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Jackie Kennedy: The Queen of Camelot

After her husband's election victory, Jackie Kennedy has the dilapidated official residence of the American presidents glamorously restored. The First Lady brings politicians and American intellectuals together, arranges artist evenings and opulent state banquets - and transforms the White House into "Camelot", a mythical fairytale castle in which the Kennedys present themselves as the perfect and cosmopolitan ruling family

He lies in bed and reads. He is the family's problem child, tender and fragile, often ill. And so the boy often lies in bed for weeks and reads. Reads biographies, history books, adventure novels. His hero is King Arthur, this model knight with education and culture, who loves love, kills the giants and helps the poor and weak. Arthur at "Camelot Castle".

Thirty years later, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, will call the White House "Camelot" and become the romantic hero of a better America himself. The night before his swearing-in, a snow storm sweeps over Washington. Kennedy is impatiently waiting for his wife. The two have been invited to a gala arranged by Frank Sinatra. 10,000 guests want to see their new dream couple and have paid an entrance fee of $ 1,000 each. But Jackie's hairdresser tinkered with her hairstyle for an hour, which had to be fixed weatherproof to protect from the wind and flakes. Only then is the future first lady ready for the show with Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Leonard Bernstein, Bette Davis, Gene Kelly and Sir Laurence Olivier.
At 11 p.m. the lights finally go out - and the spotlight goes on for Sinatra! For John F., whom the friends call Jack, he paraphrases his old song "That old black magic" and sings: "That old Jack magic".

Outside that night, 3,000 men with snow plows approached, cleared streets and sidewalks and melted the ice on the promenades with army flamethrowers. The green paint that had been sprayed by road workers days earlier is floating away in the dirty water.
So it was not a Potemkin Spring on that stone-cold January 20, 1961, when Kennedy swore his oath of office on the family Bible in wonderful weather, high up on the Capitol. The sun is so blind that the 86-year-old poet Robert Frost can no longer decipher his poem, which he wrote in honor of Kennedy. It says that a new Augustan age will now begin: "The glory of a next Augustan age ..." This new age actually begins on the evening of the inauguration. Poets, thinkers, artists and scientists celebrate the coronation of their monarch: Igor Stravinsky, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, W. H. Auden, Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck, who wrote a modern version of the Arthurian legend. And between the spirit of America there are many little stars that Sinatra and his film partners Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. brought in from Hollywood.


It's done! Joseph P. Kennedy catapulted his son into the front row. He told all his children from an early age: You have to be the best. He is also said to have promised his daughter-in-law a million dollars years before the presidency if she does not part with him despite Jack's eternal affairs. Joseph knows she is the ideal woman for his son. Slim, elegant, with the best of manners. Studied in Washington and at the Sorbonne in Paris. Can talk about art and literature. Fluent in French and Spanish. Divorce would slow, if not prevent, Catholic Jack's ascent into the White House. During the election campaign, the old man then sells his son like washing powder. Jack has charm, is sovereign, self-deprecating, has a joke. The media are raging around him. Yes, the desire for glamor and glamor is great in America. Also the secret longing for a king. And aren't the Kennedys already a dynasty? Young, beautiful, rich, dynamic and intelligent? John F. Kennedy was soon popularly known as "King John I". His brothers would follow him: first Robert, then Edward. And the Kennedy's palace is the White House. The ruler will sleep in the Lincoln Room, his young wife in the Queen’s Room under the blue canopy. Cut. Who knows that they are no longer lovers and that John prefers to go to bed with delight girls.


When the 31-year-old Jacqueline visits all the rooms of the White House for the first time with her private secretary shortly after the election, she is appalled. Scrap metal. All scrap. Unventilated rooms, broken windows and toilets, gruesome furniture, only Chippendale and imitations, gloomy carpets, fake silver, and no bookshelves anywhere. “Didn't Eisenhower read?” She asks. And says to John that the White House looks like a cheap hotel, like something out of the mail order catalog. Their plan: there is no renovation here, it is being restored here. She is allowed to spend 50,000 dollars on the private rooms. Ridiculous. She used it up in a month! The Eisenhowers were an elderly couple. On the other hand, she and her husband are young and have two children. The current rooms are to be feared. All right, there's a government surcharge of $ 125,000. But then it's over. And where, please, should the “First Family” represent? Where to dine with guests from all over the world? So she just has to come up with something.

She founds the “White House Fine Arts Committee”, which she is supposed to advise, banishes the horror furniture of Truman and Eisenhower in the basement, finds a few wonderful pieces from the 19th century in storage rooms; The mighty Kennedy desk for the Oval Office - a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes - is also included. She asks from the rich and begs from friends, thanks for loans and antiques given, and Kennedy has to add private money. The result is very French. Very elegant. Very luxurious. Rooms in red, green, blue and yellow. Covered with silk wallpaper, covered with Chinese and oriental carpets, animated with books, hung with old mirrors, portraits and genre pictures, also with landscapes by Cézanne, and all of this is illuminated by mild candlelight from candelabra and the glamorous glow of pompous chandeliers. America has its fairytale castle - Camelot.

And Kennedy has his Knights of the Round Table together too. Economists, historians, publicists and lawyers. The best in the country: Robert McNamara, Paul Samuelson, Walt Rostow, Dean Rusk, Arthur M. Schlesinger jr. and Theodore Sorensen. Sorensen is the happiest choice of Kennedy's career. A brilliant mind, eleven years younger and more liberal than his boss; has already peppered his speeches as a Senator from Massachusetts with quotes and anecdotes and feeds the media with JFK articles that he writes himself. They are like a great couple. Lord and Master. And Sorensen, who mutates into his master's alter ego, even calls without any problems as “Mr. Kennedy". This is how the two create the famous "Kennedy style".

Jackie takes care of the romantic touch. Just one month after their wedding, in October 1953, she rhymes for her husband: “He wanders through the dunes on the wide beach / And dreams of the future and his country / He should serve and lead in the time to come. / That is his duty and he is ready. ”She is ready too. And it also creates a new style. The Jackie style with the famous back of the head hat and classic luxury wardrobe. From Paris. From Givenchy. Of course that costs. At one point, Kennedy received bills totaling $ 40,000. He's so angry that he shows it to a congressman and asks, "What would you do if your wife did something like that?"

It must have been pretty familiar to him. When his father had a long liaison with the silent film actress Gloria Swanson, his mother drove regularly to Paris and donned a lot of jewelry and haute couture. And father paid.
He now pays for his daughter-in-law, who for reasons of state will have to have her wardrobe made by an American fashion designer in the future. By Oleg Cassini. Also a specialty of the old man. Previously worked as a costume designer in Hollywood and always brought girls to dinner with Joe Kennedy. Now he's supposed to crank up the PR machinery for Jackie.

But she clearly writes to Cassini that her clothes shouldn't play a leading role. And she certainly doesn't want to appear in public as "Marie Antoinette or Josephine from 1960". And no information to the press without your consent. And each piece has to be unique. Not that "some fat little guy" is suddenly walking around with the same things.
Every new robe is celebrated in People magazines. Whether the pink georgette dream in which she charms the Soviet party leader Khrushchev in Vienna, or the flower-embroidered silk robe that she wears at the banquet in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. There, of course, she wants to wear Givenchy, the master of haute couture. And weeks before, she had a lock of her hair delivered to the celebrity hairdresser Alexandre by embassy courier so that he could relax and take it under the hood in Paris. At the press conference, JFK introduces himself as the man accompanying Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.

It is no different in Washington. The soul of Camelot is not the president, but his wife. Jackie arranges the famous artist nights in the White House or on Mount Vernon, the country estate where George Washington lived. It staged, and the President commented as always quick-witted.
When all 49 US Nobel Prize winners were invited on April 29, 1962, including Pearl S. Buck, John Dos Passos and Robert Oppenheimer, he said over dinner toast: “This is arguably the most unusual gathering of human knowledge that has ever gathered in the White House was - except maybe when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone. ”René Verdon, the French chef in the White House, is allowed to serve luxury that evening. After a fine seafood mousse with crowning pieces of lobster, the chef's famous “Filet de Bœuf Wellington”, named after the winner over Napoleon at Waterloo, follows. In addition, a 1955 Château Mouton Rothschild and a seven-year-old champagne for dessert. The intelligentsia was fed with a cheerful, cheerful atmosphere, as it later said in the intelligence newspaper “New Yorker”, because smoking is allowed between the courses, which the ladies in particular take advantage of. And the embargo against Cuba doesn't seem to be working properly either, because the president lets the aroma of illegal Havana waft through the room with coffee and petits fours. After dinner, there is dancing to the sounds of the violin, harp and boatman's piano, and the mostly elderly people wave their wives over the bare floor of the magnificent hall.


The actor and Oscar winner Frederic March is meanwhile escorted by Jackie's personal secretary to the upper floor, to the room with the rosewood bed of Abraham Lincoln. There March should rest a little before a planned performance. "Should I lie down in Lincoln's bed?" The actor asks in disbelief. But yes, it was Mrs. Kennedy's express request. Just take off his shoes and take the blanket. He will be picked up again in just under half an hour. The first lady has a sense of grand gestures and symbols. And so for Frederic March the time with Lincoln's spirit becomes a great moment in his life. Then he reads to the audience an as yet unpublished text by the dead Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway. "Camelot," writes one journalist, "was the opium of intellectuals."

Less than two weeks later, on May 11, 1962, there is to be a dinner for André Malraux, the French minister of state for cultural affairs. When Jackie goes through the guest list one more time with her secretary, Jack walks in, looks at the names and says, "Where are the great Americans?" I beg your pardon? There they are: Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, George Balanchine ... "No," says the President. He my real great American like Charles Lindbergh. He's been a real hero, an American legend, since his non-stop flight to Paris in 1927. He would like to have guests like that. And so it is whirled around until the extremely shy Lindberghs are on the phone and cannot resist the president's wooing. The two are the sensation of the evening. And the next coup is hatched by the First Lady and Malraux: He actually gives his consent to loan the most famous picture in the world to America, the “Mona Lisa”.
An outcry of horror goes through France: What is the Louvre doing with the empty wall for so long? And does the painting come back safe? But protest doesn't help. The smiling lady travels by ship and luxury class in a padded box that cannot go under. President Kennedy personally opened one of the most unusual exhibitions ever on January 8, 1963 in the Washington National Gallery in front of 2,000 guests: with just one picture. And his wife, in a robe made of dusky pink silk, is photographed smiling in a Mona Lisa pose.

It is indeed a glorious, even triumphant 1036 days in which Jack and Jackie become pop stars of their country and open the American gate wide to the rest of the world: for King Hassan of Morocco, the Shah of Persia or Prince Rainier and Princess Gracia Patrizia, who turns on Kennedy in a bathing cap hat. In the evening, after the state banquets, it's time to set the stage for stars and artists. Jackie made the contacts over tea in the afternoon. And George Balanchine, director of the New York City Ballet, then brings the most famous dance duo, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, to the White House as a thank you. Or, over a small dinner, Greta Garbo talks about Pablo Casals, the great cellist who never wants to play in the USA again - a country that recognizes the Spanish dictator Franco. But when the Kennedys ask the almost 85-year-old to court, he makes an exception, which becomes one of the most moving evenings in the White House. For the president, the concert evenings with Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein or Isaac Stern are rather exhausting. He prefers musicals, "My Fair Lady" and of course "Camelot", also likes the twist singer Chubby Checker and the "Rat Pack", the rat gang around Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. With sonatas or symphonies, he never knows when to clap. It does it after the 1st or 2nd sentence, which is a bit embarrassing. So you agree on a sign: if a certain door is opened in his viewpoint, he may.


The Kennedy years are new beginnings and high spirits - regardless of the politics of the president. He is the hero of the young generation, is attractive, charming, quick-witted, ironic, and with every press conference he gives in front of the camera, his popularity increases. The US author Norman Mailer, a sharp critic of American society, will later write about these intoxicating years: "For a while we thought the land was ours, now it belongs to them again."
Yes, writers and journalists pay tribute to their president. And John F. Kennedy sometimes throws photographers into euphoria when he poses for a report in the Oval Office. What a wonderfully arranged coincidence, John jr. under the desk while his father smiles and studies files. Next time, Caroline has a chat with Grandpa Joe on Dad's phone. And once he asks his daughter: "Caroline, have you nibbled on sweets?" The child is silent. “Caroline, did you eat any candy? Answer yes, no or maybe! ”Of course every journalist's heart rejoices. Even for himself, JFK is not at a loss for an answer. Regardless of whether he will have a term or two in office, he once says that in the end he will be at a difficult age, "too old to start a new career and too young to write memoirs."

They are written piece by piece by journalists. Even at the beginning of his term of office, the magazines produced long reports. A myth is built up, JFK is stylized as a workaholic who works from morning until night. The truth is, it often takes many hours before Kennedy even shows up for work. It is said that he was only cleaning up mountains of files because he had completed a course for fast readers. If you are gifted, you can read 800 words per minute instead of 250. The president can manage 1200, it says in "Life". That is of course unearthly, is believed and reprinted. The magazine writer later reveals that 800 words were too few for Kennedy, so they agreed on 1200. Just sounds better. And because JFK is also a brilliant actor, he uses the medium of television like no one before him.Nobody realizes how sick the president is. Even as a young person, he repeatedly sails sharply past death. He gets the last unction twice. And how sarcastic he is with his condition. Once he writes to a classmate that the doctors don't know what to do and are already measuring the size of his coffin. Historian Robert Dallek believes that Kennedy was driven early by the feeling that he was about to die. Hence his insatiable addiction to sex. Not to enjoy it, but to get it over with - for the next act. Hence Jack's longing to be like the great Lord Byron, who also believed he had to die young and hungered for women. And the wonderfully arrogant sentence of the charismatic poet: “I woke up one morning and found myself famous”, he will have liked it.


When Kennedy gets up in the morning he takes the toughest pills for colic, back pain, bladder and prostate discomfort, testosterone, hydrocortisone, antihistamines, amphetamines, antibiotics, stimulants, codeine and methadone.
He wears a corset, orthopedic shoes and often walks behind closed doors on crutches. Before public appearances, he is injected with novocaine and then appears before his audience as a radiant conqueror. What did Daddy Joe preach? "It doesn't matter what you are, but what people think you are." Jack, writes Norman Mailer in 1961, is neither a god nor a symbol,
but a metaphor: "That means Kennedy is more like a hero of uncertain moral greatness." And this uncertain moral greatness in all its monstrosity is only revealed years later. When JFK is traveling and giving speeches, the reward comes in the evening. Not one, no two, noble hookers are dragged in. The Seattle sheriff even took her in person to the president's suite one evening. And then he insists on both of them: Don't utter a word about this night, otherwise it’s off to the psychiatry! David Powers, Kennedy's personal advisor, then brings the two in. Do not even allow federal officials to look into the girls' pockets, where eavesdropping devices, pistols, knives or lethal syringes may be hidden. So the Secret Service men stand idly at the door, shaking for two or three hours until the games
are finished in the warm tub or shower and the light ladies are paid and sent away. But even then it's still like Shakespeare: is the king still alive inside or is he dead? Powers is the man who always takes care of female supplies and cheekily smuggles the girls past the agent in charge with a "Hello, mates". Also in the White House. Hollywood starlets are supplied by Kennedy's brother-in-law, actor and women wearer Peter Lawford.


JFK also sleeps with an attractive intern who is sitting in the press office but cannot even type. And have fun with two funny secretaries who are of course always available in your own house. The highly paid call girl Leslie Devereux tells of rather average sex, which later becomes a bit more "extravagant" with later encounters with Kennedy, with bondage to the bedpost and gentle sado-masochism. Also recounts how White House staff politely detached her into the small room next to the Oval Office as if she were the Secretary of State. Finally, tells how she is led into the room with the rosewood bed by a bodyguard. "Make yourself comfortable," he says, "Abraham Lincoln slept in it." And after a butler has served champagne, the president appears. He also has long love relationships. Jackie's beautiful and intelligent friend Mary Pinchot Meyer is one of them. She's bringing marijuana
and happily asks what it would be like if you were high and had to press the atomic button - and goes on LSD trips with the most powerful man in the western world.

Jack's liaison with the party girl Judith Campbell Exner, passed on to him by his friend Frank Sinatra, begins during the campaign period. He sleeps with her when Jackie is pregnant with the second child. Late in the evening he telephones his lover, wants to know everything about Sinatra and his wives and what she herself does all day. Also asks, says Judith, whether she can arrange a meeting with Sam Giancana for him. Of course she can, after all she sleeps with the powerful mafia boss who is said to have commissioned at least 200 murders. But why does he want to meet him? "I think", Kennedy is reported to have replied, "he can help me with the election campaign." The relationship with the attractive Judy, who looks a bit like Elizabeth Taylor, lasted almost two years.


In March 1962, FBI chief Edgar Hoover signaled to the President at a private lunch in the White House that the lady had been monitored for years and that he had been informed about her liaison with the Mafioso and the leader of the "Free World". He points out the dangers lurking in this triangle, indiscretion and blackmail. Kennedy ended the almost fateful affair on the same day. There are enough supplies. And JFK needs his "daily dose of sex," as one publicist puts it. When Jackie is traveling alone, a couple of girls have a party in the pool in the evening. Because of Kennedy's back pain, it is always heated to 32 degrees. There are sausages and cocktails in the cooler, and at the push of a button it becomes midnight with moonshine. After so much changing traffic, at some point the Secret Service men say to themselves: Okay, there are naked girls swimming under the stars in the swimming pool, walking around the corridors of the White House or whizzing out of the elevators. What the hell. The main thing is that nothing happens. This government, as Kennedy's alter ego Ted Sorensen is said to have put it succinctly and cheekily, is doing for sex what the last golfing Dwight D. Eisenhower did for putting and potting.

And Marilyn Monroe? What about King Arthur and the Queen of the Cinema, who breathed her highly erotic "Happy Birthday" on him at the legendary birthday gala in Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1961 with a touch of nothing on the body? The two have met a few times at dinner parties, but only once do they spend the night together. This is on March 24, 1962 at Bing Crosby's Palm Springs home. And then Marilyn, uninhibited as she is, calls her physiotherapist from the bedroom and wants to know something about the long calf muscle. Is the president having a cramp? In any case, he also picks up the phone, asks and then thanks for good advice. Yes, Marilyn enthusiastically tells her friends about that night, but not because the experience impressed her so much; it is, as she says, more about her own story “about the poor little orphan who loves to guide the Surrender to the free world ”. The rumored rest with nights of love and murder plot is a fairy tale of myth makers.

Of course, none of this remains hidden from the first lady. Once she contemptuously waved a pair of panties back and forth in front of her husband and said, “Could you find out who they belong to? It's not my size. ”So she flies away whenever she wants. Also sends the "Air Force One" to Palm Beach to fetch records that they forgot there. Goes on a goodwill tour to India, and when US reporters are upset that Mrs. Kennedy only wears haute couture in the poor country, she lets her press officer say that these are all second-hand things - that's that. To her husband's horror, she and her sister Lee even accept an invitation from the Greek tanker king Onassis to go on a cruise on his yacht "Christina".
When she lands back at her home airport, it will be reported to the president immediately so that the light ladies don't have to jump headlong out of the pool and bed. But Jackie knows Jack's obsession and his pleasure in "cracking blondes," as he calls it. So she is on holiday in Italy alone with the children and does not deny the rumor that she is having an affair with Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli there. "A little more Caroline and less Agnelli," her husband telegraphs angrily from the White House.

In Washington she repeatedly eludes the protocol. You do not have to welcome "all these presidents from the banana republics," she says. Kings and queens - yes, all right. The remaining tasks can be passed on to the vice president's wife. Should she do that. Meanwhile, Jackie is sunbathing in Palm Beach, rides with the children on her country estate Glen Ora, and is photographed with astronaut John Glenn while water skiing. And on television journalists wonder whether they should not end their late-night news with the sentence: “Good night, Mrs. Kennedy, wherever you may be.” No, no dream family lives in the dream castle Camelot.

And yet it is Jackie who putties the deep crack after the shots in Dallas. For the myth. No external criticism. No revelations. On the night of the murder of November 22nd to 23rd, 1963, she had employees rummage through the Library of Congress in Washington for reports on how the martyr Abraham Lincoln was once buried. Because this is also how the martyr Kennedy should be buried. Horses should pull the coffin. And drummers should accompany him. And she encourages her son John Jr. to salute his father's coffin like the Marines do. She knows about the power of this image that will go around the world. The eternal flame on Jack's grave is also her idea. She wrote to her husband's secretary: “There will never be another Camelot.” And she told a journalist from “Life” magazine that she often sat with her husband in the evenings and listened to the musical “Camelot”. The song he loved so much came at the very end of the record, she says. It sings about this special place from the Arthurian legend, which for a fleeting moment illuminated everything.


That was a magical moment for her Jack: "Don't let it be forgot / That once there was a spot / For one brief shining moment / That was known as Camelot."