As is the case for every iconic historical figure, it'd take much more than just an article to sum up the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a.k.a. Jackie; but ahead of the release of Chilean director Pablo Larraín's Jackie, with Natalie Portman in the title role, the spotlight on the former First Lady means we could all use a little refresher.
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Jackie Was As Intelligent As She Was Social
Née Jacqueline Bouvier, Jackie was born on July 28, 1929 to John Vernou Bouvier III, a Wall Street stockbroker known as Black Jack, and Janet Lee Bouvier. She had a little sister, Lee, who was four years her junior, and both were very close. An excellent student, she received several awards over the course of her school years, and cultivated an intense relationship with her father that was full of mutual admiration — though her parents later divorced amidst the father's financial struggles and extra-marital affairs.
She studied French literature at Vassar College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1951, and spent a year abroad in France, in Paris and Grenoble. Her proficiency in the language and her familiarity with French culture would later earn her huge popularity on her official trips to the country. While she won a 12-month editorship at Vogue following her graduation, she turned down the offer and worked at the Washington Times-Herald, a time during which she was briefly engaged to John G. W. Husted, Jr.
When Jackie Met John
It was in 1952 that she met John F. Kennedy, who was then busy running for Senate. They married in September 1953, and though the early years of their marriage were strained by John's surgeries and the birth of their stillborn daughter Arabella, soon Caroline was born on November 27, 1957, and Jackie started accompanying her husband on his campaign trips for Senate.
John announced his candidacy for presidency at the beginning of the year 1960, and Jackie was heavily featured in the press both as John's wife and a fashion icon. In November of the same year, Jackie gave birth to John Jr., two weeks after her husband won the election, and they made a point of cultivating the image of a warm and close-knit family.
Those who are familiar with the busy sex life of JFK would probably disagree, but while it seemed obvious that Jackie would be aware of her husband's adventures, she never risked breaking the bubble they had created. Reportedly, the death of their son Patrick, only a day after his birth in August 1963, brought the couple even closer together — so close that Jackie can be seen both as a cheated lady and the ideal wife.
The Making Of An Iconic Couple
As The Atlantic writes of the Jackie tapes — her interview with historian Arthur Schlesinger only a few months after JFK's assassination — there was a subtle strength to the Kennedy couple that forged the iconic status they still have today:
Jackie makes a point of describing to Arthur Schlesinger the "naps" she and Jack would take together, on those afternoons when they were both in residence at the White House. They would sometimes eat lunch from trays in bed, and then she would open the window for a breeze and close the curtains. To underscore her message, she lets him know that Jack always undressed for these naps, and the point is clear: no matter how many women John Kennedy may have had, he also took care of his own wife too, and he did it in a languorous and elegant manner—the filtered light, the breeze, the marital bed where generations had been conceived—that none of those chippies in the fetid fiesta pool could ever hope to enjoy.
But JFK was shot in the back of the presidential limousine in November 1963 in Dallas, and so the world will never know where the Kennedy marriage could have taken them. That day, Jackie was wearing a pink Chanel suit, and after the assassination she insisted on never washing the blood out of the fabric — "Let them see what they’ve done," she said. The suit has been preserved, but to avoid putting the Kennedy family in the media spotlight once again, it won't be available to the public until 2103.
Jackie Focuses On The Aftermath Of JFK's Assassination
It's on this irreversible moment that Jackie focuses: The bleakness that overtook this sunny November day, and the immediate aftermath of the event, when Jackie was caught between her shock and her duty as First Lady. Larraín particularly drew from the famous interview Jackie gave to Theodore H. White for Life magazine, just a week after the murder, in which she compares her husband's presidency to the King Arthur myth of Camelot, a fantastic castle and ultimate romantic symbol.
There was a thought, too, that was always with her. "When Jack quoted something, it was usually classical," she said, "but I'm so ashamed of myself — all I keep thinking of is this line from a musical comedy. At night, before we'd go to sleep, Jack liked to play some records; and the song he loved most came at the very end of this record. The lines he loved to hear were: Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot." She wanted to make sure that the point came clear and went on: "There'll be great Presidents again — and the Johnsons are wonderful, they've been wonderful to me — but there'll never be another Camelot again."
Already shown at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and praised with rave reviews, Jackie is shaping up to be one of the strongest Oscars contenders of 2017, as much for the deeply intimate, anti-biopic-cliché direction as for Natalie Portman's brilliant performance.
Jackie is set for release December 2, 2016.