They were two of the most famous women in the world—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill—and their lives have been written about countless times, but a new book, Jackie, Janet and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli, reveals new details about the sisters’ complicated relationship, their lifelong rivalry and the powerful influence of their mother, Janet Auchincloss.
Unlike previous Jackie biographers, Taraborrelli decided to focus on Jackie’s family, not John F. Kennedy’s famous clan.
“Jackie had a full life before she married J.F.K.,” Taraborrelli tells People in the latest issue, on newsstands Friday. “The Auchinclosses had their own traditions and history—apart from the Kennedys.”
According to Taraborrelli, it was in 1951, at one of their “Mother Daughter Teas,” a favorite tradition of shopping and gossip, when Janet asked her daughters: “Do you know what the secret to ‘Happily Ever After’ is?”
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Before they could answer, she did: “Money and Power.”
It was a lesson which Janet, who married Standard Oil heir Hugh Auchincloss two years after her divorce from Jackie and Lee’s father—“Black Jack” Bouvier—had instilled in her daughters: that money mattered when it came to men.
“Jackie watched the way her mother comported herself which had to do with money being equated with power,” says Taraborrelli. “Where the Bouviers and the Auchinclosses are concerned, they lived their lives with a strategy to make sure they were taken care of.”
“It’s not to say Jackie did not love J.F.K. and Onassis in her own way,” notes the author. “She did. But if they were not well off, she would not have been with them.”
After Jackie became engaged to stock broker John Husted Jr. in the early 1950s, her mother found out he was making $17,000 a year, and told Jackie to drop him—at their engagement party.
“Janet told her ‘That was less money than your father made when I married him,’ ” recalls Taraborrelli. “When Jackie asked her ‘How could I not know this?’ She answered, ‘You tell me.’”
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Soon after, Jackie ended the engagement and dropped the ring back into Husted’s coat pocket. “She was ice cold,” John would remember. “Like we never knew each other.”
“Jackie was not a mercenary person,” adds Taraborrelli. “Whenever she had to make one of those decisions, it was usually her mother behind it.”
The book also reveals new details of Lee’s five year-on-and-off relationship with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis — years before he married her sister.
Lee began seeing the Onassis while she was married to Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, with whom she had two kids: Anthony and Christina.
“Lee fell hard for him,” says Taraborrelli. “The only reason she did not end up with him at the time was because with J.F.K. in office and Jackie as the First Lady, Janet said to her ‘You’re not going to bring this kind of scandal to your sister’s doorstep and into the White House.’ She tells her ‘You have to leave him. You have to do it for your sister.’ Ultimately Lee did and she still held out hope that things would work out for the two of them.”
But it was Jackie’s deep depression after the dual assassinations of J.F.K. in 1963 and his brother Robert F. Kennedy five years later that led Lee to give up Onassis.
“After Bobby was killed, as much as she wanted to be with him, she gave him up for Jackie,” says Taraborrelli. “She realized she would not be able to live with herself if something happened to Jackie and the kids because she had not allowed Onassis to be their protector. She abandoned her love for Onassis rather than take a chance of something happening to her sister and her niece and nephew [Caroline and John Jr.]”
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“I think from Onassis’ point of view, it was an acquisition,” says Taraborrelli. “Not that he didn’t love Jackie but I don’t think he was in love with her, nor she with him. Jackie said it best—that he rescued her from the darkest time in her life. He protected her and her children.”
Lee, who was first told by Onassis about the pending wedding, was angry when she first arrived in Greece for the ceremony in October 1968. But when she saw her sister’s happiness after so much loss, she accepted her sister’s decision. After Jackie embraced Lee and thanked her for coming, Taraborrelli writes, “According to what Lee would remember, Jackie grabbed her arm and said just four words: ‘I need this Lee.’ “
According to Taraborrelli, “Lee realized that Jackie, who was suffering from PTSD over J.F.K., who was drinking and having nightmares and suicidal thoughts—that she did need it.”
The decision, he says, “tormented Lee throughout her life.”
But Lee’s relationship with her sister had always been complicated.
“I don’t think Jackie was ever jealous of Lee,” says Taraborrelli. “The competition was more Lee against Jackie and I think Janet fostered that. The competition went on throughout their lives: ‘Who’s going to be more popular? Who will marry first?’ but it all came to a crashing halt when Jackie became First Lady. Lee saying ‘How can I compete with that?’ She had so defined herself as being in competition with Jackie that when finally there was no competition she didn’t even know who she was. That marked a new era for her. She realized she needed to do something to distinguish herself from the First Lady and that’s why she began to experiment with different careers (in the theater, and interior decorating) but she was never able to establish herself with an identity that could compete with Jackie.”
Still, they had a unique bond. Years later, after Jackie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1993, and Lee’s son, Anthony, was also diagnosed with cancer, “these mutual challenges brought the sisters together,” says Taraborrelli. (Anthony died at age 40 in 1999.)
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But the relationship was not consistent. “There was no way they were going to be able to settle 64 years of a challenging relationship and talk about their mother, Onassis, their rivalry,” notes the author. “They never settled any of it.”
When Lee came to Jackie’s bedside the day before she died to say goodbye in May 1994, she told her: “I love you so much. I always have, Jacks. I hope you know it.”
But Jackie’s final mention of Lee in her will spoke volumes about their lifelong tension.
After granting Lee’s children, Anthony and Tina, each a half a million dollars, Jackie wrote that she made no provisions for her younger sister, “For whom I have great affection because I have already done so during my lifetime.”
Jackie, Janet and Lee goes on sale Jan. 30.