With Kennedy-focused movies, books, and television series such as the recent controversial miniseries "The Kennedys," you'd think there would be nothing new to unearth about the JFK presidency. But in a seven-part interview now released for the first time, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reveals intimate details of her time in the White House with her husband as well as some unexpected opinions on historical figures and her husband's staff.
Kennedy, who granted only three interviews after her husband's assassination, has long remained one of the more mysterious figures of the era because of all we don't know about her thoughts and feelings. But in the new tapes, she reveals a new side and speaking with much candor, according to the AP. During the interviews, Kennedy talks as if she’s merely entertaining a guest and is funny as well as cutting when discussing politicians or public figures she disliked.
The interviews, conducted by historian and Kennedy aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., took place in the spring and early summer of 1964. They are often interrupted by sounds of clinking ice, matches being struck, or sounds Kennedy children Caroline and John Jr. coming and going out of the room.
Daughter Caroline says that she was inspired to release the tapes by the 50th anniversary of her father’s presidency and says in a foreword to the book that she thought it was important the public knew her mother’s version of some of history’s most famous events and people.
Here are a few of the more surprising comments made by Mrs. Kennedy during the interviews:
• She calls Martin Luther King Jr. “a phony” and says she began to dislike him after FBI director J. Edgar Hoover arranged wiretaps on the civil rights leader and found him attempting to arrange a sex party in Washington. Hoover also told Robert Kennedy that King had made insulting remarks during JFK’s funeral. “I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible,” Mrs. Kennedy says.
• Mrs. Kennedy says her husband and the rest of the Kennedy family disliked Lyndon B. Johnson. “Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, ‘Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?’” she says.
• Despite a historic meeting where she famously charmed him, Kennedy calls Charles de Gaulle “that egomaniac” and “that spiteful man.”
• Kennedy ridicules what she called “violently liberal women” who preferred politician Adlai Stevenson to John F. Kennedy. “Jack so obviously demanded from a woman – a relationship between a man and a woman where a man would be the leader and a woman be his wife and look up to him as a man,” she said. “With Adlai you could have another relationship where – you know, he'd sort of be sweet and you could talk, but you wouldn't ever ... I always thought women who were scared of sex loved Adlai.”
• She discusses the days during the Cuban missile crisis when many other politicians were sending their wives and politicians out of the country. “If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you,” she says she told John F. Kennedy. “I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too – than live without you.”
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.