'America's Queen' Excerpt: Part II

Given the dislike between the two families and Black Jack’s well-documented reputation as a womanizer, the omens for the marriage were inauspicious. Janet later said, as women often do whose marriages fail, that she had married Black Jack to get away from her father, and she certainly did so against James Lee’s will. But the evidence is that she was also strongly physically attracted to Black Jack, which might well have been a factor in her extreme bitterness when the marriage broke down. Even on their honeymoon sailing to Europe on the Aquitania, Black Jack could not resist a flirtation with the Newport heiress Doris Duke. Or with the gaming tables. When Jackie was in her teens and spending a vacation at the Château de Borda Berri near Biarritz with a crowd of young friends, she told Demi Gates, “‘You know, when my father and mother came here on their honeymoon, to Biarritz, he was a terrible gambler and he gambled away all the money, Mother’s, his … The night they arrived he went to the casino and came back very depressed because he had lost everything … ’ She said that her mother gathered together whatever money they had and won it all back.”

Jackie was christened three days before Christmas 1929 in the church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue in New York City. She was given the name Jacqueline Lee, a gesture intended to placate her severe maternal grandfather, who was by far the richest of her immediate relations, and she wore the robe he had worn for his own christening. James T. Lee had been designated her godfather but Black Jack seized the opportunity afforded by the late arrival of his detested father-in-law to substitute his favorite nephew, nine-year-old Miche, in his stead (presaging, in a curious way, the manner in which Hugh D. Auchincloss II, Jackie’s stepfather, stood in for him to escort Jackie up the aisle at her wedding to John F. Kennedy).

Two months earlier, in October 1929, two events had occurred that foreshadowed the decline and fall of the Bouvier family. On October 8, Jack’s younger brother, William Sergeant “Bud” Bouvier, who had never fully recovered from being severely gassed and wounded in France in the First World War and had since become an alcoholic, died of drink, divorced and alone in California, leaving his young son Miche in the care of his brother Jack. The circumstances of his death, following a public shaming for failing to provide alimony for his ex-wife and their son, had severely dented the Major’s family pride and left the family with ineradicable feelings of guilt as well as shame. Eight days later the stock market crashed; Black Jack, sensing a collapse in the market, had sold his shares short and made $100,000 but lost as much a month later when the market plunged still further in November. The Major lost a small fortune with no means of recouping it but continued to live life as comfortably as ever on his dwindling capital.

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