According to the papers, Ms. Onassis, who is now 64, has a variety of lymphoma, has been undergoing chemotherapy, and because the disease was diagnosed early, there is an excellent prognosis.
But it is cancer, and that's a shock. And she is 64. A shock in that too.
It was only yesterday, or perhaps last month, so it seems, that she lived in Georgetown just west of Wisconsin Ave. in a nice old house with her dashing young husband, a United States senator people thought might be going places. She wasn't quite beautiful but she was cute as hell, tall, athletic, casual. In those days you were more likely to see her wearing a Brooks Brothers classic men's raincoat and a headscarf than Givenchy. Though she was working her way towards that.
We were all young then and Georgetown was the place to live. I had a one-bedroom groundfloor apartment on N Street, west of Wisconsin and down the street from Bill Martin's bar and grill. Paid $65 a month; nothing extra for the enormous Georgetown cockroaches. That was 1956. Had a parking space behind the house. Drove a fire engine red 1954 Ford convertible. Paid $2,400 for it, new.
Everyone knew about Jackie. She was born of good stock in East Hampton, though Black Jack Bouvier was said to be something of a rake, and went to Vassar, winning some sort of writing award from Vogue and earning herself a year in Paris.
By 1952 she was "the inquiring photographer" for the now defunct Washington Times Herald, making $42.50 a week. That's when she met Jack Kennedy. On an assignment. Listen, it can happen; they haven't yet written the final chapter of "The American Dream."
It was '56 that the country began to focus on the young Kennedys.
During the Democratic Convention Adlai Stevenson would again be nominated to challenge President Eisenhower in November but there was a real contest for the vice-presidential nomination. The favorite going in was Estes Kefauver, a self-important and rather pious jerk from Tennessee who'd made something of a name chairing a Senate committee investigating the rackets.
His competition was Kennedy.
One of the crucial delegations was that of Tennessee. It may sound odd but Kefauver was anything but a lock even in his own state. The Democratic leader of the Tennesseans back then wasn't Kefauver but the state's other U.S. senator, Albert Gore, a silver-haired, silver-tongued orator and a fine legislator. Gore, for whatever reason, hated Kefauver. And as the voting for veep neared, it was getting clear Gore would throw enough (if not all) of the Tennessee delegation's votes not to Tennessean Kefauver, but to Jack Kennedy of Massachusetts. Or so the press heard.
Then, just before the vote, one of the Tennesseans pulled Senator Gore aside. Whatever your differences with Estes, Gore was reputedly informed, "if you vote for that Catholic son of a bitch over your fellow Tennessean, you'll never win election in this state again."
Whatever the validity of that story, Tennessee went for Kefauver, he got the vice-presidential nomination, and he and Stevenson were humiliated by Eisenhower/Nixon in the general election. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Kennedy, not tarring him with defeat and the label of "loser."
By the time Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960, I was working in Paris. And in the spring of 1961, on one of his first official trips abroad, Kennedy was heading for France, for a state dinner with de Gaulle, and, of course, accompanied by his wife Jackie. She was then 31.
And in Paris, where I was running the office for Fairchild Publications, we were being whipped by the publisher of Women's Wear Daily in New York, Mr. Fairchild. It was absolutely essential that we find out what French clothes Jackie was ordering for the upcoming state visit. And, goaded and harassed, eventually we did.
Hubert de Givenchy, one of the giants of the Paris couture, was designing a wardrobe for the American First Lady and sending it back to the States surreptitiously through the good offices of Jackie's kid sister Lee Radziwill.
WWD pounced. The story ran. With sketches.
In Washington the great Pierre Salinger, an old pal of mine from Capitol Hill investigative reporting days (Pierre was one of Bobby Kennedy's chief snoops), was now White House press secretary.
There was no truth at all to reports Jackie was buying Givenchy, Pierre thundered. She was, as she promised, buying American!
The Attorney General (Bobby) was rumored to be issuing warrants and seeking indictments. Except that Jackie saved our skins by arriving at the state dinner in the Elysees Palace wearing a magnificent evening gown ... by Hubert de Givenchy.
I have loved Jackie ever since.
There are lots more Jackie stories from when I became publisher of WWD and the love/hate affair we and she carried on.
But when it comes right down to it, you can forget the best-dressed list and the brief, unhappy Onassis marriage and her book editing, even her gallantry under fire and exquisite poise and dignity. The ineluctable fact about Jackie is that she's a good mother. Without a husband, and with the ghastly memory of how their father died always with them (and with her), Jackie has raised a couple of good kids.
They got their educations, they went to work, they enjoyed a bit of sport, surely, but they don't get busted, and they don't ride the marriage merry-go-round, they function. Jackie did that, alone.
Give the woman a hand. And hope she gets better.