Book review: These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack With Jackie
Falling in love again
These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack With Jackie Christopher Andersen Robson Press, £20, hbk, 336 pages, Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Imagine you're at home minding the kids, when the phone rings. It's Marilyn Monroe on the line, calling to inform you that she's having an affair with your husband who has vowed to leave his family for her. Faced with such a formidable femme fatale, most women would reach for the hankies, the biggest, hardest, frying pan and the A-Z of divorce lawyers (in no particular order), but not Jackie Kennedy.
"Marilyn, you'll marry Jack, that's great," she responded. "And you'll move into the White House and you'll assume the responsibilities of First Lady, and I'll move out and you'll have all the problems."
It was Peter Lawford, actor and brother-in-law to John F Kennedy, who claimed this remarkable exchange took place – and it's one of many stories to feature in a new book about the extraordinary relationship between Jacqueline Bouvier and John Fitzgerald Kennedy which began in May 1952 and ended violently in Dallas in November 1963.
Inevitably, an avalanche of books has been unleashed to mark next week's 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy – about 140 of them in total. But These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack and Jackie by Christopher Andersen does manage to stand out from the common herd, focusing on the last 12 months of the First Couple's turbulent and intense marriage.
And the conclusion reached by the author is that Jack and Jackie attained a new level of closeness while in the White House which was brought to a shattering end in Dallas.
Those iconic images of Jack and Jackie at Hyannis in the early days of their marriage show a golden young couple who seem very much in love. But it was always more complicated than that. Unsurprisingly, sex has a central role to play in this book's plot, and Andersen underlines that the difference between the pair was far more than just a 12-year age gap.
Andersen quotes Jack's contemporary, broadcaster Nancy Dickerson, who observed: "All his life he was trained to view women as objects to be conquered, possessed. Jack really had no respect for women."
It was a view echoed by Gloria Emerson, one-time girlfriend of Jack who described his seduction technique: "It was strictly 'Up against the wall, Signora, if you have five minutes'. That sort of thing."
Unsurprisingly, when the indefatigable Lothario finally proposed to Jackie during a crackling transatlantic phone-call between Massachusetts and London, many of their circle doubted if he really loved her at that time. According to his longtime loyal secretary Evelyn Lincoln: "He was a politician who wanted to be president and for that he needed a wife. I'm absolutely certain they were not in love. At least not at that time."
But Jackie, too, was a complex character. She became an impeccable First Lady who would preside over 15 increasingly dazzling state dinners during her 22 months in the White House. But she could be difficult – her half-brother Jamie Auchincloss described her as "absolutely giddy and enchanting, and then you'd turn around, and for no apparent reason, she'd just turn off as if someone had flipped a switch".
But she had much to endure with the serial philandering of her husband. The book claims Jackie 'knew everything' about Jack's cheating and turned a blind eye, but his relationship with Marilyn "seemed to bother her the most", as the actress was convinced she was to be JFK's second wife. "Can't you just see me as First Lady?" Marilyn asked her friend Jeanne Carmen.
And other than the couple's relationship difficulties, the book also claims the couple took regular amphetamine and steroid injections, administered by a man nicknamed Dr Feelgood.
Yet their relationship seemed to stabilise when they moved into the White House, with a series of events drawing them closer together. During the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, the book reveals how Jackie pleaded with her husband not to send her and the children away to the safety of Camp David.
"Even if there's no room in the bomb shelter in the White House . . . please, then I just want to be on the lawn when it happens. I want to be with you, I want to die with you, and the children do too – rather than live without you," she begged until he relented.
However, the event that deepened the bond between them was the death of their newborn son Patrick in April 1963 when Jack wept "copious tears" at his baby son's funeral. According to the book, it was a turning point in the president's laissez-faire attitude to his marriage, filling him "not only with grief but with an aggrieved sense of responsibility to his wife and family".
At this point the sexual shenanigans began to peter out. One of his lovers, White House intern Mimi Beardsley, said Jack began "winding down" their relationship.
Although still grieving, Jackie agreed to campaign with Jack – something she hadn't done in 1960. As they walked out of their hotel on the morning of November 22, 1963, to fly to Dallas, Jackie told him, "I'll go anywhere with you this year".
Hours later, she cradled the shattered head of the husband, just a few short months – according to These Few Precious Day – after America's Golden Couple had finally found true stardust in their glittering romance.