Thirteen facts about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She's my all-time idol. She lived her life on her own terms and though she had to be aware that just about everyone on earth had an opinion of her, she didn't seem to let that get in her way. She prevailed over unimaginable tragedy endured with the whole world watching. She was smart and gave this young Gal a high profile example that smart was a great thing to be.
And so, in honor of her July 28th birthday, I celebrate her here.
1. Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born late during one of South Hampton's hottest Julys of the decade. So not only were her parents excited about the arrival of their first child, her mother was eager for her uncomfortable pregnancy to finally be over.
2. She attended the best schools: Holton-Arms, Miss Porter's, and Vassar, with a year abroad at the Sorbonne before graduating from George Washington University. After her marriage, she continued her education by taking classes in American history at Georgetown University.
3. Jackie uniformly got good grades but she could be a behavior problem. When she was a little girl she grew bored in class and got in trouble for the ways she amused herself. As a teen at boarding school, she was not especially scrupulous about observing curfews.
4. John Kennedy always admired his wife's affinity for language. By the time she graduated college, she was fluent in French, Spanish and Italian. She "got by" in German and Greek and could read Latin. JFK admitted he was "hopeless" when it came to foreign tongues.
5. She was named the Debutante of the Year in 1947. More than pretty, she was heralded for her unique personal style. Considered "something of a bohemian," she bought her gown (gasp!) off the rack and frankly stated that her life's ambition was "not to be a housewife." When her classmates and sister debs were getting married, she took off for Europe. She was usually accompanied by family friends or her stepbrother, but was not afraid to wander off on her own. Her reminisces about her adventures in post-War Europe entertained world leaders when she was First Lady.
6. After graduation she lived on her own in DC, supporting herself as a columnist at The Washington Times-Herald. She was The Inquiring Camera Girl and hauled a camera around the Capitol, asking strangers questions like: How much do you tip at the barber shop or beauty parlor? Should men wear wedding rings? Are men braver than women in the dentist's chair? Should a woman consider a wolf whistle a compliment? Her salary was about $2700/year (approx. $30,000 in today's dollars).
7. As First Lady, she was committed to promoting the arts and culture.The American Ballet Theater, Pablo Casals and American Shakespeare Company all performed in The East Room of The White House. In 1962, she personally lobbied the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, Andre Malraux, to lend The Mona Lisa to the United States.
8. Jackie became the first First Lady to have her own signature project when she set about restoring the White House. She focused on "historical integrity," believing that everything in the White House public rooms had to have a reason for being there. The furniture and artwork must reflect the best of the People's House and American history. She was inspired by her travels around Europe in the late 1940s where, as Jackie Bouvier, she saw history on display in castles and great homes. She wanted Americans to take similar pride in our heritage. No
dummy, she refused to use tax dollars for the restoration. That way her husband would receive less criticism and reap greater political benefits from her efforts. She raised funds by publishing The White House: An Historic Guide (it's still updated regularly) and selling the rights to a televised tour of the the restored White House. To this day, she's the only First Lady to have won an Emmy Award. (Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton both won Grammy Awards for the narrations of the books they wrote as First Lady, but only Jackie had an Emmy.)
9. She did preliminary sketches for the design of Air Force One that's still familiar to us today. More than a luxury plane, Jackie wanted Air Force One to be a tool of diplomacy. Rather than the deep blue of the flag, she chose the lighter robin's egg shade, believing it to be friendlier and less intimidating as it carried our President to foreign shores
10. Her appreciation of the visual, her love of history, and the power of her celebrity came together in the 1970s when she fought to save Grand Central Station from demolition. Then a private citizen, but the most famous woman in the world, she raised funds and even participated in a public demonstration to bring attention to the architectural jewel in peril. She used her estimable political connections to persuade top lawyers to file a lawsuit that argued knocking down Grand Central was a violation of New York's preservation laws. The subsequent court ruling has been cited as precedent in saving other beautiful old buildings from the wrecking ball.
|The Main Entrance still bears her name|
11. She also successfully battled a paparazzi in court. Ron Galella took many of the most familiar -- and often most beautiful -- unposed pictures of Jackie Onassis in Greece, London and New York. It wasn't the content of the photos at the heart of the suit, it was the lengths he went to get them. He tracked her like a deer, jumping out of bushes, crouching behind store counters and hiding in restaurant coat racks to take his shot. More than once he made physical contact with her, flicking her with the strap of his camera bag and calling her, "Baby." Through all their encounters she remained inscrutable, though personally she felt assaulted. She sued Galella and won: the judge ordered him to stay 25 feet away from her. Knowing she was willing to litigate discouraged other photographers from filling the void left by Galella. I wish Princess Diana had taken a similar attitude toward the paparazzi, instead of the cat-and-mouse games she played. If she had, perhaps she would be alive today.
12. After the death of her second husband, she found herself a widow with teenaged children. Though a very wealthy woman (her inheritance from Onassis would be more than $140 million today), Jackie wanted to return to "working with words," as she had after college. She took an associate editor job at Viking Press, made her way through the ranks and eventually earned the title of editor at Doubleday. As with most of us, she did work she was immensely proud of (like The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry) and some projects purely to please her employer (Michael Jackson's memoir). She was still employed at the time of her death at age 64.
13. Though she privately referred to much of what's been written about the Kennedy family as "the river of sludge," she seldom commented on it. She chose to rise above. Her approach to the media was to provide "minimum information with maximum politeness." Again, I wish Princess Diana (and now Prince Harry) had borrowed a page from her playbook. It took tremendous steel for Jackie to refuse Oprah and Barbara Walters (both of whom referred to her as their "No. 1 Get") or publish her own memoir, to make herself heard and tell her side. She resisted not just out of dignity but long-term strategic thinking. She maintained her self-respect and her mystique and, by saying nothing, has the eternal the last word.
Please join us for THURSDAY THIRTEEN. Click here to play along, and to see other interesting compilations of 13 things.