Suzanne Fields

Her observations are snapshots, and she would change her mind over later years, but nevertheless express what she wanted to leave for the record. She is contemptuous of the Martin Luther King that her husband said was revealed in FBI wiretaps of a telephone conversation of King arranging a sex party on the eve of his famous March on Washington. Jackie would nevertheless come to admire the civil rights icon and attended King's funeral with his family four years later.

She was no doubt aware of her husband's extramarital affairs, but there is no mention of them in these interviews. She portrays herself as the adoring wife who never quarreled with Jack, perhaps wanting to maintain that image for her children as much as for history.

Such observations should be taken with more than a "warehouse of salt," historian Michael Bechloss observes in his introduction. Jackie was resolute in preserving a legend even from the grave. She was disappointed that Jack's assassin was, in her words, "a silly little communist." She modeled his funeral on that of Abraham Lincoln, trying to cast him in similarly heroic terms.

But the young president was considerably less accomplished than Abraham Lincoln and left a limited legacy. He might have wanted history to credit him with the civil-rights legislation that transformed America, but that would be credited to Lyndon Johnson, who muscled it through a reluctant Congress and was a man the Kennedys despised.

The first lady of Camelot, for all her demure image, was ruthless in trying to shape the image of her husband. She granted her first post-assassination interview to Theodore White, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, for Life magazine in December 1964. She insisted that the Camelot theme run through the White essay, that he write twice as a refrain: "It will never be that way again."

Jackie thought she was making a pre-emptive strike against historians she feared would not treat her husband as gently as deserved. She wanted to control her own history, too, by speaking from the grave. But the grave has many voices, and they never speak as one. You could ask Guinevere.

Suzanne Fields

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

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