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Sarah Bradford chats about her Jackie Kennedy Onassis biography, 'America's Queen'

October 26, 2000
12 p.m. EDT

Sarah Bradford is a historian and biographer. She is the bestselling author of several biographies including "Disraeli," selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; "George VI," and "Princess Grace." Her most recent biography, The New York Times bestseller "Elizabeth," received praise by everyone from John Updike in the New Yorker to The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to CNN Book Chat, Sarah Bradford. We are pleased to have you with us today.

Sarah Bradford:: Well, hello everybody. I am delighted to be here in the States.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us a bit about your book, "America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis" and how it differs from other biographies about Jackie.

Sarah Bradford:: Number one, it differs in the length of time. And number two, the range of interviewees -- particularly people like her sister, Lee Radziwill, who have never spoken to writers before. I think this has given me insights to a new Jackie that most people don't know about.

Chat Moderator: How were you able to gain the cooperation of so many of Jackie's family and close friends in writing this book?

Sarah Bradford:: I think mainly my track record. I have written several biographies that have been very well received, including my last book a book on the Queen of England, which was an international bestseller. And (I have been) trained as a historian at Oxford University, so people can make their own judgments about my work.

Question from Hello: Sarah, did you know Jackie personally?

Sarah Bradford:: No. I met her sister and her mother, but I never met her.

Question from Candyce-CNN: Jackie seemed to be such a perfect person. Was there anything in her life for which she felt shame or embarrassment?

Sarah Bradford:: I think towards the end of her life she felt that perhaps she had been unkind to several people. Too tough. And I think she compensated by making a lot of new young talented friends, people like Carly Simon.

Question from oops: Who had the most influence in Jackie's life?

Sarah Bradford:: Indirectly, I suppose her father. She greatly loved her father. But in many ways realized what he was like. He was a charmer and he was like a friend rather than a father and she felt responsible for him. She spent the rest of her life looking for someone who would be responsible for her.

Question from Sandy: Did Jackie ever have a "love of her life"?

Sarah Bradford:: It was probably JFK.

Chat Moderator: How would you characterize her marriage to JFK? Was she happy in that relationship?

Sarah Bradford:: I think she truly loved him. But happiness was something that eluded her for most of her life. I think she was happy with her children, her family, but she certainly wasn't happy about the infidelity aspect.

Question from fred: Would Jackie have divorced JFK if the allegations of his infidelities were made public prior to his murder?

Sarah Bradford:: That's a very difficult question. I don't think so, because once she made the decision to stick with him she did it.

Question from IDPOIRP: Did you learn anything about Jackie that you did not know before from writing this book?

Sarah Bradford:: Many, many things. Four years ago I only had what most people's concept of her was: the regal image, the dignity of the funeral of JFK, and aspects like her pillbox hats, her glasses, her sort of jet-set life. I learned that there was a very sharp brain behind this cool beautiful face, and a very shrewd judgment of people. And an iron will concealed under a great softness of manner. And the public serenity that concealed really deep insecurities.

Question from Sandy: Do you think Jackie ha(d) some lack of self-respect by the fact that she stayed with JFK even though he was unfaithful to her?

Sarah Bradford:: No, I don't think so at all. I think it was humiliating for her, damaging in a way, but I think she felt because of her family -- and (the fact) she loved him and she was aware of the dignity of the American presidency, which would of been destroyed had she not behaved so gallantly. But certainly the question of unfaithfulness was humiliating. (It was) sort of a sexual rejection you could say.

Chat Moderator: Can you tell us about some of the photographs in your book and how you came by some of them that were previously unpublished.

Sarah Bradford:: There is a very charming one of the Kennedys' social life that they particularly liked which was sort of intimate dinners with friends. And there is a picture of Jack Kennedy playing backgammon with Senator (Claiborne) Pell in the front laughing. ... I received them by personal contact when I went to interview them. There is a very nice picture of Jackie's house in Martha's Vineyard from a private source.

Question from Aurora: How did Jackie feel about the adoration/interest shown to her by the public? Did the " Camelot " ideal she helped create restrict the life she later wanted to lead ?

Sarah Bradford:: (Those) are really two questions. I think her attitude to publicity was a very complicated one. On one level she posed for the camera, a bit of an actress. On the other level she fled people. She wanted to preserve her privacy.

The Camelot image she created did become a burden to her. She fought fiercely to maintain this image, including (having a) famous row with William Manchester over his book "The Death Of A President." I think later years became difficult for her. The Camelot image began to unravel with the disclosures of JFK's women, notably Judith Campbell Exner, which came to public notice in 1975.

Question from Haley-CNN: Did John Kennedy know you were writing this book before his death? If so, did he have any input?

Sarah Bradford:: Yes, he did, and I wrote to inform Caroline when I began the project. He did not have input because Jackie had specifically charged her children with maintaining her privacy. This means that they could not authorize a book or collaborate with it.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?

Sarah Bradford:: I think that she lived a remarkable life which most of us might envy, but if we knew the reality of it we probably would not want (it) and might not have had the courage to deal with (it).

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Sarah Bradford.

Sarah Bradford:: Thank you and goodbye everyone.

Sarah Bradford joined the chat via telephone from New York City. CNN provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Thursday, October 26, 2000.



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Excerpt: 'America's Queen'
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