Unsure what to make of the mass hysteria about her which she’d set off in Paris, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived with the President in Vienna on June 3 intending to keep a lower profile. Surpassing her intentions to impress de Gaulle and generate goodwill towards the U.S., she also saw how easily her phenomena could eclipse coverage about the sober Cold War business being conducted by her husband – the very reason for the tour.
As passionate about dogs and horses as she was about art and history, her one great intention in Vienna was to see the famous Spanish Riding School where Lippizzan horse stallions train and perform, and meet some of the four-legged fellows.
Successfully evading crowds, she slipped away with the American Ambassador’s wife to lunch at Kerzen Stuebl on a discreet and narrow street. A deliriously surprised patron immediately blabbed about seeing Jackie the second she left the restaurant and word spread through the city fast. Within an hour a crowd estimated at four hundred blocked the sidewalk, pressing their noses against the window, murmuring about what she was might be eating, growing restless. Soon car horns were blasting. The crowd had grown, spilling into the cobblestone street, blocking cars on it which backed up and caused a traffic jam extending to the main avenue. The usually calm maitre d’hotel was in a dither and finally began emerging with reports on her courses, finally announcing, “They have now come to the dessert!” Rather than quell the Viennese, this bulletin set them into frenzy, being proudest of their legendary desserts. Emergency police squads appeared, locking arms to create a barricade and push the people back. For the record, the restaurant offered a last report, that Jackie had eaten every last bite of her meringue shell and raspberry liqueur whipped cream filling.
She went on to a porcelain factory to meet the mayor and accept a red rose bouquet and painted vase but with crowds growing wherever she simply was getting into out of her car, the Person felt shadowed by her now larger-than-life Persona and cancelled a tour of a monastery. Jackie Kennedy wanted to be entirely rested and alert for dinner that night. That afternoon, the President encountered the blunt and resistant Soviet Premier who refused to concede anything on Communist hold of East Berlin. That night, however, was to be Jackie’s first faceoff with “Nikki and Nina,” the Soviet Premier and his wife.
Jackie launched her own little missile by raising a topic of Soviet space program, a record soon to be surpassed by that of the U.S. Recalled astronaut John Glenn, who would orbit earth three times in 1962, “She’d obviously done a lot of reading about it [the space program] and asked questions…about the controls, how it propelled, was it engineered as an airplane is?” Khrushchev distracted her away from pinning him on specifics about the Soviet program by indulging her known love of dogs. He bragged of the brave mutt Strelka who, after surviving an earlier rocket mission, lived in a such a state of communist compassion that she recently delivered a healthy litter. Jackie threw Nikki a challenge: send her one of these thriving puppies. In fact, he would – along with nine bottles of Soviet perfume. He later wrote, “I liked her very much. She knew how to make jokes and was, as our people say, quick with her tongue. In other words, she had no trouble finding the right word to cut you short if you weren’t careful with her….But even in small talk she demonstrated her intelligence.”
Jackie named the dog “Pushinka” and two years later had it bred with one in the First Family’s menagerie, Charlie. Inundated with some 5,000 letters from American children begging for a Pushinka puppy, Jackie created an essay contest, and acted as judge in awarding each of the top two child-writers with one of the litter. Behind the charming little episode, however, the First Lady offered subtext, making the theme of her essay contest “world peace.” Like her public performance in France, Jackie’s Vienna interaction with the Communists was intently subversive. She’d read the briefing report on Nikki and his accompanying advisors, offering to the President her assessment of each Politburo member she met and that Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko was the most trustworthy. “She was wonderfully shrewd. We all depended on – and the President was very much dependent on – her sense of people. What they believed in. What they were driving for. What their motives were. What their ambitions were. This was where she was extremely incisive, perceptive,” US Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith later recalled, “and we all respected and in some measure feared Jackie’s opinion.”
Just like her concern about American foreign policy in Indochina, her study of those Soviets who might prove to be genuinely open to negotiation with the U.S. pre-dated her ever even meeting John F. Kennedy, back to her time as the reporter Miss Bouvier. In several of her “Inquiring Cameragirl” newspaper columns she had asked bewildered passersbys, “What four Americans would you name or delegate to the UN to match Russia’s team of Vishinsky, Gromyko, Zorin, and Zorubin?” “Malenkov said all issues between the US and Russia are solvable by peaceful means. Do you agree?” “Would Stalin’s death benefit or injure the cause of world peace?”
The threat of nuclear war with the Soviets was ever-present in her mind and according to several of those Defense Department and foreign diplomats who were also personal friends of her, she openly discussed the various scenarios which might bring the US and USSR to the brink of using atomic weapons. She joined the President and their friend, the British Ambassador during their disarmament proposal discussions, and he recalled that “Jackie took notes when Jack and I talked about this.” Rather astoundingly, he added that “She pushed him [JFK] to join the Test Ban Treaty with Great Britain and the Soviet Union.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later confirmed that she was “intensely interested” in the US signing the treaty and after JFK signed it, she “thought it an immense achievement.” No better evidence of this exists than the extraordinary letter she handwrote to Khrushchev after JFK’s death, encouraging him to continue on the path of nuclear disarmament. Before that, she responded to the charge that her historic preservation efforts weren’t important “if you are waiting for the bomb – but I think we are always going to be waiting for the bomb. And it won’t ever come.”
The press and public assumed Jackie was only about A-line dresses, not A-bombs. Nor did she offer up her opinions. In response to a request from The Women’s Strike for Peace, Jackie issued a blandly encouraging statement which paled in comparison to one given by her Soviet equal. Despite the smug assurances by the press of the vast difference between tall, youthful Jackie and short, grandmotherly Nina Khrushchev, however, the former recognized her own operating style in the latter. De Gaulle had clued Jackie in, telling her that Nina, not Nikki, was the one to watch closely, for behind her grandmotherly smile, she would eavesdrop on nearby conversations, understood English well and “reported back everything.” And she was feisty. While Jackie was watching horses, Nina pushed an Austrian cop out of the way who was preventing an elderly woman from handing her a letter pleading that her daughter in Romania be allowed to join her. Aware that the press was watching her every move and would follow up on the story, Nina took the letter – and saw to it that mother and daughter were immediately reunited.
On her second day in Vienna, Jackie came to know Nina over lunch at the Pallavicini Palace, both as guests of Dr. Martha Kyrle hostess for her widowed father, the Austrian President. A crowd estimated at about 1,000 was already crammed into the small Josefplatz square and waiting to catch a glimpse of them, but when Nina’s car pulled through and she entered the palace, there was no crowd reaction. In contrast, the distant sound of whistling, cheering and applause from densely-packed, outlaying streets heralded the arrival of Jackie’s limo as it inched through the humanity to the palace. A glimpse of her stepping from the car provoked a crowd roar which dropped to a massive “Ah!” when she paused at the palace door to acknowledge it with a “screen-goddess smile,” then went in to lunch, leaving her Vienna fans standing in the hot sun and restless for a longer look. A short, bald government worker with glasses shouted “Jah-kee!” After a momentary silence, he again bellowed “Jah-kee!” and did so repeatedly until the rest of the crowd soon joined in. It became deafening. After about twenty minutes, cheers went up when a long French window at a third-floor balcony opened and a white-gloved hand appeared on the ledge. It turned out only to be a palace guard, curiously looking down on the crowd. He disappeared. Trying a different tack, a few American women reporters began shouting “Nina!” but the crowd didn’t take it up.
Suddenly, another window opened and the smiling faces of Jackie and Nina emerged side-by-side on the balcony, “one looking like a fashion magazine illustration, the other like the housewife for whom fashion magazines are illustrated.” The “Jah-kee!” chant persisted. Unwilling to lose a point to the West, Nina proved her skill at propaganda tactics, grabbed Jackie’s white-gloved hand in her own chubby, ungloved one and thrust both into the air. Sure enough, the “Jah-kee” chant was punctuated with those of “Nina,” and quickly fell into the balanced rhythm of “Jah-kee…Nina! Jah-kee…Nina!”
Inside, during lunch, Nina also one-upped Nikki. The Premier attempted to prove that the Soviet Union was taking the lead towards closer relations of the two super-powers by extending an invitation to President Kennedy to visit the U.S.S.R. but lacked the temerity to do so directly, telling a reporter he was welcome there “and bring your President with you.” Lacking her husband’s passivity, Nina delivered the hit.
At first, when Jackie stepped boldly right up to her and said hello, Nina became “almost tongue-tied for a moment” standing in her loose, grey print dress. Several guests told how intensely she studied Jackie and her ruby-diamond pin, pearls, navy blue suit and matching beret and how unconsciously her face transformed into a beaming smile. Unlike her husband, Nina spoke English, slowly but flawlessly. This threw Jackie off. She praised her linguistic skill. Nina quipped that the communist system had provided for her learning English, even though it was during the war. Over trout, venison, strawberries and champagne, Jackie told Nina about the Kennedy weekend house in the countryside. Nina quipped that she had one too – much closer to Moscow than Jackie’s was to Washington – and made the decisive move within earshot of everyone, telling Jackie she “should come to see my country place.” If she gained the advantage, however, Nina didn’t hold it.
Approaching the exit after lunch, Nina suddenly stepped aside, telling Jackie, “You walk first, I’ll follow.” It stopped Jackie in her tracks. “Oh no,” she told Nina point-blank through her smile, recognizing how taking the bait would let Pravda suggest egotistical American arrogance, then swiftly seized the moment to score a final point for American fairness. “No, Mrs. Khrushcheva, you come with me. We will walk out together.” Nina relented and they stepped outside abreast. Nina fairly ran into her car as the roar for just “Jah-kee” began to resume and rise. Based on remarks he picked up in the street outside, New York Times reporter Russell Baker concluded that the “politics of her position do not seem to be what counts” in the public’s embrace of Jackie, but rather that she was a “lovely woman, and as such, a radiant contrast with European political personalities.”
In her splendid clothes and jewelry Jackie was a billboard for capitalism to those living under governments or cultures which equated materialism with moral decay. Newsreels, newspaper stories and photos which captured the respect with which she interacted with world leaders and commoner alike, however, transmitted an appeal that transcended whatever animosity was harbored towards the nation she symbolized. Her physicality continued to be the initial reason which drew focus, but it seemed that her display of mannerly reserve at ceremonies yet warm animation when meeting people is what sustained the near-universal attention of Europeans and their desire to somehow encourage her. For about ten years, a new ideal of Soviet life had been encouraging consumerism as a reflection of abundant production but within a stricture of simplicity, indulgence still viewed as causing waste and weakening the state.
Cautiously taking a cue from Tass News Agency reports of how impressed the Chairman had been of Jackie’s saucy banter and how Mrs. Chairman found her warm, by the following year, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Estonians and millions of other women in Communist countries were punching in at factories and waiting in clinics while dressed in sleeveless A-line dresses, or showing up for the Bolshoi in sleeveless sheath gowns. By 1962, day and evening sketches in the Ukrainian fashion magazine Mody not only overtly copied “The Jackie Look” but used figures with a Jackie haircut. While her style called for no particular fabric but rather cut and design, the First Lady’s look adapted well to Soviet life, but for some reason Communist designers never quite managed to turn out pillbox hat to look the way they did on her.
Soviet propaganda assiduously avoided any suggestion of support for the President or democracy but, ironically, it was comrade obsession with his wife which popularized her as a representational concept by labeling it with a single word. News reports on her activities identified her as “Mrs. Kennedy,” but stories about her as an idea dropped “Kennedy” to simply refer to the phenomena she’d set off as “Jackie.” Her most passionate Communist fans were young women, and giving them what they wanted, the Polish youth magazine Swait offered an editorial justification for its photo spread on her to state the plain truth: “Jackie has entered the group of a few women in the world who, today, as in times past, set the style and tone of their epoch…but never before has her influence been so far-flung or so quickly disseminated. The face and silhouette of Jackie are known to people all over the whole civilized world.”
Jackie’s interaction with the Communists had no more specific impact on policy than that with de Gaulle. The groundswell of p0pular support for her, however, made it incumbent on world leaders to at least publicly acknowledge her personality or risk appearing to be arrogant and petty. Despite the ephemeral nature of her influence, at the least Jackie forced a grudging acknowledgement that shifted state attitudes towards her nation. Just as patriotic Americans had been trained to fear the presence of those sly “reds” who’d slipped into the U.S. and were living among them, the millions of doggedly loyal citizens who lived under the Communist system had been brainwashed to demonize anything with Uncle Sam’s stamp on it. In avoiding any overt suggestion of democracy’s superiority to instead emphasize those values shared by all human beings and by displaying a gentleness and warmth towards both the Premier and his wife, Jackie Kennedy offered a radical new ideal of the American for those willing to peek from behind the Iron Curtain. The Washington Post credited the First Lady, “as a representative of the United States” for “bridging age and ideological differences.”
Even in her last Vienna appearance on Sunday morning, Jackie scored a subtle point for the freedom to religion which democracy offered humanity, versus the totalitarian atheism insisted upon by communism. Attending Catholic mass with the President in Vienna famous medieval Cathedral of St. Stephen, the woman known for her emotional control began crying, overwhelmed by the Mozart hymnal music performed by the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the fact that, as they walked down the aisle, row after row of attendees began softly waving at her, since they couldn’t applaud in church.
To the world media, even with the formidable competition presented by the appealing “Niki” persona the Soviet Premier had successfully crafted for himself, it was Jackie who left the more vivid and lingering impression. Some forty years later, in 2001, many Viennese not yet even born during the Kennedy presidency had been told about the American First Lady’s legendary visit to their city. The short video clip below shows Jackie exiting the porcelain factory and slipping into her car. The rare footage is among the hundreds of moving images provided for the world through the ongoing volunteer efforts of Helmer Reenberg, an expert chronicler of the Kennedy Administration in the form of the moving image,.
That night, the Kennedys arrived in London, the trip ostensibly planned to let the President serve as godfather at the Westminster Cathedral christening of his wife’s baby niece, but he also held talks with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. For once it finally seemed that the President might be the primary focus, having a built-in base of admirers among London’s large Irish population.
Jackie, however, was already making news, reporters finding her the topic of discussion in pubs, the Lord Chamberlain having banned a theatrical review which satirized her, and the London Evening Standard carrying a cartoon which depicted her as the Statue of Liberty, holding high a torch of freedom to shine on Europe – and a copy of Vogue in her arm.
As they made their way from the airport to the home of Jackie’s sister and brother-in-law, Lee and Stanislaus Radziwill, a deposed Polish prince, the British version of the familiar chant began, this time going, “We want Jackie!” One group held up a sign that read “We Like Ike” – with Ike visibly crossed out, and the name “Jackie” written above it.
The next morning, outside the Radziwill house, some hardcore followers of Jackie waited for a glimpse of her as she left to join the President for lunch with the Prime Minister, returned and then left again for her niece’s christening. A Ministry of Transport worker bragged proudly, “I’ve spent seven hour out of my time today, and all of it’s been worthwhile. She’s wonderful!”
After her niece’s christening party, Jackie joined the President at Buckingham Palace where the Queen hosted a private dinner for fifty in their honor. Afterwards, Elizabeth guided Jackie down a long hall of paintings to point out those with horses and dogs – a passion they shared. It wasn’t the only common ground, however.
The world’s two most famous Lizs – the Windsor Queen and the Taylor actress – were among the few women in the world to own leopard coats. To those in an era of animal cruelty activism it seems inexcusable that those like Jackie and the Queen who loved animals would find status in owning a leopard coat. When the First Lady began appearing in her new leopard coat, however, it set off a global demand for copies, grim testament to how far Jackie’s star had risen beyond the Queen’s popularity. Even more ironic is the fact that it set off a leopard population decimation, which then led to worldwide protection legislation of the cat as an endangered species.
After London, there were no more coats, hairstyles, gowns, gloves or hats. While the President returned to the U.S. after the Buckingham Palace dinner, Jackie continued on her own tour, taking a private vacation in Greece, with her sister. Despite the best protective measures of the Secret Service and Greek police, the press had no intention of losing sight of the First Lady and The Jackie Look turned in an entirely different direction.
Next in the Series: “On Tour with Jackie: From the Island of Mykonos to the Land of Bedrock”
- Wisconsin woman’s ‘letter to Jackie’ puts personal stamp on history (jsonline.com)
- Last of the Secret Tapes Revealed: Hear JFK Just Days Before His Assassination (theblaze.com)
- TV Teaser: TLC’s ‘Letters To Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy’ (deadline.com)