The untold truth of Jackie Kennedy

In 1970, The New York Times called Jackie Kennedy Onassis "the world's most written-about woman." With her outsized sunglasses and breathy, measured voice, she was notoriously private, "distrustful of the press," and reportedly prone to "dropping friends" if she felt they'd "betrayed her" (per E! Online). 

Born in Southampton, N.Y. on July 28, 1929 to well-heeled parents, the former first lady didn't always shy away from the spotlight. During the first year of John F. Kennedy's presidency in 1961, Jackie "made over the White House into a living stage," according to journalist Hugh Sidey (per The New York Times). In 1962, 56 million people watched Jackie's Emmy-winning televised tour of the revamped White House, an event that found her trotting out a "Minerva clock and candelabra" and a mirror that belonged to George Washington. Meanwhile, her singular style — pillbox hats, Chanel, and Givenchy — turned Jackie into a fashion icon.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, the unthinkable happened: JFK was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas while riding next to Jackie "in the back seat of an open limousine" (per NBC News). A week later, Jackie grimly recounted the assassination. "I could see a piece of his skull coming off," she said (via The Seattle Times). A "grieving public" became obsessed with Jackie's "poise and grace" in the tragedy's aftermath (per History), and that obsession hasn't waned. Here's are some lesser-known facts about the enigmatic, eminently quotable Jackie Kennedy.

She wasn't always so polite

The word "snarky" doesn't spring to mind when thinking of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, but there could be real bite beneath her poise and primness. Once questioned about "what she fed her German Shepherd," Jackie reportedly replied: "Reporters." In 1966, an acquaintance allegedly asked Jackie if she'd bumped into "a tiny, thin, gay interior decorator" who'd helped arrange her apartment (per The New York Times). Jackie reportedly responded: "Oh yes. I did see him the other day. I almost stepped on him in the elevator."

A set of interviews — recorded in 1964 and published in book form in 2011 — suggest a woman whose prickliness resembles "one of the Real Housewives." Don't believe us? Jackie compared Lady Bird Johnson, wife of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, to "a trained hunting dog." She also referred to Indira Gandhi (before she became India's prime minister) as a "prune" (per NBC News). 

In fact, Jackie claimed she couldn't "see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible." That's evidently because her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, had heard a taped conversation in which King "made fun of Jack's funeral." Jackie called King "a phony," claiming she'd heard he'd arranged "sort of an orgy in the hotel" around the time of the 1963 March on Washington. According to Politico, Jackie's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, suspected "poisonous" FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover "had passed on something that Martin Luther King said about my father's funeral" to her mother.

The world was outraged when she remarried

Media coverage was far from even-keeled when Jackie Kennedy married wealthy "Greek shipping tycoon" Aristotle Onassis on Oct. 20, 1968 (per Time). According to The Washington Post, one newspaper claimed: "America has lost a saint." Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that "the reaction [in NYC] is anger, shock, and dismay." A headline in Swedish newspaper Expressen shouted: "JACKIE, HOW COULD YOU?" (via Time). And because it rained on their wedding day, some superstitious folks evidently told The Washington Post: "The gods are weeping." 

As Time reports, these sour sentiments were sparked by the perceived suddenness of the wedding announcement and the prevailing opinion that Jackie "was marrying out of her church and culture." Biographer Donald Spoto wrote that her "legion of admirers kept her like a butterfly in amber" because they wanted to continue seeing her as "a brave, bereaved woman" (via The Washington Post). Nevertheless, the supposedly "secret" ceremony — with its "sugared almonds" and "waiting yacht" — ultimately took place on the Greek island of Skorpios, almost five years after the JFK assassination.

Her marriage to Aristotle — a man The Telegraph described as "short, pugnacious, but extremely wealthy" — wasn't a particularly happy one. According to Time, Aristotle nicknamed his wife "The Widow." After his 24-year-old son Alexander died following a 1973 plane crash, Aristotle reportedly called her "The Witch." Time reported that Aristotle was "deeply superstitious" and irrationally "blamed her for the loss that broke his heart."

She ended an engagement in a particularly chilly manner

A few months prior to meeting her future husband, John F. Kennedy, Jackie reportedly ended her engagement to a stockbroker named John Husted Jr. in March 1952 — and in an incredibly brusque manner (per The Telegraph). According to the 2018 biography Jackie, Janet & Lee, the relationship hit the skids after Jackie's mother, Janet Auchincloss, learned Husted's annual salary, which was reportedly $17,000 (via People). That's about $94K in today's economy. Auchincloss reportedly told Jackie to end the relationship — while they were both attending the "engagement party," reported People

It sounds like Jackie didn't let Husted down easy, either. Shortly after dumping him, Jackie reportedly "dropped the ring back into Husted's coat pocket" (per People). "She was ice cold," Husted says in the biography. "Like we never knew each other." Author J. Randy Taraborrelli writes that "Jackie was not a mercenary person. Whenever she had to make one of those decisions, it was usually her mother behind it" (per People). According to Reader's Digest, Auchincloss "didn't want her daughters to ever struggle financially."

In the back of her mind, Jackie may have known this relationship wasn't built to last. In January 1952, Husted reportedly took Jackie to meet his mother, who tried giving her potential daughter-in-law a photo of Husted as a boy (per The New York Times). "No, thank you," Jackie reportedly said. "If [I] want any photos I can take my own."

​How did she feel about JFK's alleged infidelities?

One particularly memorable Jackie Kennedy Onassis quip: "Sex is a bad thing because it rumples the clothes." Of course, she's being facetious, but perhaps only to a degree: John F. Kennedy reportedly had a number of affairs while married to Jackie, and it sounds like she wasn't in the dark about them. 

In the 1997 book, The Dark Side of Camelot, author Seymour Hersh claims JFK was "consumed with almost daily sexual liaisons" in 1961, the same year he was inaugurated (via People). Pamela Keogh, author of the 2001 book Jackie Style, told People that Jackie "came from a world where that is what men did, and it was accepted." That assessment jibes with a passage from Jackie's personal correspondence: "He's like my father in a way," she allegedly wrote of JFK (per The New York Times). "Loves the chase and is bored with the conquest — and once married needs proof he's still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you."

Lending some context to the situation, socialite Cornelia Guest told People that women from that era tended to talk about unfaithful husbands. (C.Z. Guest, her late mother, was reportedly one of Jackie's friends.) "It was more like, 'This is what's going on; let's go out and get the kids and get on a horse,'" Cornelia said. "They were much more pragmatic about the whole thing." Meanwhile, various other reports suggest Jackie wasn't at all calm about these alleged indiscretions.

​She reportedly wanted to divorce the president

John F. Kennedy's alleged infidelities have been widely reported. According to People, the 35th President purportedly bedded the likes of "White House intern" Mimi Alford, Judith Exner (also the alleged mistress of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana), and, most famously, actress Marilyn Monroe. In their 2014 book Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams, authors Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince make quite a scandalous claim: namely, that Jackie intended to divorce JFK. Had she done so, it would've made Jackie the first-ever first lady to "divorce a sitting President," reported the Daily Mail.

The book claims Jackie was at her wit's end over JFK's alleged affairs, and Monroe's notoriously sultry "Happy Birthday Mr. President" roundelay supposedly proved to be the breaking point. Jackie's father-in-law, Joe Kennedy, reportedly "offered" to give her "a check for one million dollars" to prevent the divorce (per the Daily Mail). If the book can be believed, Jackie told Joe that amount would need to be kicked up to "twenty million dollars" if JFK happened to "[bring] home any venereal disease."

In Jackie, Janet & Lee, author J. Randy Taraborrelli claimed Jackie considered divorcing JFK on at least two occasions (via People). Both times, she was reportedly talked out of the idea by her mom, Janet Auchincloss, and her sister, Lee Radziwill. According to Taraborrelli's book, Radziwill told Jackie that "it didn't matter that Jack was unfaithful." 

​Was there a showdown between Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy?

To what extent did Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Marilyn Monroe know one another, if at all? In his 2013 book, These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie, author Christopher Andersen claims they were bonafide romantic rivals who indulged in at least one verbal sparring match. Andersen writes that Jackie perceived Monroe as a credible threat and "a loose cannon" — someone who could "go public" with her alleged JFK affair and "destroy her marriage" with the dirt (per The Telegraph). If there's any credence to this story, perhaps Jackie had good reason to be concerned. According to Andersen, Monroe was prone to asking her pals: "Can't you just see me as first lady?"

Elsewhere in the book, Andersen claims Monroe rang up Jackie at the White House one fateful evening and let her know all about the affair. According to Andersen, Monroe told Jackie her husband was eager to abandon his family and embark on "a new life" with her (via Inside Edition). Unfazed by this scenario, Jackie reportedly responded with withering sarcasm: "Marilyn, you'll marry Jack. That's great. And you'll move into the White House and you'll assume the responsibilities of First Lady, and I'll move out and you'll have all the problems."

Was she imprisoned by her celebrity?

Perhaps it was an understatement when E! Online claimed Jackie Kennedy Onassis was "distrustful of the press." Asked by Newsweek in 1994 how she felt about all the "tabloid stories," she replied: "The river of sludge will go on and on. It isn't about me" (via Women's Words). From fashion choices to preferred vacation spots, nearly every aspect of Jackie's life has been dissected and discussed: How she reportedly smoked, but "White House photographers" weren't allowed to photograph her mid-cigarette (per First Ladies). How she was already an accomplished equestrienne by age of 11. How she "won [two] restraining orders" against "paparazzo superstar" Ron Galella, who reportedly spent decades "stalking" her (per Salon). No wonder Norman Mailer called Jackie the "Prisoner of Celebrity." 

That level of scrutiny must have been maddening. In 2004, a "Jackie O. Kennedy insider" named Edward Klein told CNN that Jackie "watched what she ate." The media clearly watched what she ate, too. John Loring, a "colleague" of Jackie's, told People: "She'd pull out carrot sticks if we were hungry. Then we'd have two." In her book, Jackie's Girl, "former assistant" Kathy McKeon claimed "the toll of the horror she survived was plain to see on [Jackie's] painfully thin frame" (per AOL). In 1989, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that she ate "miniature Tootsie Rolls" at work, while the Los Angeles Times noted "rocky road" was "her favorite" ice cream. (Is this "the river of sludge" Jackie was referring to?)

She reportedly considered suicide after JFK's assassination

In the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy Onassis reportedly "turned to alcohol and pills" and reached out to a priest to talk about "suicidal thoughts," according to PeopleShe also reportedly wrote to a priest named Joseph Leonard and confessed she felt "bitter against God" (per People). According to Thomas Maier's 2003 book, The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings, Jackie asked a priest named Father Richard McSorley if "God would separate her from her husband if she killed herself" (via People). McSorley told Maier he began schooling Jackie on the church's views regarding suicide, but she reportedly cut him off to say: "Father, I understand. I know it's wrong. I wouldn't do it. But it's so lonely out there."

According to Vanity Fair, Jackie kept "reliving her husband's assassination" throughout "the long winter of 1963." At the time, she reportedly admitted she was "not in any condition to make much sense of anything." As her former secretary, Mary Gallagher, remembered: "Jackie's bedroom was on the second floor and she seldom left it. I was constantly aware of her suffering."

​Her relationship with her sister was rife with drama

Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her sister, the late Lee Radziwill, had a famously contentious relationship. In The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters, authors Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger suggest "Lee may have had an affair with John F. Kennedy" (per InStyle). In the words of the Daily Mail, the book alleges that Jackie "sought her revenge" and thus began a relationship with Aristotle Onassis  the man Radziwill was reportedly "in love with." After Jackie died in 1994, it was discovered that she'd "set up $500,000 trust funds" for Radziwill's two kids in her will (per Vanity Fair). Radziwill reportedly got nothing, and a section of Jackie's will allegedly explained why: "I have already [helped her] during my lifetime."

From dark to darker: In her interview with Vanity Fair, Radziwill claimed she felt "free" when JFK's presidency ended. "There were so many things I couldn't do when my brother-in-law was president," she's quoted as saying. According to the magazine, Radziwill also told her friend, the photographer Cecil Beaton, that Jackie was "more than half round the bend" after JFK's death  to the extent that she couldn't "stop thinking about herself… [or] feeling anything but sorry for herself." Jackie allegedly "even slapped Lee across the face" at one point. 

In an interview with McCall's (via Vanity Fair), Radziwill reportedly scoffed at how she'd been portrayed by the media during JFK's presidency: "It was so limited, so … jet-set, empty, cold, and not true."

Why so much secrecy over Jackie's personal artifacts?

Caroline Kennedy is incredibly protective of her late mother's "personal papers," according to The New York Times. This may somewhat explain why so many Jackie-related items seem to be hidden away. Taped interviews with Jackie from a scrapped book called The Death of the President will reportedly be "sealed until 2067." The bloodstained "pink suit" she wore on the day of JFK's assassination will allegedly remain in "a vault… at least until 2103."

As The New York Times reports, a man named Gil Wells from Richmond, Va., faced a mind-boggling level of bureaucracy after he "formally deeded" what amounted to "two small sheets of White House notepaper" to the government in 2016. Wells' godmother evidently stumbled upon these papers among her belongings in 2015. "The handwriting was Jacqueline Kennedy's, and the notes were a list she had drawn up … for her personal assistant," reported The New York Times. It detailed Jackie's "hour-by-hour schedule alongside the clothes and accessories to be packed, including the now-iconic pink ensemble she was wearing when her husband was assassinated."

"I saw 'Nov. 22' and 'pink and navy Chanel suit,'" Wells said. "I just got the sickest feeling in my stomach." The notes landed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Mass., but Wells was reportedly told they wouldn't be "made public" without Caroline Kennedy's go-ahead. In May 2018, Wells died before his historic finds ever saw the light of day. 

​She had a dazzling career later in life

Soon after the death of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy Onassis returned to work (per Town & Country). She contacted the late Thomas Guinzburg, then the president of Viking Press, and scored an editing position that paid "$200 a week" (almost $1,000 today). As Town & Country reports, it was her first paying gig since 1953. (She'd previously been an "inquiring camera girl" for the Washington Times-Herald.)

Her first day reportedly caused a stir. Journalists hovered outside the office building as her taxicab arrived. "There were bomb threats, security people, press people dressed up as messengers," Guinzburg recalled in America's Queen by Sarah Bradford (via Town & Country). The transition was rocky: Jackie reportedly endured "eye rolling" from peers but ultimately "acquired nearly 100 works of fiction and nonfiction" over her 19-year careerShe resigned from Viking Press in 1977 and was hired by Doubleday the next year, where she edited Michael Jackson's Moonwalk. Jackie opened up about her career in a 1979 Ms. profile (via Vanity Fair): "You have to do something you enjoy," she said, describing "happiness" as "complete use of one's faculties." 

In an excerpt (via Vanity Fair) of Greg Lawrence's 2011 book, Jackie as Editor, a former assistant said Jackie remained "upbeat" at work even after learning she had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She died on May 19, 1994, and many of "her authors" reportedly "left Doubleday" soon after. Lawrence writes: "They couldn't bear the idea of working there without Jackie."