Reading Jackie (and Marilyn)

This new book by William Kuhn, dubbed an ‘autobiography in books’, takes a look at Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s lifelong love of literature and her later career as an editor.

“More astonishing is Jackie’s work on the 1980 Diana Vreeland book, Allure, which contains photos and text about the allure of Marilyn Monroe, who was linked to Jackie’s first husband when he was president, and Maria Callas, who was linked to Jackie’s second husband, before and after their marriage.

Jackie also responded favorably to a proposal that Doubleday publish a book of Bert Stern’s last photographs of Monroe before her death. Jackie wrote a note to a colleague: ‘Marilyn Monroe!!! Are you excited?’ Kuhn writes that Jackie the editor probably saw the use of material about her one-time rival as ‘a publishing opportunity rather than a moment to reflect on a personal injury. In any case, if injury there had been, she was able to rise above it.’”

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In fact, Jackie may never have resented Marilyn as many have assumed. She probably understood Monroe’s struggle with fame and love only too well, and was privately said to be upset by her death. Whatever the extent of Marilyn’s relationship with John F. Kennedy, it appears that Jackie did not bear a grudge.

Kim Novak on Marilyn

The ‘ice-cool blonde’ immortalised in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) discussed her long career with Liz Smith this week. Perhaps inevitably, the conversation turned to another screen goddess of the fifties – Marilyn Monroe…

“I ask this ultimate survivor – the blonde who got away – why she did survive, and Marilyn Monroe didn’t?

‘I think it’s family, roots. Marilyn didn’t have that. Even if there are troubles in your family, at least it’s there. It gives your life a deeper substance, especially if you are working in a business that is so much about the insubstantial. You need something to fall back on. You need to know you are more than the face or the body or the career. Without that stability, you are lost.’

Kim Novak may never make another movie, but she will be forever remembered as the star who never got lost.”

In a longer Novak profile for Q last year, Smith explored the parallels between Kim and Marilyn in greater detail. Kim was under contract to Columbia, and touted by boss Harry Cohn as a rival to Monroe. Ironically, Marilyn had signed to Columbia years earlier but was dropped (allegedly after refusing Cohn’s advances.)

Additionally, Kim’s birth name was actually Marilyn, but she decided to change it because of Monroe. Not much is known about their association, but Kim was also a guest at the Lawford beach house in 1962 where Marilyn met Bobby Kennedy.

Like many other young actresses, Novak was deeply affected by Monroe’s untimely death:

“A year later, in 1963, Novak was handed a copy of the magazine Eros, in which some of Bert Stern’s famous nudes of Monroe appeared. Kim was horrified when she saw that Stern had released shots which Monroe herself had edited and crossed out. She burst into angry tears. To her, this was an act of cruelty and betrayal.”

The Kim Novak Collection is now available on DVD in the US.