Jacqueline Kennedy interviews: 3 questions for historian Michael Beschloss

In early 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy opened up to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. about life with John F. Kennedy, only months after his assassination. In a series of seven interviews, Mrs. Kennedy, known for her singular style, manners, and poise, offered up “tart commentary on former presidents, heads of state, her husband’s aides, powerful women, women reporters, even her mother-in-law,” according to The New York Times. With today’s release of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, we get to learn private details about the iconic couple’s life from a surprisingly candid, sharply opinionated Mrs. Kennedy in written and audio form. Historian Michael Beschloss pored over and annotated the 8.5 hours of interview, in addition to writing the book’s introduction. We asked Beschloss a few questions about the newly released recordings, which had been sealed for 47 years.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What surprised you most while studying the recordings for the first time?
I was surprised that she seemed to have so much influence on JFK’s attitudes toward the people who worked for him. For instance, she she says she disliked Secretary of State Dean Rusk and wished JFK would fire him. He told her he intended to do so in 1964. Others she admired, like Robert McNamara, the Defense Secretary, did extremely well in the Kennedy government. She may not have been the only reason, but what she privately told JFK didn’t hurt. There are many other instances of this in the book.

What do you think is the value of presenting Mrs. Kennedy’s recollections in the format of an oral history as opposed to another book based on the conversations?
Her voice has been virtually missing from the thousands of books written about the Kennedys in the past half-century.  After all that’s been written about her, it’s illuminating to listen to her speak for herself without that kind of filter.

It’s remarkable how forthcoming Mrs. Kennedy seems to be in the recordings; was there conversation or debate about editing some of the potentially controversial sections?
She occasionally would stop the recorder and ask Schlesinger if she should discuss such-and-such. As he later recalled, he almost always told her, “Say everything — you control the tape.”

Comments (24 total) Add your comment
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  • Ben

    I think JFK treated her like crap and she should have left him. He slept around and made her look like a fool. What happened in Dallas Texas was horrible, but, Jackie O. should have dumped the cheating slut.

    • pang

      I enjoyed the special very much. She was such a classy lady. I loved hearing her speak for herself. Given that she was so reticient, there was something magical about hearing that distinctive voice talk with such ease.

  • Gator

    I watched the special on tv last night about these tapes, it was wonderful to hear her speak, and so openly. It was obvious the love that she had for him, even through the heartbreak of losing the babies, and then losing him. She was a class act.

  • TonyO

    Just another example of rehabbing a soiled icon’s legacy. She married a Kennedy for wealth and power, and pretended not to see his dark side in order to enjoy said wealth and power. Exit Kennedy… she married a Greek sugar daddy for another dose of wealth and power. After two wealth and power marriages she had amassed enough fortune and fame. She did a few fund raisers, never really got her hands dirty trying to do any real good. Mother Teresa she wasn’t.

    • Meredith

      She never claimed to be. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you watched the special last night you might have rethought your comment. If you can’t contribute intelligently, it’s best to stay quiet.

      • Chase

        @ Meredith, totally disagree. Tonyo hit the nail on the head. unfortunately the truth hurts sometimes.

    • Jack

      She did a lot more than “a few fundraisers.” Grand Central Station, one of our nation’s most beautiful and iconic structures, is still standing today largely because of her efforts. The same goes for many other buildings. Preserving our nations history was a major passion of hers.

    • me

      True, Jackie O will never be a TonyO, reading ew.com and commenting on other people’s shortcomings. Remind me again when the TonyO Charity Event for AIDS is? Or was it cancer? How much have you donated to earthquake relief funds this year?

      That’s what I thought.

    • Karen

      TonyO

      Jackie didn’t have to be Mother Teresa. After what she went through for our country she deserved to live in privacy and raise her children in peace.

      Jackie was the best!

  • keith

    I enjoyed the special very much. She was such a classy lady. I loved hearing her speak for herself. Given that she was so reticient, there was something magical about hearing that distinctive voice talk with such ease.

    • Copycat

      Way to copy off of pang’s comment, Keith. The award for original poster goes to you my friend.

      Cheers,
      Nigel

      • Gator

        Pretty sure that Pang copied off of Keith here. That is how these stupid spammers work. They copy a further down comment and then put the spam after. But nice try. Next time you want to be rude, think it through a bit, and maybe even check the time stamps.

  • Ben

    I am sure Keith Posted first at 9:48 AM and then Pang Stole Keith’s comments at 10:57 AM and used them for Pang’s Spam advertisement. EW’s Comments pages are filled with Spam. Sometimes by themselves, and sometimes starting with a sentence or two they have Stolen from someone’s else’s posting.

  • Barack Palin

    Jackie O No! Leave it to Caroline Kennedy to throw J. Edgar Hoover under the bus to justify her mother’s negative views of Martin Luther King. J. Edgar Hoover was proof positive that behing every great man there stands a great woman-and in this case he more than ably performed both roles himself. It was a different time, Caroline-don’t blame someone else for your mother’s controversial views.

  • TJ

    MLK a phony for being a cheater? JFK made a complete fool out of her. She was living in some fantasy world.

    • Karen

      Jackie got mad at King for making fun of JFKs funeral. According to Hoover, MLK is on tape saying that Cardinal Cushing was drunk at it and that they almost dropped the coffin. I don’t know if MLK really said that, but she believed he did.

    • Kelly

      I think it’s important to point out that mhooerhotd and charitable foundation leadership are often given short-shrift and under-valued by people when discussing the qualifications of someone but I think many people, myself included, don’t like the way in which Kennedy is going about this- she is literally campaigning for this position and it’s obvious the Kennedy clan is really pressuring the current Governor of NY and I think that in itself is totally inappropriate. Isn’t it kind of an unspoken rule that if someone wants to be appointed to this kind of office they don’t publicly put pressure on those in charge with deciding?I really respect what the Kennedy family has done in American politics and as a Bostonian, I dread the day when Ted Kennedy leaves us, but I don’t think that this sort of flagrant nepotism serves the Democratic Party well at this point. As you pointed out, while Hillary likely would not have become Senator had she not just spent 8 years as First Lady, she did win the seat, she wasn’t appointed, and she certainly has the political know-how to advocate for New Yorkers in the Senate.I think many Americans are getting tired of these political dynasties whether it be the Clintons, the Bushes or the Kennedys. There is more to leadership than a famous name and tons of cash and there is an air of entitlement about Caroline Kennedy that just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I am being unfair, but I would rather see someone appointed who really has had the Senate seat in their view for a while- I really would have liked to see Lowey in the Senate, particularly after, as you pointed out, she had to step aside to let Clinton machine run, which also rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t realize Lowey was in her 70 s though.

  • Val

    I loved the special, but cringed when Diane Sawyer said that JFK was the youngest president ever elected, because T. Roosevelt holds that distinction. It should be a KNOWN FACT by now so that people will quit repeating that non fact. I loved the special though and will buy the book with the CD’s in it.

    • curly951

      Read your history book again, Val. Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 after the death of William McKinley, and at the age of 42 became the youngest man to hold the office. He was not the youngest ever elected however, as that distinction goes to John F Kennedy, who was 43 when elected in 1960.

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