Secret Jackie Kennedy interviews revealed

By Rupert Cornwell

John F. Kennedy's tragically curtailed presidency is already one of the most pored over in US history. But half a century on, new light will be shed on it by his widow Jackie Kennedy, the person arguably closest to him, who during her later life virtually never spoke publicly on that subject or any other.

The US publisher Hyperion plans to issue, in September 2011, a book based on seven interviews by the former First Lady in the early months of 1964 with the historian, former presidential aide and family friend Arthur Schlesinger. The conversations were part of an intended oral history project of the JFK era, now preserved at the Kennedy presidential library in Boston.

At Ms Kennedy's request, the interviews were kept sealed indefinitely. The decision to release them now was taken by her daughter Caroline, to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the start of the Kennedy presidency in 1961.

The book, which as yet has no title, will be accompanied by six hours of audiotapes, in which Ms Kennedy's low, famously breathy voice can once again be heard.

"Readers will be riveted," said Ellen Archer, Hyperion's president.

"These interviews offer a remarkable window into the intelligent, courageous, and keen observer that Jacqueline Kennedy was."

Over the decades before her death in 1994, Ms Kennedy was consistently one of America's most admired women - not least because of her dignity and discretion.

She never wrote a memoir, and after the death of her second husband, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, lived as quietly and normally as possible for someone of her fame, as a publishing executive in New York.

"I'm not going around accepting plaques. I don't want medals for Jack. I don't want to be seen by crowds," Ms Kennedy told the journalist Theodore White of Life magazine in December 1963, in one of very few interviews she gave after her husband's death. She was as good as her word.

But according to her daughter, the call of history would have outweighed her mother's taste for discretion.

"My mother's passion for history guided and informed her work in the White House," she said in a statement yesterday.

"She believed in my father, his vision for America, and in the art of politics, and felt it was important to share her knowledge and excitement with future generations."

Ms Kennedy's talks with Schlesinger took place in her home in Washington. Their existence was hardly known, apart from a fleeting reference in the edited version of the historian's private diaries, published in 2007 shortly after his own death, in an entry dated 27 March 1964 when Schlesinger records Jackie's coolness to her husband's speechwriter Ted Sorenson.

In the book, according to Hyperion, the former First Lady talks about her marriage and her years in the White House, as well as the 1960 campaign and her husband's thoughts about a second term.

In addition to Jackie's conversations with Schlesinger, the Kennedy Library is also expected to release other material, including correspondence over Ms Kennedy's celebrated White House restoration project, her entertaining, the couple's travels abroad, and their relationship with the press.

The planned book is another sign of the endless public hunger for all things Kennedy. The latest proof of that appetite was a book earlier this year featuring some of the million-plus letters of condolence ordinary Americans wrote to Ms Kennedy after her husband's assassination in November 1963.

- INDEPENDENT

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