Audiotapes set to be released Wednesday offer fresh insight into the life and personality of Jacqueline Kennedy, the former president's wife who had a unique vantage point on many seminal historical events from the 1960s, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The eight hours of recordings were created in 1964, when Kennedy sat down with historian and former White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. mere months after the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy, on Nov. 22, 1963.
They were set to be released 50 years after her death, but her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, decided to make them public now.
The recordings reveal a side of her only friends and family knew — funny and inquisitive, canny and cutting.
The tapes are set to be released with the new book Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy.
The book is part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's first year in office. Jacqueline Kennedy died in 1994, and Schlesinger in 2007.
At the time, the former president's wife was not yet the jet-setting celebrity of the late 1960s or the literary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. But she was also nothing like the soft-spoken fashion icon of the three previous years.
She was in her mid-30s, recently widowed, but dry-eyed and determined to set down her thoughts for history.
'Please don't send me to Camp David'
During one conversation, Kennedy recounts how she was unwilling to leave her husband during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the danger to herself and her family.
“I said, ‘Please don’t send me away to Camp David, me and the children. Please don’t send me anywhere, if anything happens we’re all just going to stay right here with you,’” she says in the tapes.
In another exchange with Schlesinger, she describes how her style drew criticism from the press. She was fashionable; she challenged the notion of what an American housewife should be; and she spoke French, which was regarded at the time as a liability.
“I was never any different once I was in the White House than I was before, but the press made you different,” she said, adding that she was expected to “bake bread with flour up to [her] arms.”
“You know everyone thought I was a snob and hated politics,” she said. “Well Jack never made me feel like I was a liability to him, but I was.”
She also offers insight into JFK, saying he wept openly over world events, particularly the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
Jackie Kennedy also describes some world leaders in unflattering terms.
She says Indira Gandhi, who was elected India’s prime minister in 1966, was “pushy” and “bitter.” Charles de Gaulle was an “egomaniac.” And Martin Luther King Jr. was phoney, according to Kennedy.
She was especially hard on Lyndon Johnson, who had competed bitterly with her husband for the presidency in 1960.
There are no spectacular revelations in the Schlesinger discussions and virtually nothing about JFK's assassination. Kennedy's health problems and his extramarital affairs were still years from public knowledge and from the knowledge of aides such as Schlesinger.