Few relationships have captivated the world’s attention as that of Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. The former First Lady and the Greek shipping tycoon would have celebrated 52 years of marriage on October 20 of this year, but fate had other plans in store for the couple. Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O by Paul Brandus offers insights into the relationship and the marriage that initially shocked the globe in 1968.
Brandus, a veteran White House correspondent and author, spoke with The National Herald about the book and his “fresh new take” on Onassis and how he was able to win Mrs. Kennedy over and marry her.
“People don't know that Ari was just like Mrs. Kennedy's first husband – John F. Kennedy of course – in many respects, and she found this enormously appealing,” Brandus told TNH, adding that “they actually knew each other for a very long time – dating way back to the 1950s.”
“They knew each other almost as long as Jackie knew JFK,” Brandus said. “The Kennedys were vacationing in the south of France shortly after their marriage and Ari invited them to dinner on Christina— his amazing yacht— which was docked in Monte Carlo. Another dinner guest was Winston Churchill. Can you imagine a dinner party with JFK, Churchill, Jackie, and Ari? Wow!”
“They made further and deeper contact in 1963. After the death of her son Patrick that August, who died of a respiratory ailment just two days after being born prematurely, Jackie recuperated on a cruise on Christina that was arranged by her sister Lee— who had been dating Onassis.
“And, incredibly, after the assassination of President Kennedy that fall, Onassis wound up in the White House that very weekend— as a special guest of the Kennedys,” Brandus noted.
“People think that ‘Tellis’ (Jackie’s affectionate nickname for Onassis) just popped up in 1968 and married her, but the fact is they had known each other for a long time and Jackie, over time, went from admiring him and enjoying his company to falling in love and marrying him.”
“While not as physically attractive as JFK, Onassis had plenty of other qualities that attracted Jackie; he was quite cultured, spoke multiple languages, was an engaging conversationalist and a great listener,” Brandus noted. “Being one of the world’s wealthiest men— he owned a shipping company and an airline, of course— didn’t exactly hurt.”
“It’s no surprise that ‘Tellis’ attracted numerous women over the course of his life. He took care of them, lavished them with gifts and attention. It was difficult for women to resist his charms, and Jackie fell under his sway.”
“Between November 1963 and June 1968, they saw each other from time to time. Sometimes at small dinner parties in Jackie’s apartment on Fifth Avenue, sometimes at Onassis’ palatial home in Paris, where the tycoon ordered servants to remain in the kitchen so as not to know the identity of his special guest.
“But what really sealed the deal was yet another Kennedy tragedy: the June 1968 assassination of yet another Kennedy: Jackie’s beloved brother-in-law Robert.
“Can you imagine?” Brandus asked. “Two assassinations in five years? Jackie never really got over her husband’s murder and now Bobby? She feared for her life and that of her children, and who can blame her?”
“Onassis once again came to Jackie’s side. The two began seeing each other more openly, and it was around this time that Onassis brought up the subject of marriage. Jackie feared for her family’s life? Ari had a private island and a private security force. She and her kids could come and go as she wished on his airline. And money? Well, that wasn’t a problem.”
Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O by Paul Brandus is a compelling read that brings history to life through the fascinating relationship between one of the most glamorous First Ladies, and one of the 20th century’s greatest businessmen.
The book is available online: https://www.amazon.com/Jackie-Her-Transformation-First-Lady/dp/1642933457.