She was one of the world’s most beloved yet mysterious women. And as a young widow following her husband’s murder in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy largely kept quiet in her torrent of grief.
Eight and a half hours of recordings of Mrs. Kennedy from seven interviews in 1964, four months after the president’s Nov. 22, 1963, murder, are set to be released as an audio book Wednesday. In excerpts published in The New York Times, the former first lady holds forth on everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the world’s great leaders of the time to her own husband – whom she idolized to the end.
“Once I asked him – I think this is rather touching – if he could have one wish, what would it be?” Kennedy, who was 34 at the time, says. “In other words, you know, looking back on his life, and he said, ‘I wish I had more good times.’ ”
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, she says she begged him not to send her away. “If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you,” she says she told him. “I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too – than live without you.”
Elsewhere, she calls French president Charles DeGaulle an “egomaniac,” the future prime minister of India Indira Gandhi “a real prune – bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman,” and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a “phony” for being unfaithful to his wife (according to information provided by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover).
She mentions nothing about her own husband’s infidelities. Instead, she speaks of his loyalty, sensitivity and courage. At one point, she refers to a “civilized side of Jack” and “sort of a crude side,” but adds: “Not that Jack had the crude side.” She casts herself as a traditional wife in a marriage that was “rather terribly Victorian or Asiatic.” Her goal, she says, was to provide “a climate of affection and comfort and détente.”
Mrs. Kennedy, who later married the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, died in 1994 at age 64.
The interviews with the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. were kept private by the Kennedy Library until this month. Audio and transcripts are being released today as a book titled Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.
In the forward, former first daughter Caroline Kennedy says it is meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of her father’s presidency – and that the tapes show a different side of her mother.
People “don’t always appreciate her intellectual curiosity,” Caroline says, “her sense of the ridiculous, her sense of adventure, or her unerring sense of what was right.”