Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (Audio)

I've always had a bit of a fascination with the Kennedy clan.  I had a book that was required reading for some history class in college, which got it all started.  But of all these characters, Jack!  What the hell?  Young, charismatic, handsome, enigmatic leader, horn dog.  I always wondered how on earth he pulled off his sexual escapades while his gorgeous, well-bred wife was upstairs taking care of the kids.  But isn't that the way it usually works?


Slight digression:  In a recent issue of EW, there was a review of a book called "Once Upon a Secret", written by a woman named Mimi Alford, who had an internship in the Capitol when she was 19.  JFK's girlie radar went off, and he ended up forcing himself on her, and continued with the relationship for 18 months.  Really?  I just shake my head.  End of digression.


So when I saw Fizzy Jill's review of this audio, and she talked about juicy gossip and Jackie's untarnished view of the esteemed JFK, I could not resist.  Jackie has always been very private about interviews, only having granted maybe three in her whole life, and the world needs her point of view.


Synopsis:  A short four months after her husband's assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy agreed to sit down and talk to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., assistant to JFK and personal family friend, and discuss life with Jack.  The taped interviews take place over a period of several months and a total of seven conversations in Jackie's Georgetown home.


Jackie and Arthur cover a huge range of topics...all the personalities with whom the Kennedy's interacted, how Jack felt about them, how Jackie felt about them, their daily family routines, how the presidency affected their lives, about the Cuban Missile Crisis, about the dynamics of the Kennedy family and Bobby's involvement in the White House.  The two things that are not discussed, understandably, is the assassination itself, and Jack's philandering.  


But on these topics covered, Jackie holds nothing back.  At times tremulous, and other times tickled by the distraction of gossiping and reflecting, Jackie unburdens herself of everything that must have been on her mind since her husband's death.  


These tapes were secured in a vault until Jackie's death in 1994, at which time Caroline had to make a decision - to release these tapes to the world as a piece of history, or keep them hidden for fear of judgements made on her mother.  Ultimately, Caroline has allowed these tapes to be published as is, without editing, to stand as a historical treasure.  


My thoughts:  This was an absolutely fascinating and slightly eerie experience.  I loved the gossiping and dishing.  From an outsider's perspective, Jackie always seemed like a demure, well-bred debutante.  But girlfriend did NOT like the Eisenhowers, or Adlai Stevenson, and she doesn't mince words.  Even though she sometimes comes across as a few cards short of a full deck, with her occasional vague answers and breathy voice, she knew more than people gave her credit for.


I thought it was perfect to have Schlesinger asking the questions.  He was so familiar with various events and the players in the Kennedy's life, this was much less an interview than an intimate conversation between friends, having the ultimate JFK love fest.  And ooh boy, what a fest this is.  To hear them talk, you would think JFK should be canonized.  And I guess this is expected, since the man died so tragically and so recently.  It was just a bit much, and got a few eye rolls out of me.  I wonder if Mimi Alford feels the same way.  


I was partly horrified and partly admiring of Jackie's mantra in handling herself and serving her husband in the White House.  Her role, as she saw it, was to create a safe, loving atmosphere for her husband to seek a safe haven.  She asked no questions about "business".  Sometimes he wanted to talk, but if not, she smiled, kept the kids quiet, soothed him, got him his slippers and a drink.


Equally as interesting were the subtle nuances of the recording.  The inhale of a cigarette.  The clinking of ice in a glass.  Jackie's occasional slurring (was she drinking or on medications, or was this just the way she talked?).  Or when John Jr. ran into the room making a ruckus, and Jackie snaps at him.  John John even got on the recording briefly and said a few words.  


And these were the parts that seemed eerie to me.  References to Bobby and his current activities, all the while WE know what is coming for him in the not too distant future.  The voice of a young boy who we know will die in a plane crash.  Or all the stories of this perfect man's sexual misconduct that will soon make their way to the surface.  I felt like an uneasy visionary.


Taken for what it is, though - a historical snapshot of a famous young widow's remembrances - it is priceless.  


4.5 out of 5 stars


  

15 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Oh, how my mother loved Jacqueline Kennedy - I can remember someone even telling her she looked like her one day. I can't decide if I should get this for my mother or not - it might burst her bubble.

JoAnn said...

Added this to my wish list after Jill's review, but still haven't gotten to it. Glad it gets rave reviews from you, too. I'll get to it - eventually.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I want to get to this one of these days too!

ds said...

Definitely something that deserves a listen. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

I never really got into the Kennedys, but it sounds like I could learn a lot from listening to this book, and that mantra, whoo-boy! I am glad that you got the chance to experience this and that you enjoyed it. It does sound like a piece of Americana that has finally been brought to light after all these years.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Oh wow, I had no real desire to read this and now I really want to get my hands on this audio. I think their lives are fascinating too (and I just saw the EW blurb about the intern book). I've always been equal parts interested and horrified by the Kennedy clan. The drive to succeed is paired with a mentality that they can do no wrong. From JFK's affairs to Ted's Chappaquiddick incident, from the assassinations to the plane crash, it's one crazy group.

Darlene said...

I've always been fascinated by the Kennedy's as well. I wouldn't mind listening to this one.

Marie said...

I really need to buy this. It sounds like such a fascinating historical document.

caite said...

I have always had a bit of disgust with the Kennedy clan..
ok, actually I was probably in my 20s before that bloomed fully.

But I have always had some admiration for Jackie, especially how she kept her kids out of most of the Kennedy trash.

Jenners said...

I'm sure this is fascinating … what a thing for Caroline to have released it to share with others. I'm sure it is difficult to listen to it without projecting all that you already know about what is coming or how it all "ends up" in the end. I"m thinking I need to listen to this.

softdrink said...

Oh good, I'm glad you liked it! It was weird to be listening to and about people when you know what's going to happen to them. I kept wanting to tell Jackie to stop smoking! And ask about Marilyn Monroe, as tacky as that would've been.

Tasha B. said...

That does sound eerie, especially the parts about Robert Kennedy.

Alyce said...

Our library has this and I've been tempted to check it out, I think I'll just have to wait until I'm in the right mood.

Julie P. said...

I know I'd love to listen to these tapes. Like you, I've always been intrigued by the Kennedys. I can't even count the number of Jackie books that I've read.

Kathleen said...

I downloaded this one on the Kindle for my mom to read but now am thinking that audio is the ONLY way to go on this one. To hear her voice on these tapes is a bit of history that I can't miss. I have always been fascinated by all things Kennedy too. It must go along with my true crime obsession? Ha!