“She Was Ripe for Seduction”

Photo: Bill Ray/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


Because the rich are different, it’s sometimes useful, when talking about scandals, to determine whose scandal we’re talking about, theirs or ours? A scandal is when the people involved are shamed, shocked, rattled to their cores. You will always read that the marriage of Jacqueline Kennedy to Aristotle Socrates Onassis was a huge scandal, but it wasn’t. In her world, it was just complicated.

They first met in the fifties, when the Kennedys were invited on Onassis’s boat, The Christina, to meet Winston Churchill. In 1963, after the death of her newborn son Patrick, the First Lady accepted the shipping tycoon’s invitation to recuperate on The Christina in the Aegean—against the advice of her husband. Onassis told his biographer that when the First Lady arrived, her first words were, “So this it seems is what it is to be a king.” She was, he said, “ripe for seduction.”

After the death of the president, they exchanged letters, gifts, and books. But Onassis was considered a liability to Robert Kennedy’s political career, and interactions were not encouraged. After RFK was killed, in June 1968, nothing could stop them, and their families understood, even if not all of them liked it. (Edward M. Kennedy helped secure the prenup.)

If it wasn’t a union with a fairy-tale ending—the couple was separating when Onassis died, in 1975—the relationship had its diversions: the island of Skorpios, the Avenue Foch apartment in Paris, the plane and boat to always follow the sun. Perhaps more important, Onassis, one of the bride’s cousins explained, “gave her the security and companionship she desperately needed after the second Kennedy assassination.”

It was the American media that was scandalized by the marriage on behalf of the American people. “Jackie How Could You?” and “Jack Kennedy Dies Today for a Second Time” cried headlines. Magazines like Life feared their best-selling cover subject was disappearing to a kingdom by the sea. Of course all they had to do was wait fifteen minutes, until she was reinvented as that piece of newsstand heaven: “Jackie O.,” never too thin and never too rich.

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“She Was Ripe for Seduction”