Keeping Jackie's Secrets

By Cheever, Susan | Newsweek, September 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

Keeping Jackie's Secrets


Cheever, Susan, Newsweek


Byline: Susan Cheever; Cheever is the author most recently of Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography.

The new tapes remind us how her mystery captivated us all. The case against our tell-all age.

They look like a couple of gorgeous, dressed-up kids who happen to have been chosen to run the world. "I mean you did again feel like two children," Jacqueline Kennedy remembers of the morning after her husband's inauguration. "Think of yourselves sitting on Lincoln's bed!"

The Kennedys were Catholic, but privacy was their other religion. They never kissed or showed affection in public. They did not discuss their personal lives. Jackie went to court more than once to protect herself from publicity. So in spite of everything that has been written about the Kennedys, the portrait delivered in Jackie's famous whispery voice in interviews with her friend Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. released last week is our first real look at the private lives of people whose public lives are so achingly familiar.

She was a young first lady, with a beauty and education so exotic that people sometimes asked if she could speak English. He was a 43-year-old who told his wife that his best attribute was curiosity, and his worst, irritability. Jackie, who felt that a wife's job was to provide a comforting home, had a laserlike discernment and a sharp tongue. She demurely tells Schlesinger that she took all her opinions from her husband, but she obviously had plenty of her own.

We learn: JFK was an obsessive reader, even while shaving and eating. He was in physical pain a great deal of the time and had courted her on crutches. Jack had the habits of a well-bred boy--changing into his pajamas for a daily nap, saying his prayers at bedside--and the forgiving, conciliatory instincts of a much older man, instincts that stood him in good stead as a leader. The day before he was assassinated, Jackie recalls, she complained that she hated blowhard Texas Gov. John Connally. Her husband rubbed her back and crooned, "You mustn't say that, you mustn't say that. If you say -- that you hate someone, then the next day you'll act as if you hated him. We've come down here to Texas to heal everything up. …

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