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'Deborah Norville Tonight' for May 18

Read the complete transcript to Tuesday's show

Guests: Ed Klein, Oleg Cassini, Sally Bedell Smith



DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST (voice-over):  The Jackie mystique.  She was born into privilege and married American royalty.  She was, in the best of times, the nation‘s guide to taste, manners and grace. 

And in tragedy, a model of dignity and strength. 

Tonight on the 10th anniversary of her death, we unveil the private world of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from the storybook days of Camelot to the final chapter of her life. 

ANNOUNCER:  From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.


NORVILLE:  And good evening. 

Perhaps no other woman has captured the American imagination and spirit as much as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 

It was 10 years ago tomorrow when the former first lady died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  She was 64.  Hundreds of people touched by her life and moved by her death gathered outside her apartment building in New York City. 

But the fascination with Jackie O. lives on.  Why?  And what is her legacy?

Tonight we‘re spending the hour remembering the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  And joining me now is author Ed Klein, who chronicles Jackie‘s last days in a new book called, “Farewell, Jackie.” 

Good evening, nice to see you. 

ED KLEIN, AUTHOR, “FAREWELL, JACKIE”:  Good to see you. 

NORVILLE:  It is hard to believe that it‘s been 10 years, because there‘s something about all of the departed members of the Kennedy family that just seems to live on for... 

KLEIN:  It‘s as though they haven‘t really left us.  It‘s as though they‘re still part of our daily life.  It‘s amazing. 

NORVILLE:  And obviously, you sensed there was enough of a fascination to go back to the Kennedy well one more time and write this book, “Farewell, Jackie.”

What was it about Jacqueline Kennedy‘s death that was so poignant that you felt it was a story worth retelling?

KLEIN:  You know, we have read books after books about how Jackie taught us how to live, how to be elegant, how to raise children, how to be brave in the face of adversity. 

But there‘s been very little about how she taught us how to die.  And in the last six months of her life, she really gave an example of how a brave person faces the end. 

NORVILLE:  Do you think she meant to be a public example of how to go gracefully out of this world?

KLEIN:  I think it‘s a great question, because I think Jackie always had a sense of herself on the stage of history. 

And in fact, when it came time for her to die, she started to choreograph her own death as carefully and as meticulously as she had choreographed the funeral of John Kennedy. 

NORVILLE:  And even when she was at the hospital and got the diagnosis that this was non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which has about a 50 percent death rate.  It‘s a grim diagnosis.  She was incredibly poised and...

KLEIN:  And thinking of others.  Thinking what will this mean for my children, Caroline and John?  What will it mean for my grandchildren, who may not see their grandmother as they grow up?

She always was thinking about other people and what she could do to make their lives better. 

NORVILLE:  And as she went—and it was very quick.  There was a process that she went through, and in your book you‘ve got one—one scene which is so poignant.  She‘s—she‘s in her apartment.  She‘s going through reading old letters, and then tossing them into the fire. 

KLEIN:  That‘s right.  You know, she had accumulated and saved these letters, many of which were, by the way, love letters from men who had fallen hopelessly in love with them. 

NORVILLE:  Who were some of these guys, and why would she have hung onto all these letters for so many years?

KLEIN:  Well, they were people that most of us had never heard of.  There were, for instance, a French naval attache by the name of Grehan (ph), who had an affair with Jackie during the time that she was first lady, we‘d never heard of before. 

And this letter existed and she threw it into the fire.  She read this letter out loud before she threw it into the fire.  That‘s how we know about it.

NORVILLE:  To whom did she read this letter?

KLEIN:  Nancy Tuckerman, her old, old friend. 

NORVILLE:  Probably her longest friend of her lifetime.

KLEIN:  That‘s true. 

NORVILLE:  And she read this letter, and it was clear to Nancy Tuckerman that this was more than just a deep friendship?

KLEIN:  Yes.

NORVILLE:  That there was an intimate relationship here?

KLEIN:  Exactly.  And into the fire it went, along with a letter from an architect by the name of John Karl Warnicke (ph), who was Jackie‘s lover about a year after John Kennedy died. 

He had designed Kennedy‘s gravestone, and during that process these two people grieving for the dead president had come closer and closer, and finally, they consummated this love affair. 

NORVILLE:  Is it right to put things like that in a book?  Obviously, dead people have no right of privacy.  But there‘s still the personal legacy, and clearly, if this was something that she threw into the fire, one assumes the reason for that was so that people like you wouldn‘t write books about it. 

KLEIN:  Well, you know, it‘s true.  But Jefferson sat in front of a fireplace as he was dying and destroyed his entire correspondence, and yet, today, we are digging into Jefferson‘s past to discover that he had an affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings, which throws a lot of interesting historical light on these people. 

I think it depends on how you write about these affairs.  If you do it for titillation, then I think it‘s wrong.  If you do it to illuminate character, I think it‘s very important. 

NORVILLE:  And what more do you know about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in sharing?  And what more do readers know about her in learning the details of how she gathered her friends around and planned those final weeks before her death?

KLEIN:  Well, one of the things, I think, you can say about Jackie is that she grew up as a perfectionist under the tutelage of her mother, who was a perfectionist. 

Perfectionists have a kind of hard time in life, because they never think they‘re doing everything exactly the way it ought to be done.  But Jackie tried and strove throughout her whole life to do the right thing. 

And she felt that, when it came to her death, that she should take responsibility for, for instance, what music would play in her death chamber: Gregorian chants.  Where would the candles be put?  Who would be allowed to come into the room to see her and to say good-bye to her?

NORVILLE:  And that was a very limited group.  Who were those people in her final days?

KLEIN:  Very small number of people, as you say.  Rachel Bunny Mellon, the wife of Paul Mellon, the great philanthropist.  Jane Rightsman (ph), who was also a philanthropist and an art collector.

NORVILLE:  And something of a mentor to Jackie Kennedy when she first came to Washington. 

KLEIN:  Very much so. 

Women who Jackie looked toward for their style, their grace, their way of living.  Carly Simon, whom she adored.  Of course, her long-time companion, Maurice Templesman, who had lived in her apartment for the last 12 years of her life.  Teddy Kennedy, who got down on his knees and begged her for forgiveness for all the things he had done during his lifetime. 

NORVILLE:  And yet, her response to him was very comforting, I‘m sure, to Senator Kennedy. 

KLEIN:  It was wonderful.  She said to him, “There‘s nothing that you need to apologize for, Teddy, because you have done everything in your power to keep this family together.”

NORVILLE:  And then, of course, her two children, John and Caroline. 

KLEIN:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  And—And it is just a heartbreaking scene as these two young adults are in there with their mother who they know is going to be gone in a very short period. 

KLEIN:  It‘s terrible.  And Caroline was totally inconsolable, just sobbing.  Whereas John was more contained, but I think he felt just as terrible as Caroline did. 

NORVILLE:  And indeed, it was 10:15 on the night of...

KLEIN:  May 19. 

NORVILLE:  May 19.  It will be 10 years tomorrow that he (sic) passed away.  And the next morning John Jr., he read this statement. 

He said, “Last night around 10:15, my mother passed on.  She was surrounded by her friends, her family and her books.  She did it in her own way, on her own terms, and we all feel lucky for her—for that.  Now she is in God‘s hands.”

KLEIN:  Beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful sentiment.  And so true. 

Nothing about that was politically massaged. 

I mean, she did die, not in some antiseptic hospital room on starched sheets...


KLEIN:  ... but among her loved ones, surrounded by these books, surrounded by music that she loved.  It was a very touching scene, and every last second of it choreographed by her. 

NORVILLE:  And it was the end of a life that was watched by millions, admired by millions more. 

We‘re going to take a short break.  When we come back, more with Ed Klein.  We‘ll be joined by the man behind the Jackie look, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, as we explore the life of this extraordinary woman. 


ANNOUNCER:  Coming up, he called all the shots in the Oval Office, but the rest of the White House was in her hands.  Tonight how America‘s most glamorous first lady transformed a dilapidated mansion into one of the world‘s most lavish and cultured social scenes. 

JACKIE KENNEDY ONASSIS, FORMER FIRST LADY:  This is the room that people see first when they come to the White House. 

ANNOUNCER:  A guided tour of Jackie Kennedy‘s White House, when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns. 



ONASSIS:  That‘s the oldest thing in the White House.  The only thing that was here since the very beginning. 


NORVILLE:  That was Jacqueline Kennedy giving a televised tour of the White House back in 1961. 

The former first lady came to represent the epitome of style and grace in America and transformed the White House into a monument of American history and culture, and she captivated the public both at home and around the world. 

I‘m joined again to talk about Jackie Kennedy by Ed Klein, the author of “Farewell, Jackie.”

Also joining us now, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, who was chosen by the first lady to design her wardrobe and develop what is now called the Jackie look.  He‘s also the author of “A Thousand Days of Magic,” which captures Jacqueline Kennedy‘s elegance.

Also with us from San Francisco, Sally Bedell Smith.  She, too, has a book out.  It‘s called “Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House.” 

Thanks to both of you for joining our discussion.

Mr. Cassini, I‘m going to start with you first.  When Jacqueline Kennedy called you up after the president was elected, she said to you what?

OLEG CASSINI, FASHION DESIGNER:  Well, she said to me, “Do you want to do something for me?”

And I looked at her, and I said, “No.” 

And she was surprised, very surprised.  And she said, “Why not?”

I said, “If you get a lot of designers working for you”—and by the way, in a room when she was in the hospital there were designs of all the major designers, from Europe and America. 

NORVILLE:  This is just days after her son was born. 

CASSINI:  Correct.  It was at the hospital, this meeting.  I should have said that. 

But anyway, she said, “Do you want to do something for me?”

I said, “No, because you are going to be bothered for the rest of your life by all these designers that want to introduce themselves into your life.  You need just one person, one person only.” 

And she looked at me and she said, “You‘re the one.” 

NORVILLE:  And the look that you and she together is one that has been emulated and admired.  What was it that the two of you were trying to do?  And how much was Mrs. Kennedy and how much was Oleg Cassini?

CASSINI:  Well, first of all, one of the geniuses of Jackie was she didn‘t do everything herself.  She was a great organizer. 

And what she liked to do was pick up people she had trust, confidence in, and go all the way with them.  She was a very loyal person, so it was not difficult for her to do that. 

And what—when I was given the job—in fact, I had to get the OK from the president himself.  And he was very, very favorable to me for various reasons.  And he was very pleased that Jackie had consented to have this four-year relationship with me, because I was going to be a dictator, a dictator of fashion, because Jackie was not well dressed before. 

NORVILLE:  Well, she certainly changed. 

And Sally Bedell Smith, I think President Kennedy recognized that Jacqueline Kennedy could be a tremendous asset in that regard, too, which is something you talk about in your book. 

SALLY BEDELL SMITH, AUTHOR, “GRACE AND POWER”:  Absolutely.  And I think that appreciation only grew in the course of the two years and 10 months that they were together. 

It probably came to fruition initially when they went to France, and she made such an extraordinary impression.  But it grew.

And there was a moment—you showed some footage earlier of Jackie‘s tour of the White House, and I had a lot in my book about how that was all put together. 

And it wasn‘t something that was given to her.  It wasn‘t a script that was concocted and that she simply read.  She really steeped herself in the history of the White House.  She knew everything that she was talking about in—in that extraordinary documentary.  It was so substantive. 

And she—and she brought a lot of wonderful historical details to bear, as well as the nature of the—of the furniture and the paintings that she was showing. 

And the CBS producer who did it, who talked to me, who hadn‘t really talked about it before, described the way she prepared and how poised and sophisticated, and at the same time, sort of ingenuous she was. 

NORVILLE:  This was a real news moment for America.  Something like 56 million people tuned in for that telecast. 

SMITH:  Absolutely.  It was on all three networks. 

NORVILLE:  And one of the things that was extraordinary was that she had gone and—we use the term today—shaken down people for some significant money in order to be able to get these objects.  And she was able to go and ask for specific paintings, ask for specific pieces of furniture. 

Talk to me a little bit about her powers of persuasion in restoring the White House. 

SMITH:  Well, they were—they were amazing.  And remember, she was only 31 years old, which was exceptionally young.  And she had a great vision for what she wanted to accomplish.  And she worked very closely with a group of extremely wealthy people. 

There was one doctor who she went to see in New York City, and she spent about an hour telling her tale of woe and how shabby the White House was, and she never asked him for anything.  But by the end of the time that she talked with him, he had agreed to give her a mirror that he had recently turned down $20,000 for.  That would be worth about $120,000 today. 

In all she gathered about $9 million, plus countless pieces of—of furniture and paintings that were beyond—beyond measure.  And she was just—she was just really good at bringing people in to her cause and getting back to the—to the tour.

There was a moment at the end of the evening when the rushes—that filming were being shown in the theater, and the lights went up and Perry Walt, the producer, looked over.  And the expression on Jack Kennedy‘s face was just complete love and admiration and pride in everything she had done. 

NORVILLE:  And Mr. Cassini, I‘m guessing you saw that same expression from the president when Mrs. Kennedy would come out in some of the dresses that you had designed for her. 

Talk to me a little bit about—as we roll some of the footage of some of these incredible things, talk to me a little bit about the look that she was going for and the look that you wanted her to portray, not just as the first lady, but as a representative of America. 

This is from, I think, her trip in India. 

CASSINI:  Well, the fact is that before I was a designer, I was their friend.  So I was a protector, too, in my own way. 

The jealousy and the envy of people for that job was immense.  The lies that were flying around were immense.  And the reconstruction of the life of the two of them sometimes bothers me tremendously, because people take liberties with people that can‘t defend themselves. 

NORVILLE:  Because they‘re not here. 

CASSINI:  They‘re not here.  Now, particularly the accusation they made about infidelity.  This touches me deeply, because I know for a fact that it‘s not true. 

NORVILLE:  What Mr. Klein just said in the previous segment?

CASSINI:  That‘s exactly it.  I mean, that‘s not—he may have reconstructed something like that.  But I was there many weekends.  All the time I was an invited person. 

She elevated me to the rank of favorite guest and made an American designer a celebrity.  She did a lot of things.  But one thing she didn‘t do, she didn‘t betray her husband. 

And I‘ll tell you something, and he only was attacked for many reasons.  He was a flirty guy.  He liked to flirt.  He was not promiscuous.  This was reconstructed by so many people.  He had two or three moments of weakness, if you can call it that, because all the girls were throwing themselves at him. 

NORVILLE:  But there—I don‘t want to get off the subject of your design.  But you know there have been some fairly well documented incidences with President Kennedy afterwards. 

CASSINI:  Yes.  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  The FBI reports about such things. 

CASSINI:  Yes.  But I mean, I‘ll tell you, the exaggeration is immense.  They have done a job on him.  And on her.  And on her.

NORVILLE:  Do you think it‘s unfair that these books come out 10 years after her death?

CASSINI:  Well, I think that many times these books are done for one basic reason: success and money.  So I think that you have to be very cautious of how you analyze these books. 

I happen to be with a group of people of good intent and who really did a very good job of research.  But I was there physically.  I knew things that they didn‘t know. 

NORVILLE:  Let me let you respond, Ed Klein. 

KLEIN:  Well, I‘m certainly not going to get into an argument with my esteemed colleague here, Mr. Cassini. 

Let me just say that when Jackie was in Italy in 1962, in the summer vacation with Caroline, she was seen in the company of Danny Anielli (ph) a great deal, and in fact going off to nightclubs and dancing the meringue (ph) on the poop deck of his yacht and things like that. 

And President Kennedy was green with jealousy and sent a telegram saying “A little less Anielli and a little more Caroline, please.” 

NORVILLE:  Well, let‘s—I have to say, I find it very, very distasteful to hear this kind of stuff.  I would love to look, though, at the Met exhibit of Jacqueline Kennedy‘s clothes, which was retrospective. 

CASSINI:  Transgressed—aside, but I just couldn‘t help it. 

And the clothes spoke for themselves.  I‘m very grateful to recognize they were great clothes.  They influence all the great collections still to this day, and I owe a lot to Jackie and to Jack. 

NORVILLE:  How would she feel about this kind of exhibition of her designs?  Would she be excited to see this?

CASSINI:  I don‘t think so.  And...

KLEIN:  We agree on that.  I don‘t think...

NORVILLE:  You think she would have been upset?

CASSINI:  No.  I think she was a perfectionist.  And I heard it on this show, she was a perfectionist.  You said it. 

The question was this, that these were donations.  Many of the best clothes have been donated to other museums by the time this show was put together.  And I almost didn‘t go there, because I thought it was unjust. 

Jackie would have not done it that way.  That was my opinion.  And Caroline asked me to come in anyway. 

NORVILLE:  So with her daughter‘s blessing, you felt this was appropriate. 

CASSINI:  Correct.  It was a question of choosing one thing or the other.  And it was a good show.  But it did not really, in my view, capture what she had accomplished, because Jackie was a great organizer. 

NORVILLE:  In just a couple of seconds we‘ve got, Oleg Cassini, how would you sum up Jacqueline Kennedy‘s style, her personal style?

CASSINI:  Well, Cassini style, because, actually, I have to say that. 

There was no style before that. 

Because suddenly she had all the possibility in the world.  She was a rapid learner.  She realized what she could do.  She was a fantastic, fantastic representative of this country, and she let me run away with my own little work of designing. 

NORVILLE:  Must have been fun.  We‘re going to let that be the last word.  We‘re going to take a short break.  Oleg Cassini, thank you so much for being with us. 

We‘re going to come back, more on the lessons learned from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  Our guests will be Ed Klein, Sally Bedell Smith will continue with us and more right after this. 


ONASSIS:  I just think that everything in the White House should be the best.  The entertainment that‘s given here, and if it‘s American company that you can have, I‘d like to do that.  If it‘s not, just as long as it‘s the best.




NORVILLE:  Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She was an immensely private woman who fiercely guarded her privacy and her children.

So how did she reconcile her shyness with being thrust into the world spotlight?

Joining our discussion now is Tina Santi Flaherty.  She‘s the author of “What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”  And still with us are Ed Klein, whose new book is called, “Farewell, Jackie,” and Sally Bedell Smith, the author of “Grace and Power.”

Sally, I want to go back to you first.  One of the things that I think is so interesting in your book is how effective Jacqueline Kennedy, who was a private woman, an incredibly soft-spoken woman, but was an incredibly effective woman at making sure all of the men in the Kennedy Cabinet and the Kennedy world were right there loyal to her husband.  How did she do that? 

SMITH:  Well, she had what John Kenneth Galbraith called an incredible analytical capability.  Her astringent analysis is what he called it.

And her sister, Lee Radziwill, referred to it as her man‘s mind.  She was extremely good at sizing up the powerful men around her husband, and for figuring out which ones were serving themselves, and which ones were serving her husband.  She never got involved in policy in particular, but she did get involved in judging character.  And her husband really relied on her a lot. 

And there were so many facets of her personality that went beyond her kind of superficial image as an icon of style and glamour.  That was important.  But there was so much more to her beyond that. 

NORVILLE:  And how would she then circle the wagons, so that someone who maybe wasn‘t as loyal or as devoted to the president as she thought he should be would be frozen out or shunted to the side? 

SMITH:  Well, she would simply express her opinion, and it was actually quite astute, and her husband would certainly take it in and sometimes act on it. 

NORVILLE:  And, Tina, in your book, you talk about the lessons that Jacqueline Onassis taught us.  What lessons do you particularly find interesting in the way she lived her public life as a citizen who was involved in restoration of New York City and the arts, etcetera?  And then I‘m going to ask you about the business world, because you first met her in the publishing world. 

FLAHERTY:  Well, I think the primary lesson is her incredible strength in the face of adversity, the way that she handled the assassination and then President Kennedy‘s funeral and the way that she led the rest of her life, even at the way she met her death.  She did it in her own way, on her own terms, and she did it with the world watching. 

NORVILLE:  You know, you talk about how strong she was after President Kennedy‘s assassination.  I want to just go to some film that was shot shortly after he died, when Mrs. Kennedy thanked America for the many, many condolence letters that they received. 

Let‘s give a listen to Jacqueline Kennedy. 


JACQUELINE KENNEDY, FORMER FIRST LADY:  The knowledge of the affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me and the warmth of these tributes is something I shall never forget.  Whenever I can bear to, I read them.  All his bright light gone from the world, all of you who have written to me know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in firm measure. 


NORVILLE:  How did she keep it together, Ed Klein, during that? 

KLEIN:  Well, for a while, she didn‘t, actually.  For a while, right after the assassination, she was what we would call today a basket case.  She was in deep depression and on medication to help her get through. 

But, as Tina has said—and I agree entirely—she had this tremendous drive to overcome adversity.  She had great courage and determination.  And, eventually, she did put it together and decided to move to New York, get away from being the professional widow and to pursue a career of her own. 

NORVILLE:  Before we get into that chapter of her life, I just want to follow up.  Just recently, there were some letters, diary reentries that were collected by Father McSorley, who was her confidant during those terrible weeks and months after the death of the president. 

KLEIN:  Yes.  He was consoling her.  A Catholic priest was consoling her and playing tennis with her, by the way, at the same time.  And she asked him at one point, would it be OK for me to pray to be dead, to die?  And he said, it would be perfectly OK to pray to die, but it would be wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church to do something to commit suicide. 

NORVILLE:  Because she wanted so badly to be with her late husband. 

KLEIN:  Yes.  And if she had committed suicide, that would have been such a mortal sin that she wouldn‘t have gone to heaven. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

KLEIN:  And she really believed that she was going to be reunited with John Kennedy. 

NORVILLE:  Tina, a great deal of your book talks about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis the mother, and not only how fiercely protective she is, but how important it was to her that her children be raised correctly.  And there are lessons for all parents in that. 

FLAHERTY:  Well, there certainly are, particularly today. 

She believed in manners.  Caroline and John, they call everyone Mr. or Mrs.  She even asked the other people in the White House, don‘t treat them specially.  Don‘t open doors for them.  Don‘t do that sort of thing.  She was a very hands-on mom.  She believed in love, security, and discipline without tears.  And she was very involved in her life.  I think the most remarkable thing is that she never used her children as props.  Today, we see so many VIPs and celebrities using their children that way.  She didn‘t do that.  She allowed them to have their own individually. 

NORVILLE:  And, Sally, she also allowed them to fail publicly, if necessary, at times, as part of the growing-up process. 

SMITH:  Well, one of the extraordinary things she did in the White House, of course, was that she created a school.  And I talked to all of the teachers who were involved in that.  And she had many, many creative ideas on how to—how to construct a curriculum, how to build a playground, how to put together a classroom.  She knew how to go to experts. 

She was incredibly resourceful and imaginative in the way she brought up her children.  And, at the same time, during those White House years, she was very well aware that, when she was in the White House, that it was a sort of artificial environment for them.  And so she very, very carefully made sure that she would take them to another environment, which was out in the country.  A lot of people have said that when she went to the country, she was sort of escaping the White House.  And that wasn‘t it at all.  She wanted to be able to take her children into the town of Middleburg and sit at the soda fountain and have a hamburger and not worry about people coming up and assaulting them, or take them to lunch in a cave. 

She wrote to one of her close friends that one of the things that she treasured about being out in Middleburg with her children was that she could do the normal things.  She could read to them at bedtime and she could give them baths.  And she really treasured that time.  And so it wasn‘t as if she was trying to escape the White House.  It was as if she was trying to create a more normal atmosphere for them. 

NORVILLE:  And yet, in the meantime, she certainly changed life in the White House. 

We‘re going to take a break.  When we come back with our guests, we‘ll remember Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the legacy she‘s left as a first lady. 

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, the women of the White House, from supporting roles to center spotlight. 


HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY:  I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.  But what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.      


ANNOUNCER:  The changing role of the nation‘s first ladies—when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.


NORVILLE:  When we come back, first ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Pat Nixon—the evolving role of the first lady next.



KENNEDY:  How do you do?  I‘m glad you had a chance to see (INAUDIBLE) and now to see our house where we‘ve lived a year and since Caroline was born.  I look forward to meeting all of you this fall. 


NORVILLE:  That was Jacqueline Kennedy campaigning with then Senator John Kennedy, before he was elected president. 

Behind the scenes of the White House, Jackie Kennedy played a critical role as first lady, one that went way beyond restoring the White House and hosting events.  She was fiercely loyal to her husband and gave him valuable advice. 

Joining me again to look at the role of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy are Sally Bedell smith, Ed Klein and Tina Flaherty. 

You hear Jacqueline Kennedy talk.  People don‘t talk like that anymore.  And she was, what, barely 30 years old, an incredibly poised woman. 

Ed, where did that come from? 

KLEIN:  You know, George Plimpton talked that way, too, you remember, the late George Plimpton?

NORVILLE:  People aren‘t like that anymore.


KLEIN:  They don‘t make them that way anymore. 

NORVILLE:  Yes, they don‘t.

KLEIN:  But she, Jackie, came from this upper class, where her mother spoke that way.  Other people in that milieu spoke that way.  But it doesn‘t—it hasn‘t carried down to our time anymore. 

NORVILLE:  She was quite a contrast to her previous—her predecessor, Mamie Eisenhower, who we just saw going up the steps of the White House. 

Sally Bedell Smith, was she intimidated at the prospect of being the first lady of the United States at such a young age? 

SMITH:  I don‘t believe she was.  That was one of the really wonderfully surprising things.  At age 31, she really had a vision for what she wanted to accomplish in terms of bringing history to the White House. 

And she also had a really clear idea about how she wanted to structure her role as first lady.  And it was definitely going to be different from what had preceded her.  She wrote to her friend Bill Walton that at the beginning of the presidency, she organized her life as efficiently as Field Marshall Rommel would have done.  She wanted to have an unfettered life, and that‘s exactly what she did. 

She had lots and lots of willing women to take charge of the meet-and-greet functions.  And that was how she did it.  She expected all the people who worked for her to be very well organized, and she was her own sort of free spirit.  She was almost like a butterfly, one person said, kind of flittering around the White House, not to say that she was frivolous in any way, because she was exceptionally well organized. 

NORVILLE:  And how has she set the mold? 

Tina, has she become the standard by which other first ladies perhaps measure themselves, if society does or doesn‘t, but, secretly they‘re all looking at, man, how do I compare to Jackie Kennedy? 

FLAHERTY:  Well, I think she was totally unique.  There was only one Jacqueline Kennedy and there will always only be one. 

There was a very interesting Gallup Poll survey.  I don‘t know if you saw it in 2003 and they compared the nine first ladies who had served since 1960, and Jacqueline Kennedy led in the three important categories, best ambassador to the rest of the world, best first lady in history, and best role model for women. 

The interesting—the only category that she did not lead in was intelligence.  And I think that‘s because her mother said, you know, men don‘t like brainy women, you know, cool it with that aspect of her life.  Of course, that was absolutely wrong, because that‘s why President Kennedy fell in love with her.  He dated many beautiful women.  But here she was beautiful and brainy, too. 

NORVILLE:  And in terms of you said policy was not something that Jacqueline Kennedy got into.  But there were other first ladies who later did, Rosalynn Carter being one. 

KLEIN:  That‘s right, Rosalynn Carter, and, of course, most famous of all, Mrs. Clinton, Hillary Clinton. 

Jackie, as Tina said, was not cut from that cloth.  She was a different kind of first lady.  If you can judge a first lady by how well she is able to support the president‘s programs, how successful she is, I think you can argue that Jacqueline Kennedy was the most successful first lady of the entire 20th century, even more than Eleanor Roosevelt.

NORVILLE:  Why?  And I‘m surprised that you don‘t put Hillary Clinton in there, too, because she was so active. 

KLEIN:  Very active, but, of course, she brought a lot of negative with that as well. 

But Jacqueline Kennedy was so popular that she actually buoyed the president‘s poll numbers.  And he realized ultimately, as his administration progressed, that she was the most important political...


KLEIN:  Asset that he had. 

NORVILLE:  And, Sally Smith, have subsequent presidents recognized that their wife can be more than just an appendage on a campaign trip, but indeed, a political asset that can be utilized to their advantage? 

SMITH:  Well, I think, yes, they definitely have. 

NORVILLE:  Who‘s done it best? 


SMITH:  Well, but as Tina said, Jackie was really sui generis.  She set a standard and did things in such a different way from everybody who preceded her and everybody who followed her, and they all had different ways of doing it.  And hers was absolutely unique. 

NORVILLE:  Let me ask you briefly, then—I‘m going to ask all three of you the same question.  How does Laura Bush compare to Jacqueline Kennedy as a first lady? 


SMITH:  Oh, sorry. 

Well, I think she‘s—you know, she‘s far more traditional.  She has her own causes.  She has literacy and libraries and she goes about pursuing that in her own way.  But Jackie—what Jackie did was very fresh and very different.  She had the whole mission of bringing history to the White House and elevating culture in a way that had never happened before. 


NORVILLE:  Ed Klein, I‘m going to ask you the same question. 

KLEIN:  I would say that Laura Bush is more in the Pat Nixon-recessive category than Jackie. 

NORVILLE:  The supportive help mate? 

KLEIN:  Yes, behind the scenes, I think she‘s very important.  I think that President Bush listens to her.  But we see very little of Laura Bush as a political asset. 

NORVILLE:  Do you think that will change, Tina, as the campaign rolls around? 

FLAHERTY:  Well, I think Laura Bush is more and more emerging.  I do think that she has that same sort of elegance and grace.  She‘s a lovely woman and she speaks very well.  I‘m a Southerner, too, so I like her accent. 


NORVILLE:  We love people who say y‘all.

We‘re going to take a short break.  When we come back, we‘re going to look at Jackie Onassis‘ life after the White House. 

Stay with us.


KENNEDY:  I hope that in years to come, many of you and your children will be able to visit the Kennedy Library.  It would be not only a memorial to President Kennedy, but a living center of study of the times in which he lived. 



NORVILLE:  Well, Jacqueline Kennedy left the White House in December of 1963, just a month after her husband was assassinated.  She, her children, Caroline and John Jr., tried to settle into a private life in the nation‘s capital.  But that wasn‘t going to happen.  The press and public simply couldn‘t get enough of the former first family. 

With me again are Sally Bedell Smith, Ed Klein and Tina Santi Flaherty, all three of whom have great books that are out about the former first lady on the occasion of a decade after her death. 

I‘m going to ask each of you the same question, because we just never have enough time.  Why is it that Jacqueline Kennedy continues to fascinate?  You could look at pictures of this woman for three hours and not get bored. 

Ed, what‘s the mystique? 

KLEIN:  Well, I think each of us may have a different answer to that question.  But, in my view, it‘s because she represents in many of our minds a golden age of innocence that was destroyed by assassination and Watergate and Vietnam and all the things that have come since, and that we see Jackie as this beautiful, innocent representative of that golden age, and we yearn for that.  We yearn for that return to that kind of thing. 

NORVILLE:  And she symbolizes that sort of unattainable time of grace that we can‘t have. 

KLEIN:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Sally Smith, what do you think the fascination continues to be? 

SMITH:  Well, I think the title of my book, “Grace and Power,” sort of encapsulizes it.  She did.  Both of them had a special grace that they uniquely combined with power. 

And I want to say one quick corrector, because I think it‘s important.  She was extremely loyal to her husband.  And I know there was some discussion earlier about the notion that she may have been unfaithful to him.  And I did an awful lot of research for my book.  And I talked to people who were close to her.  I read her letters. 

And she really, really loved him.  I‘m absolutely persuaded of that, based on reading the letters and talking to her friends and particularly when she was in Italy.  And I spoke to three people who were with her at the time.  And I am utterly persuaded that she did not transgress and have an affair with Johnny Anelli (ph).  And I just thought it was important to set the record straight in that regard. 

NORVILLE:  Thank you.  And to be honest with you, she‘s dead, for heaven‘s sake.  Leave it be, if she did.  I don‘t understand what the fascination with that is.  So, Sally, thank you for sharing the basis of your research with us. 

Tina, you have lived in the same building as Mrs. Onassis. 

FLAHERTY:  Yes, I have.

NORVILLE:  You have passed in the elevator.  I know you weren‘t close friends, but you were friendly.  How would she want to be remembered? 

FLAHERTY:  I think she would want on be remembered as a mother and as a wife.  That was the most important thing to her. 

But just to go back to the main question you‘re asking, I think what both President Kennedy and Jackie did, they all—both of them made us feel that we could be the best that we could be.  They gave us hope.  They gave us joy.  And as I try to point out in my book, there‘s a lot of brains underneath that pillbox hat.  She read as many as 10 books a week.  She laid down a road map for achievement, which is the point of what I‘m trying to say, is that, if we would pick up our lessons, we can improve our own. 


Well, the book by Tina Santi Flaherty is called “What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons From the Remarkable Life the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”  “Grace and Power” by Sally Bedell Smith, “The Private World of the Kennedy White House.”  “And Farewell, Jackie,” Ed Klein‘s latest book on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 

She was a remarkable woman.  She raised two incredible kids.  And it‘s wonderful to see that Caroline Kennedy continues the legacy with the great books that she puts out. 

Thanks to all three of you for being with us.


NORVILLE:  It‘s nice to have this discussion.  Appreciate it. 

And you can read more about my guests and get excerpts from their books on our Web page.  Just go to  We‘ve got excerpts there for you.  And also, check out Sunday afternoon at 2:00 Eastern time on MSNBC a special “Headliners & Legends,” which profiles the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis from childhood to legend.  That‘s coming up Sunday at 2:00 on MSNBC.


NORVILLE:  That‘s our program for tonight.  Thanks a lot for watching. 

I‘m Deborah Norville. 

Join us tomorrow night, because the first court-martial proceedings will begin in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.  MSNBC, of course, will have complete coverage during the day, “Court-Martial Baghdad: Duty or Disgrace.”  And then, tomorrow night, reaction to the prison abuse scandal from one man who‘s the former unit commander of the 372nd M.P. Company.  We‘ll also be taking you to Cumberland, Maryland, to find out how people in that town, where the 372nd is based, are coping with all of this. 

And a close-up look at interrogation tactics.  When does interrogation become torture?  What constitutes torture?  And is it something that should be used at all?  We‘d like to know what you think, so vote online.  Our address is—all that coming up tomorrow night. 

Thanks for watching tonight.  Up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”

See you tomorrow. 


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