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THE JACKIE INTERVIEWS
 
 
While I was writing READING JACKIE I spoke to people who knew her. These four posts are unfiltered insights into some of the odd, intelligent, and unpredictable people in Jackie's orbit.
 
 
 
 

4 Jackie's Friend Francis Mason Teaches Me about Manners


 

 

For most Americans Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stood for class. We could hardly have had a better cultural ambassador than when she visited India on our behalf in the early 1960s. She looked beautiful. She was ready to engage meaningfully with non-Western culture. She had courage and a sense of humor.

 

But what is class? It's not only the possession of money, or the current American president would be more widely looked up to than he is. Nor does buying a beautiful outfit necessarily teach you how to behave when you're wearing it. Nor is it only bravery or manners. If it were, emergency services personnel who conceal what they're required to do under pressure would rank higher in American society than they do.

 

One of the attractions of writing a book on Jackie was the opportunity of interviewing people in her circle. One of these was my own editor, Nan Talese, Jackie's colleague at Doubleday. Nan told me I couldn't use the word "class" in the book. She didn't say why, but I assumed it wasn't classy to take any notice of class.

 

That's an unspoken rule of good manners that I'm ready to break.

 

Someone who taught me even more about how to behave was Francis Mason. When I met him he was in his late eighties. He'd been a friend of Jackie, who'd also edited one of his books.

 

Mason was a soldier during the Second World War. He participated in the D-day landings in France. Afterwards he was a cultural attaché at American embassies in Britain and in Belgrade. He was also one of the directors of the Morgan Library in New York and broadcast dance reviews on the radio in New York City starting in the late 1940s. He made friends with two essential figures of twentieth-century American dance. He knew and collaborated with the choreographer, George Balanchine. Mason was also close to the dancer Martha Graham and chaired the board that ran her company after her death.

 

Here's what I learned from him. Read More 

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1 Louis Auchincloss, novelist, biographer, chronicler of the rich in New York, part I of II

 

Louis Auchincloss was the author of novels, biographies, essays, and works of history.  He wrote sixty books.  His most famous works were novels that described the world he knew best.  He grew up among WASP families whose members went to private schools and lived in privileged enclaves on the Upper East Side of New York.  His hero was Edith Wharton.  He was distantly related to the second husband of Jackie's mother, Janet.  He died in 2010.  I talked to him twice when I was writing READING JACKIE, once by telephone and once in his apartment on Park Avenue.  He was funny, camp, and sharp.  It might have been my imagination, but I thought he was flirting with me.  He was enormously indiscreet.  He used a racist epithet to describe Jackie's father, Jack Bouvier.  He was dismissive of Lee Radziwill's intelligence.  He admitted to being hurt when Jackie had failed to inivite him to Washington when she was in the White House.  When she came to New York, the two of them worked on several books together.  None of them are pathbreaking or important books, but her collaboration with him suggests to me that she was just as interested in questions of class, money, and rank as he was.  (And frankly, so am I.) 

 

This is his obituary in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

 

Part I is the transcript of a telephone call.  Part II is a prose description of an interview in his apartment several months later.

 

 
 
Louis Auchincloss Talks about Jackie Onassis
Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation
19 Nov 2008
 
 
I wrote Louis Auchincloss in the fall of 2008 to ask to speak to him about his work with Jackie Onassis on four books for Doubleday.  He telephoned me and we had a preliminary conversation before we met in New York. This Part I is an edited transcript of that telephone conversation that took place before my meeting with him described in Part II.

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