July 28, 1929– Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis:
“There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed.“
Except for that one brief moment with Pat Nixon, Melanie‘s is the only First Lady vulva I have ever seen. As World of Wonder’s Trey Speegle reported on Monday, the current First Lady has announced that her cultural contribution during the pandemic is a redo of the White House Rose Garden.
The White House Rose Garden borders the Oval Office and the West Wing. The garden is 125 feet long and 60 feet wide. It is a counterpoint to the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on the east side of the White House.
The White House Rose Garden was established in 1913 by Ellen Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson, on the site of a colonial garden established by First Lady Edith Roosevelt (wife of Theodore Roosevelt) in 1902. Before that, the area contained stables, housing horses and coaches.
In 1961, during the John F. Kennedy administration, the garden was largely redesigned by horticulturalist, gardener, philanthropist, art collector Bunny Mellon. She created a space with a more defined central lawn, bordered by flower beds that were planted in a French style but using American plants. The present-day garden that the Slovenian minx wants to fool around with has the same layout designed by Mellon, where each flower bed is planted with a series of crabapples and lindens bordered by diamond-shaped hedges of thyme. The outer edges to the beds that face the central lawn are edged with boxwood, and each of the four corners to the garden are punctuated by Magnolias; specifically, obtaining specimens that were found growing along the banks of the Tidal Basin by Mellon.
Ever since then, roses have had the focus as the main flowering plants in the garden.
It is not unprecedented that a First Lady would take on decorating the White House. Even before she moved into the White House, Kennedy wasn’t impressed by the place. She felt it “looked like it’s been furnished by discount stores,” and she wasn’t having it with features like water fountains on various walls. The décor reflected predecessor Mamie Eisenhower‘s fondness for pink. Kennedy called her new resdience “that dreary Maison Blanche.”
Beautiful, gracious Michelle Obama has my vote for Best First Spouse ever. But, Kennedy-Onassis comes close.
In 2009, unveiling her White House vegetable garden, Michelle Obama with the hope of growing a healthier nation for our children, told reporters:
“I am hopeful that future first families will cherish this garden like we have.“
After the White Nationalists took power in January 2017, Right-wing partisans gleefully anticipated the new bloated blob of a president would get busy erasing everything “Obama” from the White House. Two days after the election, the always charming Ann Coulter wrote:
“I respectfully suggest a new name for Michelle’s White House vegetable garden: ‘Putting green’.”
No doubt about it, most First Ladies have brought class to the White House. The current First Lady brings the crass.
Jackie Kennedy-Onassis lived during an era when I was always aware of her celebrated enigmatic personality. During my lifetime, she was always the subject of some magazine article or news feature. From the time that she was the beautiful young bride of a handsome young U.S. Senator, to elegant First Lady, to anguished widow, to bikini clad wife of a Greek shipping tycoon, to New York City career woman, her life was always under scrutiny.
Kennedy-Onassis continues to have a rather odd prominence in my life. The Husband and I are the human voices for our two terriers. Junior speaks in a dumb lug voice and Lulu talks in Jackie Kennedy’s breathy monotone, both superbly reproduced by my spouse and myself.
For most of her life, poor Kennedy-Onassis was dependent on the kindness of sadists. Her Wall Street broker father, John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III was too drunk to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day; John Fitzgerald Kennedy presented her with a parade of breathless bimbos that are still being talked about 55 years later; Aristotle Socrates Onassis had his yacht’s bar stools covered in the skin of whale testicles and made her sign a prenuptial contract. None of them ended up breaking her spirit.
Kennedy-Onassis was not the sort of woman who fell apart from a day or a month or even a year of bad news or bad press. She kept it together. She fought for a legacy in what she regally regarded as “Her History”, a notion that included her passion in 18th century France and the need for the maintaining of a complicated ruse, both prideful and humiliating, around the requirements of marriage. She used every single one of her formidable gifts when facing the men in her life or the public’s perception of those relationships.
Kennedy-Onassis was an elegant, educated, calculating, intelligent, sophisticated woman. She also wielded real power because of her connections to powerful men. She also was flawed, of course. She could be a snob (I can be a bit of a snob, so I have an affinity for her).
Kennedy-Onassis was not all good or all bad. Even after audio tapes of her 1964 conversations with historian and friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr. were released in 2011, and hearing her voice again, she remains vague and veiled.
Whoever she really was, Kennedy-Onassis remains a Gay Icon and a Style Icon, a revered First Lady, and she has a special place in the history of the USA. You can hate her if you want. She wouldn’t care. You would also be in the minority; worldwide, she remains one of the most admired women of all time.
Despite the tragedies: she lost a baby, a husband and a brother-in-law in the span of a half decade, she was able to live the life so many people seem to strive for: privilege, glamour and a bottomless bank account.
Her husband’s brains were blown out onto her lap and then she had to be a beacon of strength for an entire nation when she was just 34 years old. Can you even imagine? She had balls, brains and ambition.
Watching videos today to prepare this column, her whispered voice seems like something that she could put on and use to her advantage. She was known to be a smart manipulator. Her father told her to always hold back and reveal little of yourself.
Like her nemesis, Marilyn Monroe, she created her voice and she created her mystery. This is why she rarely did interviews. She was perceived as unreachable and untouchable to the public. Naturally, this made Kennedy-Onassis even more fascinating to the world. To keep the mystique going throughout her life, she never allowed pictures to be published of her smoking cigarettes or any recordings of her swearing, both which she both did all the time.
A Fashion Icon for certain, in the 1960s, her pal was designer Oleg Cassini. He provided Kennedy-Onassis with the clean suits, skirt hem down to middle of the knee, 3/4 sleeves on notch-collar jackets, sleeveless A-line dresses, above-the-elbow gloves, low-heel pumps, and the famous pillbox hats atop that bouffant hair that became known as the “Jackie Look”. In the 1970s it was wide-leg pantsuits, large lapel jackets, gypsy skirts, silk Hermès scarves, and large, round, dark sunglasses that became her new look. She often even wore jeans in public. In white jeans with a wide belt paired with an untucked black turtleneck pulled down over her hips was how she was dressed the one time I caught a glimpse of her at St. Ignatius Loyola Church at East 84th and Park Avenue where I sometimes went to mass. She once quipped
“Sex is a bad thing because it rumples the clothes.“
A true Gay Icon’s attributes include glamour, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and a hint of androgyny. They are often either tragic or martyred figures, or prominent pop culture idols. Kennedy-Onassis fits the bill. She was a woman of her era. Who knows how she would have felt about the changes in the lives of Gay Americans or about Marriage Equality. She certainly knew plenty of gay people. She was a very close friend and cousin of gay writer Gore Vidal and she hung out with Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. On the other hand, she shut down her son John F. Kennedy Jr.’s acting career, his one true passion; because she feared that he would “become a fruit”. I am certain she would have not been happy if JFK Jr. had married me as I had once planned.
“I want minimum information given with maximum politeness.“
She always described the White House Years as the happiest time of her life. During that controversial time when she took on a total remodel of the Presidential residence, her best friend was White House Chief Usher J.B. West, a gay man who she adoringly called: “The Miracle Maker of the White House”. They shared cigarette breaks, gossip and gifts. West writes in his memoir Upstairs At The White House: My Life With The First Ladies (1973) that she gave him a gift of a vermeil cigarette case inscribed: “With deep appreciation for Jan. 20, 1961 – Nov. 22, 1963“.
In January 1994, Kennedy-Onassis was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the same cancer that I would spend a year doing battle with in 2014. I’m still here, but she only made it to May 1994, two months before her 64th birthday.