Probing the Mystery That Is Jackie : Sizzling Biography Aside, Author Admires Ex-First Lady

The Hartford Courant

Through the window of C. David Heymann’s 14th-floor apartment on Central Park West, the tender green leaves of spring sag under the weight of a heavy rain. On the other side of the park’s verdant expanse, on fashionable Fifth Avenue, lives a woman named Jackie.

Whether Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis likes it or not, C. David Heymann is the man whose name is being linked these days with that of the Most Famous Woman in the World.

Heymann is the author of one of the spring’s hottest books, “A Woman Named Jackie” (Lyle Stuart, $21.95), a sizzling 631-page unauthorized biography of the former First Lady, who will turn 60 in July.


Magazines, newspapers and television have been tripping over one another in a rush to get the book’s most titillating tidbits into print. It has been a veritable Jackie bonanza, a tabloid-lover’s dream come true.

Jackie and J.F.K. shot up with amphetamines by a “Dr. Feelgood.” . . . A lovesick Marilyn phones Jackie at the White House. . . . Womanizing J.F.K. beds just about anything that moves. . . . Jackie’s coldness makes Onassis want a divorce. . . . Jackie goes on shop-till-you-drop binges. . . .

And true to her very private form, Jackie, through her spokeswoman Nancy Tuckerman, has had a discreet “no comment” on this latest tell-all tome.

Why our endless fascination with a woman whom Heymann, after four years of research and interviews with 825 sources, still calls “a mystery, a hieroglyphic, a question mark”?

“Jackie, probably because she’s never spoken in her own behalf, has remained a subject of tremendous interest to Americans and to people all over the world,” says Heymann, 44, who hit the best-seller lists a few years ago with “Poor Little Rich Girl,” a biography of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

If Jackie has maintained a regal silence, plenty of people--from the late Christina Onassis to the public relations director of Maxim’s--talked to Heymann and his crew of researchers. And while Heymann refused to quote anyone anonymously, three of his main sources--Christina Onassis, Peter Lawford and Truman Capote--are dead.

“One of the wonders of this century is that we have a tape recorder, and they’re on tape,” Heymann says.

Government Files Helped

And thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, Heymann made extensive use of CIA, FBI, Secret Service and the White House social files. The Secret Service files chart President Kennedy’s insatiable appetite for women, and Heymann’s account of the White House years reads like “Fanny Hill.”

“I think John F. Kennedy, in retrospect, is a disgrace,” Heymann says.

If Kennedy and the image of Camelot emerge tattered and tarnished, Aristotle Onassis comes out smelling like a comparative rose.

“I think he made some genuine efforts to have a fulfilling marriage. He grew close at least to John Jr.,” Heymann says.

Heymann claims to have only respect for the way Jackie Onassis has dealt with adversity and tragedy in her life and for her courage in returning to work late in life as a book editor.

“She’s regal; she’s elegant as ever; she is an everlasting mystery,” he says. “I think she’s elevated the human spirit in this country. If there were more Jackie Kennedys around, this would be a better place in which to live. I find her to be a very noble person.”

Readers are likely to come away from “A Woman Named Jackie” with mixed emotions--moved by her devastation at the loss of John F. Kennedy, put off by her apparent coldness and determination to live in the lap of luxury.

“She’s human. She does have frailties, and money is her Achilles’ heel,” Heymann says. “But compare her to the Duchess of Windsor, for example, who put herself before England. The poor guy (Edward VIII) had to step off the throne. Here’s a woman who, despite her husband’s carrying on, put the country before herself and supported John F. Kennedy, who lent herself to making the White House a splendid place.”

Woman of Many Faces

Although Heymann insists that his portrait of Jackie is positive, his book unflinchingly quotes those who see her variously as avaricious, as icy, as less intelligent than she has been purported to be.

Readers learn that Christina Onassis loathed the glamorous woman who married her wealthy father. They read that Jackie glared icily at JFK when he and Angie Dickinson slipped away for an apparent tryst on Inauguration Night. They are told that Jackie was drinking heavily when she recounted the horrors of her husband’s assassination to author William Manchester.

Are there limits to what the public has a right--or even a desire--to know?

“I think people are interested in people,” Heymann says. “We’re all animals on this Earth. We’re all at the same watering hole and we look at each other. That’s basically what it’s all about.”

Heymann began his writing career as a poet and literary biographer. “Ezra Pound” and “American Aristocracy: The Lives and Times of James Russell, Amy and Robert Lowell” were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.

Why the Tabloid Books?

“Obviously, I couldn’t continue to write literary biography and support a family. I don’t mean to suggest I write just for money, but a person does have to make a living,” Heymann says in explaining why he has moved on to books like “A Woman Named Jackie” and “Poor Little Rich Girl.”

The Barbara Hutton biography, originally published by Random House in 1983, was recalled, according to Heymann, because of an error about the date of birth of a Hutton physician, which left open the possibility of a lawsuit. The physician was charged with overmedicating the heiress. Random House would not republish the book; Lyle Stuart then picked up the rights, and the book went on to become a best seller and a TV miniseries. Heymann says that the incident does not impugn his integrity or credibility.

Nor is Heymann daunted by his own admission at the end of 631 pages that the real Jackie remains elusive.

“That’s what the book is about in a sense; it’s a search for the real Jackie Kennedy. This is a woman who is simply unknowable, who probably doesn’t even know herself,” Heymann says.

But with bookstore orders upping the in-print total of “A Woman Named Jackie” to 450,000 copies just a week after publication, it is clear that inquiring minds will take what they can get.