From First Lady to Jackie O

Everyone knows Jackie Kennedy Onassis was married to two of the 20th century’s most powerful men, but lesser known are the five incredible years between those marriages when she was on her own.

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Episode 5: Farewell to All That

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Jacqueline Lee Bouvier had arrived in the nation’s capital in the Fall of 1950 as an anonymous college student. Now, less than 14 years later— the most famous woman in the world— she decided to flee DC and its now painful memories for her hometown of New York City.

This podcast is a companion to Paul Brandus's new book, "Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O," now available in stores and online.

Follow host Paul Brandus on Twitter here.

BROADCASTER: “As the United States pauses to pay tribute to its honored war dead, another hero is remembered. At Arlington National Cemetery, fifty thousand file by the grave of President Kennedy on what would have been his 47th birthday. Mrs. Kennedy with John Jr. and Caroline makes a pilgrimage to her martyred husband’s grave after attending a memorial mass.”

Nobody knew it at the time, but this visit — to her husband’s Arlington grave— would be Jacqueline Kennedy’s last official appearance in Washington.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier had arrived in the nation’s capital in the Fall of 1950, an anonymous college student.

Now, less than 14 years later — the most famous woman in the world — she decided to flee the city and its now painful memories.

I’m Paul Brandus, and you’re listening to Jackie, a podcast about my book that explores Jacqueline Kennedy’s life from November 1963 to October 1968, her transformation from First Lady to Jackie O.

But where would Jackie go? She could have retreated to the Kennedy compound at Hyannis, perhaps her mother’s home in Newport.

But Jackie had spent part of her childhood in New York — always loved it — and since the assassination began spending more time there. Her principal Secret Service agent at the time was Clint Hill:

HILL: “We went to New York quite a bit at the time, during that first six months. And that’s when she decided to move, and I was there when she looked at the places to live in New York and she finally decided on 1040 5th avenue.”

Now, apartment hunting in Manhattan isn’t exactly easy — and when you’re the most famous person in the world — it’s probably even more so. Jackie and her friend Nancy Tuckerman decided to have a little fun with this.

Tuckerman would pretend to be the house hunter — while Jackie, in disguise, pretended to be her nanny.

She had heard from a friend about an apartment on the corner of East 85th Street and Fifth Avenue that was available. 1040 Fifth Avenue — to be precise.

Jackie checked it out — loved it immediately. The location was great — right across from Central Park, where she had played as a child. It was on Museum Mile, and close to galleries, restaurants and ritzy shopping. It was also convenient to the fancy private schools that Caroline and later John would attend.

It also gave her the two things she needed most: privacy and security. Here’s Jackie biographer Pamela Keough:

KEOUGH: Well, the great thing about 1040 is, yes, there’s a battalion of doormen who protected her. There’s also a few different entrances. There’s a few different doors in and out. And that, again, where she was living on N street, unfortunately, the Harriman house and the one across the street, there’s one door in and out, and I’ve been to those places, those homes in Georgetown, you can literally stand on the sidewalk ten feet from the front door. There wasn’t a lot of privacy in Georgetown, unfortunately.

I think New York City, again, and I said she’s a Bouvier and a Lee, her grandfathers were tremendous New Yorkers, New York was her town, and again, it’s hard to imagine a First Lady now doing this, but she would literally just put on her jeans and a t-shirt and a pair of sneakers and just walk all over the city by herself. Enormous freedom. She knew three different ways into the Metropolitan Museum, to get out the back door, she knew Central Park like the back of her hand, Madison Avenue, 5th Avenue, New York was her town, the people protected her, and she felt safe.

After she bought the apartment, she lived in the Kennedy family suite at the Carlyle Hotel over the summer while it was being renovated.

In leaving Washington behind, Jackie also left something else behind:

Her First Lady persona. She was no longer the president’s wife, and no longer obligated to act like one. Barely perceptible at first — her image slowly began to change.

Partly responsible for this change was a hot new artist a year older than Jackie — his name was Andy Warhol.

Warhol had broken through on the New York art scene in the early ‘60s — his works focusing on his fascination with America’s growing pop and celebrity culture. He made silkscreens of Campbell’s Soup cans and iconic figures like Marilyn Monroe.

On the afternoon of President Kennedy’s assassination, Warhol was in his studio. Jessica Beck, curator of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, picks up the story.

BECK: Like many Americans at the time, he heard about the assassination one the radio, and then on newscasts. It was a traumatic moment in American history and in the American psyche, and Warhol was someone who was always deeply invested media. So throughout his career he’s aways paid attention to news headlines and the way that news was sort of disseminated in America.

Upon hearing that the president was dead, Warhol got to work.

BECK: He started collecting these images and made somewhat of a collage almost of these images of her, both from the parade and also the funeral. So also he did a flash portfolio, it’s a series of prints, based on the broadcasts of JFK’s assassination, it’s called the Flash Portfolio, from 1963.

The images of Jackie that Warhol selected — you’ve seen them — Jackie smiling and gorgeous in the Dallas motorcade. Jackie — the dazed expression on her face as Lyndon Johnson is sworn in. Jackie — stoic and dignified as she marches in the funeral.

The assassination put TV on the map — made it the dominant medium in the country. But the endless coverage that weekend — 72 hours straight, no commercials — just hour after hour of grief. Warhol thought it was too much.

His photos — just a few of them — sort of told the same story. You could look at these pictures of Jackie — before and after — and understand immediately that something dreadful had happened.

It was a minimalist approach that was powerful.

PAUL: How did Americans see Jackie differently because of what he did?

BECK: For me, his images… when you see them, when you see the Jackie images and the specific photographs that he selected, her smiling and her both at the funeral, they’re very emotional. And if you think of the photos that were taken of her smiling in the car just before the assassination, and then you think of her at a very public funeral, making this very public statement, I think that’s where the emotional register is on these paintings, that both of those moments of trauma were very public. I think that’s the other level of what Warhol is using, is the way in which Jackie’s trauma was captured in public media.

It was an early example of how she transcended from mere First Lady to cultural icon.

BECK: I also just think that Warhol was fascinated by this idea of ascension, of class and the American dream, all these things that the Kennedys kind of offered up… a new idea of the possibilities of what American could be like in the 60s.

By the way, if you were around in 1964, you could have bought one of the so-called “Warhol Jackies” for about 200 bucks. Today, they go for millions.

When Jackie said she was done with Washington, she meant it.

NEWSCASTER: Congress passes the most sweeping civil rights bill ever to be written into the law, and thus reaffirms the conception of equality for all men that began with Lincoln and the civil war one hundred years ago.

On July 2, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law — a landmark bill that marked a turning point in American history.

The legislation had been proposed a year earlier by President Kennedy — Jackie could have attended the ceremony — but said no thanks.

She also said no thanks to showing up at the Democratic convention — which that year was held in Atlantic City. She did fly in for one brief appearance at a reception, but that was it. The mere sight of the widow reduced some women to tears. And Jackie — speaking as usual in her soft, breathy voice — on the verge of cracking — thanked everyone for attending.

JACKIE: And I want to thank all of you for coming today. All of you here who helped President Kennedy in 1960. Because all of you made it as shiny as possible for him. So thank you.

After leaving Atlantic City, she went to her mother’s home in Newport, Rhode Island — and turned on the TV to watch Robert Kennedy introduce a heart-wrenching film tribute to her slain husband.

It was a mistake. Flickering on the screen were images of Jack playing with Caroline and John — Jackie was devastated. She wrote an old friend the next day that she shouldn’t have watched.

In September, her apartment was ready. In the prior ten months, Jackie had lived in three homes. But 1040 Fifth Avenue — this would be her principal residence for the rest of her life.

Moving day — as it is for anybody — was hectic. Opening boxes, putting things away, settling in. But that very night — something happened to Jackie — that could ONLY have happened to her. She didn’t know that there was another tenant in the building - a guy named John Whitehouse — some big investment executive.

KEOUGH: Jackie movies into 1040 and I’m sure that she and Nancy Tuckerman are unpacking boxes, and she’s wearing jeans or whatever, and there’s a knock on the door and she goes to the front door and opens it. And it was an extremely well-dressed couple, black tie, evening gown, and she’s standing there at the doorman at 1040 was so flustering. John Whitehouse, who’s like, the CEO of Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, some big deal guy investment banker… he was having a dinner party, and the doorman sent them up to Jackie’s by mistake.

PAUL: Because he just associated “White House” with her?

KEOUGH: Right, exactly. White House.

PAUL: Great story.

For the first time since childhood, Jackie was again a New Yorker. And always would be. She was only 35.

On September 15th, she walked Caroline to her first day of school — Convent of the Sacred Heart — just six blocks away. She then returned home to be with John.

This was her new routine — and she was hopeful that she had finally left the pain of Washington behind.

But two weeks later — a jolting reminder that she hadn’t.

NEWSCASTER: To the White House in Washington comes the final verdict on the fateful tragedy that engulfed the nation ten months ago.

The Warren Commission released its long-awaited report on the assassination of President Kennedy.

Named for its head — Chief Justice Earl Warren — the Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone and with help from no one — killed the president. It also concluded that Jack Ruby — a Dallas nightclub owner with ties to the Mafia, also acted alone when he killed Oswald two days later.

The Warren Report swamped Jackie like a tidal wave. She knew it was going to be released — and planned to cancel her newspaper subscriptions for that whole week. At first she forgot to — so they showed up — with pictures of her dead husband on page one. Time magazine even had Oswald on its cover. Jackie then cancelled her subscriptions.

But if she walked by newsstands, or watched the news on TV — it was unavoidable.

At one point, she went to her hairdresser— and there, on a table, was LIFE magazine — with pictures, in blazing color, from the Zapruder film itself — showing Jackie leaning over to help her stricken husband.

This — this was the worst. Jackie had spent ten months trying to get the assassination out of her mind — now brutal pictures from the crime - even the assassin - were staring her in the face. “It was terrible,” she said.

People often wonder what Jackie thought of the Warren Report. I asked Clint Hill — her Secret Service agent — about this.

HILL: She never read it, I don’t think. She was aware of it being released, she was aware of it being done, because she was interviewed for it, as I was. She just tried to put it out of her mind. And not only she, but I think other members of the family as well.

Jackie had no reason to read the Warren Report — she had LIVED it. And as I mentioned in an earlier episode — all that mattered to her was the central cruel truth — that her husband, the father of her children was gone. “It won’t change anything,” she said — and then added “It won’t bring him back.”

Think about Jackie’s position for a minute. She had just fled Washington in a desperate effort to forget the assassination. Now, she’s barely settled into her new home in Manhattan — and it all comes flooding back.

Let’s go back to something from Episode 2 of this series — and another Jackie biographer — Barbara Leaming:

LEAMING: ”I discovered, while I was writing a biography of her husband, John Kennedy, that Jackie Kennedy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, for 31 years after the assassination of Jack Kennedy. Remember, this was someone whose husband's head was literally blown apart inches from her face, and she was left drowned in his blood, in his brains. To make someone be able to understand what is was like to be inside her head is an extraordinary thing, and you can feel that when you hear what she was saying, when you read what she was saying, it's a unique opportunity to understand something that we really need to understand."

And what we need to understand is that Jackie NEVER got over the assassination — never. She only learned to keep it suppressed in her mind — but some sort of stimulus— like images of the Zapruder film or of her husband’s killer— could bring it back in a flash.

At one point, she met with the publisher of the New York Post — Dorothy Schiff. In her quiet voice, Jackie asked her — “People tell me that time will heal — but how much time?”

In addition to trying to leave the assassination behind, Jackie always wanted to leave politics behind too. She never really liked politics— with Jack Kennedy, she had married into it, of course — but that doesn’t mean she liked it.

But being a Kennedy — meant that Jackie would always be involved in politics — whether she liked it or not. Brother-in-law Teddy was in the Senate — and Robert Kennedy, who had resigned as attorney general, sought to join him — seeking a seat from New York.

She even allowed Robert to take John Jr. on the campaign trail at one point — an astonishing thing given her diligent efforts to protect her kids and keep them out of the spotlight.

NEWSCASTER: The voice of the people was heard in the land. 68 million citizens of the United States go to the polls to exercise their cherished franchise, and an overwhelming mandate is handed to Lyndon Banes Johnson, who becomes 36th president of the United States. The man who was thrust into office through the hand of tragedy captures an overwhelming percentage of the popular vote, more than 61%.

Johnson’s election in 1964 was never in doubt — the so-called “accidental president” had now been elected in his own right. Robert Kennedy also won his Senate race in New York.

Johnson won 43 million, 127-thousand and 41 votes.

But there was one vote he did NOT get — Jackie’s.

She let it be known that she would not — COULD not — cast a vote for president in 1964 — because that vote should have been for her husband.

In our next episode:

NEWSCASTER: The very Cape Cod beaches he love reflect the first melancholy day of remembrance.

The day Jackie had been dreading — that first anniversary — of Dallas.

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