Jacqueline Onassis, a book editor, has abruptly quit her job at Viking Press. She sent her written resignation by messenger on Thursday to Viking president Thomas H. Guinzburg, a long-time friend who had given her her start in the business, taking a chance on hiring her when she was totally untried as an editor.
Yesterday, Guinzburg issued a statement bemoaning her refused to speak to him now. Onassis' last working day was Wednesday, and she has not been in since to pick up her personal belongings. Although she is now unemployed, she has recently come into some money from the estate of her late husband Aristotle Onassis - about $26 million, according to an Onassis Foundation spokesman.
The resignation issue was Viking's publication of a "Shall We Tell the President?" a novel in ehich Edward Kennedy, Onassis' brother-in-law by her first marriage, is President of the United States and an attempt is made to assassinate him.
"That's obviously a very unpleasant subject to her," said her spokeswoman, Nancy Tuckerman, yesterday.
However, Tucker confirmed Guinzburg's statement that the two discussed Viking's publication of the book last spring. Guinzburg said that Onassis made a "a generous and understanding response" to the project then, and that he would not have published it otherwise. "My own affection for the Kennedy family and the extremely effective and valued contribution which Mrs. Onassis has made to Viking over the past two years would obviously have been an overriding factor in the final decision to publish any particular book that might cause her further anguish," he said in his statement.
Tuckerman questioned the implication that Onassis had no objections to the book. "She didn't tell him, 'that sounds like a neat idea,'" she said.
(Neither Guinzburg nor Onassis was taking calls yesterdayalls yesterday. Even Onassis' Viking secretary announced herself as "unavailable" for comment.")
What precipitated the resignation, both Onassis' and Guinzburg's statements agree, is the suggestion in the press that Onassis was connected with publication of the book. In a book review in The New York Times on Monday, John Leonard wroote "Anybody associated with its publication should be ashamed of herself." The femininne pronoun seemed to Onassis to be a direct reference to herself, Tuckman said.
Then in Wednesday's Boston Globe, Guinzburg was quoted as saying that she "didn't indicate any distress or anger when I told her we bought the book in England several months ago. She has a fellin of resignation that people will go on using this bleak material." The book's author, Jeffrey Archer, is quoted in the same article as saying that using Sen. Kennedy was done "simply as a fun thing for a novel."
Both say they were misquoted. Guinzburg's statement said the article "wildly distorted the tone and intention of responses to the interviewer, and in fact it was, ironically, an attempt on the part of Viking to bitterly protest a grossly unfair imputation in The New York Times . . ."
Archer not only said he was misquoted, but he couldn't have made that remark because "Can you imagine any Englishman saying 'fun"
He added that he considered the rupture between Onassis and Guinzburg "a personal tragedy for me," and feared that "a lot of people will be buying my book today for the wrong reasons. I am not interested in cheap, clever publicity to sell this book. I want this book to be a best-seller on its own."
Archer was reached in Beverly Hills, where he is on a promotion tour for the book. He said he had offered to stop the tour, but that Guinzburg said, "No, I want you to continue to answer the questions of the press in the same dignified and honest way you have been doing in the last four cities.'"
Onassis' public statement was, "Last spring, when told of the book, I tried to separate my lives as a Viking employee and a Kennedy relative. But this fall, when it was suggested that I had had something to do with acquiring the book, and that I was not distressed by its publication, I felt I had to resign."
She had worked at Viking since September, 1975, on what a spokeswoman at the publishing company called a two- or three-day week "except when she's out of the country." She made contributions as an editor to a bicentennial book, "Remember the Ladies," said Viking; was the editor of a book on Russian costumes, "In the Russian Style," and was currently working on a biography of Chicago's late Mavor Daley by Eugene Kennedy (no relation) and on a book of translations of French fairy tales.
Tuckerman said that she had not yet heard whether Onassis would be looking for another job, or whether she hoped to carry her authors with her to another publishing company. "I know she was devoted to everyone at Viking."
Guinzburg's statement sent her off with the "very best wishes to her for the future" from her colleagues. But he had started it sadly by saying.
"After being friends for more than half our loves. I more than ever deeply regret Mrs. Onassis' decision to resign from the Viking Press without a personal discussion of the incident which resulted in her decision."