“To many Americans who had seen dozens of pictures of her during the campaign, a glimpse of the hair, sunglasses, gloves would have been enough to identify her as ‘Jackie.’ To people who knew little else abut her, that was who she was. In fact, like so much in her life, the aim of her signature style was concealment. A chemical straightener disguised the naturally kinky hair she hated. The teased bouffant masked a low hairline. Kid gloves covered large, strong, mannish hands that an early boyfriend likened to those of a peasant. The cut of her suit jacket artfully concealed the breadth of her shoulders, and her muscular back and arms. The skirt disguised hips she thought much too broad. The shoes were specially cut to make large feet look smaller and more feminine. Sunglasses hid brown eyes set so far apart that her optician had to special-order a suitably wide bridge. Dark lenses had the additional advantage of guarding emotions that since childhood she had taken tremendous pains to hide.”
Barbara Leaming’s book about Jackie Kennedy during the White House years was dead on the kind of book I was looking for. When I read books about First Ladies, I am really searching for their role and their lives in the context of the Presidency. A couple of the books left out important events altogether. Leaming seems to understand that highlights of any Presidency include roles played by the First Lady as well as an effect on her.
Case in point: Bay of Pigs. Following his first major blunder on the world stage, Kennedy desperately needed to appear credible, strong and respected. Jackie understood how to set that backdrop in her decor, choice of venue, style of dinner party and the guests. She also had a flair for enchanting world leaders that her husband needed to impress.
John F. Kennedy’s Presidency took a huge toll on Jackie. Being the wife of a president is a taxing burden on any first lady, but for Jackie Kennedy it was especially difficult. First, she needed to balance being a mother of two young children. She was fierce in protecting them from the press. Second, she was a private person when she came into the first lady role. It was stressing for her to receive so much attention and be required to put herself on a stage. Third, her husband was a philanderer. He didn’t just have a few quiet affairs, no, he brought his mistresses to the White House and flaunted them in front of her. Fourth, all that stress brought on the loss of three children – one to miscarriage and two stillborn. That poor woman, it’s amazing she didn’t have a nervous breakdown. At least, not that we know of.
Leaming’s details of the Kennedy assassination were gripping. Apparently she got those details from several records, including a very detailed Secret Serviceman’s report. The only fault I could find was that she often told the reader was Jackie was thinking at a particular point in time. I kept wondering, isn’t that conjecture? Leaming also went a bit far in determining why Jackie stayed in her marriage. I thought it too simplistic.
All in all, I thought it was a very good book and a good insight into Jackie Kennedy and her marriage to JFK.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001
Amazon Book Preview of Mrs. Kennedy