Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was one of the most admired and talked about women in modern history despite her desperate attempts to remain private. I was always fascinated by her grace and style -- the Chanel suits, Cassini sheaths, and cultured pearls hung so elegantly on her lithe figure. But I never felt I could get more than a glimpse, a “brief shining moment,” of her life in Camelot.
Even from beyond the grave she still has secrets to share. And it would seem that she chose correctly in confiding her innermost thoughts to a priest by writing him letters, even if the communication is not bound by the official seal of confession. In confession, it is an absolute requirement that a priest does not reveal anything he hears -- even if what has been confessed concerns a criminal act. The same should hold true for these letters.
Maybe that sentiment was shared in the 1950s, but this is 2014, and private thoughts spill into public view with the click of a mouse. Thanks to an Irish auction house, more than two dozen letters she wrote to Father Joseph Leonard, from 1950 until he died in 1964, are for sale. Excerpts from the letters were leaked to the Irish Times.
Her last letter stopped me in my tracks. In it she wrote: “I feel more cruelly every day what I have lost — I always would have rather lost my life than lost Jack.”
I stared at her loopy, confident handwriting, wondering if she felt a prisoner in her own life – unable to trust anyone to keep her intimate musings. Intensely fascinated, I wondered what she meant by this phrase, or that. And then I got angry.
The sale of these letters feels like a betrayal. In fact, it’s nothing short of despicable that someone would release these most tender, heartfelt letters to an auction house for the ungodly purpose of making money.
Unlike her husband, Jack Kennedy, who had an extraordinarily close relationship with the press -- giving interviews in his bedroom or while swimming nude, and indiscreetly making his opinions about his counterparts known (calling Laos’ vice premier a “total shit” to Newsweek’s Ben Bradlee), Jackie shied away from the Fourth Estate.
And if we need proof of her private ways, she spells in out in one letter: “It's so good in a way to write all this down and get it off your chest -- because I never do really talk about it with anyone.”
While the auction house won’t disclose the source of the letters, it certainly seems likely that Father Leonard's family is complicit.
If so, shame on all of you. The letters are not yours to make public. Why not give them to her only surviving child, Caroline? Or just keep them in a safe deposit box?
Yes, of course, they’re both dead, but had Jackie wanted to reveal these feeling posthumously, she would have made arrangements to do so. It feels like a violation of her memory and blatant disregard of her wishes. Yes, the priest should probably have destroyed the letters, or made plans to get them back to her family. But that doesn’t absolve the sellers.
In a TMZ world, we’ve come to expect that public figures not only share, but overshare about their deepest, darkest traumas.
When First Lady Hillary Clinton suffered through the humiliation of her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, she poured out her heart (and got even) in a book that made $8 million.
While it’s become a ritual for celebs to sit on Oprah’s couch -- and bare their souls on Twitter and Facebook, it was a very different media environment in 1960s when Jackie was first lady. Widespread rumors about her husband’s philandering never made it in print. Now, a half century later, we learn that she was concerned about her husband’s extracurricular activities.
"He's like my father in a way — loves the chase and is bored with the conquest — and once married needs proof he's still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you," she wrote. "I saw how that nearly killed Mummy."
All this makes for very compelling reading – and yet I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t be reading private missives that Jackie clearly thought would never see the light of day.