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Imagine it's summer, 1937, in East Hampton, the Atlantic Ocean is sparkling in the midday sun, and if you squint, you squinting?
Yes, I'm squinting. Got so bossy. OK, so if you squint, you can make out one swimmer who's farther out than all the others.
It's eight year old Jacqueline Bouvier. OK, what's she doing all the way out there? So Jackie's father dared her to swim out as far as she can. Her muscles already ache and salt stings her eyes. But in the distance she can see the last barrel floating just above the water, a benchmark that only the strongest swimmers can hit. And she's determined to get there. A big wave rolls in and knocks Jackie back. She gasps for air and spits the salty water out of her mouth.
She glances back at the shore. Should she just turn around? She sees umbrellas lining the beach from here. They're just colorful dots. The uniformed waitstaff scurrying from table to table look like tiny black ants. This is the Maidstone Beach Club, where she and her family rub elbows with other ultra rich elite New Yorkers.
During the summer, Jackie stays at her grandfather's house. Down the road. It boasts a stable, a tennis court and an Italian fountain filled with goldfish. It's a cushy life and her future has all been laid out for her. When she gets older, she'll be expected to marry well.
She'll fill her days organizing photo albums and sipping tea at charity events.
She'll follow all the rules her mom's already teaching her.
Never put your elbows on the table when wiping your mouth.
Only use the interior of the napkin turned teacup handles to three o'clock. Stole your spoons from twelve to six without making a clinking sound. What if you like the clanking sound? Then note for you.
Harsh, but out here on the water, life is still wild. Unpredictable. Back on land. That's her mother's world. The ocean is her father's. Jackie imagines her parents watching her from the shore, her mother shaking her head with a pinched look on her face. Her father, who everyone says looks just like Clark Gable, cheering Jackie on. Unlike his wife, he doesn't give a damn about the roles. He believes in living life to the fullest, wherever that takes him.
Jackie's heard enough of their fights to know her mother's about to leave him. She'll probably have to go live with her mother, who won't ever let her swim out this far again. Jackie is exhausted from fighting against the waves, but she keeps the barrel in her crosshairs. She's going to reach it. She knows she'll never have the freedom her father has. She's not a man. And this is still the 1930s. But in her own way, however she can, she's going to try.
OK, Erica, I know you remember the college's admission scandal that broke last year. How can I forget? OK, so take a listen to this re-enactment of an FBI wiretap from the case.
And is there any risk that this thing blows up in my face? It hasn't in twenty four years. Do I know of that? But the environment, like some article comes out that the polo team is selling season to the school for 250 grand.
Well, no, because she's a water polo player. But she's not. OK, I'm pumped, please tell me this is part of an incredible new doc on the subject. Yep. From Chris Smith, executive producer of Tiger King comes Operation Varsity Blues only on Netflix, March 17th. You are not going to want to miss this. This episode is brought to you by our friends at CarMax. Learn more about the new love your car guarantee from CarMax at CarMax Dotcom.
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But I'm wondering, I'm Erica Skidmore, William and I'm Brooke Saffron, and this is even the rich where we bring you absolutely true and absolutely shocking stories about the greatest family dynasties the world has ever seen. It's a show about power, how you get it, how you keep it and what happens when it goes to your head. It's also about how the rich are just like us, because even the rich love and cry and dream and hope and tweet Meems during Oprah interviews.
So, Brooke, you know how much I love the Kennedys, I think you mean how much we both love them. I mean, this is our third season on them, after all. OK, fair.
But we're finally getting to the Kennedys who put the Kennedys on the map, Jack and Jackie, the Playboy president and the first lady of fashion. On our last two series, we talked a lot about influencers who lived their private lives in public. But now we're going to tell you the story of a couple who were as private as they were famous. And as you're about to learn, there's a big difference between Jack and Jackie, the people and Jack and Jackie, the legends.
This is episode one, Queen Deb.
OK, Brooke, let's play word association when I say Jackie O.
What do you think, pearls, obviously pink Chanel skirt suit, pillbox hat, you know, ladylike. Yes, that's exactly what I thought, too. But behind closed doors, Jackie wasn't really like that at all. Whenever she had a choice, she wore pants and went barefoot and she smoked two packs a day. What? Wait, hold on. Is that why she had that breathy voice? She couldn't get enough oxygen? Maybe. But the point is, Jackie is complicated.
People who worked at the White House called her by far the most complex of all, the first ladies. And to understand why, you've got to start with her parents. Yes, I remember squinting with them at the beach a couple of minutes ago.
Jack and Janet there, a study in contrasts. Her father, Jack Bouvier, is charming and mischievous. Her mother, born Janet Leigh, is stern and formal. But they do have one thing in common. They both belong to a very specific social class. I don't know what historians call it, but I'm going to call it old money ish. Call ABC. We've got a show. Janet Leigh traces her family roots back to Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.
But while her family's last name really is Lee, the truth is they're not related to the general. They came over from Ireland during the potato famine and spotted an opportunity. Americans weren't exactly welcoming of the Irish back in the day, so it was in their best interest to fit in. And if your last name's already Lee, why not claim the most famously in the South as your forefather solid strategy?
Meanwhile, the Bouvier side of the family claims to be descended from French aristocrats who hobnobbed with Napoleon. And is that true?
Nope. Jack's ancestors were cattle herders. I mean, maybe they were lucky enough to herd Napoleon's cows, but I doubt it. OK, so both of Jackie's parents trace their roots to con artists.
Yeah, you'd think that would be a solid foundation for a marriage, right? Shockingly, it's not, because while they both care about their place in society, Jack and Janet have very different attitudes towards money. Namely, Janet likes to spend it well and Jack likes to spend it poorly. He's a gambler and a drinker and a serial womanizer. Sounds like true love. I mean, his nickname's pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the guy.
People call him the Black Orchid, the black chic and most commonly blackjack.
Janet's willing to turn a blind eye to his philandering as long as he's discreet. Unfortunately, he's not. In 1940, the New York Daily Mirror post a story that will add another nickname to his collection, The Love Commuter. The gossip piece also includes photos of several of blackjacks lady friends. And let's just say Janet does not do humiliation. This is the final straw. She's had enough. They divorced that same year.
10 year old Jackie is devastated. Her sister Leigh is only six, so she doesn't completely understand what's happening. But for Jackie, this is the worst thing that could ever happen. Her world is crashing down around her.
Jackie's always been closest to her father. She's the one who believes in her. He's the one who makes life fun. On the weekends, it's ice cream sundaes and dressing up for dinners at fancy restaurants. And there's nothing she likes more than tagging along with him to casinos and to the racetrack. And on special occasions, they go to boxing matches. But now Jackie is only going to see her father on holidays and summer weekends. The rest of the time she'll be with her mother.
And Janet thinks she can't do anything right when she stays with Janet, all she hears is Jackie, you read too much for a girl, Jackie.
Your hands and feet are too big, Jackie. Your hair's too thick and frizzy. Jackie, pull yourself together. You look sloppy, OK? Janet would have an aneurysm if she saw what we wear to our recording session.
Oh, my God. Definitely. Because Janet runs her household like a debutante drill sergeant. She schools her daughters and how to walk, what to wear, how to wear it and how to talk. The end goal is to marry rich. Janet even shows her daughters how it's done when she marries her second husband, Hugh de Auchincloss, an heir to the Standard Oil fortune. Hugh is the polar opposite of blackjack. He's so boring that Gore Vidal Hughes former stepson once compared his personality to a magnum of chloroform.
Oh, Brian, I know, right?
But he's Janet's golden ticket to the top of the social ladder. They move into a mansion near DC set on forty six rolling acres. In the summer, they'll retreat to their twenty eight room cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, and their children will get enormous trust funds that kick in when they turn. Twenty one.
Oh great. So Jackie and Lee are set for life. Sorry, let me rephrase that. All of HUD's biological kids will be set for life.
Jackie and Lee will have to rely on whatever blackjack leaves them, which at this point looks like. Nothing. So now there's even more pressure on the girls to marry rich, at 15 years old, Janet ships Jackie off to Miss Porter's school, a finishing school with the express purpose of turning young women into perfect wives. She's drilled in proper etiquette and how to hold refined conversations, encouraged to speak softly, listen and not interrupt.
The girls take turns waiting tables so they'll know how to properly host dinner parties. OK, well, obviously you and I don't need that class because our game nights with only dips and cookies are always ahead.
Truly legendary Jackie goes through the motions on the outside. She molds herself into the kind of woman who wears Chanel and pearls on the inside, though she's as rebellious as ever. She's still the girl who won't quit until she swims out to the last barrel. She can sense a life beyond what she's being taught at school. She catches glimpses of it in books and art. So while the other girls socialize after class, Jackie retreats to her room, curls up in bed and reads Chekhov and Byron at the end of the year when she's asked to list her life ambition for the yearbook.
Jackie gives Miss Porter's school a very demure few. She writes not to be a housewife.
It's the summer of 1945 in Newport, Rhode Island, and at 16 year old Jackie's first debutante season. She spent the last few weeks attending party after party. This evening, she's in a simple black cocktail dress. She wears red lipstick and long white gloves to cover the hands her mom still says are too big. She's not sure if she's pretty. She describes herself as tall, with a square face and eyes so far apart that it takes three weeks to have a pair of glasses made.
But the boys have started paying attention to her. For the past half hour, a handsome Harvard freshman has been telling her about a book he's just read about France during World War two. And it's giving Jackie a chance to practice the unspoken rules of courtship among the social elite. Rule number one, never let on that. You know more than a boy. This boy's been mangling every French name that crosses his lips. But Jackie, who speaks fluent French, by the way, limits her responses to go on.
And so interesting, she wants him to feel smart or at least smarter than her.
Which brings us to rule number to talk as softly as you can, talk softly enough. The boys won't realize. She can also talk softly in French, Italian, Spanish and German.
Twenty minutes later on the patio, with the sun setting over the Atlantic, Jackie shares a cigarette with a girlfriend. We actually have this exchange on record, so I'm just going to read it. Jackie tells her friend that she wanted to give him a big maternal kiss on the cheek and tell him he was really a big boy. Now, OK, I like this, Jackie. Yeah, but as opinionated and headstrong as Jackie can be, she knows she has to play along.
If she wants to stay in the world she was born into, she doesn't have a choice.
And it turns out Jackie is good at pretending by the end of the season she's named Queen Deb.
OK, for us, non debutants. What does that mean? Because it does not sound fancy. It means she's like the prom queen. But for the entire East Coast, instead of just her school, her marriage prospects couldn't be better. But as Jackie turns 17 and 18, then 19, then 20, her friends start getting married and Jackie does it. She's not against marriage, but none of the boys she meets excite her. They already know exactly which firms they'll work at and which country clubs they'll be members of.
But Jackie wants a life she can't even imagine yet.
So after graduating from college, she takes a stab at creating that life for herself.
She applies for Vogue's prestigious Prida Perry Award, which would take her to New York for six months, then Paris for six more. She crafts six essays for the application and sprinkles them with quotes from Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire. On paper, unlike a debutante balls, she can be herself witty, well-read, ambitious and she wins the prize over thousands of other applicants. Nisko Jackie.
Yeah, but on her first day in the New York office, she meets Vogue's managing editor. The editor raises her nose, takes one look at her and asks, How old are you? 20, 21, 22? Jackie replies, Hmmm, OK. What does that mean? It means that back in those days, most girls are married by twenty. And this job is going to take Jackie off the market for another year. By the time she returns home to D.C., she'll be twenty three.
She's already close to her expiration date. Does she want to risk it?
Expiration date. She's a woman, not a bag of old chap. Yeah, at twenty three. I couldn't even commit to a coffee order and forget about a marriage, but these are different times. And as the editor looks, Jacqui, up and down, Jackie's panic rises. Finally, the editor offers some advice. You seem like a smart girl. If you want to get married, you should get back to D.C. That's where all the boys are.
And what does Jackie do? Jackie does as she's told.
She packed her bags and heads back to D.C. with her tail between her legs. And within a couple months, she meets John Husted, a 24 year old stockbroker. He's everything she's been running away from, but somehow this feels different.
John falls in love with her instantly, and his devotion reminds Jackie of a love story from one of her books.
Within a month, he asked her to marry him. They've only been on a few dates. She's living in D.C. and he's in New York.
But she says yes, sounds like an episode of The Bachelor.
It's when I might watch.
The Engagement is announced in The New York Times in January of 1952.
And Jackie meets her future mother in law, Helen Armstrong, who said soon after they said on over upholstered couches in an Upper West Side living room, Helen plays hostess, serving little sandwiches and pouring tea. OK, sounds like someone else took those elective hostess classes.
Definitely. Twenty 28 years ago, Helen was also a debutante and her life worked out perfectly. She married a lawyer, raised a beautiful family, and now in her spare time, volunteers for food drives.
At the end of lunch, Helen pulls out the family album. Here's me and John's father at our wedding, and here we are at our country club. Jackie sees her own future being laid out before her.
The walls start closing in. When Helen offers Jackie a baby picture of her darling little boy, Jackie hears herself snap. If I want a picture of John, I can take one myself. Oh shit.
Jackie didn't mean to say that out loud, but she's having trouble breathing and she feels even more trapped when John slips an engagement ring onto her finger and it's his mom's no boy.
Yeah. Every time Jackie looks down at the ring, it's a reminder of everything she doesn't want. Once she's back in DC, she stops returning John's calls and makes excuses for why she can't see him. Finally, though, he puts his foot down and flies out from New York to see her.
It's late. On a Sunday in March 1952, the terminal at National Airport in Washington, D.C., is packed. People are running to catch their flights. Jackie stands with her fiance, John, at the Eastern Airlines Gate. She's seen him off for his flight back to New York. They make small talk about his trip. Maybe they recount their visit to the National Zoo or talk about the movie they saw. But then John's plane is called over the loudspeaker.
I got to go, he tells her, and they embrace.
In this moment, Jackie slips the engagement ring into the pocket of John's khakis. No one notices, no one but John. His heart breaks, but to his credit, he doesn't say a word. Oh, man. This is like every rom com in reverse. They're supposed to get engaged at the airport, not break up. I know, but he just kisses Jackie on the cheek, wishes her well and walks away toward his gate. Jackie walks quietly towards the exit, deep in thought without that ring on her finger.
Her life feels like it's hers again. But she still needs to figure out what it is she wants to do with it.
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La, la, la, la, la. It's a moonless night on August 2nd, 1943, twenty six year old Jack Kennedy can't see what's in front of him or what's behind him. The only thing he can hear right now is his labored breathing and the nearby splashing of his crew as they kick out into the black Pacific Ocean. He listens for any new unfamiliar sounds. This area is known for its sharks and barracudas, but mostly he puts his energy into swimming.
He's exhausted one stroke at a time. He tells himself he doesn't have a destination in mind. All he knows is that he's in the Solomon Islands. An hour ago, he was the naval lieutenant, a patrol torpedo boat 109, but now is shipwrecked.
A Japanese destroyer snuck out of the darkness and smashed his boat into the fuel. Tanks exploded and the fireball sent Jack and his whole crew overboard. He quickly scrambled and was able to locate all of his men. But to. But Jack isn't going to lose anyone else. So here he is in the middle of the ocean. The salty water stings his eyes. His lungs are burning with every labored stroke. He leads 10 other men into the unknown. One of these men, he's dragging by the strap of his life jacket with his teeth.
Oh, my God.
This sounds like a Liam Neeson film. Totally insane, right? Yeah.
Especially considering Jack isn't known for being the model of health. When he was two years old, Jack contracted Scarlet Fever and it nearly killed him. Then there was the whooping cough, chicken pox, measles and multiple ear infections. To top it off, he injured his back playing football at Harvard, which left him with severe pain. OK, with that record, he should have never left the house. Yeah, but that isn't an option when you're born a Kennedy.
His father, Joseph Kennedy, is already one of the richest men in the country and has very high expectations for his nine children. He repeatedly tells them, we want no losers around here, only winners. Wow. Go team.
Yeah, and the motto breeds competition, especially between Jack and his older brother, Joe Jr.. Joe Jr. is the first born and the golden child. He's a star athlete, a natural leader, and unlike Jack, the very picture of health. But Jack doesn't like being number two. He has something to prove. He pushes himself constantly to compete with his older brother and wrestling, boxing and boating. And even though Joe Jr. almost always wins, Jack never gives up.
And it's that intense will and determination that motivates Jack to push his aching body, to keep swimming, to keep moving. After five long hours, the remaining crew members arrive at a small island no bigger than a football field, but it turns out there's nothing to eat or drink there, and they're sitting ducks. The longer they stay put, the more likely a Japanese patrol will spot them. So Jack takes to the water again, searching for an ally PT boat to send an S.O.S. with no luck and time ticking away.
Jack returns. He takes a big gamble and leads all his men back into the ocean.
They swim for three grueling hours against the current. OK, tell me something good happens. Something good happens. No, you know what I mean. Does something good actually happen? Yes. They find a slightly bigger island with coconuts as they eat and drink from the sweet fruit to local fishermen. Spot them. Jack sprawls a message into the husk of a coconut 11 alive needs small boat Kennedy and gives it to the men.
After a week stranded in the Pacific, help finally arrives with food, water and cigarettes. All 11 men who survived the initial attack return home as heroes. But none of them is as revered as Jack Kennedy, the one who saved them all. With his famous last name, The Nation Takes Notice. The story hits the front pages of all the newspapers. The New York Times runs a headline, Kennedy's Son is a hero in Pacific. As Destroyer splits his boat, Jack receives a number of medals, including the Purple Heart, and his father receives congratulatory letters from leaders around the world.
Joe Senor cheerfully answers every last one of them.
You're my boy, Blue Ivy. Sure. But you know who's not as thrilled about Jack's heroic deeds?
Oh, let me guess. Big Brother Joe Jr.. Bingo. Joe Jr. is also a naval officer and he isn't impressed. He says Jack shouldn't have let his boat go down in the first place. He doesn't understand why people are doing and eyeing over a failed mission. A man needs to take sibling rivalry to a whole new level.
Truly, Joe Jr. is used to being the son who gets all the attention. He didn't expect his little brother to steal the spotlight, and it's about to get even worse.
It's September 6th, 1943, in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Heavy sterling silver knives scrape against fine China. The dining room at the Kennedy compound is abuzz with chatter. High society, friends and close family have gathered at the white framed clapboard home to celebrate all Joe's fifty fifth birthday in his naval uniform. The handsome, strapping Joe Junior has flown home from England to attend this affair. He's been given the prime seat right next to his father. All is as it should be.
A family friend clinks his glass. A toast. Joe Junior raises his own glass. As the man stands, the friend looks at old Joe and says to Ambassador Joe Kennedy, the father of our hero, our own hero, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy of the United States Navy.
Oh, boy. I'd like to see the look on Joe Junior's face right now. Yeah, I'm imagining a very, very stiff smile, not a smile, as Tyrer would say. And Jack's not even there. He's still in the hospital recovering from the ordeal. But even from a distance, he's stealing the spotlight. Later that night, a guest who's sleeping over in the room next to Joe Jr. reportedly hears him crying and muttering, by God, I'll show them.
Oh, no. I sense a bad decision coming.
Well, when Joe Jr. returns to his post in England, he volunteers for a dangerous secret mission. He probably sees it as his one chance to stop his brother and return his family to its natural order. All he'll have to do is find an experimental plane loaded with ten tons of explosives, locked onto a target, turned on autopilot, and then parachute out before the plane hits the target and explodes. Oh, is that all he has to do? Yeah.
So easy, right? Yeah. And there are so many signs telling Joe Jr. to abort the mission. All the test flights fail. Another pilot warns him that the electronics on the plane aren't working properly, but he won't call it off. He's desperate to be the family hero.
It's Sunday, August 13th, 1944, in Hyannis Port. The windows are open and the ocean breeze wafts over. The youngest Kennedy children they're playing with their mother rose in the living room near 27 year old Jack.
He keeps readjusting himself on the sofa, trying to get comfortable, but he just can't. Since the boat incident, his back keeps giving out. Whenever he moves, he has crushing pain. For the past year, he's basically been living at the Chelsea Naval Hospital. All he's had to do is worry about getting better. When he's up to it, Jack will figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. And now that he's a war hero, he's a man with a ton of options.
During his senior year at Harvard, Jack wrote a thesis on British foreign policy and the start of World War Two. His professors convinced him to publish it. And the book, Why England Slept, became a bestseller. Not bad for a college kid. Yeah, Jack could just stay the course and become an author. He loves reading. He loves writing, authors, law school or maybe a career in academics. A professor, perhaps. Good afternoon and welcome to Econ 101.
The point is he has choices. Basically, the world is his oyster. It's not like that for his brother Joe Jr. his path has been laid out for him from the start. His father, Joe Senior, had hoped to be the first Catholic president, but the nation wasn't ready for a non Protestant commander in chief, thinking the next generation would be more accepting. Joe's senior put all his dreams onto his first born baby boy. He even tells reporters this child is the future president of the nation and he isn't kidding.
Everything Joe Junior does, all of his studies, all of his achievements, everything is part of a bigger plan to become the president of the United States of America. Jeez, no, Prush.
And all Jack has to worry about at the moment is trying to find a better. Position on the couch, something comfortable enough that he can take a nap. He closes his eyes. He hears his mother rose scrambling to the door, and then it all becomes a blur. He can see two priests in the entry. He hears his mom race upstairs to wake his father from a nap. He hears his parents race back down. And then the crying Joe Jr.
isn't missing in action like Jack was after his boat sank. In this case, there's no mistaking what happened. 20 minutes after taking off, Joe Junior's plane exploded in midair with Joe Jr. still inside a man.
For the next few days, Joe Senior shuts himself away in his bedroom, listening to somber music. When he emerges, he summons Jack to his office. Jack later recalls the meeting, saying it was like being drafted. My father wanted his oldest son in politics. Wanted isn't the right word. He demanded it. He'd been planning Joe Junior's life since the moment he'd been born. As one friend of the family put it, it was as though Joe Kennedy had mounted with painstaking attention to the smallest detail, a drama intended to be long and triumphant, only to see the curtain run down with cruel finality after the prologue.
Now Joe's senior is determined that the show must go on and Jack will take his older brother's place. And how does Jack feel about that? Well, I think Jack always secretly wanted to be the one who'd run for president.
Joe Jr. cared about following the rules and living up to his parents expectations. But Jack always cared about ideas. Even as a kid, he stayed up late reading books about democracy and American history. So Jack's ready to take his brother's place in his father's master plan. And by the end of 1945, Jack throws his hat into the political arena he sets out to grab a seat in the House of Representatives. But as Jack starts campaigning and giving speeches, it becomes glaringly apparent how inexperienced he is.
Yes, he has a way with words, but that's as a writer, not as a speaker. OK, wait, hold on. I'm having a hard time picturing this. I thought JFK was like one of the great orators of the 20th century. Well, he gets there eventually, but that's not how things start out. At twenty eight, Jack has a tendency to talk too quickly, keep his eyes on his speech and speak in a monotone, high pitched voice and he can't riff to save his life.
Is he also naked in front of a high school auditorium? No, but it's bad after Jack fumbles a speech. So every time he gives one Jack and Joe, seniors sit down and painstakingly review it like game tape, analyzing every little detail. But speaking isn't Jack's only weakness. He's also not very outgoing on the campaign trail. He's not kissing strangers. Babies are mingling with the locals. Oh, come on, man. You gotta kiss the babies.
I know it's what makes you a politician. And Joe Senior's getting a little nervous. I mean, he's now put all his eggs in Jack's basket and a ton of his own money into the campaign. But then the Kennedy men get a surprise.
The voters like Jack, they like his shyness. They like that he's not a career politician. They like that he doesn't come across as insincere or full of shit.
To them, Jack is a breath of fresh air.
He doesn't condescend or belittle them by pretending to be their friend. And even though he's young, he seems smart. Plus, he's a war hero. In the nineteen forty six elections, Jack wins by a landslide.
He defeats his Republican opponent with 73 percent of the vote and becomes the US representative for the 11th Congressional District of Massachusetts who pass the champagne on Sunday.
Now that he's in the House, the Senate's just a hop skip away and after that, the presidency. Joe Senior's plan for the next generation of Kennedys is back on track, except for one detail. If Jack's going to go all the way, he needs a wife. And Jack has no interest in settling down. His own father's womanizing is legendary. He cheats on Rose constantly, but Jack takes it to another level, even though he's scrawny and sickly, he's a self-described sexual maximalist.
He claims he gets horrible headaches if he goes three days without sex. OK, now, this is in no way medical advice, but I'm one hundred percent sure that's not a real thing.
I would 100 percent agree with you, but his bad health actually seems to be an asset. As a friend of his puts it, he has money, looks and sympathy. A roommate of his at the time says he's never seen anything like it.
In his words, Jack would just look at women and they'd tumble in the 40s and early 50s. He dates a bevy of stars like Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, Susan Hayward and George Gabor. But none of these stunning women managed to hold Jack's attention for very long. He can't seem to commit to a relationship, and truthfully, he doesn't want to. He likes his bachelor lifestyle. Way too much, but then in 1952, Joe Senior and Jack set their sights on the Senate.
If Jack wins sixteen hundred, Pennsylvania Avenue will be within striking distance and you can't run for president if you're single, which means it's time for Jack to find a wife.
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La, la, la, la, la, it's May 8th, 1952, in Georgetown, it's a cool spring evening and the flowers are blooming. 33 year old Jack Waltz's up the steps of his friends, Charlie and Martha Bartletts row house. He reaches for the brass knocker but stops himself. He knows that a dinner party of the Bartletts is never just a dinner party.
Charlie and Martha treat matchmaking like a sport. They probably keep a running tally of successful matches. In a shared diary, they'll see Jack next to a young woman and expect him to make painful small talk all night long. When it comes to women, Jack prefers to skip that step. But he also knows that the Bartletts are relentless. They'll keep inviting him over every weekend until he meets whatever woman they have in mind for him. So he may as well just get this over with.
The door opens the Bartlett say hello, hello and usher him inside. Only one seat at the dinner table is unclaimed, and it's right across from a stunning young brunette who's about five foot seven with a squarish face and wide set eyes. Jackie.
That's right. Is it love at first sight? Actually, they've laid eyes on each other before. Jack once tried to pick her up on the train. Of course he did. And at another dinner party.
But that was back when Jackie was engaged to the other John, John Huston. So as they stippled fashions, Jack swallows his pride and starts making small talk. But to his surprise, it quickly stops feeling like small talk. He mentions a book he's just bought. She's already read it. He cracks a joke, she tops it. It's like they're dancing. Whatever move he throws down, she can do it backwards and in heels. She's well-read and sarcastic and lightening quick on her feet.
And at the end of the night or so the story goes. Jack leans over the asparagus and asks Jackie out on a real date, just the two of them.
And what does she say?
I imagine she hesitates for a moment in Jackie's account of the night, she says that Jack gave her the strong impression of a man who did not want to marry.
But she's also intrigued. She's never met a man like him. So Jackie follows her heart.
She leans in meeting Jack over the asparagus and with her soft voice says, yes, damn, that asparagus is getting more action than most people at this party.
I should take notes. Jackie later tells a friend that in that moment she was frightened, envisioning heartbreak for herself, but swiftly determined that such a heartbreak would be worth it.
Over the next few months, Jack and Jackie begin spending time together or as much time as Jack can spare. Running for the Senate is time consuming and keeps him on the road campaigning for days and weeks at a time. But when they're together, they make the most of it.
They go to the movies, mostly westerns and flicks about the Civil War. Jack's favorites. They play games like Monopoly and Scrabble. They're both viciously competitive. But to Jack's amazement and delight, Jackie almost always wins and they read together.
According to Jackie, Jack isn't a flower and candy type. Instead of red roses and chocolates, Jack gives her novels. OK, not my thing, but good for Jack.
You hate that they constantly swap books. Jack gives her some of his favorite books on British history. What she gobbles up, Jack takes an interest in whatever Jackie's reading to Jackie later says. When I was reading about the 18th century, he'd snatch a book for me and read and know all of Louis the Fifteenth Mistresses before I would be learning from the best I see seriously.
But this relationship's about more than sex for Jack. He's fascinated by Jackie. They're both naturally private people who can turn their charm on and off like a switch. But when they're together, something else happens. Whether they're talking or just silently reading. An electric current always runs between them. He's never felt that before. And Jackie feels it, too. She's falling hard. Jack's the first man she's ever met who checks all her boxes. OK, let's see.
Box one attractive obviously. Check he has clear blue eyes, a quick smile, wild reddish hair and some weird animal magnetism going on. OK, box to. Well, of course, his Kennedy Trust Fund made him a millionaire when he was only twenty one. This guy is Janet approved. And what's box number three. Alcoholic, philanderer, untrustworthy womanizer actually. Kind of. I mean, Jackie's always worshipped her dad who let's remember, was always cheating on her mom and he never apologized for it.
So he basically taught her that charismatic men cheat. And that's just a fact of life.
Yikes. The writer George Plimpton said it best, Jackie loved pirates. Her father was one. So was Jack. All her life, Jackie's balked at rules and predictability. But if she marries Jack, she knows she'll get a big, wild, unpredictable life. She'll be back out in the Pacific Ocean, as far away from her mother's world as she can get. And that's exactly what she wants. But deep down, she also knows that Jack's still not the marrying kind.
There's only one thing that can change that, including polygamy.
Back on the books for winning the Senate. His father told him if he wins, he'll have to wife up. No way around that. Nobody will take him seriously as a politician if he's not a family man. So if Jackie wants Jack, she's going to have to pray. He wins and it's going to take a lot of praying. Jack's running for a Senate seat that's currently occupied by a very popular sitting Republican, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr..
Lodge is a Protestant blueblood and it comes from one of New England's most prominent political families. Plus, he has the backing of presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jack, on the other hand, is Catholic and 15 years younger than Lodge. His religion and his youth are working against him as Election Day grows closer. All signs point to Jack losing. Finally, on November 4th, 1952, the voters of Massachusetts take to the polls.
And in a nail biter, Jack narrowly scrapes by winning the Senate seat by only 70000 votes.
I hear wedding bells not so fast.
Jack does invite Jack to President Eisenhower's inaugural ball, but still no proposal comes. In fact, he starts dating Audrey Hepburn on the side. What the fuck? Yeah, Jack still isn't ready to give up his bachelor lifestyle. He's terrified of the idea, but Jackie is not going to give up that easily. She's now writing a column for The Washington Times Herald where she interviews people about everyday life and she starts asking more serious questions to get Jack's attention while before she asks questions like our beauty operators and barbers entitled to tips.
She's now asking Malcolm to offset all issues between the United States and Russia are solvable by peaceful means. Do you agree?
Those papers are going to fly off the shelves and in her spare time, she translates books from French to help Jack buff up on French Indochina policy. But Jackie's mom is watching all of this from afar and shaking her head.
She thinks that in order to get a man like Jack to propose, you have to play hard to get men like him like the chase, like to be the pursuer, not the persued. So Janet comes up with an idea, more like a scheme to make Jack the pursuer. Jackie needs to become less available. And what better way to be less available than to be thousands of miles away over the Atlantic Ocean in England? Janet thinks Jackie should go cover Queen Elizabeth's coronation for her column.
At first, Jackie isn't too keen on this idea, but eventually she agrees she'll take the free trip and see what happens.
It's June 2nd, 1953 Jacky's outside of Buckingham Palace. She's got her camera around her neck and she's found a few Brits to interview, she asked, Do you think Elizabeth will be England's last queen? Jackie returns to her hotel and publishes the story. A couple of days later, she receives a telegram. It reads articles. Excellent, but you are missed love, Jack. Whoa. Jana was right. Did not see that coming.
I know, right? And then Jackie gets a phone call. She answers it in her soft, breathy voice. Hello, though. His voice crackles, she can hear his thick Boston accent. It's Jack. He gets right to it. He spoke with Black Jack and got his blessing. And then he says the words, Will you marry me over the fucking phone?
Yup. And it appears Jackie feels the same way as you about the proposal. She says she'll think about it. Good. Yeah, she loves him. There's no doubt about that. But now that she's almost gotten what she wants, she panics. Jackie asks a friend, how can you live with a husband who's bound to be unfaithful? Even if you love that person, how can you put up with that and not lose a large piece of yourself?
Jacqui hops over to Paris for a few days to clear her mind, it's even rumored that while she's there, she briefly rekindles a relationship with an ex le. But Jackie's heart pulls her back to Boston.
Jack meets her at the airport where he presents her with an almost three carat diamond engagement ring set with an equally large emerald. He places the ring on her finger and Jackie gives the official yes to becoming Mrs. John F. Kennedy.
We finally got our airport engagement. We did. And Jackie gets her happy ending. She's marrying a man who excites her. And she's not going to be a boring housewife. She's going to be a Kennedy wife.
While this is our third Kennedy arc. So I know how that turns out. Yeah, getting Jack to propose was the easy part. Being married to him, that's going to be a lot harder.
This is episode one of our three part series, JFK and Jackie, if you like our show, please give us a five star rating and review and be sure to tell your friends subscribe on Apple podcast, Amazon Music, The Wonderly App or wherever you're listening right now. Join E-Plus in the Wonder app to Ad Free. You'll also find some links and offers from our sponsors and the episode knows we support them by supporting them. You help us offer you this show for free.
Another way you can support the show is by filling out a small survey at one dotcom survey. We use many sources when researching our stories like The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vanity Fair. But we especially recommend for books JFK Coming of Age in the American Century 1917 to 1956 by Friedrich Lockable, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters. The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Nancy Shellenberger and Sam Kassner. Jacqueline Bouvier, Kennedy Onassis. The Untold Story by Barbara Leaming and These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen.
I'm Alicia Skidmore Williams. And I'm Brooke Severan. Elizabeth Cosson wrote this episode with editing by Allison Rimer. Our audio engineer is Sergio Henriquez, Sound Design by James Morgan. Kate Young is our associate producer. Nathalie Sheesha is our producer. Our executive producers are Stephanie Gen's, Jenny Lour Beckman and Marshmallowy for Wondering.
Hi, I'm David Brown, the host of the Business Wars podcast and author of our new book, The Art of Business Wars, The Art of Business Wars features great stories from history's greatest business rivalries. And the stories are fascinating, that's for sure. But the lessons we draw from them about determination, ingenuity, patience and all the other traits of the victorious enterprise are invaluable. Whether you're just coming up in your career or are already a CEO to order your copy today, go to Wonder Dotcom, the art of Business Wars.