Editors Note: Despite the many allusions to the debutantes and dilettante of the ill fated Kennedy administration, introduced in this tale by Vanity Fair are the people who raised the decorations of the White House from aged or tired, to one of the foremost collections on display of American Art furniture and the decorative arts.
Until Jackie Kennedy cared about the public appearance of the White House as being representative of the cultural achievements of Americans, few people anywhere in the apex of society admitted to any interest in American art. Her efforts here were pioneering to say the least.
With its dazzling cultural events and intimate, cut-loose evenings, the Kennedy White House reflected the conflicts and collaboration of a marriage in progress. Setting her own rules—whether by historic restoration of the mansion, tightly guarded playgroups for her children, or private retreats to Virginia hunt country and jet-set Europe—Jackie took steps to improve her sex life with Jack, even as she coped with his infidelities. In an excerpt from her new book, Grace and Power, Sally Bedell Smith reveals how America’s most glamorous First Lady made 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue an unexpectedly happy home.
On November 29, 1963, a week after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, his widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, summoned presidential chronicler Theodore H. White to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. She wanted White to write an essay about her husband for Life magazine.
Jackie Kennedy spoke for four hours, with a “calm voice” and “total recall.” It was a rambling monologue about the assassination, her late husband’s love of history, dating from his sickly childhood, and her views on how he should be remembered. Well versed in the classics, she said she felt “ashamed” that she was unable to come up with a lofty historical metaphor for the Kennedy presidency. Instead, she told White, her “obsession” was a song from the popular Broadway show Camelot, by Alan Jay Lerner (a J.F.K. friend from boarding school and college) and Frederick Loewe, which had opened only weeks after Kennedy was elected. Jackie recounted to White that at night, before going to sleep, Jack Kennedy listened to Camelot on his “old Victrola.” “I’d get out of bed at night and play it for him when it was so cold getting out of bed,” she said. His favorite lines were at the end of the record:
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