Jackie and Emily Post showed resilience

Jackie and Emily Post showed resilience

'Jackie' film poster

‘Jackie’ film handbill 2016


The film ‘Jackie’ which has recently reached the cinema, shows up to some viewers just how much social upbringing and family values are ingrained in a person’s psyche and ways of being.

‘Jackie’ is an attempt to portray the drama and struggles of the First Lady’s days, weeks and months after the violent death of her husband. Tragically cut-down, Kennedy’s body slumped in the open car. His wife is portrayed as left to manage a seemingly endless circus of political, White House and Arlington tensions solely on her own.

We know that was not the case. The real Jacqueline Kennedy had an entourage of personal staff and political minders who managed the situation for her so she could attend to her children and family with dignity.

Similarly, it is difficult to believe that Robert Kennedy, Jacqueline’s brother-in-law, would have been as calm as depicted in the film. The shock and disbelief of the tragic killing would have hit him hard – too hard for him to have calmly escorted her as portrayed throughout the film. Death and uncertainty has a way of skewing a person’s normal thoughts and behaviour.

And, one would ask, where was Teddy, mother-in-law Rose and other members of the Kennedy clan in this portrayal? Regrettably, the film is not an accurate historical replay – it is a well-funded pastiche of someone’s imagination of certain historical events.

Jacqueline Lee Kennedy (nee Bouvier) was known to stand her ground as any woman brought up correctly would do in an emergency. Her background was more solid than the film portrays. The facts of her education indicate she was more connected with others of a certain social milieu and support-base than the film portrays.

Jacqueline Bouvier attended several private boarding schools for girls and universities to develop her passion for the arts and literature. She was a keen horsewoman and regular attender of equestrian events with her school friends and family. She lived both sides of the United States during her mother’s two marriages: on the west coast and ‘out east’.

Jacqueline was a debutante. She married Congressman John F. Kennedy in 1953 at age 24. In 1961 her husband became the 35th American president, leading the Democratic Party. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 when Jacqueline was 34 years old.

In all social matters, from teenage years onwards, Jacqueline was supported by her school friend Nancy Tuckerman. Nancy came from the same social circle as Jacqueline, was also a debutante, grew up on Long Island and attended Miss Porter’s Boarding School in Connecticut. Miss Tuckerman was a bridesmaid at Miss Jacqueline Bouvier and Mr John F. Kennedy’s wedding in 1953.

Known affectionately as ‘Tucky’, she became Jacqueline’s social secretary while the Kennedys served in the White House. ‘Tucky’ is sure to have had a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette as a constant companion as was the Bible. While serving as the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Tuckerman would have kept in mind the high standards set by Emily Post for educated women in a modern age.

Mrs Emily Post of Edgartown, Massachusetts, USA established the Emily Post Institute in 1946 to help men and women negotiate the new aspects of modern life. The Institute perpetuates the traditions of gracious living in a modern age. Emily Post died in 1960 however her daughter-in-law Elizabeth L. Post continued to review and publish Emily Post’s book on etiquette and modern manners. This book became an indispensable reference for women attending finishing schools and colleges throughout America in the 1950s-1980s. Details on her life are available in her son’s book Truly Emily Post.**

Elizabeth Post wrote in 1969 in the Foreword of Emily Post’s Etiquette* that Emily Post was “…aware of the changing pattern of modern living and made a point of keeping in constant touch of the changes.”

She went on to write: “…in the less formal life that most of us lead today, that some of the rules seem more stringent than ever.”

However as Mrs Post pointed out in the beginning of her Foreword “…to practice perfect manners without appearing ‘stiff’ and at the same time to let those about you feel that they are equally well-mannered is a goal that can be achieved only by make consideration and unselfishness an integral part of your behaviour.”

The film called Jackie is listed on social media as “a searing and intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, then Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.”

It is respectfully suggested that the director (Pablo Larraín) and the writer of the film ‘Jackie’ most probably consulted Emily Post’s etiquette book as an aid to scripting and director’s guidance for the character Jackie. However, if you would view the film, you might agree that some of the finer points of Emily Posts’ correct form for Jackie and her bereaved husband’s family ‘hit the cutting room floor’ while the film was being directed.

Unfortunately, the film can be seen as a form of propaganda against a certain social set. A sociologist might suggest that the film shames through omission. In omitting the social background activities which would naturally have occurred in the event of a death, the director has portrayed Jackie’s family and social set as neglectful, uncaring and indifferent to her suffering. That most certainly would not have been the case in real life.

For example, as small indicators of the slights highlighted:

One would not eat in front of the bereaved in a reception room or watch television leaving ‘Jackie’ (the bereaved) to fend for herself. Emily Post fans – or anyone with a social conscience – would offer Jackie immediate assistance. They would offer to be of service, what-ever the task to be performed. That is the role of those closest to someone they value and cherish.

Nor would family members leave her standing in a blood-drenched outfit to mourn and argue with her husband’s colleagues regarding funeral arrangements. Those matters would have been managed tactfully by senior aides and ladies-in-waiting which Jacqueline Kennedy certainly had on staff.

Further, the Priest (played by the late John Hurt (who died January 2017)) would not have had such direct and intimate access to the First Lady for so long as depicted in the film. For a Priest to say to the bereaved that “there are no answers” would be akin to making a heretical statement unworthy of religious training and status. An ordained Priest would offer words of reassurance and comfort in a time of grief – and suggest passages from the Bible to assist in lightening the emotional and spiritual load felt by the bereaved.

The film ‘Jackie’ is a noble effort to depict a First Lady dealing with trauma and mourning at the violent death of her husband with a public persona. However, for arguments sake, this film only shows one side of the story. The film misses the educated, well-heeled perspective of a women living within her sophisticated social set. It does not accurately show the behind-the-scenes support that a boarding school debutante with a close-knit social circle would have received.

Additionally, it is a partial rendition but not an accurate one of the Kennedy clan’s response to death and familial destruction. Jacqueline Kennedy’s own family would not have left her to play dress-ups in her bedroom with alcohol and drugs during such a time of torment. They would have been there, by her side.

‘Jackie’ offers views of White House interiors, Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard Island worthy of any cinematographer’s lens. However, the First Lady’s story plucked from her blue-blood and university educated world is yet to be told.


Text copyright by Fiona Rothchilds January 2017.
Text updated 02 February 2017.
Images by film distributors (their copyright is protected).
* Elizabeth L. Post (1969) Emily Post’s Etiquette, 12th Revised edition, Funk & Wagnalls, New York, USA.
** Edwin Post (1961) Truly Emily Post, Funk & Wagnalls, New York, USA.

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