Monday, September 12, 2011

Mrs. Kennedy speaks 47 years later in interviews

Her memories, opinion of world leaders “tart”

French President Charles DeGaulle? “That egomaniac.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? “...a phony.”

Indira Gandhi, the once and future Prime Minister of India, “a real prune – bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”

These are the memories and impressions of a young widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the former first lady, revealed for the first time after 47 years in the dark.

She sat down with White House aide Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a noted historian, and gave him her impressions of a world gone mad with missile crises and a botched Bay of Pigs invasion, an event which she remembered made the young president sit on the edge of his bed and weep tears of frustration.

“From then on, there seemed to be no waking or sleeping,” she recalled of the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis, when the world learned the Soviet Union had installed ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, all of them aimed at American cities.

Delivered in seven parts on tape, in the type of impeccable diction and cadence of women of her station at the time, the interviews are a snapshot of the thinking of a 34-year-old mother of two who had witnessed the extremely violent death of her husband. Her daughter, Caroline, says in a the foreword to the book, which will soon be published by Hyperion, that her mother was in “the extreme stages of grief.”

Her politesse was indeed used up, her candid memory bared by the sweeping events of a cruel era.

She recalled her husband asking her, “Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?”

He said of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Charlatan is an unfair word...he did an awful lot for effect.”

Both political personalities had done much to thwart the Kennedy legacy over the years.

President Roosevelt fired the elder Mr. Kennedy from his post as the Ambassador to the Court of St. James's because of his opposition to war with Germany. Senator Johnson bitterly opposed the Kennedy plan to make oil producers pay a higher corporate tax on their product, among other conflicts that existed between the two.

As to her peers, she is merciless. She said of “violently liberal women in politics,” those who preferred Adlai Stevenson as the 1956 presidential nominee, that they were “scared of sex.”

Two powerful and highly visible political females - Madame Nhu, the flamboyant sister-in-law of President Diem of South Vietnam, and former member of Congress Clare Boothe Luce - she dismissed, in a stage whisper, by saying “I wouldn't be surprised if they were lesbians.”

As to the President, she recalled with fond amusement that he would change into pajamas for his daily afternoon nap of 45 minutes. He read constantly, she said. Even when tying his tie, walking, dining, bathing, he read reports, news, books – literally anything he could grasp with a spare hand.

Historians who have reviewed the interviews say they are of incalculable value to historians.

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