THE TOPIC FOR TODAY is Books and Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a combination that immediately brings to mind the novel that triggered her recent resignation as a book editor. So you will have to forgive me if I begin with a different book entirely - William Manchester's "The Death of A President." It was that book that the then Mrs. Kennedy tried to put legal equivalent of a stake through, going down to the federal courthouse in Manhattan to do the deed. About 50 reporters went with her, your faithful observer being one of these and i came away as I knew I would - dazzled.
We were told to wait in the small press room off the lobby and we sensed, as I recall, that we would be trifled with - that Mrs. Kennedy would somehow attempt to do her deed in private and that of course, we would not - nay, we could not - tolerate. We heard something about the elevators being turned off and so we schemed and we plotted and then one among us stepped forward. He was the courthouse reporter for one of these New York papers that has since gone the way of most New York papers and he said he had a plan. He would get word when Jackie came into the building and he would alert us and then he would lead us to where she would be. He was an ordinary man, but suddenly he looked like a prince.
Presently, the phone rang and presently the courthouse veteran picked it up and he was told something, He hung up the phone in triumph and said, =She's here." He took off out the door and we took off after him, eventually snaking our way up a stairs. We climbed two maybe three flights to the proper floor and the old man gave a casual pull on the door. It didn't budge. He pulled some more and then he pulled real hard and then he was heard to say. "Locked. Never been locked." He looked sick.
He was still mumbling his apologies when we all took off down the stairs, hitting the lobby with a rush only to be told by someone that Mrs. Kennedy had been there - and was gone. Groan, said everyone.
But not me, I, for one, was thrilled. The others cursed and yelled and talked of throwing the old courthouse reporter out the window, but I was pleased. The incident was just additional evidence for me that jakie Kennedy was not someone ordinary or even someone extraordinary in an ordinary sort of way, like a movie star or a politician, but someone so special she could lock doors that never locked and keep maybe 50 trained and vicious reporters at bay. It was everything I expected from Jackie and there was just something fitting about it all. She had always been special--sui generis Jackie!
OK, that was then--1967, to be precise, and it was before so much. It was before her marriage to Aristotle Onassis and before the stories of how much it cost to keep her in clothes and before the drumbeat of revelations that took the shine off the Camelot legend and, of course, the recent controversy over her resignation as an editor for Viking Press. The thing of it is she was always doing something that smacked of hedonism or tackiness or bad judgment or maybe simply poor timing. I mean, you do not resign over the publication of a book eight or nine months after you learn about that book. A friend of mine said it this way. "She's going to give protest resignations a bad name."
So I sat down to write a column about Onassis that would have knocked her, that would have said something about what a disappointment she has become or maybe how she is irrelevant, boring - depending, I suppose, on your point of view. I called some people I know a Viking Press and I asked them about jackie and they told me that either they knew very little about her or they thought she was developing into a capable editor.At any rate, I got nothing like I thought I would get, which, frankly, was lots of sniping and badmouthing.
That stopped me and made me think and the more I thought, the more I had to conclude that something unfair was happening. Specifically, Jackie Kennedy Onassis is always being held to standards that other people are not.
The flap about the book is just the latest example of this. The novel concerns a fictitious assassination attempt on Teddy Kennedy in 1983 and it has been poorly reviewed as being, among other things, tasteless. The thing is that at least two book reviewers have somehow held Mrs. Onassis accountable for the book's publication, suggesting that she ought to have done something about it.
Well, the fact of the matter is that she was no responsible for the publication of the book and was not she who brought the novel into her pulishing house and she was not the editor on the book. But that is not even the point. The point that other editors are not asked to account for book that their firm happens to publish - not even a book about a relative. In fact, other editor would be accused of censorship if they attempted to bar the publication of a book on what are essentially personal grounds or, failing that, resigning in protest after the fact.
It's one of thowe damned-if-you-do, damned if you don't situations and while you can say that Mrs. Onassis botched matters, you also have to say that no one else is asked to make those kinds of choices - no one else is expected to be always wise in love and always prudent with money an always discreet in a public sort of way - to be widow before one's time, to retire to some pore like a Mamie or a Bess and rock until, as they say she is called to her husband's side. It's not far to expect all that of her just because in a younger and simpler world she once could do things that left you dazzled.
Like makes the door lock.