Jackie Kennedy as Icon: The Status of Saint…Then Sinner (Part 4)

Jackie Kennedy was literally Iconized as the President’s Widow

With President Kennedy’s November 22, 1963 assassination and her seated beside him in pink suit and hat being perpetually replayed in still and moving color images and the subsequent black-and-white video footage of her as a veiled widow throughout the three days of ceremonial funeral and burial services, Jackie Kennedy as Icon was forever altered.

Rare image of Jackie Kennedy wearing her sunglasses on the hazy Dallas day.

Although news photographs in both newspapers and television broadcasts were still almost entirely in black and white, the color film footage made by Dallas resident Abraham Zapruder which captured the actual moment of the murder was obtained by news sources and then the government and almost immediately seen by the world through cover stories of Life magazine and other publications.

Others taken that day – for example, the rare image of her wearing sunglasses in the car as they drove through Dallas, which she put on occasionally since the glaring sun blinded her – have even been forgotten compared to those taken of her during the few seconds when it all changed.

None of the other iconic images of Jackie Kennedy would live on as did the image of her in the pink hat and suit she had on in the open car that fateful episode. It became a symbol larger than herself; it came to symbolize what many, by both emotional and rational reasoning, believed to be the first point down a darker path for the world in general, and the United States specifically.

Pieta by Mark Balma (2005)

A cartoon depicting a more commanding Persona of Jackie yet still in the iconic pink suit.

The most peculiar juxstaposition of truth to icon is a recent cookie jar with her smiling

With the vast majority of the current U.S. population having no personal memory of the assassination and even a cavalier irreverence for those who do, regardless of age, the Icon of Jackie in the Pink Suit has become so mainstreamed, it has lost its tragic association, perhaps an insensitive yet healthy evolution to a nation’s psyche. In 2005, Minneapolis artist Mark Balma painted a stirring image of a scene imagined but never photographed which struck observers as referencing the famous Pieta statue by Michelangelo. When it was later displayed in a local Catholic Church, many commented on how it struck an authentic chord with them, without being tasteless since it also did not include the realistic results of the shooting.

One single mass-market manifestation of Jackie’s Icon in recent years, however, best symbolizes the disconnect to reality about her, an appropriation from the worst day of her existence for use as that vessel of childhood joy. By removing the pink pillbox hat from a ceramic Jackie smiling Jackie under a layer of glaze, then reaching into her head, you too can steal a cookie.

At the President’s funeral.

Although it is impossible to estimate an exact figure, this one woman was the single focus of more human beings around in the world in a collective moment than at any other time in civilization, the funeral being simulcast around the world, mostly in real-time. They remain so powerful they virtually block out memories of a notable broadcast of her voice.

Not quite two months after the assassination, the widowed Mrs. Kennedy addressed the nation. Despite her obvious grief, she spoke steadily in acknowledging the overwhelming number of cards and letters the public sent in sympathy and support to her. Much like her White House years, however, her words seemed less a point of reference in the press than did observation about her strong appearance.

A serving tray using the widowed Mrs. Kennedy on it.

Some manufacturers didn’t wait long to make good on the new market of Jackie’s new Icon, as a widow. Within a week of Kennedy’s burial, a new but smaller industry cropped up, not just memorializing the late President, but turning Jackie into a secular saint and mythic martyr. A delicate bone china flower planer was manufactured by the Inarco pottery company, using her veiled head as its model. A tin cocktail tray, declaring in gold lettering against a black mourning border that, “With a Shining Sense of History, She Also Served her Country,” proved sturdy and large enough to hold a dozen highballs. In the most literal possible sense, however, Jackie Kennedy was converted into Icon through the medium not of the most familiar format of gold-painted and framed Russian saints but that of a silk-screen painting made from photographs of her in Dallas and the President’s funeral, representative of that her by artist Andy Warhol, later one of her a friends.

The widowed Jackie Kennedy iconized as a flower vase by the Inarco Company.

The famous series of Jackie Kennedy silkscreens by Andy Warhol, later her friend. Andy Warhol Museum.

It remains one that widely disseminated commercially, appearing on coffee mugs, tee-shirts, glass paperweights and other ordinary items sanctioned by the late artist’s estate.

Having not only endured the horror of JFK’s murder but then having planned and conducted the state funeral, she was hailed as a heroine for her courage and dignity. No superlative was too much to describe her and one naive artist quite literally beautified her in his depiction of Jackie as an angel of peace.

A 1966 painting depicted Jackie Kennedy as a literal “Angel of Peace.”

If the real Jackie Kennedy was raising her children and working to make the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum a reality, the persona of Jackie Kennedy continued to color the collective imagination of the world public, a result not only of legitimate news publications and gossip magazines coverage alike, but also her trips to other countries. Whether it was Ireland, England, Spain, Italy, Cambodia, Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, France, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia, Jackie may have insisted she was now a legitimate private citizen (the notable exception being her official trips to England and Cambodia to dedicate a memorial and an avenue, respectively, in memory of the President) ,but wherever she went the camera would follow and the curious would cluster.  If her Icon had alighted even  higher as Presidential Widow than it had been as First Lady, it  rapidly deflated with the reason  for her trip to Greece in October 1968  – her wedding  to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

When Jackie married Ari, October 20, 1968.

A comedy album depicting Jackie as marrying Onassis for his wealth.

A photo booklet with sarcastic quotes beneath photos of Jackie and her new husband

With the controversial marriage came a new and different Pop Culture exploitation  of Jackie. The producers of The First Family came out with the comedy album, Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts. A photo book, It’s Greek to Me,offered sarcastic quotes beneath each image of the newlyweds, in contrast to a similar book of photos with witty remarks by her first husband, reflecting the widespread sense of anger and betrayal that millions of people around the world felt towards her, as if she were a genuine member of their family. Of course, they had led themselves into that belief. When a friend told Jackie that marrying Onassis meant she would “fall off your pedestal,” the former First Lady remarked, “Better than freezing there.”

Now dubbed “Jackie O” she exits an Athens nightclub with Ari in early morning after they celebraed her 40th birthday there

“Jackie O” sunbathing on Skorpios.

While she kept steadfastly mute about constant speculation about the reason for her marriage, the fixed Icon of her as a Saint had now morphed into that of a Sinner, more frequently appearing in images that seemed to push the societal buttons, like partying into the wee hours of the morning and wearing mini-skirts. At one point she was photographed on the private Onassis island of Skorpios by paparazzi with telephoto lenses as she practiced yoga in her bikini and then some with no bikini at all.

Whether it was some form of armor against the burdensome reality that she could no longer do anything considered private without the sneaking suspicion it was being photographed and then be distributed for the world to see, “Jackie O” as she was now dubbed had added one identifiable element to her Icon.

The pillbox hat had been permanently replaced. By the sunglasses.

Jackie in her Oval sunglasses.

Next: Jackie Kennedy as Icon: How the “Jackie Tapes” Help the Person Trump Persona


Categories: First Ladies, Jackie Kennedy as Icon, The Kennedys

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12 replies »

  1. I’m one of the vast minority that remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing when he first heard the news of the shooting in Dallas. I still have the Dallas papers from that weekend.

    I ordered the book from Amazon last night, but based on the excerpts I’ve heard and read about, the biggest surprise is that Jacqueline Kennedy was far from the little porcelain doll she was believed to be at the time. She was a smart, tough woman.

  2. I read recently in the Washington Post that the pink pillbox hat she wore in Dallas is missing from the National Archives. The pink suit and her other clothing accessories that day are housed at the Archives but the pink hat has disappeared.

    I also remember where I was on November 22nd. I was 16, a junior in high school in Park Ridge, Illinois, in study hall when the principal came in to tell us the news. That weekend was such a defining time in my life – it is hard to describe the impact. The overwhelming sadness.

    • It was such an interesting historical incident in its largest abstract level since it – the funeral, that is – was simultaneously experienced around the world, the first such time something like that happened. And with the images of the Kennedys proliferating to even the most remote parts of the world, millions of people beyond Americans felt a sense of personal loss as your own experiences indicate it was for you. Thank you for writing about it here. All the best Barbara. Cheers, Carl

  3. Mr. Anthony, I remember seeing “Animal House”, the John Belushi movie that came out in 1975, and being shocked that in one of the last scenes there was a parade featuring a JFK float graced by a large head of the President. At each corner of the float stood a Jackie look-alike wearing the iconic pink suit. The year being depicted in the film was supposed to have been 1962, but still… I was in high school then, but still thought that that, otherwise funny movie, had stepped over the line. It must have been the first time that a mainstream film alluded to the JFK assassination in a non-serious manner. I can’t imagine it being done even today. I read somewhere that the “And, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play line” was only funny after all the survivors of that night were long dead. How we have changed!

    Mrs Kennedy, more than any other recent first lady, had a genius for the appropriate, never more so than during her husband’s funeral. She then elevated good taste beyond elegance and into the realm of grace.

    • You write with such accuracy and precision and crystallize everything so well in saying that. I think you are dead-on correct about how the assassination and funeral of President Kennedy took the pubic perception of a First Lady, albeit popular, into the realm of global icon. I know what you say about “genius for the appropriate” but during her FLOTUS tenure, she also was seen in public in ways that generated criticism – “appropriate” being subjective of course, most notably when she was seen in a bathing suit while on a beach in Italy – she was wildly attacked in the Bible Belt, an effort led by a prominent radio evangalist “Reverend Ray,” and even worse – when she was filmed waterskiing. But the funeral and her composure throughout what was the first live simultaneously telecast event in civilization, thrust her into an entirely different realm. In truth, I believe she did it without selfish regard – she did it as a woman in love with her husband, despite his vagaries, and felt she must do it to honor him – but she also later told her friend, the legendary Federico Fellini that she did it for “the people” because “they needed to see and share that ritual.” I don’t think she was really conscious of what it might do to her own persona. In many ways, the constant question of “How is Jackie Kennedy doing now?” in the years that followed was fueled by those four days. And it is the association with that iconic pink suit, due largely to the Zapruder film and the stills from it which appeared in Life Magazine (because almost all of the news photo stills of the ride through Dallas and aftermath were black and white) which remains the most associated with her. It is perhaps no coincidence that the pink suit was first depicted without its dark association in Animal House in 1975 – that same year was the Church Committee hearings on organized crime when Judith Campbell testified and her affair with JFK was publicly disclosed, also the year that Onassis died and Jackie went back into the public work force after an absence of 22 years – a younger generation that might have been alive in 1963 but had none of the strong emotional connection with it, had come of age and the pink suit was the one immediate iconic association with her. She did, by the way, wear that pink suit on many public occasions before Dallas. Look at the article on the website here that I did last September about her Pop Culture depiction in the pink suit in the years since for more consideration – and thanks again for your excellent insight and information. You contribute greatly to the “magazine” here.

      • Thank you so much. You have created a place of ideas and reflection that is informed with kindness. It comes from the top. John.

        • In response, I have tried to configure words into something sensible about four times. For a guy who loves the world of words and can’t stop using them, in either written or verbal form, I’m essentially wordless – and beyond thankful for your saying that. Thank you, nonetheless. It gives me a sense of purpose and value beyond merely being a conduit and interpreter of information.

    • I made a mistake….you did read the article – and I didn’t realize your comments were in response to it. Thanks.

  4. I live north of Dallas in Plano, Texas. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination so many thoughts – too many rush through my head – including the image of Jacqueline Kennedy here in Dallas. Nearly as conservative then as now I can see why she never returned. The George W. Bush’s are much more comfortable ensconced in their country retreat in Preston Hollow, here in North Dallas? Ironic in that they now face a crushing avalanche of torn up interstate 635 and must now traverse the North Dallas Tollway with the rest of us backtracking to their lovely homes in Preston Hollow.

    If you believe at least one conspiracy theory Clint Murchison and the 8F Group: https://mapper.nndb.com/maps/519/000021456/ were involved in part at least in the JFK assassination. (For those who really want to step off the “deep end” see my NNDB map which takes into account among other accounts those of Madeleine Brown, alleged LBJ mistress https://mapper.nndb.com/maps/503/000021440/).

    Brown implicated people who lived shockingly close to the Bush’s. I mention all this – bizarre as it sounds – because of the November 22nd event that impacted Jacqueline Onassis. I was downtown yesterday at Elm and Ervay and thought briefly of the Kennedy’s as the State Fair of Texas annual parade gathered and I ate lunch at the historic WIlson building. This area was part of the November 22, 1963 parade route – and frankly – this was the area that Madeleine had worked in as well as folks who knew Abraham Zapruder (the famous maker of the film that changed his life).

    I think Jackie new about the men who were part of 8F, who I believe were ultimately part of her husband’s undoing. Did she know about Pierre Cabell, brother of Earl Cabell (the Federal building not far away was named for Pierre’s brother, Earl)?

    Was she savvy to the gossip that surrounded Lyndon and his trysts with women and his long term affair with Madeleine Brown? Did she know about the mother and son that lived not far from where her husband passed away? Was the gossip in Washington that intense?

    As her husband lay dying was Lyndon Johnson really the arch-nemesis who had no direct ties with Kennedy’s murder as he alleged to Madeleine Brown? But did LBJ’s associates plot to remove Kennedy (by an means) starting in 1960?

    Many of the events that made ripples through Jacqueline Kennedy’s life passed eerily through Dallas. The six degrees of separation in Dallas abound. I often wonder – did I by chance meet not only a victim of Billie Sol Estes, but also a friend of 8F group members and both acquaintance and political operative of LBJ, John Connally? Did Connally know the men who plotted Kennedy’s demise and could he have done anything about it even if he were aware of the assassination?

    • Dear Kevin:

      Thank you for your observations and pointing interested readers towards the extremely detailed efforts of your own research. I must confess that the whole universe of various conspiracy theories about the possible alternatives to Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole assassin of President Kennedy has always overwhelmed me. Each one is based on deeply researched minutia, a conglomeration of thousands of facts which must then be weighed for their veracity alongside often-contradictory testimony or claims by those like Brown – and then, all of it to be, ultimately, a matter of subjective analysis. It is a lot of work to become well-versed in this genre and I confess to being not at all even vaguely versed in it.

      I would offer my own speculation that had this trauma occurred at a later period in her own life that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis might have wished to know more about who murdered her husband – and nearly murdered her as well – and what their motive was. Yet in a survivalist frame of mind and feeling almost panicked if she did not entirely focus on raising her two young children in a way that would relieve them from developing trauma reaction to what happened to their father, she exercised all the rational logic she could muster to simply accept the changes it forever meant for her daily life and strive to move on emotionally as quickly as she could. Even in striving to move on, she suffered greatly for almost three years after the event – one reason I believe it was so upsetting for her to then read the William Manchester book about the assassination when it was finally published. She had poured out her detailed memory of the assassination to the Warren Commission and to Manchester in the immediate months that followed, but by late 1966 and through 1967 had really tried to bury it. There are indications, however, that she lived with the visual memory of it all for the rest of her life. Most intriguing, however, along these lines was her assertion that she could have prevented it and failed to do so, though she said this within a short period of time after the assassination. In the context of the human grieving process, it was not only a normal but health stage of survivor’s guilt.

      Except for the Civil War, I can’t think of one other seminal moment in American History which so affected not just the generations that lived through it but the many born long after it occurred.

      • Carl,

        I have several teenage grandchildren who simply cannot grasp the effect of the assassination on those who were alive at the time. It absolutely escapes them – and when you think that 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the death of FDR (beloved in his day), and it didn’t even get a line in the papers or a word on the air. Something was shattered that day – and in the era immediately afterwards – I was at GWU in the mid-60’s and the difference was almost palpable.

        In pure visceral terms, the assassination eclipses 9/11 for me. I think it is that way for most of my friends – we don’t talk about it much but when we do, the most interesting emotions and reactions are revealed.

        And her early death – if one believes in the mind-body connection, one can only imagine what forces were unleashed inside of her being as she sat in that car amidst all the horror.

        Thanks Carl for all of this – I love to read your articles – a bit laid up right now and so your stories are a bright light for me. Thanks so much.

        Barbara Roberts

        • I’ve heard this from so many people. But even as an historian, I can grasp this – the change, the trauma. I’m not even talking about policy or economics or international relations. I mean the emotional sense of loss experienced by even those who didn’t support JFK politically. And thank you for writing so openly and reflectively. It enriches this sight and widens the perspective of those who first read the stories.


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