Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a mournful widow after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but later in her life she was also playful and had crushes on famous men — including Alec Baldwin, despite being 28 years his senior.
All of this is recounted in James Hart’s new memoir, Lucky Jim, which was released Tuesday. In the book, Hart reveals that he and then-wife Carly Simon had a long-standing friendship with Onassis in which she shared these two sides of herself.
“‘Not long ago, someone told me about an African tribe that beat their drums and scream in anger for a whole day and night when somebody dies,'” Hart recalls Onassis saying to him. “‘I was so angry about Jack, but I didn’t know what to do about it.'”
A 2003 biography, The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, revealed that Onassis talked to her priest, Father Richard McSorley, about committing suicide after JFK’s death. McSorley told author Thomas Maier about a conversation in which Jackie asked him “if God would separate her from her husband if she killed herself.”
From Hart’s perspective, Onassis was “laden in history,” so her friendship with his wife at the time, singer Carly Simon, was a much-needed comfort.
In a 1995 Vanity Fair profile on Onassis, Simon is described as one of the former first lady’s “kindred spirits.”
“[Onassis] loved [her friends] because they were free spirits, unguarded and spontaneous—what she couldn’t be,” said an observer to Vanity Fair.
According to Lucky Jim, early on in their friendship Onassis was visiting the couple when Simon asked her: “‘So, who would you say is the sexiest man you’ve ever been with?'”
“Jackie answered without hesitation,” Hart writes. “She answered as though she had been eager to tell someone for a long time just so she could share the thrill of the surprising nature of her answer. Her face broke into a large smile, and her breathy voice filled with delight as she answered.”
Hart writes that Onassis also asked him for his opinions on men. One night she called specifically because she knew Hart was a “good friend” of Alec Baldwin.
“‘Well, do you think Alec could be my date for the theatre on my birthday?'” Hart recalls her asking. (Onassis was turning 62 at the time. Baldwin was 33.)
“I was surprised by the openness of the request, but I acted as though there was nothing unusual about it,” Hart writes. “Alec was most shocked of all, but there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation, even though he had just met Kim Basinger.”
Hart called Baldwin to relay the request, and Baldwin responded: “‘I’m there.'”
“‘You sure?'” Hart asked.
Baldwin’s response was definite: “‘Are you kidding? Jackie Kennedy wants to go on a date? Of course.'”
Not only did Hart assist with Onassis’ romantic life, he also taught her how to dance one night at a vineyard.
“The beat had taken her, and she had let go,” he writes. “As I caught her eyes, she smiled and then shook her head, and in her deep, breathy whisper, she said, ‘I’ve never done this before.'”
Lucky Jim is on stands now.