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Jackie: In her own words


It is a country worn down by present dangers (the economy) and exhausted by commemorations of grief (9/11). Around the corner is an election where retrenchment and lost ambition will trump hope. Oh, for the days of... what or who? Oh, for the bright beacon days – of course – of Camelot.

Tonight a wish will be granted by the fairy godmother of the nation. Imagine she has dropped in and asked: "Which figure in your recent history, taken too young, should I restore to you, at least in voice, to give you distraction?" So some might answer Elvis or Tupac Shakur, but it's a decent bet that many will have looked up and said Jackie. Give us Jackie again.

And presto! With gratitude in truth to Caroline Kennedy, Americans will stay in tonight to watch as ABC News pushes the play button on tapes of a seven-part conversation the former First Lady had with the historian and former aide to her husband, Arthur Schlesinger, in 1964. It will be a Disney ride aboard a spinning teacup – gilt-edged like the dinner service she introduced to the White House – to a heroic past of glamour, to when the Kennedys were America's royalty.

There is a health warning posted before we board. Passengers may experience brief periods of vertigo. The tapes, made four months after JFK's assassination in Dallas, do offer confirmation of a wife unstintingly loyal to the husband she has lost and the father of her children. But they swerve alarmingly – or deliciously – when Mrs Kennedy turns to describing characters she didn't quite approve of.

The trailers for the tapes – The New York Times boasted its own synopsis yesterday, and ABC primed its ratings numbers with a few juicy audio excerpts on its news bulletins – read like those saucy teasers in the tacky tabloids. Which women's rights pioneer did Mrs Kennedy dismiss as a "lesbian"? Which American civil rights movement icon did she consider a womanising "phoney", and which leader of a European nation an "egomaniac"? And what scared her husband most about Lyndon Johnson?

Maybe it was the skill of Mr Schlesinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicler of American public affairs who died in 2007, that drew Ms Kennedy into becoming, well, a bit bitchy. Just about everyone she dishes dirt on has a legacy, by the way, rather more substantial than hers. Did she really say that about Indira Gandhi?


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