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Happily Ever Aftering : ALL TOO HUMAN: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. By Edward Klein (Pocket: $23, 406 pp.) : JACK AND JACKIE: Portrait of an American Marriage. By Christopher Andersen (William Morrow: $24, 400 pp.) : JACQUELINE BOUVIER: An Intimate Memoir. By John H. Davis (Wiley: $24.95, 208 pp.)

September 08, 1996|Marylouise Oates | Marylouise Oates is the co-author of "Capitol Offense," published by Dutton

Who has the real story? Is the devil in the conflicting details of Edward Klein's "All Too Human" and Christopher Andersen's "Jack and Jackie"?

Did Jack propose by cablegram or during an overseas phone call? Did Jackie love Jack? Did Jack love Jackie? And why have I consumed each page of the Jack & Jackie books like some slightly stale bonbons gloriously tasty when found after a midnight chocoholic kitchen plundering?

I can manage a knowledgeable answer only to the last question: I am addicted. There is no Betty Ford Clinic for the social-celebrity dependent. So now I am overstuffed like a Dickensian Christmas goose on a too-rich infusion of private lives, and spread before me are the mucked around leftover messes of two people's private lives. Or are they?

As their titles tell, both Klein and Andersen set out to explore the private relationship of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Both hit the expected historic road-blocks--refusals on the part of closest friends to share secrets, a lack of hard data (drafts of speeches get saved, not scraps of love notes), an overabundance of already-published books on JFK and Jackie and sadly Zelig-style bit players who have this one shot at center stage. There are moments, in both books, when it's the intimacies of Hamlet as revealed by Yorick.

Klein's is the slightly better effort. In interviews with more than a 150 people, he manages to better intertwine politics (Jack taking on a French general during a 1951 trip to Indochina) while layering on dishy, tongue-in-cheek details (Jackie entering adulthood without "a piece of serious jewelry to call her own").

But Klein is bothersome in that his sources are second- and third-hand. One story, for example, quotes Morton Downey Jr. quoting Morton Downey Sr. on a supposedly private conversation between Joe Kennedy and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law in a supposedly frank discussion about sex and money.

"Money," Joe Kennedy allegedly said. "She talked straight to me. . . . And if Jack didn't look after her properly, I would." Klein, without attribution, relates another part of the supposedly same Joe-Jackie chat: " 'Gloria Swanson liked to make love here. Let me tell you, that woman was insatiable. . . .' He did not spare Jackie any of the details of his affair, including a description of her genitals. . . . But as the daughter of Black Jack Bouvier, Jackie had heard worse."

One source for both Klein and Andersen turns out to be perhaps more revealing of herself than her subjects. In Klein, she is called Priscilla Johnson, described as the "young Russian translator whose dark Mediterranean looks and whispery voice reminded [Jack] so much of Jackie." In Andersen, she is called Priscilla Johnson McMillan, a product of Long Island's North Shore, whose mother found it "loathsome" to dance with Black Jack. Andersen says she researched a speech for Jack on French Indochina, for which she was to be paid by Joe Kennedy.

McMillan recalled that Jack Kennedy told her he was coming to New York and wanted to have a drink with her. "I wore my best black suit and waited, but he never showed, he never called. He stood me up."

Now, I don't know how it works with Russian-translating, Indochina-researching North Shore dames, but in my part of Northeast Philadelphia, a stood-up girl got cranky and maybe held a bit of a grudge. So what to make of McMillan's memory of a young Jackie coming out of a powder room at a North Shore dance? "A striking beauty, but you definitely had the sense that she was ambitious, that she was pushing it socially. She was a little too well dressed, a little too glamorous."

Another woman who has seemingly kept watch, kept notes and stored up resentments like chestnuts is Nina (nickname Nini) Auchincloss Straight, Jackie's step-sister and also the half-sister of Gore Vidal. Nini comes up with a real lulu for Klein, revealing a confidence from Lee Bouvier Canfield Radziwill Ross (Jackie's "sexpot" sister who had her eyes on Fiat magnate Gianni Agnelli but was out-shone by the bikinied first lady). According to Nini, Lee was bedded by JFK as Jackie recuperated from the birth of her daughter, Lee's niece and namesake Caroline Lee Kennedy. Klein juxtaposes this tale with Kennedy chum Charlie Bartlett's contrary remembrance that Jack told him that he "passed the test of character" by staying in the apartment with his sister-in-law.

The romance between Jackie and Jack actually manages to trickle in. Yusha Auchincloss, Nini's half-brother and Jackie's stepbrother, insisted to Andersen, "Jack and Jackie had a very close, very romantic relationship . . . you would see them together all the time. Technically, they had separate bedrooms, but they slept together. . . . They enjoyed each other. They had fun."

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