Thursday, November 1, 2012

Letitia Baldrige, A Central Figure in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' Life, Has Died

I was very sorry to hear that Letitia Baldrige has died. As Jacqueline Kennedy's White House social secretary, she helped the First Lady elevate the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to a magical stage filled with arts and culture -- and hard liquor.

But I will always think of her as more than that. I spoke with Tish for many hours as I was working on my book about Jackie's Third Act. In the same way that Jackie's little-girl voice belied her fierce intellect, Tish had a high-pitched Julia Child-like voice, but was tough as nails. She enjoyed eating in what she described as the "mess hall" in the White House so she could argue with the boys. And she delayed having a family (when doing such was not common) so she could work around the clock during the Kennedy Administration. She later became an expert on juggling work and family and even wrote a book by that title which she was working on in 1975 when Jackie, who had just become a widow for a second time, had lunch with her.

Jackie was depressed. Tish told me that when her old friend entered the Sulgrave Club in Washington to dine with her, she was impeccably dressed, but "drooping." Tish gave her sage advice, telling Jackie to stop hiding her intelligence "under a bushel" and to go get job.

"Me, work?"Jackie asked.

Tish suggested publishing, a job that would offer flexibility as well stimulation. Jackie loved to read -- and write. Tish offered to introduce her toTom Guinzburg, her own publisher at Viking, where Jackie several months later would land her first job as an editor -- a career that she embraced for the rest of her life.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Jackie O cake pop

My mom had these made for a book talk I did yesterday. Not only adorable (love the pearls and the sunglasses), but delicious. Made by Sweet Temptations in Rhode Island, where Jackie spent her summers growing up.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy birthday, Jackie

Today, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would have turned 83. If she were still here, I imagine she'd be kicking around the Vineyard, reading a book. Or perhaps that's just how I'd like to spend my birthday.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Cape Cod vacation coincided with the JFK Hyannis Museum’s exhibit on Jacqueline Kennedy’s summers in Hyannis Port. (Kennedy Secret Service Agent Clint Hill will be giving a talk there later this month.) Although I’d been to the nearby Kennedy compound years ago for a political clam bake, I’d never been to this museum, a fitting tribute to a local son. So it was not surprising that pictures of Jack, mostly in color – all wind-swept hair, kids swarming, Secret Service lurking, khakis and blue blazers -- that first greet you inside, along with his quote on the wall: “I always come back to the Cape and walk on the beach when I have a tough decision to make. The Cape is one place I can think alone.”

Seems like he was rarely alone, though, or idle enough to think. There he is being interviewed by Walter Cronkite on the expansive lawn; deposited on the ground by Marine One with Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson; golfing at the Hyannis Port Golf Club; leaving Saint Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis; conferring with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Undersecretary Averell Harriman in the living room of the family home; and piloting the Honey Fitz.

Jackie is rarely seen here, but makes an appearance in one crammed extended family photo – part of a series taken between Sept. 7 and 8 of 1962 -- where she is kneeling next to her seated father-in-law, with whom she was close.

The photo is a subtle segue to the Jackie exhibit, where there are some letters from her in later years – one to a person who helped “rescue” her at sea and another to one of JFK Jr.’s teachers who was living nearby on the Cape. There is also an unrelated video about her trip to India with her sister Lee.

The payoff, if you will, is brief but glorious, with two fairly rare photos of her on the Cape. One (taken by Jacques Lowe in August of 1960) is of her in a swimsuit, holding a pair of flippers and wearing a bathing cap adorned with what appear to be scales. She’s looking directly at the camera, smiling broadly. The other (also by Lowe) is of her in a blue cotton dress where she and JFK hold hands with Caroline, happily in the middle, their faces tilted toward the sky. You can almost feel the ocean breeze in the picture.

While the sun seems to shine in every picture, there is a melancholy about it all, because we cannot help but anticipate the ferocious storm to come. Add to that sadness the fact that Lowe – the Kennedys’s personal photographer who also took many of the famous 1960 campaign photos – had stored his negatives in a vault in the World Trade Center, and lost them in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and the whole thing is wrenching. I watched those towers burn and then collapse around me. The shock of it was made more horrible by the fact that it was a day, only just begun, with the most spectacular blue skies. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

5 PR Lessons from Jacqueline Kennedy Onasssis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a master at PR. That was clear before JFK was elected president and she wrote campaign dispatches that were sent out over the wire.  And it was clear after she became First Lady, when she turned the spotlight on culture and the arts in America.

But Jackie’s public relations genius also extended to six major historic preservation projects – including saving Grand Central Terminal, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court -- in which she was pivotal. Here are five things anyone in PR (that includes me) can learn from Jackie’s masterstrokes:

1.      Be likeable. It may seem obvious that whether it’s you or your client, the golden rule applies. But being likeable is more than just about being nice to others. It means you need to understand other perspectives, and take your messages to where they are. Speak their language, literally. Jackie spoke French to the French. She spoke Spanish in Miami to the in the Latino community. In both cases, her audience was enthralled by the respect she showed for their culture. And they could not help but like her, which translated into votes, bankable good will, a bigger stage, and influence over more people.

2.      Identify the Influencers. In her effort to stop the Eisenhower-inspired demolition of the Federalist-era townhomes lining Lafayette Square in front of the White House to make room for modernist government buildings, Jackie quickly found the one person who could at least slow the project “down to a walk.” That person was the man who wrote the checks at the General Services Administration. She pled her case to him, which bought enough time for her to find a new architect who could solve the problem. In the end, architect John C. Warnecke found a way to build the new space behind the old, keeping the historic façades.

Jackie at a Grand Central press conference in 1975.

3.      Be selective involving the media. She gave a dramatic televised tour of the White House in in 1963 (for which she won an honorary Emmy and 50 million people tuned in). Later, in 1975, Jackie was horrified to learn that Grand Central faced a destructive office tower redevelopment plan. While she rarely gave interviews, especially in her post-White House years, she knew there was only one way to force the beleaguered city to take notice – call a press conference. She was the star of the event, held in the train station’s famous Oyster Bar. When she spoke, the press went absolutely silent, until the camera flashes popped. Again, in 1982, when Lever House on Park Avenue was threatened to be torn down, Jackie identified the influencer (New York Comptroller Jay Goldin), met him at City Hall, and made sure the paparazzi were there when she kissed him on the cheek out front. Jackie got her way. She employed the same tactic in 1984, when, in an effort to stop St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan from being torn down, she had her picture taken with legislators in Albany. They, too, voted her way.

4.      Give good quotes – and write moving letters. In the Grand Central case, Jackie hand-wrote an appeal to then-mayor Abraham Beame in which she said: “Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees…?” He had to agree. In 1987, in her campaign to block developer Mort Zuckerman from building an enormous tower at Columbus Circle in New York, she eloquently complained: “They’re stealing our sky!” Nothing new was built there in her lifetime.

 5.      Be political, when applicable. Jackie learned from the best of them – the Kennedy family. Before she undertook any campaign – whether it was restoring the White House (and getting the public to donate rare antiques rather than asking taxpayers to foot the bill) or saving Lafayette Square, she made sure she understood the legalities involved and how public perception would affect the decisions elected officials made; who needed political cover and how she could provide it; and how a story would play on Main Street. In a way, being political means being masterful at all four of the above tenets, which Jackie was in spades.

I first published this post on my company's blog, Inklings. Check it out here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two different shindigs

On Tuesday, May 8th at 6 p.m. Eastern I will be hosting a live video chat where I will talk about my new book Jackie After O and take personal questions from the audience (that’s you)!  We will be using a brand new platform called Shindig that will allow each and every one of us to video chat, no matter how big the audience.  It should be a lot of fun so I hope you can make it.  I have an Eventbrite page where you can sign up.

When you RSVP you will receive a confirmation with the link to my event and two automated reminders – one for the morning of the Shindig and one 10 minutes before the event starts.

Please, please, don't let my mother be the only attendee.

Meanwhile, tomorrow night is another kind of shindig -- my book launch party -- in real life, as my son would say.

It's a disco theme -- the book centers on 1975, the year of the Hustle -- and I just got word that the disco ball was delivered to the venue. Christopher Muther, the most awesome DJ and fashion writer I've ever known, says he is ready to spin. (Isn't he cute?)

Hope to see you at a shindig.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

1975 and The Hustle

I'm gearing for my book signing party and instead of the usual wine and cheese I thought it would be fun to channel 1975 -- the year in which Jackie After O takes place. So I'm having a disco party because 1975 was the year of The Hustle and, well, the clothes were really fun. I've got a black strapless Halston jumpsuit with python pattern sequins (oh yes, I did). And these are the finishing touch:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Palm Beach, the Kennedys and historic preservation

I'm gearing up to give a talk on May 9 at 3 pm at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, discussing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's significant role in the historic preservation movement. But I'm also excited to check out what for decades was the Kennedy family's waterfront home on North Ocean Boulevard -- the place where JFK recuperated from horrible back surgery; where he wrote his inauguration speech; where Jackie was fitted for her First Lady wardrobe; and where she began planning the renovation of the White House.

What's even more fitting about this story is that the Addison Mizner-designed home, which Joseph P. Kennedy bought in 1933 for $100,000 from the family of retailer John Wanamaker a decade after it was built, itself became a landmark, preserved by its new owner, the New York investor John K. Castle. He paid $4.9 million for the property in 1995 and restored it over four years, keeping its history in tact.

Jackie would have approved.

By the way, the talk is open to the public, perfectly timed for the Congress of the New Urbanism, in town at the same time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fenway Park's 100th Anniversary

Today is opening day at Fenway Park -- and the 100th anniversary of the magical little "bandbox." I could hear the crack of the bats across the Fens from my college dorm room and I still live close enough to walk to a game. But not so long ago, I stood on the field as a reporter for the Boston Globe covering a press conference because the Red Sox ownership wanted to relocate the team to a new facility somewhere else in the city, or even -- gasp -- right there on the spot. Thankfully, the plan died on the vine, a dramatic political and community brawl explained eloquently in this blog post my husband wrote for the Atlantic. Note his reference to Jackie O near the end. Yes, she saved a few landmarks herself. But the Kennedys and Fenway go back a lot further, of course, and continue to this day.

'Honey Fitz,' JFK's grandfather, throws out the first pitch at Fenway.

There's Robert Kennedy at a JFK memorial game in 1964.

Ted Kennedy doing a victory lap with Hall of Fame slugger Jim Rice.

A recent snap of former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II with his son Joe the 3rd, now running for Congress himself (in my district).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jackie After O Arrives

My book arrived fresh from the printer and it was placed on the dining table. Over dinner, my husband said, "so, what do you think?"

Me: "About what?"

Him: "The book."

Me: "Oh. That."

The truth is, writing a book is a lot more of a romantic concept than actually publishing it. It's like being pregnant vs. being a new parent, with a baby that needs alot of care and feeding. Both stages are awesome. And both are work. It's just that once the baby arrives, you are so cross-eyed with exhaustion that you are eager for a new phase. Anyway, here it is: My new baby!

Trophy Wife vs. the "Peer Marriage"

When Jacqueline Kennedy married shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in 1968 on his private Aegean island Skorpios, tongues wagged from Greece to Greenwich. The story line was simple: She married him for money, and he married her for status; she was, after all, arguably the most famous woman in the world, and he was one of the richest. Whether there was love, or even just affection, or whether this was about mutual security of some kind, it all seemed irrelevant. (Jackie reportedly defended herself by saying, “I can’t very well marry a dentist from New Jersey!”)

Jackie perfectly fit the definition of a trophy wife. She was much younger than her husband, beautiful, and popular. She did not work. She didn't have to. In fact she had not had a traditional "job" since the day JFK proposed and she quit her post as columnist at the Washington Times-Herald when she was 23. She was 39 when she married Onassis, and he was 30 years older (and shorter), although he habitually lied about his age, saying he was 7 years younger.

Jackie and Ari

When I saw this story about Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey (aka the Princess of Bel-Air), the young, pretty, second wife of Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Brad Grey, I thought it was going to be an iteration on the Jackie + Ari theme.

The Greys

Turns out, Cassandra has ambition! She may even have talent! She's nice! How refreshing.

Moreover, it appears to be a trend.

Given recent economic changes -- the same ones that stifled the bitter banter of the Mommy Wars-- and some sociological shifts related to women and education -- times have changed since Jackie wore knee-length Valentino for her Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. Today, to have a wife (even if she is the second or third) who is smart, has a job and perhaps even a  business plan or a PhD, means more than it did in 1968. It means that the man is not a conspicuous consumer. It means that he does not want to devalue himself by telegraphing to the world that the only reason why his unattractive self is with a gorgeous, much younger woman, is because of his money. It means that he is evolved.

There was a fascinating piece in Psychology Today about the rise of the "power bride," which boils down to this scientific revelation: "A woman's ability to hold a steady job [now matters] more than her age, previous marriages, maternal status, religion or race. Men were more willing to marry women with more, rather than less, education than they themselves had. A wise move, since women eclipse men at the same rates at which they attain bachelor's and master's degrees, and the number of women pursuing higher education continues to steadily climb."

And there was this nugget: "According to a poll, 48 percent of men (and an equal percentage of women) reported dating partners who drew the same income as they did."

To flip around the trophy concept, there may be a new definition for women wanting to "have it all." They may want to have a successful and/or powerful husband, but not at the expense of their own success or power.

Which brings me back to Jackie. After Ari died in 1975, Jackie got a job. Not because she needed one, but because she had a voracious intellect and it made her happy. It should also be said that while later that year she began to forge what would become a relationship with her longtime boyfriend Maurice Tempelsman (also successful) she never got remarried -- never again to be a trophy wife.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace and Jackie O

Reading Mike Wallace's obituary in the New York Times today, I was struck by the length and vigor of his remarkable journalism career, as well as his personal life. I was also reminded of an anecdote about him that I learned while researching my book.

In 1975, the year her husband, Aristotle Onassis, died and her daughter, Caroline, was graduating from high school, Jackie had a midlife crisis -- and decided to get a job. She eventually found one, as an editor at Viking, where a few weeks into her new position, her assistant received a phone call from Mike Wallace's secretary.

"I have Mr. Wallace on the phone for you," the woman told Jackie's young assistant, Rebecca Singleton.

Singleton was annoyed that he made his secretary call, and that the woman referred to her boss as "Mr. Wallace."

When his booming voice shot through the phone, he said: "Hi, Becky!"

Rebecca hated the diminutive version of her name.

"How are we gonna get Jackie on 60 Minutes?" Wallace asked.

Her response: You're not.

He had blown it at hello.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Google's new White House tour

When I saw that the White House announced a new Google Street View of the White House interior rooms, with a focus on the artwork, I got a tingle of excitement. This is Michelle Obama's project -- a 21st Century approach to opening the White House to the public, in the tradition of what Jacqueline Kennedy did in 1962 with a televised tour, which won her an Emmy.

I think there is even more than could be done using technology to bring the White House, and its stories, alive.

You can check it out here, along with the First Lady's video overview, above.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jackie O leads the charge to save Grand Central in 1975

This is one of my favorite pictures of Jacqueline Onassis from 1975, the year when Aristotle Onassis died, she becomes engaged in the battle to save Grand Central from redevelopment ruin and she becomes a book editor. Essentially, 1975 is the year that Jackie has a midlife crisis -- she loses a husband, saves a landmark and finds herself.

The picture above is from a dramatic press conference held in the train terminal's famed Oyster Bar (see below for a picture I took recently -- still looks like 1975 inside!). I love the expression on her face, which reflects her serenity, power, and knowledge that she is the center of attention, sitting before a media horde from around the world, assembled in the subterranean restaurant to hear her big voice that sounded little.

Jackie proved herself to be a public relations mastermind when it came to repelling real estate developers' dreams of altering the built environment of New York City.

Grand Central was her first real victory. 

“If we don’t care about our past we can’t have very much hope for our future,” she said into a bank of microphones and over the din of flashbulbs popping. “We’ve all heard that it’s too late, or that it has to happen, that it’s inevitable. But I don’t think that’s true. Because I think if there is a great effort, even if it’s the eleventh hour, then you can succeed and I know that’s what we’ll do.”

Her words, which she had written herself, were spare. She knew from her political experiences that if she delivered a forty-five-minute speech it would lose its effectiveness and she would have a greater chance of being misquoted. Deliver a sound bite just right and the press had to use it. They had nothing else.

Friday, February 17, 2012

White House Restoration Redux

I've wondered for some time what happened to the White House interior after Jacqueline Kennedy so meticulously restored it with period-appropriate antiques, colors and grandeur.  Did the Johnsons keep it as an untouchable mausoleum? Did Nancy Reagan paint it red?

I've got some answers.

On the 50th anniversary of Jackie's televised tour of her work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, current White House Curator William Allman explained this week that the place continues to evolve and has, in fact, changed quite a bit since the Kennedy era.

Here's how:

The East Room, where the Kennedys held that famous dinner for Nobel Prize winners, now has a rug, thanks to Barbara Bush, as well as restored red marble mantels, which Jackie had painted white. Here it is in her time.

This is it with the Bush rug...with the photo taken in the Clinton era.

The Blue Room has also seen many iterations. Here it was in 1963.

And here it is in 1972, with different paper and draperies.

The Nixons significantly changed the Green Room, moving out Jackie's Federal Period furniture and replacing it with Duncan Phyfe pieces.

The room went from this:

To this:

Laura Bush later added a jarring modernist painting by Jacob Lawrence to the room called "The Builders."

You can see it in context in this portrait of the Obama family. To the left of the President, out of sight, hangs a John Singer Sargent painting called "Mosquito Net."

There is one room, however, that I think has been improved since Jackie last touched it: the Lincoln Bedroom. Jackie's version felt simple (as simple as a Victorian-furnished room could feel). But after seeing what Laura Bush did to it, the Camelot version seems unfinished. Fitting, perhaps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Jackie's personal papers humanize an icon

I spent my morning at the JFK Library poring over newly released personal papers that belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years. Much of the documentation relates to her restoration of the White House. See my blog post below.

But I always enjoy finding the little gems that humanize an icon: her memos about choosing what would become her trademark blue stationery from Tiffany; how she was concerned about the White House nursery school's car pool schedule (what if a child didn't have a ride!); the typed up plan for John Jr.'s play dates (Tuesdays at Jonathan's in Chevy Chase); and even her Christmas shopping list, which included Van Cleef & Arpels, where her engagement ring was from, Maximillian Fur Co., Givenchy, Bergdorf Goodman, Chanel, Norman Norell, and Design Research, the little shop in Harvard Square owned by Ben and Jane Thompson.

Readers of this blog might recall that last summer we stayed at the Thompson summer house in Barnstable, just across Route 6 from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Later, we heard that Jackie used to go to the house -- apparently she was a fan of Marrimekko, which the Thompsons sold at DR. Today, I stumbled on the proof in her Christmas list, which listed the house's address.

I can picture Jackie pulling into the gravel driveway wearing her Renauld of France sunglasses and a scarf on her head. Makes me nostalgic for the Cape in the summer.

JFK Library Releases Jacqueline Kennedy's personal papers

Today, the JFK Library released papers not yet seen publicly that show how seriously Jacqueline Kennedy approached her White House restoration project. 

Yes, she sketched the draperies (above) and chose the colors -- but went far beyond that. The papers, released 50 years after she gave a televised tour of the nearly completed work, show that she was studious and intense about the project, scouring old receipts and photographs to find objects, their origins, and where they belonged in the White House, including four Cézanne paintings hanging in the National Gallery of Art that were moved to the family quarters. 

She consulted historians and made basement spelunking expeditions with Lorraine Pearce, whom she hired to be the White House’s first curator. They found Teddy Roosevelt’s rugs, Monroe’s gold and silver French flatware and a heavy oak desk, piled with electronics in the broadcast room, that Queen Victoria had given to President Hayes. Jackie had it set up in the Oval office. John Jr. would later crawl beneath it. 

The restoration took about two years, but on Feb. 14, 1962, she wore a red Rodier boucle suit and took America on a one-hour televised tour of the mansion, a Valentine for 80 million viewers, few of whom knew she was also strategizing to save Lafayette Square -- a grassy quadrangle surrounded by 18th century town homes in front of the White House -- at risk of being replaced by modernist office space for the government (a plan Eisenhower had set in motion).

Later, in 1975, she catalyzed New York City to save Grand Central Terminal from being obliterated for a bland skyscraper, a case that went to the US Supreme Court and made historic preservation mainstream in the process.

Half a century later, on the golden anniversary of her televised White House tour, newly released memos confirmed that she was the politically and historically astute ring leader of the restoration. In the midst of other “news” last week about JFK’s affair with a White House intern, we’re still watching Jackie, hopefully more enthralled with her accomplishments – then and later in her life -- than her husband’s conquests.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A new documentary about Ethel Kennedy

This must be the year for the Kennedy women to shine. I’m all for it.

With the release earlier this fall of Jacqueline Kennedy’s taped oral history completed shortly after the assassination of her husband, and her daughter, Caroline, publishing the book to accompany those tapes, we now have “Ethel,” the documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, with Taylor Swift as lead groupie. (As JFK said in his inaugural address, "Let the word go forth...that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.") Ethel Kennedy’s daughter Rory created the film as a “love letter” to her 83-year-old mother, whose last interview, according to Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr, was 30 years ago.

(Rory and Ethel Kennedy with Taylor Swift at the Sundance premier of "Ethel." Above, Ethel is seated at the back of the porch.)

I met Ethel once, in her home in Hyannis Port, at a clam bake on the famous compound lawn hosted by her son, then-US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, whose 31-year-old son, Joe III, appears to be running for Congress. I was covering politics at the time. Before I left the annual event, I needed to use the loo. Which meant going into Ethel’s house, where she was milling around the kitchen. I was struck by how preppy the space was decorated, all Kelly green upholstery and white piping. It was chipper, the way she presented herself to the world, which always struck me as amazing given the tragedies she had gone through. She graciously directed me through the house.

It’s not clear when the film will debut on HBO this year. But I won’t miss it.

Linda Rodin's Third Act

She's 63 and and yet, would she not be the first person your eyes landed on in a busy room?

My Saturday morning ritual begins withe the Wall Street Journal and cup of coffee. And today, moments into this routine, I was delighted to read a piece on Linda Rodin (pictured), a stylist who has worked for Madonna and does the Victoria's Secret fashion shoots.

Rodin hasn't worn makeup since she was 30, except for matte lipstick. She drinks green juice, wears sunscreen in the summer (20 spf) and is rail-thin despite never working out. She snacks on seaweed, has never colored her hair and gets a weekly blowout.

"The secret to aging gracefully is maintenance," she said. "Botox is fine in moderation, but the more you do the older you look. You can't chase youth. You'll just look old with a facelift."

But the most interesting thing about her is that she launched a beauty product business called Rodin Olio Lusso in 2008, at a time when many are staring at retirement.