By People Staff
December 30, 1996 12:00 PM

What a difference an “I do” makes. For three years, when she was merely John F. Kennedy Jr.’s latest girlfriend, the publicist Calvin Klein counted on to coddle his celebrity clients lived in relative anonymity. But last Sept. 21, after she donned a reported $40,000 pearl white gown by Narciso Rodriguez and made a married man out of the country’s most eligible bachelor in a perfectly secret ceremony on Cumberland Island, Ga., she became the most watched woman in the world. Carolyn Bessette, 30, “hit the ground running,” says cosmetics tycoon and friend Leonard Lauder. “She’s getting used to the idea of being Mrs. Kennedy.” For its part, New York society had no trouble adjusting. Says author Letitia Baldrige, Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House social secretary: “Jackie must be smiling in heaven.”

Indeed, part of what first turned 36-year-old John’s handsome head was that 6-foot-tall Carolyn seemed a lot like Mom. A Roman Catholic whose parents are divorced, she grew up in Connecticut’s BMW country, and her fresh, elegant looks—”the epitome of American chic,” designer Cynthia Rowley dubs them—made her the cover girl for a “Girls of B.U.” (Boston University) calendar. But while she liked to party as much as her beau, Carolyn stood her ground. Her dander was famously on display in a videotaped confrontation last February in which she and John argued, pushed each other and, eventually, made up. Frequently seen on her husband’s arm (in Prada slip dresses, sans jewelry except wedding band), Mrs. Bessette Kennedy, as she likes to be called, keeps the rumor mill going. Some gossips say she is pregnant; she denies it. Some say she will return to a fashion career; she isn’t talking. Whatever she does, the public will react much like her celebrity-struck art student neighbor Ian McLellan, who labels her “the next Lady Di.”