The continued power of the Kennedy brand has a lot to do with an unbeatable story line, of course. “Jackie embodied every grand literary theme there is,” says Michael Beschloss, the historian who helped pull together and edit the interviews. “Wealth, fame, accomplishment, political power, tragedy.”
But her endurance as an icon also has a lot to do with the skill and care the family has put into creating and perpetuating that image. Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, used to make movies, after all; the Kennedys produced their own family TV show for a time, and it was Jackie herself who suggested the Camelot analogy to a reporter days after Jack’s death.
So why try to rekindle the Kennedy flame again now? The official reason from Caroline is the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy presidency. Conveniently, however, the Kennedy book and CDs provide a timely counter-narrative to “The Kennedys,” the mildly controversial miniseries that is likely to receive a clutch of Emmys in a couple of days.
Yet the book, the tapes and even the TV special do much more to deconstruct the alabaster picture we all have of Jackie than the soft-focus miniseries did. The series focused perhaps too much on Jack’s dalliances and featured a first lady and president who might have been addicted to Dexedrine, but otherwise it was a beautifully photographed tone poem to Jackie.
The book and tapes, on the other hand, reveal a catty, sometimes caustic, politically curious first lady who had strong views about everyone around her. What’s striking about these interviews is how candid Jackie is, how politically incorrect and how hard she works to camouflage her insecurity and vulnerability.
On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Bobby’s told me of the tapes of these orgies they have and how Martin Luther King made fun of Jack’s funeral. . . . I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that that man is terrible.”
On President Lyndon B. Johnson: “Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, ‘Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?’ ”
On Indira Gandhi: “a prune,” and a “bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”
On Adlai Stevenson: “Jack so obviously demanded from a woman — a relationship between a man and a woman where a man would be the leader and a woman be his wife and look up to him as a man,” she said. “With Adlai you could have another relationship where — you know, he’d sort of be sweet and you could talk. . . . I always thought women who were scared of sex loved Adlai.”