Suzanne Fields
Jackie Kennedy is back, but the world she knew as first lady is gone forever. The woman Mamie Eisenhower said looked "younger than Barbie," the fashion icon who didn't want to wear hats but capitulated at Jack's inauguration with a chic pillbox worn on the back of her head so it wouldn't ruin her bouffant hairdo, the widow who described her husband's administration as Camelot, a romantic notion as fanciful as the legend from which it was based, speaks again through a gossamer haze of pre-feminist politics.

The seven-part interview the former first lady gave to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., four months after the president was cut down in Dallas, has been published as a book and audio recording. "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy," was released by her daughter Caroline on the 50th anniversary of her father's presidency. She reminds us that a first lady's public role reflects the times in which she lives and, of course, the man she lives with.

Jackie Kennedy was a transitional figure for many reasons. She followed Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of a hero of World War II, a first lady formed in the spit and polish world of the Army, who would run a white glove over a windowsill to see whether it was free of dust. Jackie was young and glamorous, raised in an East Coast society that knew the cultured rituals of the upper class, and who craved the protection of a husband as a father figure. She would not talk politics with him at the end of the day because he wanted it that way. Besides, she said women were too "emotional" to talk about politics.

She emphasized the arts, and brought highbrow culture to lowbrow Washington, the capital Jack famously described as a city of "Southern efficiency and Northern charm." Jackie raised the fashion and culinary taste of a city and a nation. Her bone-thin body was adorned by French designers, and she would be shocked by a muscular, athletic Michelle Obama at the U.S. Open tennis matches exhorting young people to "get active and healthy, to eat right, to appreciate exercise."

Arthur Schlesinger recalls on first meeting Jackie that "underneath a veil of lovely inconsequence, she concealed tremendous awareness, an all-seeing eye and a ruthless judgment." Some of her observations that we hear in Diane Sawyer's ABC Special about the new book testify to that awareness, eye and judgment. Some don't.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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