Thank you for doing this. I must say that it is an honor since you are respected and admired, someone who became an American historical icon. Throughout your life there have been such tribulations and triumphs. From the time you married John Fitzgerald Kennedy, your life seemed to be a roller coaster ride from becoming First Lady, to having to endure the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, to making a life for yourself.
Elise Cooper: Can you excuse me that I referred to you as Jackie Kennedy, not Jackie Onassis?
Jackie Kennedy: I think that’s perfectly acceptable, given that many people continue to address me as Jackie Kennedy, even after my marriage to Aristotle Onassis. The Kennedys are American royalty, after all, and I will always be a Kennedy.
EC: How would you describe yourself?
JK: I hope the best way to describe me would be that I was a dedicated and loving mother and wife, but also that I maintained my pose and dignity in the face of adversity and great tragedy.
EC: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as First Lady?
JK: While I’m proudest of the way I safeguarded my children’s childhoods—the media seemed especially intent on turning my daughter Caroline into a ghastly Shirley Temple—my restoration of the White House has probably been my most enduring accomplishment. I’m proud that I was able to return many of the original antiques to our country’s Maison Blanche, to make our country’s greatest house something every American could be proud of.
EC: Your proficiency in languages became a valuable asset. Please explain.
JK:My fluency in both French and Spanish became valuable assets while Jack was campaigning for the White House. The Cajuns in Louisiana especially appreciated my ability to speak French—all these people contributed so much to our country’s history so it seemed a proper courtesy to address them in their own language.
EC: How would you describe JFK?
JK:Jack had the ability to make anyone—any woman especially—feel like she was the only person in the room. I was engaged before him, you know, but only Jack ever had the ability to make me dream of what could be. He was my daring trapeze artist, willing to hurtle his way through life for a chance at glory.
EC: Is it fair to say your relationship with JFK can be broken up into three parts:
Early marriage, Formidable to him in that you did not look the other way, and partners where he recognized how necessary and important you were to him?
JK:Jack and I had a rough road during the early days of our marriage, especially with his indiscretions and then my miscarriage and the stillbirth of our daughter, Arabella. However, we managed to weather those storms, together, and that made us stronger. Once he was president, I understood that I was different from Jack’s girls du jour, and while I wasn’t willing to look the other way, I also recognized that only I could be his wife and the mother of his children. After the Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of our son Patrick, we leaned on each other and became full partners.
EC: The nicknames you came up with are very interesting. Please explain.
JK:They are interesting, aren’t they? Well, I did call Jack’s father Poppy Doodle. Joseph Kennedy was the patriarch of the entire Kennedy clan and the two of us got along swimmingly. Jack and his father always called me kidor kiddo, and I called Jack Bunny. It was a silly nickname, really, referring to his boundless sort of energy.
EC: What kind of mother do you think you are and compare that to your own mother?
JK:My mother did the best she could, but she divorced my father, Black Jack Bouvier, and that was very difficult, especially in those times. Once I had Caroline and John Jr., I knew they came first in everything.
EC: How would you describe Bobby?
JK: I once remarked that I wished Bobby was an amoeba so he could multiply and there would be two or more of him. He was the Kennedy brother most like me and we became very close, especially after Jack’s death. I think he was America’s shining hope, and that hope was extinguished with his assassination in 1968.
EC: Do you think you were an advisor and confidant to Bobby?
JK:I like to think that I helped encourage Bobby to fulfill his dreams and his family’s legacy. He helped pull me out of my darkest times and I hope I was there for him when he needed me.
EC: Is it true you made the decision to take Bobby Kennedy off life support? What was that like?
JK:It is true and it was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make.
EC: How would you describe your relationship with Joe Kennedy-was he a father figure?
JK:While I was very close with my own father, I was also very attached to Mr. Kennedy. He was the patriarch of the Kennedy clan and after Jack’s terrible back surgeries, I think Mr. Kennedy realized that I wasn’t just some empty-headed debutante. I believe that I reminded him of his eldest daughter, Kick, who died shortly after World War II.
EC: What are your interests?
JK:I always loved books—as a girl I hoped to perhaps pen a great American novel—and after my marriage to Aristotle Onassis, I became a book editor and was able to help shepherd many wonderful books to publication. I also enjoyed poetry, travel, and horseback riding.
EC: Do you have any regrets?
JK:I think it’s difficult to live a life without harboring any regrets, but I hope I did the best that I could to be a good mother and wife, and also to leave a lasting impact on my country. That’s all any woman, much less any First Lady, can hope to accomplish.
Stephanie Thornton is a USA Today bestselling author who has been obsessed with the stories of history’s women since she was twelve. Her latest novel, And They Called It Camelot, is a lightly fictionalized account of the life of iconic First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and her prior novel, American Princess, reimagines the life of Theodore Roosevelt’s wild child daughter Alice. Thornton is also the critically acclaimed author of four novels set in the ancient world: The Secret History, Daughter of the Gods, The Tiger Queens, and The Conqueror’s Wife. She is a high school history teacher by day and lives in Alaska with her husband and daughter.