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Recordings reveal a candid, critical Jackie Kennedy

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-09-14

In a new oral history compiled from interviews recorded in 1964, a year after her husband’s assassination, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy reveals an opinionated side that differs from her discreet, soft-spoken public image.

“[People] really don’t know her at all,” Caroline Kennedy writes of her mother, former first lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy, in the foreword to a new oral history that will be published on September 14, some 50 years after John F. Kennedy became US president. The seven-part interview – conducted with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. in 1964, the year after JFK was assassinated – might change that.

Among the things she says people might discover about her mother, Caroline Kennedy cites "her intellectual curiosity, her sense of the ridiculous, her sense of adventure, or her unerring sense of what was right”. Given Jackie Kennedy’s public image as a discreet, elegant, soft-spoken figure, people may also be surprised by how opinionated and frank she was. Below are some notable revelations from the book, entitled “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy”. Certain excerpts from the interviews were aired Tuesday night on US television channel ABC.

On Charles de Gaulle and the French

“De Gaulle was my hero when I married Jack,” Jackie Kennedy confides. That changed quickly when she met the French leader in 1961 on a visit to Paris, when she found him to be an “egomaniac” and a “spiteful man”. And although she spoke fluent French and spent a year studying at the Sorbonne, her assessment of the French people in general is no kinder. “I loathe the French,” she admits in the interview. “They are not very nice, they are all for themselves.”

On Indira Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kennedy also had harsh words for Indira Gandhi, who would become prime minister of India, describing her as “a prune – a bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman”.

Her opinion of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was equally disapproving. “I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible,” she says, citing FBI tapes of King and a woman in his hotel room to back up her assessment that he was “tricky” and a “phony”. She also said that King had mocked her husband’s funeral.

On JFK’s faith

Asked whether her husband was religious, Kennedy responds: “He never missed church one Sunday that we were married or all that, but you could see partly – I often used to think whether it was superstition or not – I mean, he wasn’t quite sure, but if it was that way, he wanted to have that on his side.”

She also recounts that JFK would pray before going to sleep each night. “It was just like a little childish mannerism, I suppose, like brushing your teeth or something,” she describes. “But I thought that was so sweet. It used to amuse me so, standing there.”

On the difference between John and younger brother (and future senator) Edward Kennedy

“Teddy's more nineteenth-century. He can go down and tell stories,” Kennedy says, explaining the personality difference between her husband and his famously jovial younger brother. “Jack never ... he never said, ‘Hi, fella,’ or put his fat palm under your armpit, or, you know, any of that sort of business. It was embarrassing to him."

On other US politicans

Kennedy was critical of her husband’s vice president and eventual successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that reaction to his selection as JFK’s running mate was muted. “Oh well, I think everyone was disappointed because, of all the people, they liked Lyndon Johnson the least,” she says, before adding: “Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, ‘Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?’”

Kennedy also recalls her husband’s view of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest-serving president in US history and one of the most fondly remembered. “He often thought he was rather a – 'charlatan' is an unfair word – you know what I mean, a bit of a poseur, rather cleverly,” she says. “You know, that he did an awful lot for effect.”

On the Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy describes the days in October 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union seemed to teeter on the brink of nuclear war as some of the most intimate of her marriage to JFK. Most administration spouses had been sent away, but Kennedy says she convinced her husband to let her stay at his side. “If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you. Even if there’s not room in the bomb shelter in the White House,” she remembers telling her husband. “I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too – than live without you.”

Date created : 2011-09-14