• U.S.

The Presidency: Simply Everywhere

5 minute read

Even for the Kennedys, it was an amazing week.

They seemed to be simply everywhere, even when they weren’t. On the cover of the February Ladies’ Home Journal was a likeness of Jackie Kennedy in wedding gown and veil; it was actually a photograph of Mary Lynn Merrill (nee Caldwell), a Charlotte, N.C., bride who looks more like Jackie than Jackie does. On the cover of Photoplay magazine was the bona fide Jacqueline Kennedy, with Daughter Caroline at her side. The story inside: a lengthy comparison of Caroline and Shirley Temple. Said Photoplay: “We waited 20 years until another little girl, Caroline Kennedy, came running into America’s heart.” And on the cover of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, a slick symposium of the latest men’s fashions, was a specially posed photograph of President Kennedy himself, modeling a trimly tailored dark grey suit.

The President, said Gentlemen’s Quarterly, has “inspired a new style trend, as the two-button suit will testify. The President’s shoulders are broad; he needs a minimum of shoulder padding. Since he wears a 40 jacket but has a 33 waist, some waist suppression* is inevitable.”

To those sentiments Designer Lilly Daché registered heartfelt female agreement while speaking in Washington at the annual convention of the National Association of Retail Clothiers and Furnishers.

“The President,” she said, “is creating a handsome and responsible image of the American man.” Ideally, she continued, men’s styles should combine “Italian flair, classic British sobriety and American dash, functionalism and fit. In our President we have the man who fits this look perfectly.” Only Irving Heller (sometime tailor for Harry Truman) demurred. He approved of the President’s taste in shirts (“He has changed his collar space”) but insisted that Kennedy’s jacket buttons are “still too low.”

Just a Fox Trotter. Beyond fashions and fandom, there was action at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that made for a scene straight from Currier & Ives. One morning Jackie bundled Caroline and her nursery-school playmates into their snowsuits and led them out on the White House lawn. There waited Caroline’s pony, Macaroni, who had been brought up from Glen Ora and was now hitched to a shiny black sleigh. Everybody piled in, and with Jackie handling the reins, the sleigh went jingling three times around the snowswept grounds. Afterwards, Jackie led Macaroni up to the French doors of the executive office so the President could take a look at Son John Jr., 14 months old, being held on the pony’s back. Grinning broadly, the President came out, off handedly invited Macaroni into his office. The pony said neigh.

Next day, when Saudi Arabia’s King Saud came to call on the President, Jackie Kennedy went into 24 hours of voluntary purdah. In deference to Arab custom, women were omitted from the official White House dinner for the King. Jackie flew off to Manhattan with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill (for undisclosed reasons). That night, after the Saud dinner, Jack Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson betook themselves to a party given by the President’s sister, Eunice Shriver. J.F.K. was dancing when the orchestra began a twist, but kept on sedately fox-trotting.

On Tour. Back in Washington next afternoon. Jackie Kennedy, along with some 45 million other Americans, settled down to watch herself in action as guide to CBS’s Charles Collingwood on an hour-long White House tour that had been taped a month before. She had refused the services of a CBS makeup artist, wore a wireless microphone around her neck with the pack and battery concealed in the small of her back. Pamela Turnure, her press secretary, had been instructed how to adjust the mike if anything went wrong. Explained Collingwood later: “We couldn’t have a technician fiddling with the First Lady’s person.” From her first whispery words, Jackie put on an expert performance in telling how she and her advisory committee have redecorated the White House. Without notes or prompting, she showed a connoisseur’s knowledge of every antique and objet d’art that came into view (only one scene had to be refilmed; Jackie momentarily confused a Dolley Madison sofa with one of Nelly Custis’). She easily rattled off the names of bygone artists and cabinetmakers, displayed an impressive knowledge of intimate White House history. The Green Room, she noted, “used to be the dining room, and here Jefferson gave his famous dinners and introduced such exotic foods as macaroni, waffles and ice cream to the United States.” Woodrow Wilson so detested the stuffed animal heads with which Theodore Roosevelt had adorned the state dining room that he always “seated himself in such a manner that he would not see them while dining.” Showing off the Lincoln bed, Jackie remarked dryly: “Every President seemed to love it.” Said she in the Red Room: “One thing that’s interesting—President Hayes was sworn in here as President secretly at night, cause his was the closest election there ever was and they didn’t want the United States to be without a President for even one day, so while everyone was having dinner they swore him in here.” Moving from the Red Room to the Blue Room, Collingwood said as a sort of conversation opener: “Oh, this has a very different feeling from the Red Room.” Replied Jackie crisply: “Yes. It’s blue.” All in all, it was a pleasurable event ina fascinating week.

* A cloak-and-suiter term for a tapering jacket.

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