Ah, Jackie, we hardly knew ye. Maybe that’s for the best. Certainly we’re better off not knowing what you thought of us.
According to Caroline Kennedy, an oral history of her mother, due for release Wednesday, shows the former First Lady’s “intellectual curiosity” and “sense of what was right.” Judging by the excerpts that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times, it should do so very handily. But it should also show that the newly widowed Mrs. Kennedy could be awfully hard on people. Regarding the long and candid interview she gave to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., which forms the history’s source material, the Times says, “Mrs. Kennedy displays a cool self-possession and a sharp, somewhat unforgiving eye.” That is to say, she dishes and disses with considerable verve.
Well, at a safe distance, I have always respected a gimlet eye. Since imitation, as they say, is the highest form of flattery, I have tried my best to capture the cool, self-possessed Bouvier-Kennedy style. Below, I’ve posted five original Jackie zingers, along with five knockoffs. I invite the reader to guess which are which.
1. On MLK: “A Phony.”
2. On George Wallace: “A ridiculously short man. I won’t talk to anyone less than 5’11″. It makes no sense.”
3. On Charles De Gaulle: “An egomaniac.”
4. On Washington’s National Cathedral: “It’s just a great, doddering eyesore, like Eleanor Roosevelt.”
5, On Indira Gandhi: “A real prune — bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”
6. On RFK: “Bobby is a dear man, but his accent is atrocious. I don’t see how Ethel can stand to listen to it all day long.”
7. On Clare Booth Luce and Madame Nhu, sister in law of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s president: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were lesbians.”
8. On JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech: “I can’t imagine what Jack was thinking. ‘Berliner’ sounds so…Jewish. Oh, don’t sulk, Arthur.”
9. On why “violently liberal” women preferred Adlai Stevenson to her husband: “Because they were afraid of sex.”
10. On Barry Goldwater: “His name is horrid. It makes me think of pee.”
The odd-numbered quotes are real; the even-numbered quotes, fakes. Reading back over them, it occurs to me that the real Jackie sounded admirably direct and concise, or else arch and playful. My version of Jackie-ese sounds stilted and neurotic — less debutante than doyenne. I really need to get hip.