'America's Queen' Excerpt: Part II

Unsurprisingly, James Lee detested Black Jack and disapproved of his marrying Janet. As families, the Bouviers and the Lees, despite being neighbors on Park Avenue and at East Hampton, did not get along. The Bouviers, proud as they were of their ancestry, looked down on the Lees as their inferiors. Janet’s parents were second-generation Irish immigrants and the Lee fortune was of recent origin. In the Bouviers’ eyes, Janet was making a calculated climb up the society ladder in marrying Black Jack. The Lees certainly seem to have been socially insecure. James T. Lee’s obituary in the New York Times after his death, aged ninety, on January 3, 1968, makes no mention of his antecedents or those of his wife. He is described merely as being “born in New York on Oct. 2, 1877, the son of Dr. James Lee and Mary Norton Lee. His father was once superintendent of the city’s public schools.”

Despite a rumor that both James and Margaret Lee were the children of Irish immigrants (confirmed by a recent authority on Jackie, who states that both her paternal great-grandparents were immigrants from County Cork at the time of the potato famine), the National Cyclopedia of Biography glamorizes their parents with Confederate backgrounds: James Lee’s father is described as having been born in Maryland and having fought with the Confederate Army during the Civil War, while Margaret Merritt is listed as the daughter of Thomas Merritt of Savannah, Georgia, “a Confederate army veteran and an importer of New York City.” The Maryland-Lee connection was later propagated publicly by Janet, among other fantasies and half-truths, in a biographical article written about her in 1962 after Jackie had become First Lady. Indeed, several of her friends described her to the present author as “a Southern belle.”

Although James Lee was born and died a Catholic, his daughter Janet attended all the right WASP schools-Miss Spence’s in New York City, one year at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, another at Barnard College in New York-and made her debut at Sherry’s, describing her religion as Episcopalian. She also told the author of the article that she had had a hankering to be a writer and had taken courses in playwriting and short-story writing at Columbia University, but her literary career did not extend beyond ghostwriting some hunting stories for a magazine.

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