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Jackie O: A Touch of Class

May 20, 1994 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ She was many things, but above all she was the woman in the pillbox hat who crawled across the limousine trunk, her husband’s blood splattered across her stylish pink suit.

In a few moments in Dallas, Jacqueline Kennedy was transformed from first lady to first widow. Even her subsequent marriage to a Greek shipping tycoon couldn’t change that.

If she resented her status as American royalty, she had herself to blame. She helped create the myth of Camelot, a myth that endured even as it was tattered by one revelation after another about her husband’s presidency.


When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, his wife said she felt ″as though I have just turned into a piece of public property. ... It’s really frightening to lose your anonymity at 31.″

Years later, she offered this assessment:

″I have been through a lot, and I have suffered a great deal. But I have had lots of happy moments as well. I have come to the conclusion that we must not expect too much from life. ... You cannot separate the good from the bad.″

Her life after Dallas had plenty of both. She was a private person who endured harassment by tabloid photographers, a single mother who raised two seemingly happy children in a fishbowl, a millionaire who went to work like everyone else.

As reports surfaced of President Kennedy’s womanizing, his reliance on painkillers, his general recklessness, she held her silence.

Everything called attention to her: her wealth, estimated in 1989 to be more than $200 million; her dark, wide-eyed beauty; and her social position, beginning with her Southampton birth and Newport childhood.

She often hid behind sunglasses and kerchiefs, even while jogging in Central Park. Her reticence - she went 25 years without granting an interview and won a court order to keep one particularly dogged photographer away - only added to her mystique.

It all went back to Dallas and the motorcade and Nov. 22, 1963. The nation’s horror and grief were leavened by admiration for her brave, lonely resolve.

At Parkland Memorial Hospital, as the priest said his blessing over her husband’s corpse, Mrs. Kennedy had taken a ring from her finger and put it in his hand.

″And so she took the ring from her finger, and placed it in his hand ...″ Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield repeated that line five times in his choked eulogy at the president’s funeral.

Flanked at the funeral by her young children, Caroline and John Jr., Mrs. Kennedy ″became a symbol, for all of us, of great nobility and character in an age of general impoverishment of soul,″ said Kennedy aide Larry O’Brien.

But Mrs. Kennedy stunned many admirers in 1968 when she married Aristotle Onassis, a 62-year-old Greek tycoon who was already a jet-set legend.

″Jackie: How Could You?″ demanded one newspaper headline.

Easily, if it meant financial security and independence from the Kennedy family, friends said. And, perhaps, to tell the nation to find another First Widow.

″Marrying him liberated me from the Kennedys - especially the Kennedy administration,″ she is supposed to have said. ″None of them could understand why I’d want that funny, little squiggly name when I used to have the greatest name of all.″

But their differences were too great, and within a few years there were fights - first over money, then over friends, finally over everything. When Onassis died, in a Paris hospital in 1975 after a long illness, his wife was an ocean away, in New York.

By now she was, like Ali or Jagger, an international celebrity. In his early-’70s hit song, ″You Wear It Well,″ Rod Stewart pays a lady love the ultimate compliment: ″Madame Onassis got nothin’ on you.″

In some of the many books and movies devoted to her, however, Mrs. Onassis was portrayed as calculating, snooty, spiteful and greedy.

″Jackie had always been in love with the world of power and money. And as they say, ‘Power corrupts.’ In a way it corrupted her. Once she became first lady she changed - and not for the better,″ gossip columnist Igor Cassini told David Heymann, author of ″A Woman Named Jackie.″

Mrs. Onassis’ friends disagreed.

″The Jackie they know has managed to preserve her dignity through an ordeal by the press such as no other woman in this century has had to undergo, and she has also - whatever her faults - triumphed as a mother and as a professional person,″ Edward Klein reported in a 1989 profile in Vanity Fair.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born July 28, 1929, in the Long Island resort community of Southampton, to stockbroker John ″Black Jack″ Bouvier and Janet Lee Bouvier.

Her parents divorced when she was 10. Two years later, her mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss, a Washington businessman.

Jacqueline, who pronounced her name to rhyme with queen, was dubbed debutante of the year in 1947 after her coming out in Newport, R.I., where she spent summers as a girl.

She attended Vassar and the Sorbonne before graduating from George Washington University in 1951 with a major in French literature.

That same year, she won a Vogue magazine writing contest, choosing Sergei Diaghilev, Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire for her winning essay on ″people I wish I had known.″

She turned down the prize, a year’s job at the magazine, instead becoming an inquiring photographer for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper, taking pictures of people and seeking their responses to human interest questions.

It was while working on such a feature that she interviewed Kennedy, then a Massachusetts senator, whom she also had met at a dinner party in 1951.

She had no interest in politics; she didn’t even like crowds. But when the couple announced their engagement in 1953 Jackie pronounced herself ″the luckiest girl in the world.″ They were married at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport.

Mrs. Kennedy was 31 when her husband, 12 years her senior, was elected the 35th president of the United States. They moved into the White House with their baby boomers - Caroline, born in 1957, and John Jr., born less than a month after the election.

The new first lady dedicated herself to redecorating the White House, which she compared pejoratively to ″a Statler Hotel.″ She promised to make it a ″showcase of American history and art.″

She hired the first permanent White House curator and organized its first guidebook to raise funds for renovation. The February 1962 TV special ″A Tour of the White House With Mrs. John F. Kennedy″ won high ratings and Emmy and Peabody awards.

She also traveled and shopped - extravagantly, some said. Thanks to her, pillbox hats, bouffant hairdos, white gloves and Oleg Cassini gowns were the rage.

Although she ranked being a fashion leader ″at the very bottom of the list of things I desire,″ it was part of her appeal, an appeal that reached around the world.

″I do not think it entirely inappropriate for me to introduce myself,″ President Kennedy said on a trip to France in 1961. ″I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris - and I have enjoyed it.″

In August 1963, she gave birth to Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, but the infant died after three days. It was not the year’s last tragedy.

Shortly after her husband’s death she summoned Theodore White of Life magazine to the Kennedy home on Cape Cod. He recalled:

″She didn’t want Jack to be forgotten, or have his accomplishments cast in an unfavorable light. She wanted him to be remembered as a hero. She reported how at night he would often listen to ‘Camelot’ on their phonograph and how he personally identified with the words of the last song: ’Don’t let it be forgot, that there once was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.‴

After JFK’s death, her relations with the Kennedy clan waxed and waned. She attended the 1986 wedding of her niece Maria Shriver to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but she did not attend Rose Kennedy’s 100th birthday celebration in 1990.

She occasionally attended public events at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, including the annual Profiles in Courage award ceremony, but did not speak.

She skipped the 1991 dedication of the Reagan library in California, which brought together President and Mrs. Bush, the Reagans, Carters, Fords, Nixons and Lady Bird Johnson.

Mrs. Onassis began her publishing career in 1975 at Viking Press but left two years later in anger over Viking’s publication of a Jeffrey Archer novel in which President Ted Kennedy was the target of an assassination attempt.

She moved to Doubleday, where she persuaded singer Michael Jackson to write his memoirs, ″Moonwalk,″ and got ballerina Gelsey Kirkland to write her controversial autobiography, the best-selling ″Dancing on My Grave.″ She talked Bill Moyers into doing a book on healing.

Her background served her well. When she was asked why she wanted to publish Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, whose work had not been translated into English, she explained that she’d read translations in French.

In 1983 she worked with Louis Auchincloss, her cousin by marriage, on his book ″Maverick in Mauve.″ He described her as ″a shrewd and imaginative editor of prose, and she has impeccable taste in illustrations. She’s always done things very well, ever since she was a little girl.″

In the office, she was known for perfect manners and down-to-earth style. She even fetched her own coffee.

″She had developed a suit of armor as if it wasn’t happening - as if the waiters weren’t staring, people weren’t doing double takes,″ recalled Alan Williams, former editorial director at Viking Press.

She was a working woman by choice, not necessity. When Onassis left her only $120,000 she contested his will, and won a $26 million settlement from her stepdaughter, Christina.

She owned a Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a 400-acre oceanfront compound on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and an estate in the horse country of central New Jersey, where she rode in hunts as recently as last fall.

Her great public passion was historic preservation. ″We are the only country in the world that trashes its old buildings, old neighborhoods. Too late we realize how much we need them,″ she wrote in 1991. ″Youth is leading the fight to save the planet. Why not also fight for some of the great old buildings on it?″

She was often seen on the arm of her companion, Maurice Tempelsman. Tempelsman, a wealthy diamond dealer who helped manage her finances, is a short, grandfatherly looking Belgian immigrant.

Mrs. Onassis disclosed in February that she was suffering from non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, and for a time was in the same New York hospital as her first husband’s old opponent, Richard Nixon.

By all accounts she took great pride in John Jr., a lawyer who seemed to have developed a disposition to match his good looks, and Caroline, a lawyer who bore her three grandchildren.

Asked to name her chief accomplishment, she said, ″I think it is that after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane. I am proud of that.″