For those that lived during the early 1960’s, Jacqueline Kennedy had become more than just the First Lady of the United States, she had become a star. The star of the show that was played out before the nation, with the young president at her side, and a nation that wanted to copy everything that she was doing. Jacqueline Kennedy only wanted a few things in life, and none of it included becoming this type of figure. However, on November 22nd, 1963, fate would take over and put her in a place only a few First Ladies before her had to endure, that of becoming a widow. Every move that she would make in those moments after the gunshots took the life of her husband, would be etched into the minds of millions of Americans for decades to come. The stained pink dress, watching her husband’s successor take the oath of office, finding the right burial spot, and ensuring the nation would never forget this time in history.
It is with history in mind that Jacqueline Kennedy sat down with famed historian and Kennedy advisor, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. for a series of interviews just months after the events in Dallas. The interviews were recorded by Schlesinger and the agreement would be that they would be sealed for 50 years. According to her daughter Caroline Kennedy, the interviews were unlocked just weeks after her mother’s death so that the family could decide if it was time for them to be released. Caroline had decided that it was not the right time, and it would be another 17 years before the public could hear the voice that had been so strong during such a tragic time.
Over the course of the next seven conversations that spanned months during 1964, Jackie Kennedy shed light on many topics regarding her husband. Some of those topics included his presidential aspirations, what he liked to read, his relationship with his brother Bobby, and his plans for after the presidency. The book features a written form of the interviews and it also includes the recordings themselves. I have found myself listening to these conversations on my way to work, and actually hearing her voice, gives the conversation some life. Mr. Schlesinger is careful to avoid many of the controversial topics that have been printed in the years after. Instead, in these early months after JFK’s death, Jackie is painting the image of JFK that she thought he deserved. Asked at one point in the conversation as to how her husband would have described himself, she states, “An idealist without illusions”. A true statement for a man that had so many visions for the country, but were left unfinished by a life cut short.
Some of the other interesting topics that are brought up by Schlesinger, is the relationship that JFK had with the FBI, and the CIA. When asked about the situation, Jackie states, “I know he was going to get rid of J. Edgar Hoover and he always said that those were the two things he did first- you know, Hoover and Allen Dulles, which I guess he had to do at the time”. There are those that believe that individuals such as Hoover and Dulles had something to do with the assassination, and this statement by JFK’s wife, shows the indifference he had with these two men.
Another person of interest in the interviews that came up, was the name Lyndon Johnson. Jackie felt that her husband tried many times over the course of his administration to involve Johnson with decisions, but that Johnson simply just agreed with everything that was being said. So instead of having a “yes” man, he would send him on trips around the world. One notable statement that Jackie makes about this, is something that happened in our current events today. As a new Air Force One was needed, Johnson pushed for JFK to order four more Air Force Ones, and that Moscow’s planes were much faster. In turn Jackie stated, “Jack wasn’t going to spend that much money for four new planes, and Lyndon kept pushing him to do it”. JFK did not give in to Johnson’s demands, and the rift between the two was growing to a point in which Johnson might be dropped from the ticket. Jackie explains that she did not think that JFK would drop Lyndon in 1964, but that JFK had stated to her, “Oh God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon was president?” Well the nation did get to see what would happen, and the effects of his presidency left a scar on the presidency that was felt for decades.
The book is a must have for any Kennedy collector, and the recordings are the most valued portion of the book. Within those CD’s, the voices of history are heard, and the protector of Camelot sheds light on the events before JFK’s presidency, during it, and what could have been after it. Jackie Kennedy believed that her husband would have gone around the world, written a book, or even done something with his library. Instead it was left to her to form the image and history surrounding her husband, and she was able to give the country that brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.