On Tour with Jackie Kennedy: London Antiquing to Fellini Scene in Rome (Part 3)

Jackie Kennedy peeks out from the doorway of her sister’s London home, 1961.

Once her husband the President returned to the U.S. on an evening flight following their Buckingham Palace dinner, Jackie Kennedy the First Lady presumed she could slip out of her Persona and resume some of her life as a private person with relative ease, given she was less recognizable in a foreign country and no longer ringed by the large security detail of the presidency. She was mistaken.

In a letter she wrote her sister-in-law Joan Kennedy in the late 1970s, Jackie delineated the pros and cons of being married to the highly political and highly visible Kennedy brothers. While Teddy Kennedy’s adultery was the issue she specifically addressed, Jackie’s larger point was how she and Joan gained access to some of the world’s greatest minds and talents, among other perks, in return for the trying aspects of having married into the famous family. It was, in fact, an aspect of her life she loved – unlike the global curiosity she continued to generate. Jackie always believed that the degree of interest in her was neither justified nor commensurate with whatever blip on the screen of history she felt she would prove to be and that it was the President who deserved praise or scorn, and was the legitimate subject of scrutiny and fascination. Jackie always maintained that whatever she did was to help him, whether as his personal representative or as a symbol of their country, always an adjunct, and never the principal.

So, when Jackie Kennedy was suddenly on her own in Europe, not in place beside her husband the head of state, she genuinely believed she might be largely left alone simply because she didn’t rate as important compared to the President. However cogent her rationale or even ambivalent about being famous in her own right, it was an argument that fell on deaf ears. During the day she spent with her sister in London before they left for a nine-day Greek vacation, she was forced to face the fact that however she might technically be a private citizen, she was becoming the world’s biggest celebrity.

The American First Lady heads out for some antique shopping with her sister Lee Radzwill from the latter’s London home in early June 1961.

Her sister Lee, a longtime London resident who used the technically-defunct title of “Princess Radziwill” because she was married to a genuinely titled but deposed Polish prince, shared the First Lady’s love of exquisite antiques. Riding in a Rolls Royce provided by the American Embassy, the duo were driven through the arts and antiques district of Chelsea, stopping first at the shop of Vernon Skulls which she was eager to explore. It was closed. But word was out in Chelsea that Jackie was poking around the neighborhood. By the time they got to the shop of Frank Partridge on Bond Street – who cleared it of other customers so the Bouvier sisters could poke around in private, there was a crowd of about 150 Jackie-watchers clogging the sidewalk in front of it,. They squeezed through it and headed back to Skulls in their Rolls – only to find the store still closed. Earlier in the week, the organizers of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair found out Jackie was likely to lurk about for old furniture, and they worked overtime to open the show a day ahead of schedule just in case she wanted to peek in. She did. At the fair, Jackie eyed a $420,000 diamond and emerald tiara once owned by the Bourbon Queen of Naples Marie Christine – but didn’t buy anything.

ackie Kennedy and sister Lee Radziwill go antique shopping in the Chelsea section of London.

Someone had finally roused old Vernon Skulls and he hustled off to open his shop; Continue reading →

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Categories: First Ladies, On Tour with Jackie Kennedy, The Kennedys

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