The Kennedy 50th anniversary juggernaut rolls on — this time, it’s about Jackie.
On Feb. 14, 1962, the 31-year-old first lady gave a televised tour of the restored White House. It was a smash hit— 80 million people watched the show on both CBS and NBC, and she won an Emmy. “Your performance last night absolutely first rate,” dressmaker Oleg Cassini wrote in a telegram. “The only logical destination for you is Hollywood. You looked more beautiful than any star.”
On Monday, the John F. Kennedy Library released Jackie’s personal papers detailing her role in almost every aspect of the restoration. Within a month of moving into 1600 Penn, the new first lady established the White House Historical Association and the Fine Arts Committee, plus pushed for legislation designating the mansion a historical monument — Mamie Eisenhower's pink decor and cheap furniture notwithstanding.
The documents show the extensive changes that Jackie made to the TV tour script, including naming the donor of a Martin Van Buren chest. Tina Cassidy, author of the forthcoming “Jackie After O,” reviewed the records for us and found evidence of the first lady’s political astuteness: She carefully cultivated philanthropists and collectors of fine antiques including Walter Annenberg, whom she convinced to donate a rare portrait of Benjamin Franklin in a gushing letter, then hailed for the gift in a press release. After the televised tour, more offers poured in.
She scoured old receipts and photographs to reclaim items for the White House: Four Cézanne paintings that were hanging in the National Gallery of Art, T eddy Roosevelt’s rugs, Monroe’s gold and silver flatware and the heavy oak desk Queen Victoria gave to Rutheford Hayes, which she placed in the Oval Office.
Jackie recalled that she first toured the White House at age 11 and was miffed to find no guidebook. Twenty years later, it was one of her first projects. A galley copy of the $1 brochure shows her hand-written edits in the margins; a memo details her fight to sell it over the president’s objections: “I told him we were so in debt we just had to . . . But I do think we should also print a real catalog — more expensive — with room by room description of items, + a list of EVERYTHING in W House.”
Another highlight is the sly notes she added to a 1961 Mount Vernon dinner invitation: Next to the attire guideline of “short evening dress” she wrote “with hoops.” Next to “white dinner jacket” she scrawled “and knee breeches.”
Read earlier: JFK intern Mimi Alford shares story of her affair with Kennedy in new book, 2/7/12; JKF mistress Mimi Alford: Secret trips, Ted Kennedy, Cuban Missile Crisis — and why she did it, 2/8/12