September 14, 2011
By Jordan Schatz
A newly released book, which details an interview with Jacqueline Kennedy months after her husband’s death, will reveal a new side of the former first lady rarely witnessed by people outside her circle of friends and family.
“Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy,” is being released in book stores Wednesday. ABC News will air a special titled “Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words,” Tuesday as part of a continual celebration of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural term in office.
Kennedy sat down with former White House aide and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in spring of 1964 and together, the two recorded parts of her extraordinary life. The recordings, hidden away until now, depict her time in the White House, her relationship with her family and her courage, strength and style that defined a period in the nation.
The forward to the book is written by Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, who was given the recordings by her mother to be sealed for decades and released at the appropriate time. In the recordings, Kennedy rarely speaks about her husband’s assassination and speaks warmly about their relationship even as the country teetered on the brink of nuclear war.
“If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you,” Kennedy remembers telling her husband during the Cuban Missile Crisis when there was a fear the country—and the White House—could be bombed. “I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too… than live without you,” she said.
Kennedy talks of her husband’s unwavering dedication to their children and of walks on the White House lawn where the couple could escape the demands of the Oval Office—if only for a short while. She admits to Schlesinger that the three years spent in the White House were “our happiest years.”
She also recalls playing the part of first lady. She hosted dinners with journalists, talked politics with people she would otherwise avoid and invited the entire country into the White House for a televised tour on CBS in 1962, an event that would endear her in the hearts of many.
“Historic Conversations” gives a unique insight into one of the most powerful and celebrated political families in the world at a time when there was hardly a place for women in politics. Yet, Kennedy understood the ways of Washington and the tremendous burden on her husband.
She spoke coldly of Lyndon Johnson, who battled with her husband for the presidential nomination in 1960 and was named vice president when her husband was voted into the presidency. Johnson would later compete with her husband’s brother, the attorney general Robert F. Kennedy for the presidential nomination in 1968.
“Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?” Kennedy remembers her husband asking. She added, “(John) didn’t like that idea that Lyndon would go on and be president, because he was worried for the country.”
She also displayed a candid side not often seen. She is quoted criticizing Indira Gandhi and later depicting the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, as an “egomaniac.”
She also spoke about her family intimately. She tells how Robert Kennedy asked the president not to appoint him, fearing cries of favoritism. She knew her sister-in-law Eunice Kennedy Shriver desired to have her husband, Sargent Shriver, named head of the department of Health, Education and Welfare as well.
“Eunice was pestering Jack to death to make Sargent head of HEW, because she wanted to be a cabinet wife,” she said.
“It is a great privilege to be able to share these recollections with the millions of people who admire my parents,” said Caroline Kennedy. “My mother took very seriously the obligation to preserve and document the history of my father’s administration, and these interviews are the result. I am honored to play a small part in that effort by bringing them forward in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration.”