Jackie Kennedy book: glimpses of White House intimacy, and happiness

Some of the real gems in the book based on interviews Jackie Kennedy gave deal less with famous people and more with the quirks of domestic life at the White House.

In this Oct. 5, 1960 file photo, Jackie Kennedy poses at her typewriter where she writes her weekly 'Candidate's Wife' column in her Georgetown home in Washington.

During times of stress Jacqueline Kennedy sometimes cheered up her husband the president by performing uncanny impersonations of the people with whom JFK had to deal.

The first lady also found it funny that the bathroom that male guests used in the White House residence was full of rubber floating animals. Jack employed them to amuse his son John during bath time.

Those guests could sometimes be destructive. Congressional leaders who dined with JFK on a regular basis eventually broke all the fine antique chairs Jackie had acquired for the White House Family Dining Room.

News about the new Jackie Kennedy book based on interviews she gave to historian and Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger has focused mainly on the famous people she did not like, or did not think JFK liked. She disapproved of Martin Luther King Jr., thought Indira Gandhi “a truly bitter woman,” and professed to despise Lyndon Johnson.

But what struck us as the most interesting parts of the book are the intimate asides about the Kennedys' domestic life inside the nation’s executive mansion. Where else but in such a primary source as the Schlesinger tapes will you learn this: When the Kennedys moved into the White House, they discovered that the sill to JFK’s office off his bedroom was riddled with holes. They feared termites and a possible White House collapse. A holdover staffer told them otherwise – the holes were caused by JFK’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower.

“It was the cleats from his golf shoes. You just wouldn’t believe!” Jackie told Schlesinger.

Yes, the tapes were made at a time when the young widow was trying to shape her late husband’s image. Yes, subsequent revelations about JFK’s womanizing have tarnished his reputation. Yes, Jackie at time seems subservient – an attitude toward marriage she would later disown.

But bits of the book remind you why at one point Americans could mention the Kennedy presidency in conjunction with the word “Camelot” and not wince.

JFK wept in his bedroom following the debacle of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Once, Jackie was lying on her back in another room, her leg in the air as a doctor massaged a kink, when Jack burst in with Harry Truman, who turned scarlet. Jack often ate breakfast on a tray, reading briefing papers, while Caroline and John watched Jack LaLanne’s exercise show on TV at earsplitting volume.

In 1964 Jackie told Schlesinger she’d been worried about moving into the White House but that her life there had been unexpectedly happy.

“You can never know what will be the best for you,” she said.

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