Review

Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House

by Sally Bedell Smith



Golly, it was great fun to be the President and First Lady before
that pesky press realized it could reveal all your dirty secrets.
Vanity Fair editor Sally Bedell Smith dishes the essential
dirt in GRACE AND POWER, an explosive biographical examination of
John and Jackie Kennedy, the late king and queen of America's only
"royal" family.

Citizens initially complained that JFK was a Catholic. With a large
percentage of the book's 608 pages devoted to the Kennedy
administration's notorious sexfest, Smith clearly shows that the
voters should have been more worried that JFK was a rather rotten
Catholic. The presidential election of 1960 ushered in a Kennedy
administration that was best described, initially, as "giddy with
power" on the job and "cavalier" when the day's work blended into
each evening's cocktails, dancing, affairs and cigars. From her
more than 140 interviews with Kennedy insiders and a detailed
sifting of over 100 germane books, Smith opens the door to the
party to reveal an often ill and heavily drugged JFK so distracted
by sprightly young debutantes, and a Jackie so self-involved, that
the duties of leadership and family fell to more selfish
pursuits.

The other sides of JFK the Hero and Jackie the Beautiful are
exposed, finally, in a rather brave literary venture by Smith, who
uses the facts to tarnish the two political treasures America has
cherished. It's about time; the dreamy Kennedy hero worship (the
Knights of the Round Table images that Jackie herself worked so
hard to cultivate) has gone on too long. Smith's role in the
disintegration of the Camelot myth remains one of objectivity,
allowing the reader to make the necessary conclusions. She writes,
"JFK's persistent womanizing was a mystifying trait, given the
beauty, brains, and luminous style of his wife." GRACE AND POWER
deftly solves the mystery by revealing that, while intelligent and
popular, Jackie was rather frivolous and conceited, living in a
royal fantasy world, one that JFK ignored.

President Kennedy warily faced Khrushchev, the division of Germany,
Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, a national recession, the threat of nuclear
war, and the space race, while Jackie trounced off on fox hunts,
tired easily at balls, and slept until noon after too much
socialization. Kennedy chose a cabinet of the country's most
brilliant men to maintain world peace and stabilize the economy,
while Jackie pondered the White House redecoration, shunned the
press, belittled her staff, and refused to attend important events.
Smith disrobes a Jackie who was spoiled, frigid and easily
embarrassed, noting after JFK's inaugural address, "I could
scarcely embrace him in front of all those people…" Obsessed
with the cosmopolitan, French culture and history, Jackie tried
desperately to recreate such an atmosphere in the White House,
while JFK used the place as a brothel, placing sexy Ivy leaguers on
staff to satisfy his seemingly endless desires.

Most interesting are the justifiers and apologists who populate the
biography, attempting to excuse the President's and the First
Lady's behavior. JFK routinely cheated on Jackie because this was
the way of the wealthy, because the "King" needed stress relief,
because he emulated his father, because these smart college women
comforted his mind and eased his loneliness. Like Bill Clinton
redefining the word "sex," the Kennedy friends redefine the words
"classy," to describe Diana de Vegh, JFK's twenty-two-year-old
Radcliff fling, and "loyal," labeling JFK's reluctance to discuss
his relationship with Jackie to his inquisitive concubines. One
lover says that JFK was blatantly promiscuous "to keep proving
himself … Those little clandestine adventures enabled him to
deal with … a dreary and stressful life … and playing
with fire was part of his nature." The "adventures" were the
subject of many FBI probes, including JFK's trysts with Helen
Chavchavadze, who, like a prostitute, was apparently paid by the
president to keep quiet. One political reporter even goes so far as
to say that he didn't think JFK's Don Juanism affected his ability
to be president.

So while the most powerful man in the world loved and left,
trendsetter Jackie, who, in her own words, was "hoping to be the
Marie Antoinette or Josephine of the 1960s," worried over exclusive
guest lists, French artistry, decoration and fashion, ordering
personal clothier Oleg Cassini to keep the designs of her dresses
secret so she wouldn't see any "fat little women hopping around in
the same dress." In the end, the sins of the king and queen roar
back tenfold in the form of ugly karma --- exposé and tragedy,
proving that, no matter how hard Jackie tried, she could not
rewrite history to cover the truth.

Reviewed by Brandon M. Stickney on January 22, 2011

Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House
by Sally Bedell Smith

  • Publication Date: May 4, 2004
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0375504494
  • ISBN-13: 9780375504495