The Jackie Kennedy recordings

Newly released tapes of interviews Jacqueline Kennedy gave just months after her husband’s 1963 assassination show an outspoken and not always liberal former first lady.
Throughout the tapes, Kennedy (who died in 1994) describes various world leaders, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Charles De Gaulle and Indira Gandhi, in unflattering terms.
In the eight hours of tapes, she also mentions how President John F. Kennedy once joked about the threat of assassination.
“And then I remember Jack saying after the Cuban missile crisis, when it all turned [out] so fantastically, he said: ‘Well, if anyone’s ever going to shoot me, this would be the day they should do it.’”
The recordings are the subject of a book – “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F Kennedy” – published on Wednesday.
Jackie Kennedy agreed to talk to White House aide Arthur Schlesinger at her Washington home, four months after JFK was killed in Dallas, on the condition the tapes would not be released until long after her death.
Recalling the Cuban missile crisis and fears of a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Kennedy proved her devotion to her husband by saying she told JFK: “If anything happens, we’re all going to stay right here with you. Even if there’s not room in the bomb shelter in the White House, I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you.”
While she admitted their marriage was “rather terribly Victorian or Asiatic” – she also said she was determined to provide a “climate of affection, comfort and detente” before adding their time in the White House were “our happiest years.”

The Jackie Kennedy recordings
Jacqueline Kennedy.

The recordings some have called the ‘nasty Jackie’ tapes that made their public debut on Tuesday have shocked a good many people. Despite all that has been written, rumored and dramatized about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis during the past 50 years, lots of us still think of her as an always impeccably mannered saint in sunglasses.
All of that aside, the not-so-kind things Jackie said about then-President Lyndon Johnson, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others in the recordings made for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in early1964 – less than four months after President Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963, assassination – should not really shock anyone.
There are many things to consider when listening to the tapes. Most obviously, this was a 34-year-old woman with a captivating, almost sexy voice who had been the nation’s third youngest first lady and who also had just lost her husband to a gunshot assassination. Now 34 is a lot younger today than it was in 1964, but even then it was considered a tender age to not only serve as first lady, but then suffer such a horrific, ever-present loss – and, in the years to come, ever-broadcast loss. How many of us would have been able to hew to a totally politically correct line during such interviews, especially if we also had been instructed to be open and painfully honest? Especially if we thought, as Jackie did, that the tapes would not be made public until 50 years after her last child’s death. (It was her daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s decision to release the tapes at this time, along with a book she edited – “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy” – which comes out today.)

When a young John Kennedy, Jr. (still affectionately known as ‘John John’) wandered into a session where his mother, Jacqueline was recording an oral history of her slain husband’s presidency, there’s a moment when time stands still. The tape keeps rolling.
The interviewer (historian and family friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) took the opportunity to ask the boy a question on his tape recorder.
“John, what happened to your father?” Schlesinger asked.
“Well, he’s gone to heaven” – the 3-year-old replied.
John Junior was born 16 days after his father was elected president, and his father’s funeral was held on his third birthday. The young boy, standing up straight to salute his father’s casket, brought the nation to tears.
But when gently prodded by Schlesinger about what he remembered, the boy adopted the tactic kids everywhere use to ward off prying adults by saying mischievously: “I don’t remember any-thing.”
John made his escape seconds later, but the moment was a reminder that this President was also a father, who interrupted naps, interrupted the White House school and lined his bathtub with floatie toys for the boy who would insist on piling into the tub with his dad.
That oral history the former first lady was recording nearly 50 years ago will be released this week in a book titled “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.”
ABC News’ Diane Sawyer will host a prime-time, two-hour special based on the tapes tonight, featuring exclusive, never-before-heard extended audio of Jacqueline Kennedy’s oral history, rare photographs, plus an exclusive interview with Caroline Kennedy.

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