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Leslie Goddard portrayed Jackie Kennedy on May 20, the fourth in a series of five virtual lectures courtesy of the Levy Senior Center Foundation. Ms. Goddard scrupulously researches each portrayal and the resulting performance did not disappoint: It helped the viewer to understand Mrs. Kennedy in a way that photos of her and articles about often her do not.
Set in 1964, in front of a green screen background of one of the rooms in the Georgetown home where she and her children lived after leaving the White House, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy charms. She speaks of her childhood, the adored elder daughter of John “Black Jack” Bouvier, a stockbroker, and Janet Lee, a socialite. Although she was shy, the close relationship she had with her father gave her a strong sense of self-confidence. She thought of herself as the “less attractive” sister compared to her younger sister, Lee, a sentiment reinforced by her mother. But her home life was not happy. Her father’s alcoholism and extramarital affairs created tension in the family, which was compounded by financial strains stemming from the 1929 stock market crash. Her parents separated in 1936 and divorced four years later.
In 1942 her mother married Standard Oil heif Hugh Auchincloss, Jr., and together they created a comfortable and emotionally stable home for Jackie and her sister. The blended family included three children from her stepfather’s earlier marriages, followed by two additional children from the new marriage. Jackie grew close to Mr. Auchincloss and regarded him as a father figure. He was the man who escorted her down the aisle when she married John F. Kennedy, her own father being too inebriated to attend her wedding.
Jackie was well educated and early on demonstrated an interest in history and a flair for languages. In addition to English, she was fluent in French, Spanish and Italian. She was an accomplished equestrienne, a passion she maintained throughout her life. After college she was hired by the Washington Times-Herald as an “Inquiring Camera Girl,” and was working there when she was introduced to her future husband at a mutual friend’s dinner party in May 1952. They had a whirlwind courtship, were engaged within a year and married in September 1953. Although she was close to her father-in-law Joe and her brother-in-law, Robert, she felt that she did not quite fit in with the hypercompetitive Kennedy clan at Hyannis Port.
As the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy was widely admired and enjoyed having a role behind the scenes, bringing culture to the White House and supporting American artists, designers, and musicians. She loved history and her work to raise money for and renovate the interior of the White House was considered groundbreaking at the time. On Valentine’s Day 1962, she became a media sensation and overnight star when she allowe CBS television cameras inside the White House – “the people’s House,” she called it – to show the country the historically restored rooms and grandeur of this national treasure.
Jackie Kennedy loved being a wife and mother and doted on Caroline and John Kennedy, Jr. She strove to create as normal an atmosphere as possible for her children while living in the White House, even creating a nursery school and kindergarten on site. Aware of her husband’s unfaithfulness to her, she dealt with it by “blocking it out” and negotiating her own life away from Washington, D.C., primarily by spending long weekends away with their children at their home in Virginia. Nonetheless, the two grew close in the White House, especially after the death of their infant son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in 1963. She considered motherhood her most important job.
Ms. Goddard’s portrayal was insightful, detailed, and captivating; the question-and -nswer period held immediately after the portrayal is a boon for history buffs. Anyone who missed seeing the webinar live or wishes to see it again will find it on the Foundation’s YouTube channel.