Former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is the enigmatic subject of Pablo Larrain’s biopic Jackie, which is being released on February 24. Jackie has been nominated for three Oscars: Best Original Score (Mica Levi), Best Costume Design (Madeline Fontaine) and Best Actress for Natalie Portman in the titular role.
Jackie follows Jacqueline Kennedy’s life before and after the assassination of her husband, President John F Kennedy, in 1963. The opening scene shows Jackie (Portman) reminding a journalist (Billy Crudup) of the terms of her first interview a week after her husband’s assassination. She cautions the journalist that she will be editing his notes before the interview is published. The brief scene sets the tone for the rest of the narrative, showing the character’s vulnerability but also revealing the extent of the control she wields over her image.
She was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929, into a wealthy family in New York City. Her father was a Wall Street stockbroker and her mother was a socialite. Her pedigree gave her the right balance of status and elegance. In 1953, Bouvier married Kennedy, who was elected as the 35th American President in 1961. She retreated into the shadows after Kennedy’s state funeral, and later married the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968. Jacqueline Kennedy died of cancer in 1994.
As First Lady, Jaqueline Kennedy embarked on a restoration of the White House and took American television viewers on a guided tour for the television network CBS News. The documentary A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, won a special Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Trustees Award at the Emmy Awards in 1962. It was the beginning of Kennedy’s carefully constructed public image.
The television programme made Kennedy popular across America and the rest of the world after it was distributed in over a hundred countries. She accompanied her husband on official foreign trips, charming the public in France, Vienna and Austria.
In 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill travelled to Pakistan and India. In India, Jacqueline Kennedy met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian National Congress party president Indira Gandhi. Kennedy later described Indira Gandhi as “a real prune – bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman” in a 1964 interview to Arthur M Schlesinger Jr, a historian and Kennedy aide.
Jacqueline Kennedy was a major style icon in her times. Her impeccable manners, elegant wardrobe and good looks mark her as a precursor to Lady Diana. The pink Chanel ensemble dress with the matching pillbox hat that she wore on the day of her husband’s assassination became one of the most iconic images of the 1960s.
In a 2011 essay, Christopher Hitchens noted that after her husband’s demise, Jacqueline Kennedy resorted to myth-making. “With amazingly professional velocity, she seized control of the image-making process and soon had an entire cadre of historians and super-journos honing and burnishing the script,” he wrote in Vanity Fair.
This was right after her famous interview in Life magazine with writer Theodore H White, on whom the character of the unnamed journalist is modelled in Jackie. The 34-year-old widow spoke to White for four hours, painting a mythical portrait of her relationship with her husband and comparing their lives in the White House to a Broadway musical with the words, “One brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” She was referring to the folklore of King Arthur and his legendary kingdom of Camelot in the fifth century.
White donated the papers on which he had scribbled the interview to the Kennedy Library in 1969. It was sealed to be examined until a year after her death. The papers, referred as the “Camelot documents”, furthered Kennedy’s reputation for opacity.
When she wore a mourning veil and defied security protocol to walk behind her husband’s funeral cortege, she was compared to a glamorous actress. “I don’t like to hear people say that I am poised and maintaining a good appearance,” she said. She couldn’t have been further from the truth. As Jackie proves, Jacqueline Kennedy understood herself the best.