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 March 2009 at his apartment in New York. This Part II is an edited transcript of that telephone conversation that took place before my meeting with him summarized in Part I.

Louis Auchincloss Talks about Jackie Onassis Part II Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation 19 Nov 2008

[…] indicates inaudible and sometimes unimportant or irrelevant] LA is Louis Auchincloss, material in quotes BK is Bill Kuhn, not in quotes

LA “Call me up when you’re in NY and we’ll set a time.” BK I should be in NY in January, would that be all right? I’ll give you a call the first of the year then? LA “Yea-ah. All my letters about that [about Jackie’s editing his books] I sold, because after the children sold everything I thought well if they don’t care about anything, why should I? So I kept a few letters she wrote after my wife died, but the rest I sold for a lot of money. I don’t know where they are or who has them.” BK Were they manuscripts she’d edited? LA “No. They were letters she’d written me about the books. I don’t think they were terribly significant. … I don’t know who bought them. I was never told.” […] “I don’t think she kept copies.” BK In many ways your recollections of those books would be just as valuable. LA “I don’t know whether they were typed or not. They were quite short. Ted Rogers collects me [i.e. Auchincloss manuscripts] in great detail. And he’s very rich.” BK And he collects some of your documents?


LA “You could ask him. He’s a tycoon. [phlegmy laughter] A very nice man.” BK Not many people are allowed to put “tycoon” on their resume. LA “[Doubtfully] Ye-ah.” […] “Well … a rare book dealer … I think we sold through him. He’d tell you. He’s very indiscreet, […] the best known dealer in rare books in the country. He’s got everything you can think of … He’s probably got Jesus Christ’s notes for the Sermon on the Mount.” BK Laughter. LA “He might tell you. He represents Ted Rogers. Ted Rogers bought an enormous amount of stuff of mine.” BK Well, that’s very useful right there. Did Jackie come to you with this idea of the photography of Deborah Turbeville, of writing a commentary on these photographs, who took pictures of the backrooms at Versailles? [for Unseen Versailles] LA “What photographs? Oh, yes, Deborah Turb-a-ville [his pronunciation].” BK Do you have any recollection of how that book started? LA “I think Deborah Turbeville had the idea. I don’t know … It’s conceivable … The idea was to … the sort of parts of Versailles that are not known.” BK Yes. LA “[He talked to the man who ran the American Friends of Versailles--inaudible] He said to me: ‘I understand you’re doing a book on Versailles. What do you know about Versailles?’ I said ‘Nothing! I think you’ll be surprised by the book.’ ‘Why?’ he said. ‘We’ll go to the cellars ...’ ‘Oh, you’ll do that kind of thing?’ ‘Yes! She’s an artist. She’ll photograph things in Versailles you’ve probably never seen or noticed.’ Well of course he didn’t want to let me in the place. [However] With Jackie’s name the doors flew open!” BK Did you know Deborah Turbeville or did Jackie introduce you?


LA “[…] I knew her [Deborah Turbeville] hardly at all. She’s very hard to know. She came to a party we had for the book when it was ready. It was sort of 6 to 8 pm. She came at 8! Which was when I left! She was very remote.” BK Can you remember what Jackie would have said to you when she first brought you the idea for writing this commentary on the palace? LA “Yes. She asked me to do it. She wanted a long text. It is kind of a long text. It’s not particularly interesting. She wanted it for the book, a lengthy history of Versailles. That was about all. Then she gave me complete liberty. To sell the pictures, so to speak.” BK That’s right. Had you seen the pictures before you wrote the text? LA “Oh yes. I’d seen them all. They have almost no relation to my book [‘commentary, or text’ he means] at all. It’s just a standard account of Versailles. Jackie’s idea was that the text should be something straight and literal. Tell what you what was going on in Versailles in an encyclopedic way, no particular interpretations. And then the pictures show an artist’s appreciation. Jackie liked the idea of a contrast between something that was completely literal and something that was completely imaginative.” [Jackie has a well-written line about this in her short editorial introduction to the book: “we wanted to match Louis Auchincloss’ formal portrait of Versailles with Deborah Turbeville’s dream; to unite a master of the precise and mistress of the poetic.” Those paired words, master/mistress, precise/poetic, show how Jackie had talents as a writer herself.] BK That’s wonderful, what you’ve just said there has shone a bright light on it. LA “She had beautiful taste.” BK You must have known her before you worked with her. LA “I knew her always. Because we had sort of a connection. Her stepfather was my father’s cousin. I knew her when she was a girl, when no one had any idea that she was going to become the most famous woman in the world. In fact, I had a kind of mystic experience, the only one I ever had in my lifetime. I was staying with my brother in Washington [in the early 1950s] and he saw a great deal of Janet and Hughdie Auchincloss [Jackie’s mother and stepfather]. There were very close. I was spending the weekend. Just the 3 of us were going to have Saturday night dinner. And then John [LA’s brother] said ‘I saw Hughdie.’ I said ‘Why don’t you get them to come to dinner on Saturday night?’ He and Janet said they would. Then he called and said ‘Jackie’s with us.’ We said ‘Bring her along.’ … Delightful person … Then Janet called up and said ‘Jackie thinks she’s engaged. She says she’s engaged to this young man.’ [John Husted] Needless to say it was not President Kennedy. He was a nice young man. But Janet thought she was throwing herself away. It was perfectly clear she thought that. She had a very bad temper. So we all sat down to dinner. John said ‘Well, Jackie you’re engaged to be married, we’ll bring


out the champagne.’ So he went down and brought out a couple of bottles of champagne. It was rather nice. We drank them. Then Jackie and I sat in a corner and chatted. She asked me about my new novel. I told her it was a novel called Sybil, about this girl, Sybil, who led sort of a dull life. Jackie said, ‘Like mine!’ We said she should be Sybil Bouvier, or Sybil Husted, the name of the young man. We’d met him. He was perfectly nice. But he was not a person of any importance. Later in life he drank too much. But he was a perfectly decent young man. But he was nothing out of the ordinary. While we were talking I had this strange, very odd—something that had never happened before or since—I said this girl I’m talking to is talking a lot of nonsense. She is not going to have a dull life. She’s going to be somebody very important. It was a conviction. Of course everybody knew she was good looking and pleasant. But there were a thousand girls like that … She had beautiful charm and so on… Then a few days later Janet called up and said ‘I was right. She’s not engaged at all [pronounced ‘a Tall’]. She’s sent the young man packing.’” BK Laughter. That’s a lovely story. LA “And I used to see him up in Bedford where I married and lived up there on the weekends in summer. We always got on. He was very pleasant. It sounds snobbish but it isn’t. He was obviously not going to be anything other than the young man in finance in New York who was doing perfectly well. … Later in life there was a problem with the drinking, but I don’t think it was very bad.” BK Who had the idea for Maverick in Mauve? Was that your idea or was that Jackie’s idea? LA “That was my idea entirely. After Adele’s [his wife’s] grandmother died, we discovered this diary. We didn’t know about it. I’d said to Jackie, ‘There’s so much trash written about the Vanderbilts, and that era and its opulence and extravagance. It’s just junk. [But] this is the real thing here [meaning diary].’” “When you read this diary, the girl talks about, ‘My uncle removed to the engine to run the train…’ and then you realize you’re in a private car, a private train and the uncle is Dr Seward Webb and he owns the railroad! As you read the thing you suddenly realize: this is all true. This crazy family did live that way. Jackie was completely sold on the idea. She lived in Newport a lot, you know? She knew who these people were. Of course the diary took place in the 1890s. I said to her, ‘We have a great deal of information [here] that has never been used. For example, George Vanderbilt had [his country estate] the Biltmore photographed every day. The diarist who was then 19 or 20 … I can produce a photograph of the tower [at the Biltmore] as it looked that day. And Jackie said ‘Oh! How wonderful. Un document historique. Oh how marvelous. We’ll do it that way.’ ” “Then, I went off and I made a mistake. I let her see the family photographs … ‘Oh look at these Louis! They’re so marvelous, marvelous.’ But I said ‘The photograph you’re looking at was taken five years after the diary ended.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘Do we have to be so technical?’” BK Laughter.


LA “Then I discovered that when you have an editor who is the former First Lady of the United States, you lose those arguments.” BK Laughter. LA “Actually she was right, because I was being too technical about the whole thing. The photographs were great fun. To explain my relationship with her: why during the time she was in the White House did I never see her? And why was I never invited to the White House? I think I know the answer. Jackie’s was a visual mind. And if she didn’t see you, you didn’t exist. I talked to some other people who were very hurt, thinking she’d dropped them. She hadn’t dropped them: she hadn’t seen them. And I think that was it, because after the assassination, she moved to New York … and her attitude was sort of ‘Where have you been?’ … I think that was it. Then I saw her quite steadily. And I had before he was elected president. That was the explanation... Other people had the same experience with her. I don’t think she thought of you, unless you were there.” BK Well you know Arthur Schlesinger has said in his recent diaries that were published … LA “Who was it?” BK ARTHUR SCHLESINGER in his diaries which his sons have recently published said … LA “That Jackie was amusing and funny.” BK Well he says that, but he also says that he was a little hurt that … LA “She was funny and delightful. We did a history of Tiffany’s. [… ] Jackie called me up and said would I do it? I was quite expensive. Oh yes, because I’m fast. So I did that. One time we were looking at photographs for it. There was a great nephew of Louis Tiffany who used to give beauty balls in which the beauties of the season were photographed. And I thought it was very tiresome. [This is for Tiffany’s 150 Years, by J. Loring] I said in the manuscript, ‘It is a relief to turn from the contemplation of Tiffany’s balls to …’ And Jackie said ‘Do you think we might use another word there?’” BK Laughter. LA “She was very funny. Very sly though […] The history of Tiffany’s is not very interesting.” BK What about … on her list is a man by the name of John Loring. LA “What? Oh, yes. He was nice. […] Yes. He was definitely in charge of me when I was doing it. I went to Tiffany every morning when they opened and I worked up there.” BK […] What about, False Dawn, where you did women in the age of the Sun King? Do you know the origins of that?


LA “Well it was entirely my idea. Jackie had very little to contribute to that because she didn’t know anything much about them. But she read the stuff. And then she picked some illustrations. I think we ended up having hardly any. But first we had a good bunch and we were going to have a lot of illustrations. And I came up with a remarkable picture. We went round the stores. I came up with a remarkable picture of Queen Mary the second, very unusual. I thought that was good. She looked at it and she said ‘Don’t you think that’s rather a downer?’ And then I think we cancelled all the pictures. I don’t think there are any pictures in it. The idea of the book, the importance of women of that kind: they were important if they were born to the job. You had to be born to it.” BK Do you know one of Jackie’s other authors had a recollection about you and that subject. A man by the name of Louis Bernier, maybe the son of Rosamond Bernier … LA “He’s sort of a son. He was the son of her [former] husband. She told me the way she left the husband. She said of the husband ‘about whom no good can be said except that he’s perfectly charming.’” BK Laughter LA “But she said ‘When I was leaving I took nothing—nothing—I just wanted out. When I was leaving I looked around and I saw this forlorn boy and I said ‘I’ll take him.’” BK Laughter LA “He adores her. He had an enormous success once. He’s a lecturer on the most luxurious travel, ships, ‘Going with Olivier Bernier!’ All the rich women in New York, if there are any left, go on cruises with him. They adore him. He’s not a very profound historian.” BK Well, he had a wonderful recollection, however, of a dinner at Jackie’s where you were present with Erica Jong. LA “We did a book together. Well, yes, I think there was a debate on women, or something, at the Metropolitan [Museum].” BK That’s it. LA “I did an introduction to his first book, which was called Pleasures of Palaces about the eighteenth century. He does his work thoroughly. But he’s not a profound historian. He uses well-known facts, well told. ” BK Well he was recollecting at this dinner at Jackie’s that you and he and Erica Jong had been present. LA “I do remember it very well. It was at the Metropolitan. It was a debate.” BK It was about the status of women.


LA “That’s right.” BK He recalled afterwards at dinner at Jackie’s house where Erica Jong was talking in great detail about a recent childbirth. LA “Who?” BK The woman who wrote Fear of Flying: do you remember Erica Jong? LA “Yes I do.” BK Well he [Bernier] remembered this dinner at Jackie’s where she went into great detail about childbirth. He said you and he were turning white. And Jackie was nodding in affirmation the whole time. LA Laughter “[But] I don’t think Jackie was very interested in women’s rights.” BK You don’t. LA “Famous women often aren’t. BK No. LA “… They interrupt the conversation and say ‘I’m a self made man!’” BK Laughter. […] Mr Auchincloss you’ve been very helpful. What I’d like to do is write up a few notes of this conversation and submit them to you in person in the New Year. In other words I would give you a call and perhaps call on you in January. LA “I don’t go anywhere because I broke my back and I’m supposed to be recovering. But I think I’ve recovered as far as I’m going [to]. I get out and I go around, but I don’t do any travelling. I’m rather wobbly if I walk more than a few blocks, so I don’t walk more than a few blocks. But I have a cane and I go around. I go out for dinner.” BK Well what I’ll do is I’ll write up this conversation on which I’ve taken a few notes, and I’ll send it to you and perhaps we can reconnect in January. LA “Sure.” BK That’s very kind of you. Thanks a lot. LA “Ok and I’ll see you in January.” BK Goodbye.

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