Jackie O.: A Life in Books
Jackie O. loved powerful men, but her passion was for writers.
Photo: Ted West/Getty Images
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis never wrote her memoirs, but you can tell a lot about the late First Lady's life by the books she loved, and those she edited in her nearly two decades as a publishing executive. Two new biographies—journalist William Kuhn's Reading Jackie (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) and Jackie as Editor (Thomas Dunne), by Greg Lawrence (a writer who worked with her on several projects)—reveal some fascinating facts about the literary Jackie:
- Onassis began her career at venerable Viking—earning about $10,000 a year in 1975—but resigned after the publisher released a book that fictionalized an assassination plot on her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy. She spent the next 16 years at Doubleday, where her salary grew to more than $100,000 a year.
- Always a book lover, Onassis once thought of becoming a writer, and won a Vogue magazine writing contest while in college. But she chose to stay behind the scenes as an editor, and she was proud that she became, at age 46, a working woman, at least partly because her then-14-year-old son, John F. Kennedy Jr., thought she was "more interesting" when she had a job.
- While Onassis's proximity to celebrities led to some of her more successful books—Carly Simon's children's titles, Michael Jackson's Moonwalk—not every famous person wanted to tell her their story. Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, and the film director Oliver Stone were among those who declined her inquiries.
- She stood solidly behind Barbara Chase-Riboud, one of the first authors to write about the romantic relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, even when some historians claimed it sullied the reputation of one of the Founding Fathers.
- While undeniably privileged and sometimes imperious, Onassis would also sit down on the floor with her manuscripts, show up occasionally in the company cafeteria (though she had to be told she was expected to pay for lunch), and write encouraging notes in the margins of manuscripts. Her hard work and common touch as an editor flew in the face of JFK's assertion, during their marriage, that she was "a little too much status and not enough quo."