American History, An Unfinished Life, Charlie Bartlett, Chuck Spalding, courtship, Jackie Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier, John F. Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy, Kennedy family, Lem Billings, politics, relationship, Robert Dallek
“Private concerns preoccupied Kennedy during the debate on condemning McCarthy’s behavior. In 1953, he had reluctantly decided to marry. Up till that time, he had seemed perfectly content to be the ‘Gay Young Bachelor,’ as a Saturday Evening Post article then described him: a handsome, casual millionaire who dashed about Washington in ‘his long convertible, hatless, with the car’s top down,’ and had the pick of the most beautiful, glamorous women in and out of town. But Jacqueline Bouvier, a beautiful twenty-two-year-old socialite, had entered his life, and political necessities dictated that he end his career as the ‘Senate’s Confirmed Bachelor.’ One close Kennedy friend doubted that Jack would have married if he had lost the senate race in 1952, but a wife was essential for a young senator intent on higher office.
This is not to suggest that he was marrying strictly for reasons of political expediency; he had, in fact, fallen in love with Jackie. In 1951, after they met at a dinner party given by their journalist friend Charlie Bartlett, they began a two-year courtship. From the first, Jackie seemed like an ideal mate, or as close to it as Jack was likely to find: physically attractive, bright and thoughtful, shy but charming, and from a prominent Catholic Social Register family. Jackie also added to Jack’s public aura, which partly satisfied the political side of the marriage. She helped legitimize Jack’s standing as an American Brahmin — a royal marrying another member of the country’s aristocracy.
They shared backgrounds of personal suffering. Jackie’s parents, John Vernou Bouvier III, a New York Stock Exchange member, and Janet Lee Bouvier, had divorced when Jackie was nine. Tensions with her mother and an absent father, whose drinking and womanizing further separated him from his family, had made Jackie distrustful of people and something of a loner. By contrast, Jack had countered his anguish about his health and parental strains by constant engagement with friends. Though outwardly opposites in their detachment from and affinity for people, beneath the skin they were not so different…
But there were also frictions that threatened the potential union. Joe Kennedy worried that Jack might not want to give up his freedom. ‘I am a bit concerned that he may get restless about the prospect of getting married,’ Joe wrote Jack’s friend Torb Macdonald six weeks before the wedding. ‘Most people do and he is more likely to do so than others.’
Jack’s reluctance expressed itself in a ‘spasmodic courtship’ that bothered Jackie. She was in Europe for a while after they began dating, and when she returned, Jack’s campaign for the Senate took priority over the courtship. After that, Jack was often in Massachusetts, where he would call her ‘from some oyster bar… with a great clinking of coins, to ask me out to the movies the following Wednesday in Washington.’ Possibly more threatening to the relationship were rumors of Jack’s womanizing. But this, in fact, actually seemed to make him more attractive to Jackie. Chuck Spalding believed that ‘she wasn’t sexually attracted to men unless they were dangerous like old Black Jack [Bouvier],’ her father, whose philandering had destroyed his marriage to Jackie’s mother. ‘It was one of those terribly obvious Freudian situations,’ Spalding said. ‘We all talked about it — even Jack, who didn’t particularly go for Freud, but said that Jackie had a “father crush.” What was so surprising was that Jackie, who was so intelligent in other things, didn’t seem to have a clue about this one.’
They married at Jackie’s stepfather’s estate in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1953. It was a celebrity affair attended by the rich and famous and numerous members of the press, who described it as the social event of the year — the marriage of ‘Queen Deb’ to America’s most eligible bachelor. ‘At last I know the true meaning of rapture,’ Jack wired his parents during his honeymoon in Acapulco. ‘Jackie is enshrined forever in my heart. Thanks mom and dad for making me worthy of her.'”
Excerpted from Robert Dallek’s definitive biography An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963.
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