'America's Queen' Excerpt: Part II

Below is the continuation of the first chapter of Sarah Bradford’s America’s Queen, published by Viking Books.

Jackie’s father was a spectacularly attractive man in a flashy way. His looks were exotic, the very opposite of the all-American boy; his extremely dark complexion, inherited from his Bouvier forebears, had earned him various nicknames: “the Sheik,” after Rudolph Valentino, “the Black Orchid” or, more commonly, “Black Jack.” He sported a pencil-thin Clark Gable mustache over finely molded sensual lips and was often taken for the star. Indeed, the parting shot of Rhett Butler, played by Gable, in Gone With the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” might have been his motto. He had thick black hair, always beautifully groomed with an arrow-straight parting, and piercing blue eyes. He was extremely vain (a friend, visiting him for a weekend at the Swordfish Club in Bridgehampton, could not help noticing that Black Jack had hung no fewer than six photographs of himself on the wall) and spent a good deal of time on maintaining his looks. He had a fine, muscular physique and kept himself fit by working out in a private gym in a closet in his apartment or at the Yale Club, and kept up his tan under a sunlamp, or by sunbathing naked at the window of his Park Avenue apartment, or in the men’s cabana area of the Maidstone Club. His clothes were always perfectly tailored, his shirts by Brooks Brothers; even at East Hampton in the summer he was always to be seen in gabardine suits. He was a keen, although never superlative, sportsman, and liked attending prizefights, horse races and major football games. He was a gambler, on racing and on the stock exchange, and had been expelled for gambling from his prep school, Phillips Exeter. He was uninterested in intellectual or cultural pursuits and his academic record was abysmal: at Yale he was known principally as a giver of parties attended by bevies of pretty girls. He was a compulsive womanizer and, later, a heavy drinker.

Like his daughter Jackie he knew instinctively how to pose for the camera and, also like her, he had an instinctive sense of theater and of his own image. He was the type of male that many men dislike on sight or regard as a joke, and that women find hard to resist. He had a reputation for treating his women badly, overwhelming them with attention when he was pursuing them, dropping them quickly and without remorse when he had tired of them. Spoiled by his mother, he seemed incapable of establishing a responsible relationship with a woman. Proud though he was of his wife Janet’s looks, chic and prowess as a horse-woman, he was essentially a predatory male, a risk-taker, incapable of resisting temptation or self-gratification. He was certainly incapable of providing either his wife or his daughters with the stable husband and father figure they seem to have yearned for. He was more like a lover than a father to his daughters-flaunting, irresponsible, and fun to be with, intolerant of bores or boredom, loving and demanding. Some of his less admirable traits rubbed off on his daughters. When walking one day with Jackie and Lee in Central Park, he noticed an elderly lady showing signs of wanting to chat with them. “Go tell her to jump in the lake,” he said to Jackie, who later became famously intolerant of bores.

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