Why Jackie knocked out her pret­tier sis­ter with a cro­quet mal­let

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The first para­graph sets the tone. ‘Jac­que­line Kennedy, the greatly ad­mired for­mer First Lady, was di­ag­nosed with non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma at the age of sixty-four,’ reads the first sen­tence. ‘The ill­ness spread rapidly through her body, and Jackie opted to die at home, in her spa­cious apart­ment at 1040 Fifth Av­enue in Man­hat­tan.’

The spa­cious­ness or oth­er­wise of an apart­ment has got noth­ing to do with her dy­ing.

A death scene is no time for an author to sum­mon the es­tate agent with his mea­sur­ing tape. That mis­ap­plied lit­tle word ‘spa­cious’ sig­nals the start of a book which con­sists of a weird, vul­gar mix­ture of cof­fin-chas­ing and in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion.

Later in the same para­graph we are told ‘She died at home on May 19 1994 – iron­i­cally on her fa­ther “Black Jack” Bou­vier’s birth­day...’ Yet there’s lit­tle irony in dy­ing on your fa­ther’s birth­day. ‘Co­in­ci­den­tally’ is more like it.

Though Jackie is dead, her younger sis­ter Princess Lee Radzi­will is still with us, aged 85. She granted the au­thors an in­ter­view in 2014 for Van­ity Fair mag­a­zine. They were, they say, ‘greeted at the door by Therese, her long-time lady’s maid, and ush­ered into a liv­ing room where light poured in from three tall, grace­ful win­dows’. Grace­ful – like ‘el­e­gant’ and ‘sump­tu­ous’ – is one of the au­thors’ favourite words. On the next page, they are ‘struck by the Eastern in­flu­ences in the grace­ful room’, and, two short para­graphs on, they re­call the way Lee’s sis­ter Jackie ‘had be­come an in­ter­na­tional icon of grace, style and beauty’.

Therese serves the three of them ‘an el­e­gant lunch of chilled cu­cum­ber soup and a wa­ter­cress salad’. Ac­cord­ing to them, this grim repast ‘lived up to her rep­u­ta­tion for serv­ing ex­quis­ite meals that sub­tly matched her decor, such as serv­ing borscht to co­in­cide with the color of her din­ing room walls’. Are guests of Lee Radzi­will forced to eat pur­ple food morn­ing, noon and night? Or, if she is plan­ning to serve pars­ley omelettes as a main course, does she or­der her in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tors to hastily re­paint the walls yel­low with green specks?

Jackie and Lee were born, three-and-ahalf years apart, to a snob­bish, pushy mother and a drunken play­boy fa­ther, John ‘Black Jack’ Bou­vier, who died in rel­a­tive poverty, hav­ing first warned the girls that ‘all men are rats’, and ad­vis­ing them to ‘play hard to get and never be easy’. From the start, the two sis­ters were very dif­fer­ent – Jackie shy, Lee gre­gar­i­ous, Jackie cool, Lee im­pul­sive – though they shared a life­long love of money.

They were both brought up to shine in high so­ci­ety, and their train­ing paid div­i­dends. We learn that Jackie ‘was named Debu­tante of the Year by the in­flu­en­tial gos­sip colum­nist and so­cial ar­biter Igor Cassini, who wrote un­der the nom de plume Cholly Knicker­bocker’. She then went to the Sor­bonne in Paris, which prompted ‘a love af­fair with all things French’. This meant that, when she got back, she called her new horse Danseuse rather than Dancer.

Lee was al­ways more reck­less than Jackie. Aged 20, she mar­ried a wealthy man called Michael Can­field, who was ‘ru­moured to be the il­le­git­i­mate son of Prince George, Duke of Kent’. But, just a month later, Jackie trumped her by mar­ry­ing the richer and more dash­ing young se­na­tor John F Kennedy.

It wasn’t long be­fore Lee’s mar­riage went off the rails. Michael was a heavy drinker; Lee had af­fairs. Michael asked Jackie how he could stop her leav­ing him. ‘Get more money, Michael,’ replied Jackie. Michael pointed out that he had a trust fund and a good salary. ‘No, Michael,’ replied Jackie, ‘I mean real money.’

Lee then trumped Jackie by be­com­ing a princess, mar­ry­ing a Pol­ish aris­to­crat 20 years her se­nior, Prince Stas Radzi­will. First she had a son, An­thony, and then a daugh­ter, Tina. Tina was born three months pre­ma­ture, in the wrong coun­try, so Lee flew home to Lon­don, leav­ing a nanny to fly back with the new­born baby,

‘Jackie and Lee were both brought up to shine in high so­ci­ety, and their train­ing paid div­i­dends’

four months later. This is the sort of be­hav­iour that the au­thors count as grace­ful and el­e­gant.

Jackie Kennedy’s life has al­ready been ex­cep­tion­ally well chron­i­cled, which is pre­sum­ably why she plays only a sup­port­ing role to the lesser-known Lee in this ac­count of the two sis­ters. Their lives over­lapped in an of­ten creepy way: Lee seems to have had af­fairs with both Jackie’s hus­bands. In her fine bi­og­ra­phy of Jackie, writ­ten in 2000, Sarah Brad­ford re­vealed that Lee had hopped into bed with Pres­i­dent Kennedy early in his mar­riage. The au­thors of The Fab­u­lous Bou­vier

Sis­ters at­tribute the rumour to the un­re­li­able Gore Vi­dal, and seem doubt­ful about it – ‘it is hard to know if Vi­dal is telling the truth here’ – but Brad­ford had it con­firmed by Jackie’s sis­ter-in-law Joan, who had been told about it by Jackie.

Lee also had an af­fair with Aris­to­tle Onas­sis, but this time be­fore rather than af­ter Jackie mar­ried him. Lee re­port­edly liked his ‘prim­i­tive vi­tal­ity’, and ap­pre­ci­ated his ‘sex­ual prow­ess, his Ori­en­tal tastes in that area’. Sadly, this has no ex­plana­tory foot­note. As a con­so­la­tion prize, Onas­sis ap­pointed her cuck­olded hus­band, Prince Radzi­will, a di­rec­tor of Olympic Air­ways, which he owned.

Lee later won­dered whether Onas­sis had just been us­ing her as a way of rop­ing in Jackie. Cer­tainly, when both sis­ters stayed on his yacht, Jackie came away with the pricier gift. He gave Lee, who was then his nom­i­nal girl­friend, three di­a­mond­stud­ded bracelets, but he dug deeper for Jackie, giv­ing her ‘a daz­zling di­a­mon­dand-ruby neck­lace es­ti­mated at $50,000’. This was be­fore the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy. Af­ter it, Onas­sis set about woo­ing Jackie. ‘It’s a per­fect match,’ said Onas­sis’s surly son Alexan­der. ‘My fa­ther loves names and Jackie loves money.’ On the eve of the wed­ding, JFK’s lit­tle brother Teddy stepped in to ne­go­ti­ate a pre-nup. In ex­change for Jackie waiv­ing her le­gal right to in­her­it­ing 12.5 per cent of his es­tate, Onas­sis set­tled $3 mil­lion on her, and $1 mil­lion for each of her chil­dren, plus $150,000 a year for life. Later, Onas­sis was plot­ting to di­vorce Jackie when, in the nick of time, he died. Her set­tle­ment some­how grew to $26 mil­lion over­all, and, with crafty in­vest­ment af­ter his death, turned into $150mil­lion. Happy days!

Si­b­ling ri­valry is the theme of this book. At times, it reads like What­ever Hap­pened

To Baby Jane? When they were lit­tle girls, Jackie knocked Lee out with a cro­quet mal­let, but, says Lee, ‘I fi­nally tri­umphed by push­ing her down the stairs.’ As they grew up, Lee was gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the pret­tier, live­lier sis­ter, but it was Jackie who be­came the most fa­mous woman on Earth, and was voted Amer­ica’s most ad­mired woman five years run­ning.

Small won­der that Lee found it hard to swal­low. ‘My God, how jeal­ous she is of Jackie: I never knew,’ wrote Lee’s best friend Tru­man Capote to Ce­cil Beaton. But Lee in­sisted that it was the other way round, telling Beaton that Jackie was ‘so jeal­ous of me’.

Cer­tainly, Lee rarely had a good word to say about Jackie. Even when Jackie was re­cov­er­ing from the trauma of hav­ing seen her hus­band’s brains blown out by an as­sas­sin’s bul­let, Lee was re­mark­ably un­sym­pa­thetic. ‘She can’t stop think­ing about her­self and never feel­ing any­thing but sorry for her­self,’ she told Ce­cil Beaton.

Lee tried her hand at this and that – ac­tor, chat-show host, in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor – but proved no great shakes at any of them. She fol­lowed The Rolling Stones around on one of their tours; Keith Richards called her ‘Princess Radish’. She even be­came ‘Di­rec­tor of Spe­cial Events’ for Gior­gio Ar­mani, which is surely sec­ond only to ‘Tequila Am­bas­sador’ on any­one’s list of un­jobs. Per­haps her great­est suc­cesses have been sex­ual. She once set her sights on the stal­wartly gay dancer Ru­dolf Nureyev – in Hen­ley, of all places. Nureyev later claimed he had man­aged to get her preg­nant, but she re­mains adamant that he was just con­fused.

‘A per­fect match,’ said Alexan­der Onas­sis. ‘My fa­ther loves names and Jackie loves money.’

CRAIG BROWN BI­OG­RA­PHY

The Fab­u­lous Bou­vier Sis­ters: The Tragic And Glam­orous Lives Of Jackie And Lee

Si­b­ling ri­valry: Jackie Kennedy (in blue) and sis­ter Lee Radzi­will with their daugh­ters Caro­line (left) and Anna in Lon­don, 1965

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