Friday, April 21, 2017

Close Encounters with Jackie Kennedy Onassis

In case you missed it Jackie Kennedy Onassis was back in the news recently. In his tell all memoir Jim Hart wrote that the widowed former first lady of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and widow of Aristotle Onassis asked him to arrange a date for her with Alec Baldwin, then a 33-year-old actor. Jackie was nearly 62.

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this week the now 59-year-old Baldwin recounted that for him it was a blind date, though he downplayed any suggestion it could be classified as a date. Hart had asked if he wanted to see the play Dancing at Lughnasa. They waited at Hart’s apartment (by the way, Hart was married to Carly Simon at the time) for Baldwin’s date to arrive when in flowed Jackie Kennedy Onassis. 

When it was time to go, Baldwin related, she said it would be more discreet if she left the building before them so the paparazzi would not photograph them together. At the theater Baldwin said she sat a row ahead of him. Baldwin provided no indication they went out socially again.

Several days after the broadcast I was swapping stories of encounters with famous people during lunch time at the Omaha Jewish Community Center on Deli Friday. I had joined Doug at his table. Shortly, Steve made up our threesome.

Doug recalled the time back in late 1973 or early 1974 he went with his brother Robert to see Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in Good Evening on Broadway. It was a series of comedy sketches by the incorrigibly satiric duo. The brothers scored great seats—fourth row center orchestra. Two rows, in fact, behind Jackie Kennedy Onassis and members of her family.

Throughout the first act few in the audience knew she was in the theater, but once intermission began her presence became well known.

Perhaps not as well known as it should have been.

The second act began with Cook placing a chair at center stage followed by Moore placing a chair slightly behind him to the left. From Cook’s movement the audience surmised he was driving a car.

Their dialogue, as Doug recalled, concerned Moore’s trepidation at his forthcoming initial speech in the House of Lords, to which Cook commented that he would like to be famous one day.

And then the bombshell exploded.

Cook said he knew how to become famous. He only had to emulate Lee Harvey Oswald and kill somebody famous.

Assuming you were as startled as I was to hear that dark comedy, imagine how the Kennedy family must have felt. Doug recalls no public reaction but to this day, some 44 years later, he wonders if Jackie knew in advance about the black humor Cook and Moore projected.

One of the perks of my being a field editor on Nation’s Restaurant News back in 1977, I told Doug and Steve, was being able to dine at some of the classier eating spots in Manhattan. One day, I found myself with co-workers Liz and Peggy having lunch in an expensive, over the top restaurant off Park Avenue in the mid-East 60s. The d├ęcor was gaudy—lots of mirrors and gold accents. 

As it had recently made its debut, the restaurant (long since closed) had yet to be discovered by the lunchtime crowd of power elites. It was, to be honest, rather thinly patronized that day. Aside from we three, only one other table was occupied. As I looked around I saw two people sitting at the table, a professorial-type man with unruly grey hair and a strikingly composed, thin, raven-haired woman with big glasses, eating a salad.

As Peggy’s back was to the other table, I whispered to her to glance in the mirror to see the reflection of what I thought was Jackie O. Instead, she twisted her body for a full frontal look and then, in no semblance of a stage whisper, blurted out, “It’s Jackie Kennedy!” 

I shrank in my seat, but Jackie didn’t bat an eyelash. A perfect example of being cool, calm and collected to what must have been a common occurrence in her lifetime.