'America's Queen' Excerpt: Part II

Despite the pain his infidelity caused her mother and the fact that the breakup of their marriage for that reason was demonstrably his fault, Jackie enjoyed his success with women. “She told me about the complicated relationship with her father, whom she admired and respected because women were crazy about him,” John “Demi” Gates, an early admirer of Jackie’s, said. “For example, if there was Parents’ Day at Farmington, she’d say to him about the mothers of some of her friends, ‘What about her?’ and he’d say, ‘Yes, I’ve had her,’ or he’d say, ‘No, but I think that’s pretty imminent!’ She thought that that was the most wonderful thing. She had all the wrong standards, all the wrong standards, and yet she became something very special in spite of this. Her mother would take the brass off a door knob.”

Black Jack’s standards were amoral and based on superficial values. The only virtues he recognized were the macho ones of physical courage, athleticism and style; the image was the message. The main game in life was to attract the opposite sex using every trick in the book, the implication being that when it comes to sex everyone is easily fooled, all being fair in love and war because-Black Jack’s constant refrain, and who should know better than he?-”All men are rats.” This last maxim certainly helped his elder daughter get through the more turbulent periods of her life and was amply borne out by her experience.

If Black Jack Bouvier’s standards were suspect, Janet’s were little better. Most people had been taken by surprise when Black Jack, already aged thirty-seven, married Janet Norton Lee at St. Philomena’s Catholic Church in East Hampton on July 7, 1928. The wedding was followed by a grand reception at the Lees’ summer home, a handsome house on Lily Pond Lane designed by the architect Harrie Lindberg for Edward Cowcroft in 1905. Janet, a friend of the Bouvier twins, Jack’s sisters Maude and Michelle, was sixteen years younger than her bridegroom and-not that Black Jack would have cared-an Episcopalian. The couple were completely unsuited; Janet, chic, petite and pretty, with great charm and a dazzling smile when she chose to exercise it, was tough, disciplined and inhibited, yet had, under her ladylike exterior, a violent temper. She came from an unhappy home. Her father, James T. Lee, the son of a New York doctor and schools superintendent, had made a fortune in real estate and banking; a tough-looking character, with steely eyes and a rattrap mouth, he liked to boast that he had made two million dollars by the time he was thirty, then lost it in the financial crisis of 1907. A remarkable businessman, he subsequently made another large fortune in banking and New York real estate. He won several awards for the designs of his buildings; it was perhaps from him that Jackie inherited her interest in architecture and the city of New York. It was probably from him also that she inherited the vein of steel in her character, which led John Kennedy’s national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, to joke that she was a woman with a “whim of iron.” Lee disliked his wife, Margaret Merritt, and never spoke to her; by the time Janet married, her parents were living separate lives although they never formally divorced.

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