NEW YORK — She is forever frozen in time: the look of anguish etched on her face; her pillbox hat slightly askew on the bouffant hairdo; her suit, a color known then as Schiaparelli pink, stained with the blood of her fallen husband.
That image from Nov. 22, 1963, said someone very close to her, "is burned in people's minds."
Twenty-five years have passed since the glamorous young First Lady became the grieving young widow. On her next birthday, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis will turn 60. She is an editor at Doubleday. She is an active presence in the battle to preserve New York's historic buildings. She is a grandmother.
She jogs regularly around the reservoir in Central Park. She works out at the Vertical Club, a tony Upper East Side fitness center. She sees a psychiatrist on Central Park West. She takes cabs, not limousines, from her Fifth Avenue apartment near the Metropolitan Museum of Art to her Fifth Avenue office near St. Patrick's Cathedral. For a number of years she has been escorted by a fabulously wealthy international industrialist who might make a suitable husband for Onassis, who is Roman Catholic, were he not Jewish and married.
She slips in for ice cream (rocky road is her favorite) at Baskin-Robbins on Madison Avenue. She stuffs her Hermes tote bag with manuscripts to edit while her hair is styled, twice weekly, in a private room at Kenneth's. She bites her nails. She smokes. She drives her BMW across the bridge to New Jersey to go riding at her estate there. She takes commercial planes to Martha's Vineyard, site of her 356-acre oceanfront compound in Massachusetts. She has been known to bake chocolate cakes for special friends.
Object of Fascination
And she endures as an object of fascination. Her pictures are splashed across tabloids and news magazines. Her activities evoke endless curiosity. One appearance by her and a so-so event becomes an important party amid a sea of flashbulbs.
Her children have grown. She has remarried and been widowed once again. She has taken a job and by all accounts prospered in it. A quiet visit to Arlington National Cemetery each Nov. 22 is her sole known concession to her previous life.
In short, she has moved on. Yet America clings to her as its living link to Camelot, the days when hope and music were in the air.
"I suppose the idea of Camelot is endlessly appealing, and that she has come to personify it," said Thomas Guinzburg, who hired Onassis to work as a $200-a-week part-time editor 15 years ago when he was president of Viking. "Whatever other things were going on in those years, there was an excitement, a zest and a call to arms that almost preceded the Camelot stage."
"Everyone was crazy about the Kennedys," said Myrna Blyth, the editor in chief of Ladies Home Journal, which regularly features articles pertaining to Onassis and the Kennedy clan. "They were so glamorous, witty, attractive and charismatic, all the things our politicians today are not."
As the legatee of that era, Blyth said, Jacqueline Onassis "is part of everyone's consciousness."
Yet with her majestic, distant smile, Onassis could out-frost the polar ice cap. She is certainly no recluse. But she is equally aloof, panther-like in her privacy and, a close friend said, "painfully shy."
"Give me a call if I can do anything else for you--except that," a friend from the publishing business said when asked to talk about Onassis.
"Everyone respects her privacy," said Letitia Baldrige, a social adviser when Jacqueline Kennedy was First Lady. "She doesn't like her friends to serve as her spokespersons."
Close acquaintances circle her protectively. She gives no interviews and changes her unlisted telephone number at least once every six months. It is easier to divine the mysteries of the Vatican than to probe the psyche of Jacqueline Onassis.
"She's certainly one of the most famous women in the world," said Stephen Birmingham, who wrote "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis." "And she's also one we know very little about."
The public "has this mental picture of Jackie, but we never know very much about her," Birmingham said. In that regard, Birmingham said, she is not unlike another elusive icon of Manhattan. "Only Jackie's even cleverer than (actress Greta) Garbo," he said. "She keeps the attention riveted on herself, but she keeps her privacy, too."
Age of Camelot
Inadvertently, perhaps, it was Jacqueline Kennedy herself who bestowed the moniker of a magic, mythical kingdom on the era of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not long after the President was assassinated, she revealed to Theodore White in an interview for Life magazine that "Camelot" had been her husband's favorite musical. Often he played the sound track in their private quarters in the White House, she told White.