The men in her life were not necessarily good men. Her father, Black Jack Bouvier , was too drunk to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. Of course, her husband, JFK had a proclivity to cheat.
OK, that’s an understatement.
He was a rake.
After his tragic murder and brief stint at widowhood, she married Greek Oil Tycoon, Aristotle Onassis.
Proving money doesn’t bring class, he covered the bar stools on his yacht with the skin of whale scrotums, kept a mistress while they were dating, and sent his team of lawyers to force a prenup on her. To his surprise, she could hold her own having been trained by one of the great gold diggers of all time – her mom.
She played the game well; she played the game with all her vigor, all her energy, and all her wits.
Never one to be forever shattered by tragedy, she fought on through parental abuse, the murder of a husband and brother-in-law whom she loved, and the fiasco that was her tabloid marriage to Onassis.
Jack and Jackie were ordinary people in many respects, aside from the millions and the fame of course. Had he not run for President, Jackie would have remained a Senate wife and been just fine with it. But history had another idea, another plan.
History wanted them to be the most beloved couple in 20th Century American History. She, the ideal woman; he the ideal vibrant, healthy politico.
Neither was true.
They were, like all of us, flawed.
Yet today they remain two of the most idolized figures in US history.
He was the great idealist, she the standard to which all First Ladies have been held since.
They came from wealthy families and eventually ran in the same group. They met in 1952 when Jackie was already engaged to a local stockbroker, John Husted.
The engagement fizzled out in 90 days when Jackie met Jack at a dinner party. Enamored immediately, Jack asked her out. When he realized she was with Husted, he gallantly bowed out.
Husted would later blame Jackie’s mother, Janet, citing she didn’t think he had enough money.
He may have for Jackie, but not for Janet!
Nevertheless, one day shy of my first birthday, June 25, 1953, Jack and Jackie were engaged.
We look at them now through the lens of assassination, tragedy, and Camelot. Because of that we miss things.
Things like the fact that they both loved books, and books saved them from time to time.
For Jackie, books were an escape from the horror that was her parents’ marriage. For him they were solace and escape through long illnesses and times in hospitals. He read with determination; at meals, in the tub, even reading one propped UP on the bureau as he dressed.
She escaped into French history. So much so that when the first couple went to Paris, she impressed French President Charles de Gaulle, who claimed she knew more French history than most French women.
They gave books as gifts – not gifts so much but as communiqués. They used books to express feelings they could not or would not voice. When their preemie son Patrick died in August of 1963, Kennedy had been holding the child in his hand. When he was telling Jackie of the child’s death, she said, “There’s just one thing I couldn’t stand, if I ever lost you…” When they came home he gave her a biography of Catherine de’ Medici, a 16th Century patron of the arts and reminded her of the work they had to do together.
A few days later, she gave him Jon Manchip White’s Marshal of France: The life and Time of Maurice de Saxe.
de Saxe was a legendary lover and philanderer who had an affair with a famous Parisian actress.
Also like Kennedy, de Saxe had fought to achieve greatness in spite of illness and ruthless opposition. There were more similarities, and as a student of French history, Jackie knew he would read her mind as he read her gift.
When the President met his tragic end in Dallas, Jackie taught a nation how to grieve a fallen leader and cemented his place in history.
But theirs we found out was not a happy union. Seemingly it was a business agreement, a deal, a show. But we don’t know; one never knows the mind of another. We never know what makes a marriage work, tick, last, survive.
And with this one as with most, flawed or not, we never will.