Memories of Jackie the Journalist She Exuded Charm as Photographer at Times-Herald

By Chuck Conconi 1994, Washingtonian | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 22, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Memories of Jackie the Journalist She Exuded Charm as Photographer at Times-Herald

Chuck Conconi 1994, Washingtonian, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

JIM SAUNDERS spent nearly a week in the Washingtoniana section of Washington, D.C.'s Martin Luther King Library looking at reel after reel of microfilm from the old Washington Times-Herald.

He couldn't find the picture that had been taken more than 40 years ago by the newspaper's young "Inquiring Photographer," Jacqueline Bouvier.

The retired Army Department employee remembers clearly when the 23-year-old First Lady-to-be interviewed him in 1952 - but he doesn't remember the question that he answered for the column.

"I hadn't thought about it until she died. I had a copy of it, but now I can't find it. I'm disappointed. I was thinner and better-looking then."

It continued like that long after Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died on May 19. It was a final goodbye for those people who knew her before she became Mrs. John F. Kennedy, especially the people who were not part of her glamorous world but had a brush with history during her year as a newspaperwoman.

Jacqueline Bouvier had spent much of her youth outside Washington, although Merrywood, a grand house overlooking the Potomac in McLean, became her home after her mother married financier Hugh D. Auchincloss.

Most of her education was outside Washington, except for ninth and 10th grades at Holton-Arms, then a white-gloves school downtown.

She went off to Vassar and was unhappy there, spent her junior year in Paris at the Sorbonne, and returned to finish her degree in French at George Washington University.

It was an uneventful senior year - her picture doesn't even appear in the school yearbook. Then it was time to find a job. She wanted to be a journalist.

Sid Epstein, then city editor of the Washington Times-Herald, remembers getting a call from the editor, Frank Waldrop, telling him to talk to a young girl named Jacqueline Bouvier.

She had been recommended by well-connected columnist Arthur Krock of The New York Times.

Epstein, who later was editor of the Washington Star when it folded, said, "I remember her as this very attractive, cute-as-hell girl, and all the guys in the newsroom giving her a good look.

"You know how it is: The editor calls you and says talk to someone, and you do it. She told me she wanted to be a reporter, and I told her that we only hired experienced people.

"Then she said, `I'm also a photographer and used a Leica at the Sorbonne.' "

He laughs. "I said, `Kid, we don't have anything that fancy. You'll use a Speed Graphic here.' I knew I needed a new inquiring photographer - the kid who was doing it was a stringer who was quitting to go to law school. I told her, `If you can learn how to use the Speed Graphic by tomorrow, I'll hire you.' "

A staff photographer was assigned to teach Jackie the fundamentals of the bulky camera.

"Next thing I learned," Waldrop says, "was the photographers were trying to teach her to judge the distance she should stand from the subject to take a head shot. Finally a 6-foot-tall photographer lay down on the floor and had her stand at his feet. That's how she learned."

Jackie came back the next day, and Epstein hired her at $25 a week.

"The column improved immediately," he says. "She was soft-spoken and shy, but she wasn't afraid to go out onto the street and get her columns. The kid we used before, I think he would go into a bar and interview the first five people he met."

She produced a column each week. It didn't run on a particular day and it appeared anywhere in the paper, sometimes on the front page.

Bouvier's level of energy is obvious from several reels of 1952 microfilm. Her questions ranged widely.

Once she went to Griffith Stadium and asked, "Do you think the Nats will pull out of their hitting slump?"

She talked to team president Clark Griffith, manager Bucky Harris, and players Mickey Vernon, Jackie Jensen, Pete Runnels and Jim Busby.

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