Liz Smith: The Sometimes Uncomfortable Truth About Jackie — From her Own Lips

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

And more from our Liz: Michael Musto on fame … Bobby Cannavale — Fanny Brice’s Nick Arnstein in the new “Funny Girl”

“CONSISTENCY is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Emerson.

* * *

HOW ABOUT the youthful Jacqueline Kennedy of the White House days? She is now revealed in her own words from that long embargoed Arthur Schlesinger interview.

The younger Mrs. Kennedy seems oddly critical and even mean-spirited in her takes on Martin Luther King, Lyndon B. Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, to name but a few. She seems quick on the trigger to condemn and be judgmental about the morals of others — also strangely naïve with regard to her own marriage, given JFK‘s penchant for many sexual encounters. (This was a time when he was heavily involved with Judith Exner.) In retrospect, Jackie more or less forgives (or doesn’t know) about his behavior in these early conversations.

Jackie then certainly doesn’t resemble the woman we New Yorkers came to love and respect after she moved to Manhattan, raised her children as New Yorkers, married and divorced Aristotle Onassis and took a job as a creative, working editor.

Later on, of course, Jackie was super-mindful of her legacy and how she might be quoted. She was charming to everyone except for the paparazzi. She handled the press she could not avoid with kid gloves, sometimes seeking them out at parties in a friendly manner to make small talk. I remember her so well from those days, when she knew how to make spirited intellectual talk about books, history and writers, ask questions and invite reporters to join her appreciation of literature and even gossip. She was so mature and civilized and attractive.

Of course, I see the history in all these unguarded early recorded conversations. She was still most likely in shock from having been widowed in such a horrid dramatic and violent manner. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my own youthful opinions and prejudices, and I have never been through anything as half as tragic as Jackie had. You probably have changed a lot yourself as you have grown older and wiser.

Caroline Kennedy’s gift of her mother’s many legacies is generous and thoughtful, and historians will be grateful. But still, these comments particularly, don’t jibe with the loving remarks attributed to LBJ about Jackie, which Lady Bird also often expressed to me and so many others. In the LBJ library in Austin, Texas, there are devoted letters from Jackie to the Johnsons. These seem sincerely at odds with her youthful expressions of contempt for them.

Jackie was always mighty impressed by the somewhat jaundiced opinions of her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy.

* * *

HERE’S SOMETHING I want you to read if you are enthralled with the idea of fame and celebrity — and also, where you think journalists belong in this hierarchy. The following was written by Michael Musto, longtime columnist for The Village Voice. It says, better than anybody, what’s what between celebrities and the people who write about them:

“The difference between being famous and not being famous is as enormous as the chasm between Staten Island and Hollywood. And I should know because I’ve had a teensy taste of both realms. I’ve known complete anonymity, which is the most horrible feeling in the world, and I’ve also been on TV enough to have people chase me down the street for autographs, ask me to host their events, and make up lies about me on their websites. I never convince myself that I’m really famous — I just happen to enjoy a modest celebrity fallout because I write about actual stars — but I do sometimes get a lower-level sense of the rush that the biggies must feel, a sweeping sensation of validation that stems from the fact that swarms of people you’ve never seen before suddenly swear they want to have your babies.

“Of course, the weird thing about my job is that moments after I experience that rush, I can get a deafening wake-up call, achieving the rare feat of feeling dizzying notoriety and complete nothingness in the very same day! At a downtowny event, I’ll be photographed and gushed over because people recognize me from all sorts of credits. But at the next to-do, the clipboard girl will ask my name ten times before letting me inside, where a publicist tells me to line up for a possible interview with a B-list celebrity, which is then summarily denied.”

And so it goes; Mr. Musto, who you often see as a comic guest expert on cable talk shows, has just about summed up being a celebrity journalist. Bravo, Musto!

* * *

“TO TELL the truth, it hurt my pride. The groom was prettier than the bride — oh, Sadie, Sadie, married lady that’s me!”

That lyric from “Funny Girl” was funny, but it wasn’t true when Barbra Streisand sang it — especially onscreen, ravishingly photographed by Harry Stradling. And it won’t be true when adorable Lauren Ambrose sings it come next spring when the new, first-ever Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” opens.

Miss Streisand had the suave Omar Sharif to play against, using his good looks to mock her own lack of beauty. (Onstage she had the adorable Sydney Chaplin for several seasons.)

Miss Ambrose, it has just been announced, has captured the hot stage, TV and movie star Bobby Cannavale to co-star as Nick Arnstein, the man who gave Fanny Brice blue marble eggs, and made her feel, “kind of beautiful, you know?”

26 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Mrs. Kennedy was more impressive than before known in her shrewd assessments, espcially those of character. She must have been an excellent letter writer.  Bobby Cannavale was precise casting. Next hope is that the director is a not a love addict of “Glee”

  2. avatar jjfnygrl says:

    I really enjoyed the Jacqueline Kennedy Special. It was wonderful to hear Caroline’s comments and reactions to some of the things her mother said.
    I was most struck by Mrs. Kennedy’s thoughts on some of her abilities, thinking they had always been liabilities,but then became assets once she was in the White House.
    I have always only thought of her as a very confident and amazing woman, but I am kind of biased- I was named after her in 1968.
    Looking forward to your review of Funny Girl!


  3. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    Jackie created her own myths while tearing down those around key figures like King and LBJ; both bigger than life and both with feet of clay. I’m a little surprised that Liz Smith would find some of Jackie’s remarks “oddly critical and even mean spirited” as though a woman like Jackie couldn’t/wouldn’t harbor such thoughts when Liz’s profession is one that finds the truth behind the tailor’s dummy. The fact that Jackie put her thoughts on hours of tape to be revealed many years later seems to indicate her need to be heard not just by intimates, but by the public. She obviously needed to vent, to get a lot off her chest, while protecting her own husband and weaving her own tale.

    P.S. Jackie adored Lady Bird so that those “devoted ” letters were probably meant to be one-sided. LBJ’s treatment of his wife would be enough to slice and dice, and yet––and yet, he could turn on that Texan charm, make one feel “taken care of and revered” which might explain Jackie’s ambiguity towards him.

  4. avatar Washington says:

    Did I read that Jackie “married and divorced Aristotle Onassis?”  That error should have been caught.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Those who knew her aren’t surprised by the “revelations” but are surprised by their being revealed at this point since they were supposed to remain “unrevealed” for another 50 years. There really isn’t much to say except that they are merely reflections of a woman who was bred to be above it all and chose to remain above it all.  To the manor born.  And to the manor she remained. And she was cautious about who she invited into the manor.  Few ever were.
    The notes and letters to people she really didn’t like are just an example of her breeding. Nothing more. Some, including her daughter, have expressed surprise at her attitude towards life particularly with regard to her attitude towards a “woman’s place” and some view her attitude as “behind the times” but in fact she was “ahead of the times” as evidenced by her realtionship with Maurice Templesman. It was simply a matter of things being none of anyone’s business. Whether she was Jacqueline Kennedy or Jacqueline Onassis.   She in the end was always Jacqueline Bouveir. And as Ethel Kennedy liked to point out, not politely, “Jacqueline. Rhymes with queen.”  She wasn’t a queen but certainly was bred to be one.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I am glad Caroline released them. So that those of us who actually remember her mother can reflect on them. And give in to the inevitable “reading between the lines.” Rumor has long been that she also left a letter to be unsealed after the last of her grandchildren had died. Perhaps merely something someone added to the “mystique” but if she did, perhaps Caroline should consider unsealing it. Rumor is she revealed the truth about the assassination.

      And as pointed out she never divorced Onassis. And despite rumors, she probably wouldn’t have.  And he probably wouldn’t have. And those are the tapes everyone would really love to hear. The conversations between her and her attorneys when Christina Onassis declared war.

  6. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    The full Emerson quote changes the meaning slightly: FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” said Emerson.

  7. avatar D C says:

    Funny Girl – I’m kind of excited about that.  I didn’t know who Lauren Ambrose was, until I saw her photo and know her as that PR girl from Torchwood – Miracle Day.  I imagine she’s well known up yonder in the North.  Unless it comes to town in Broadway Across America, or they make a movie of it, or I see the Tony Awards, I miss out.  When you live less than a 5 hour flight away, it’s a lot easier to be oh so up on everything Broadway.  Or you’re rich.  I’m neither. 

  8. avatar JCF4612 says:

    As for JFK’s nonstop sexual dalliances, Jackie knew. For sure. Her remarks about Martin Luther King Jr. were designed to distract from JFK’s horndog ways. In fact, given her intellect and shrewd way of sizing up situations, her entire performance on tape was amazingly, deliberately misleading. What fun. Snow that she was to the end, she’s had the last laugh.   

    And now daughter Caroline, also a snoot, rakes in more moola with the early release.

    Am wondering what all the Kennedy cousins are saying behind closed doors.    

  9. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Always interesting to hear Jackie speak.  Her voice was so babyish and soft, she made Marilyn sound like Tallulah Bankhead!
    Of course, like Marilyn, Jackie might have used this little voice as a defense, a pose.

    I doubt Jackie was naive about JFK’s philandering.  She accepted it, as part of the territory.  Her territory.  White and rich.  It is unlikely she gave some other powerful, complicated men—like MLK–the same pass. 

    Jackie’s own moral compass was often off course, but that didn’t make her a bad person, just human. 

    Jackie–after the William Manchester and Schlesinger forays– was the one who never told her tale, never did interviews, never shattered the myth by explaining her actions.  She was like Garbo, except…Jackie really loved a lot of the attention.   So she’d bask in her stardom, but never comment on it.  (Except to sue Ron Gallela, which only made her more famous!)

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The rich part perhaps but later. She and Lee were to the manor born. But not to the manor kept. Their father liked to gamble. In any case their mother married again. But they were the stepdaughters. And so, well, they had to marry well. And did.  The really astoundng wealth came from Maurice Templesman. Who turned her settlement from the Onassis estate into a fortune that rivaled that of any of the Kennedys.

      The voice was real. Part of the “finishing school” touch. Most found it delightful. Some found it irritating. But then she was of the era when women were expected to speak softly and tell the clerks to “put it on my account.”  Credit cards were not needed.

      Did she know about the “dalliances?” How could she not? But it was, again, none of anyone’s business. Which would have been her answer if anyone had dared to ask her.   She married her father both times. And just decided to live with him the third time. And happily so.  Was she a hypocrite about Martin Luther King?  I don’t think so.  JFK never talked about his “dalliances.” Martin Luther King did. As did LBJ apparently. I think that was what bothered her. That they talked about it to others. Which was demeaning to their wives.  But who knows how she really felt.  She apparently never talked about it to anyone.  And if she did they respected her privacy and repeated it. Certainly no one dared to ever ask her about it.  

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I don’t think she really loved the attention. That was one of the nice things about Skorpios. No one could get close enough to her to pay attention to her. I think she learned to simply live with the attention. And to ignore it.  And she became a master at ignoring it. She sued Ron Galllo because of the threat he began to pose to her children. The Secret Service stood behind her on that positiion. I think if she had been in a better “barganing” position she would have told Christina Onassis to shove the money and would have kept Skorpios. And move there permanently.

      She wasn’t lke ordinary people. Particularly after the assassination. Not too many people could be ordinary after sitting in the back of a limousine realizing part of their husband’s brains were in their lap. That impacted her far more than most people obviously realize. Unlike many celebrities who add the bodyguards to make sure people notice them, she added them simply to keep people at a distance. And with good reason. She never knew when someone might take  shot at her. And not with a camera lense. 

  10. avatar Miss Lee says:

    A little plug for Mr. Musto.  His new book “Fork on the left, Knife in the back” is a very entertaining read.  It’s available on Amazon.

  11. avatar Jody says:

    Well, I’m a Generation X-er, and I can tell you that in conversation with my peers we were all absolutely DELIGHTED to hear someone NOT be politically correct! How refreshing!! Whether she grew up and grew out of it, or whether she grew up and knew better than to say what she was thinking anymore… I don’t care. I LOVED, LOVED. LOVED the fact that she called a spade a spade! She has my respect now as a “tell it like it is” kinda girl. Love that!

  12. avatar Rho says:

    I enjoyed watching the special.  I used to see her a lot where I worked, on 55th & Madison, NYC.  She would come to the news stand and buy her paper, etc.  Then go around the corner to Kenneth, her hair dresser (which unfortunately burned down) — I always had a lovely conversation with her.

    As for Carolyn, her father in law was friends with the chairman of my company, he would come up and show us photos of his grandchildren, just like any grandpa.

  13. avatar Rho says:

    Sorry, meant to say Caroline, not Carolyn.

  14. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Washington….

    You are correct!   How foolish to forget that.       

    However—now that you have jarred my memory–Ari very much wanted to divorce Jackie and had put everything into motion to that end.  Had he not died, she would have been left–not in the cold, but in the slightly chilly, for sure.  (Christina was so appalled by her–and Ted Kennedy’s–interest in Ari’s will, that she fled from the car carrying them all to the gravesite.)

    That was Christina’s story, anyway.  Like another Christina (Crawford) we must take these tales for what they are….unhappy children, “getting back.”  


  15. avatar doe58 says:

    I was with an investment banking firm for 21 years and the co-founder and senior partner of the firm – for whom I worked 10 years until he passed away – told me that the gentleman who reportedly quadrupled Jackie’s money from the Onassis payout was Andre Meyer. 

  16. avatar Liz Smith says:

    Dear Jay…

    Thank you.  I know the full quote.  Never thought of Jackie as

    Liz Smith