Liz Taylor Meets Jackie Kennedy Onassis: From Tabloid Imagination to Once in Real Life…With the Only Photos of That Magic Moment! Part II

Margot Fonteyne welcomes friends and well-wishers backstage after performing the ballet Merry Widow, including Liz Taylor and Jackie Onassis

Margot Fonteyne welcomes friends and well-wishers backstage after performing the ballet Merry Widow, including Liz Taylor and Jackie Onassis

Part 2:

Just in case Photoplay’s dismissive March 1964 headline about Liz and Dick had suggested the wedding was a dull afterthought, the tab’s April cover made up for it, featuring the couple kissing with the lure of exclusive photos.

The affirmation of life of New Bride Liz was in stark contrast to her tab companion, New Widow Jackie who, the top banner suggested, was in some type of darker, emotional denial over her husband’s death, claiming she told her children, “Daddy is not dead!” (Because he lived in heaven, so the story revealed.)

A storyline contrasting the Bride’s joy and Widow’s grief would peter out fast, besides which Liz and Jackie had been heavily typecasted already. Soon enough, the tabs told of a fly on the wedding cake. No matter how respectably married Liz might now be, her wanton past had led fate to curse her, so the minor-league tab TV Radio Movie Guide offered up in a new “curse” thread for Summer ‘64. It must have been true, since the October issue of Movie Mirror seemed to confirm that Liz was beset with a fear that her daughter was in danger of inheriting. Nearing the one-year anniversary of the assassination, it adjusted the light a bit on Jackie, offering that she had “hopes” for herself and her daughter. Movie Mirror kept the segue of kids into the following spring, with a similar Liz/Jackie and daughters split-cover of tragic moms, Jackie lonely and Liz saddened.

In the interest of giving her kids a father, Jackie gave an interview to Movie Mirror (or so the cover suggested), while rowboating them and musing over “love and marriage.” Liz – the headline revealed – was trying to emulate Jackie’s  role as a mom, and accumulates kids like diamonds, adopting poor old Eddie’s kids. Whether or not Liz had yet told her “tragic secret” to Dick, she confessed to the world that their “honeymoon was a disaster.” It was a wild marriage indeed as “Liz risks her life for Burton” and he “crawls for Liz,” all the while Jackie looked pensive and wistful, wondering if it’s “Too Soon for Love.” She learns to “laugh again,” seemingly oblivious to  “the men who love” her.

Meanwhile, in the legitimate news, it was learned that the real Jacqueline Kennedy had granted a frank, tape-recorded interview with author William Manchester who she’d given permission to chronicle an official history of the assassination. While it was hard to believe that teenagers were gripped by presidential history, a tween tab Teen Circle piped up to allude that it had excerpts from “Jackie’s Secret Diary” and, for balanced sensation, “Liz’s personal letters.” Inexplicably, the duo was seperated by Mia Farrow, who had no diary or personal letters to be faux-exploited by Teen Circle.

The glow over the real Jacqueline Kennedy soon dimmed in connection with the Manchester book, however. When she learned that some of her more intimate revelations in their interview were to be excerpted in Look magazine just prior to the book’s publication, she changed her mind, threatening a legal injunction to have the material removed from the book. Manchester refused. Then Jackie Kennedy offered the closest acknowledgment she was known to make about Liz Taylor’s reputation on and off the tabloids.

“Anyone who is against me will look like a rat,” she quipped. “Unless I run off with Eddie Fisher.”

But the Jackie of the tabloids was already beginning to run in that direction, if not directly to Eddie than to any number of other wild men. As Movie TV Secrets winked from its March 1965 cover that showed a smiling Jackie leaving what looks like a storage closet where Liz is leaning back on her elbow, having given her pal some wise advice, it was “What Jackie Learned From Liz.”

Modern Screen cornered the market on the explosive Richard Burtons but all the while with Jackie beginning to consort with dates that were obviously too scandalous. There was the “TV Star,” the “Man Who Made Jackie Leave Washington,” and “The Young Man who’s taking Jack Kennedy’s place.” And you had to buy the December ’65 issue to see the guys she did the frug with at “Jackie’s Wild Discotheque Party!”

Finally, an indignant Photoplay had enough! Even Liz, in the middle of a romantic waltz with Dick was slack-jawed by it all, holding up a January 1965 banner headline about “The Indecent Attacks on Jackie.”

It isn’t Modern Screen but Photo Screen, a minor-league runt exploiting the names of the two biggest exploiters, that pushes things too far, alluding to “the romance Jackie and Peter won’t talk about,” as if something naughty went down between her and former brother-in-law Peter Lawford. Perhaps worse than the implication of an affair with a divorced former relative-by-marriage was the suggestion that she ran around with a whole lot of other women’s husbands, extrapolated from the fact that she went to explore Mayan ruins with her friend and former Kennedy Administration Defense official Ros Gilpatrick, then in the midst of a separation.

Tabloid Jackie begins to retreat, getting ahold of her senses. She had come close – on the August ’66 cover of Movie Mirror – to marrying again, but “It was too soon to say yes to him” (whoever the him who’s neck and ear were shown). And she held her emotions in check far better than those wild Burtons in the picture above her, Dick’s violent nature scaring Liz. Movie Stars had suggested this with a real touch of class in revealing “the night Jackie snubbed Liz and Dick.”

In the five years after 1963, Liz and Jackie couldn’t have been further apart than they were by 1968. It again looked like the end of their enduring tab antagonism was nearing.

As the decade unraveled with hippies, pot and mini-skirts, all havoc breaks lose in 1968. The Vietnam War escalates, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are assassinated and it looks like “Liz is losing Burton,” according to Modern Screen’s October issue, which mentions the three famous widows victimized by murder – Jackie, Ethel Kennedy and Coretta Scott King. Just when it looks like Liz will now be back on Jackie’s single side of the fence comes breaking news that month. Jackie Kennedy has a parallel moment with Liz, akin to the breakup of Debbie and Eddie.

On October 20, 1968, the former First Lady shocks the world by marrying Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Asking “Jackie, how could you?” Motion Picture declares it “the strangest marriage of the century! “And just when it looks like tabloid Liz is more reliable by comparison, she’s now “paying the price” for drinking and adultery – just as Jackie’s about to convert on Motion Picture! Not even the image of young Liz before her “lost innocence” with hands folded in terrified prayer can stop it!

Jackie wed to Onassis

Jackie celebrates with Onassis

More than anything in the real lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, the latter’s second marriage to Aristotle Onassis posed a potential threat to the ongoing antagonism between tabloid Liz and tabloid Jackie simply because the former was an old friend of the latter’s new husband.

Liz parties with Onassis

Liz parties with Onassis

The tabloid formula oddly steered clear of miring itself in the specifics of incidents in the lives of the real women, spinning their best by presuming what the women’s emotions were in reaction to those incidents, thereby making them seem personally accessible. The “personality” or gossip columns of mainstream publications, like Time or Newsweek might provide comparative reports on the history, cut and cost of the gargantuan diamonds that Onassis gave Jackie and Burton gave Liz, but the tabloids offered stories of both wives angrily throwing the rings back at their obnoxious husbands.

The diamond Onassis gave Jackie in 1968 (l), and the diamond Burton gave Liz in 1969 (r)

The diamond Onassis gave Jackie in 1968 (l), and the diamond Burton gave Liz in 1969 (r)

As the man they both knew, however, Onassis did offer a chance for face-to-face encounters between tabloid Liz and tabloid Jackie, like Movie Mirror’s June ‘70 “secret visit” story about Liz flirting with Onassis and Jackie forcing him to end the friendship. When it was her husband’s ex-lover, opera star Maria Callas that Jackie was soon ordering him to banish (Screen Stories February ’71) she was again paired with Liz, “two desperate women” who “gamble all,” the root of their troubles being husbands.

As the 70s ensued, “America’s Two Fallen Queens” remained unhappy, still mostly over the men in their lives, generally, and Onassis, specifically. Modern Screen wondered, “Will Jackie and Liz have to fight?” By the end of 1972, Modern Screen trumped up a good old-fashioned betrayal, suggesting Liz was having a child with Jackie’s husband. At this point, following the duo’s crossed fates for over a decade, even the most gullible of tabloid readers would have found the claim ludicrous and somehow pathetic.

The death of Onassis on March 15, 1975 and the divorce from Burton in June 26, 1974 (although Liz gave it a second try from October 10, 1975 to July and separated on February 23, 1976, finally divorcing five months later) began a process that helped the real Jackie and Liz to begin defining their lives on their own terms, regardless of the public narrative defined by what the former once called “the little cartoon that runs beneath one’s real life.” Treating them as proprietary commodities, the tabloids felt free to print the most outrageous claims to make their Liz-Jackie storylines sell, but strangely refrained from treading into sensitive areas of the real women’s lives which they themselves had used to craft the public images they wished to convey – and didn’t want contradicted.

Like the origin of both women’s mothers.

Elizabeth Taylor with her mother Sara Taylor who, despite cultivating an impression of being British was born and bred in rural Kansas, where her daughter briefly attended grammar school.

Elizabeth Taylor with her mother Sara Taylor who, despite cultivating an impression of being British was born and bred in rural Kansas, where her daughter briefly attended grammar school.

London-born Liz Taylor, for example, was always depicted as the quintessential Englishwoman, seemingly confirmed when, as a British citizen she was declared a Dame by Queen Elizabeth. In all the years the tabloids were being read in middle America, nobody there ever read a tabloid story of how she sprang from rural Kansas, in the town of Arkansas City, just above the Oklahoma border. It was where her grandparents and parents were born and raised and where Elizabeth Taylor attended grammar school after the family returned from England, before settling in Los Angeles.

Jackie Kennedy with her mother Janet Auchincloss who claimed to be of the aristocratic Lee family of Virginia, but was the granddaughter of Irish Catholic immigrants

Jackie Kennedy with her mother Janet Auchincloss who claimed to be of the aristocratic Lee family of Virginia, but was the granddaughter of Irish Catholic immigrants

With her maiden name of “Bouvier,” and fluency in the French language and culture, the tabloids never really looked at Jackie Kennedy’s background to realize she was only one-eighth French or that the claim of her mother Janet Lee Auchincloss being descended from the colonial Lee family of Virginia was actually a Lee of Cork, Ireland, her grandparents being impoverished immigrants who came to America during the potato famine, as did the ancestors of the Kennedys, and millions of Americans reading about her in the tabloids.

One of the last times their names were linked in a tabloid was Photoplay’s November 1976 issue. The world had changed. Instead of cheesecake there was beefcake on the cover. By then, Liz and Jackie had been reduced to the very last words on the cover, with no headline or pictures, mentioned merely as afterthought following the “5 Big Gossip Columns” inside the issue.

They had sunk so very low, beneath even “The Sally Struthers Nobody Knows.”

Perhaps it was revenge of the tabs for the real women having so stridently moved in new directions with their lives. That same month, Elizabeth Taylor assumed the same official role Jacqueline Kennedy once held, a U.S. Senate spouse, when she married John Warner of Virginia and moved to a Washington, D.C. home just four blocks away from where Jackie had lived as a Senate wife some 25 years earlier. From the perspective of the tabloids, what Liz did was almost as bad as what Jackie had done a year earlier – she went to work, taking a job which began to use her talents, as an editor at the book publishing house Viking Press.

It was during this period of relative calm and happiness in their personal lives that – for the first and only known time – the Actress and First Lady met in real life.

Another fact overlooked by the tabloids was that both Liz and Jackie had both undertaken the rigors of ballet training in their youth. Had some hotshot Movie Mirror editor known, they might have sent a paparazzi on June 20, 1976 to wait outside the stage door of New York’s Uris Theater. That night, the ballerina legend Margot Fonteyn was dancing with the Australian ballet. Afterwards two of her oldest friends in the audience decided to surprise her backstage. In the process, they surprised everyone else, but especially each other.

Jackie met Liz, Liz met Jackie. Finally.

It can hardly be called a “meeting,” it was so accidental as they nearly bumped into one another down a crowded hall. Everyone else falling into line behind them, they walked side by side, processioning like the Red and White Queens of Wonderland, culled down by a laughing Margot Fonteyn from her open dressing-room door. Both seemed star-struck by and couldn’t suppress grinning at each other over the absurdity of the moment after all those years of dopey stories that either teamed them together or pitted them against each other.  In fact, every person around them couldn’t help grinning.

.

The two legends of the tabloids, "Liz" and "Jackie" couldn't help smiling and laughing the moment they finally met face to face, by surprise. Somewhat true to their tabloid personas, Liz wore a dress that was low-cut while Jackie's was a bit more upper-cut.

The two legends of the tabloids, “Liz” and “Jackie” couldn’t help grinning at each other the moment they finally met face to face, by surprise. Somewhat true to their tabloid personas, Liz wore a dress that was low-cut while Jackie’s was a bit more upper-cut.

One unknown but enterprising photographer, who must have been tipped off, managed to get to the theater before the performance was over and snapped the only three known pictures of the moment.  What did they say to each other?

Nothing at all.

June 20, 1976, backstage at the Uris Theater in New York: Led down a hall by an unidentified ballerina, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis bumped into each other backstage, on their way to visit their mutual friend, legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn. What they said to each other behind the closed door of Fonteyn's dressing room was never disclosed.

June 20, 1976, backstage at the Uris Theater in New York: Led down a hall by an unidentified ballerina, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis bumped into each other on their way to visit their mutual friend, legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn. What they said to each other behind the closed door of Fonteyn’s dressing room was never disclosed.

At least nothing in front of all the eyes waiting for them to interact. Once they were both ensconced behind the closed door of Fonteyn’s dressing room, it was more than likely they focused on their friend’s performance that night. It was a new show, adapted from an old opera. The Merry Widow.

Margot Fonteyne welcomes friends and well-wishers backstage after performing the ballet Merry Widow, including Liz Taylor and Jackie Onassis

Margot Fonteyne welcomes friends and well-wishers backstage after performing the ballet Merry Widow, including Liz Taylor and Jackie Onassis


Categories: Advertising & Marketing, First Ladies, Hollywood & The White House, The Kennedys

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7 replies »

  1. Absolutely love this two-parter!

  2. I remember when this happened – June 1976? Kind of a cheap thrill! Remember being very proud of how Jackie seemed to handle it!

  3. What about from the Liz and Dick movie tonight, when Liz called Onassis on the phone and they went out when he was still married to Jackie? How did Jackie take that?

    • First of all Jill – please forgive my long delay in responding – my hard drive died and I have been trying to deal with that and thus fallen behind on answering public mail here – as to how Jacqueline Onassis responded to her husband’s renewed friendship with Elizabeth Taylor – I do not factually know.I have never heard or come across any anecdotes on the matter. I do know that some of President Kennedy’s sisters were friends with Taylor and also that, by the time of her second marriage, Jacqueline Onassis very rarely believed everything written or reported about her – or any famous person – that she read in newspapers or magazines or heard broadcast. She had the experiences already of having stories written about herself that were entirely fictional or wildly exaggerated and so she generally didn’t react with alarm to anything unless she learned the facts about a matter herself. Thank you for writing – and again, sorry for the delayed response.

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