that today are considered friendships “with benefits), “America’s Queen vs. The Literati: Competitive Bitchfests: Jackie is Repeatedly Embarrassed by Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal & Truman Capote,” and “Jackie Marries Onassis and Enrages Half of America,” which pretty much explains itself.
In Wildest, as in the authors’ other books, celebrities pile up on the pages like flights fighting to land at O’Hare as a blizzard approaches.
Gore Vidal skips across the pages, which is only fair, as his mother and Jackie’s each were married to the same man (mega-millionaire Hugh Auchincloss, who Jackie’s mother, Janet Bouvier, married right after his divorce from Nina Vidal, making them sort of stepbrother and stepsister, once removed.
He begins as kind of Will to Jackie’s Grace as the two hang out in Jackie’s bedroom, which had once been Gore’s under the previous wife’s “administration,” and travel about Washington, DC, in her two-seater, Jackie at the wheel, gossiping about boys. He peaks as part of Camelot’s inner circle, one of the many hangers-on at the White House after the Kennedys moved in. And he exits in a huff, tossed out of the inner circle, literally and physically, by an angry Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy. From there, he becomes an embittered gossip and an embarrassment to the First Lady (see the chapter titles, above).
Among Hollywood names featured in these pages, Frank Sinatra looms large, as the reader would expect, as do Paul Newman, Shirley MacLaine and her brother Warren Beatty, Angie Dickinson, Robert Stack, George Sanders, Jayne Meadows (in a surprise cameo), even ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Also, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (and the reader’s suggestion for the next Blood Moon production: 700 pages on the marriage of Liz and Dick).
Among politicos the book features LBJ and Lady Bird; as well as Richard Nixon; J. Edgar Hoover; the third Kennedy brother, Teddy; and the conscience of the Democratic party, Eleanor Roosevelt.
The list goes on and on.
Even Zsa Zsa Gabor appears briefly, insisting that she and JFK had had a fling.
Finally, there is, obviously, the girl who sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK: Marilyn Monroe. And Mr. Porter and Mr. Prince’s account of the single meeting between Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe stands as one of the book’s most notable anecdotes—at once completely fascinating and utterly, shockingly tasteless.
In other words, in terms of tabloid biography, it’s the Hope Diamond:
“It is not known how Jackie learned about Marilyn’s threat [of holding a press conference to reveal the details of her relationship with JFK], but apparently she did . . . she placed another call to Marilyn and asked to meet secretly with her at [Truman] Capote’s apartment in Manhattan the following week. The author had agreed to play host at this secret rendezvous.
“Marilyn flew in from the West Coast to New York, where she checked into the Hotel Carlyle, earlier site of several secret trysts with the President.
“Years later in 1969, Capote either was being deliberately vague or did not want his audience to know the exact date of this rendezvous. Obviously it had to have occurred some weekend during June or July of 1962. He did reveal the time of the meeting in his apartment, placing it at around ten o’clock in the evening. He claimed that Marilyn arrived first, looking ‘camera ready’ in white satin gown with a white sable, even though it was summer. Jackie, according to Truman, arrived 20 minutes later and wore a plain black and severely tailored business suit.
“Marilyn sat on a sofa opposite Jackie, who preferred Capote’s favorite armchair. ‘Marilyn oozed charm, but Jackie was distant,’ he recalled.
“After social pleasantries were exchanged, Jackie asked Capote to excuse himself while they conducted private business. He said that he retreated to his bedroom with a drink, and before the evening ended he had a few more. Eventually he drifted off to sleep.
“A loud pounding on his bedroom door woke him up at around one-thirty a.m. Opening it, he encountered a hysterical Marilyn, her makeup smeared. She, too, or so it appeared, had been drinking heavily. The First Lady had left the apartment.
“’It’s all over!’ Marilyn sobbed to him. As best he could ascertain, Marilyn had agreed to call off the press conference. She also said that Jackie had forgiven her for her affair with her husband, saying that ‘only a cadaver can resist Jack when he turns on the charm.’ Jackie’s icy façade had ‘melted’ at some point in the night as she begged Marilyn ‘not to publicly humiliate me in front of the world.’ She also pleaded with Marilyn not to make her children victims of a divorce. According to Marilyn, Jackie even spoke of how John-John’s face ‘lights up when his daddy walks into the room.’”
“True to her word, Marilyn, who had only weeks to live, never held that press conference.”
Although this is the only recorded meeting between the two women (remember, the source of the questionable information comes from a drunken Truman Capote), the two women are compared and contrasted throughout the pages of the book.
And while television’s Mad Men famously referred to the two a polar opposites, Marilyn representing the coarsely sexual with Jackie standing for all that is refined and glorified in womanhood, the authors here suggest that the two had more in common than readers might think.
Each of the women were, of course, both loved by and deeply wounded by John F. Kennedy. Both were, in their way, infantilized women; both depended upon men, like JFK, for their sense of identity; and both sought the protection of rich and powerful men. Both even spoke in baby whispers, although, of the two, Jackie was granted a life long enough that she ultimately outgrew both her whisper and her mid-century concept of womanhood.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is in many ways the successor to all the other Blood Moon biographies. But in an important way the book breaks new ground and presents special challenges to its authors.
The issue, of course, is one of subject matter.
In deciding to write about Jackie, the authors are, in large part, abandoning their authorly Hollywood cynicism and their willingness to repeatedly trash the subjects of their biographies.
In selecting the First Lady of an assassinated president for a new biography, they are both selecting one of the most famous and written-about (nearly 2,000 books have been written about the Kennedys and their term in the White House) women, and also choosing to expose the life of one of the two most famous women in the latter half of the 20th century.
The other, of course, is Princess Diana, and the reader would be hard pressed to say which was the more photographed or the more beloved.
And so there is a bit of a balance in the reportage here that was not needed in the books on Linda Lovelace, Zsa Zsa and Vidal, and company. But here, along with the breathless narrative that traces the arc of a life that rose so very high (the Beyond her Wildest Dreams of the title is both apt and revealing of Jackie’s character—a complex woman who embraced fame and power and wealth, but who, at the same time, remained focused, rational and remarkably sensible) as she grew from a courtesan-in-training (daughter of roué “Black Jack” Bouvier and his society-seeking wife, Janet) to a fully actualized single working woman of the 70s.
The moment that defines the book, of course, occurs on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, the moment in which JFK’s life was snuffed by an assassin’s bullet. In which Jackie holds her husband’s bloody head in her lap. The moment in which she sat on Air Force One, still wearing her blood-drenched pink knock-off Chanel suit, which she refused to change out of, saying, “When I return to Washington, I want them to see what they have done.”
While myriad other books have been written about these moments and the others that defined the end of Camelot and the beginning of a wounded new America, none are more heartfelt in their appreciation of Mrs. Kennedy. And of what journalist Mary McGory later said of the First Lady: “Mrs. Kennedy held the nation together while she broke its heart.”
Does Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams err from time to time on the side of tabloid tastelessness? Indeed it does. There are photographs that perhaps would not have been printed in other biographies and chapters that revel in gossip that is missing from other, more formal biographies.
But Wildest is, like Blood Moon’s other books, a biography that cannot be put down. To dip in is to quickly become immersed. And to become immersed is to be deeply, inextricably entertained. What other biography of Jackie Kennedy, for example, gives lush details of her brief relationship with a rather surprising lady killer, Charles Addams, creator of the Addams Family, or describes Jackie’s experiences in the gay bars and jazz clubs in Paris, where she studied in her youth? Or better, outlines her fall from grace, from saint to sinner when she opted to marry Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and abandon America for a Mediterranean-based yacht? And what other biography does not just hint at the nature of Jackie’s relationships with her brothers-in-law, Bobby and Teddy, but lays out the lurid details once and for all?
Although the book covers territory that has been much traveled by other biographers and historians, Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince have written a book all their own, no apologies made, no stones unturned. And perhaps their voodoo has never been better. A highly entertaining if somewhat barbed biography of the American Queen of Camelot. And a perfect book companion for a vacation at the beach.