17 September 2014

The one-time First Lady of the United States had a complicated relationship with the paparazzi: the photographers were obsessed with her, yet while they turned her into an icon they also beleaguered her.

By Marthe Lisson

Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, the most highly photographed woman of the 1960s and 70s, lived a passionate life. She was exceptional, mysterious, often contradictory, and yet to put it in Frank Sinatra's words, she was "America's Queen." She was smart and educated, and women throughout the world admired her for her fashionable sense of style. She continues to be regarded as the best-dressed woman of all time. She became famous for the enormous round sunglasses she wore, today generally known as "Jackie Os," her pearl necklaces, or her pillbox hats. Tragically, the rose-colored Chanel suit she was wearing the day her husband, John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated, also became famous. The photographs showing how she tries to climb out of the car after the shots were fired and only several hours later standing beside Lyndon B. Johnson as he is being sworn in aboard the Air Force One have become a part of contemporary history. 

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier grew up in an affluent environment in Southampton, Long Island. After completing college she began working as a photographer and journalist for the "Washington Times-Herald." It was during this period that she met Jack Kennedy, shortly before he was elected to the U.S. Senate representing Massachusetts. They married in 1953. In late 1960, Kennedy was elected president of the United States. As the First Lady, Jackie was not only admired by women the world over, but also by those who, like her, accompanied the president on his travels. Besides her native language of English, she spoke French, Spanish, and Italian. JFK was shot in Dallas in 1963 while riding in a convertible car.

Jackie: My Obsession.

After her husband was murdered, Jackie moved to New York City. A new man entered her life, although this encounter was not a pleasant one. For many years, Ron Galella was the epitome of the paparazzo, the king of his métier. He was incessantly in pursuit of her; she was his public obsession. In 2013 he even published a book with the simple title: "Jackie: My Obsession."

Galella read gossip magazines for the purpose of finding out where he might run into Jackie, began flirting with her maid, and donned disguises so that Jackie would not recognize him: various moustaches and wigs or sunglasses, or carried a pipe. He waited in front of restaurants in the bitter cold, and lay in wait for her in the scorching heat on Capri or off the coast of Skorpios. He bribed a Chinese restaurant to be allowed to hide himself under the coat racks. Jackie and her children, John F., Jr., and Caroline, were constantly accompanied by secret service officers who were supposed to block them from view by Galella, and even arrested him. The photographer consequently sued her, because he saw himself hindered from performing his job. He demanded $1.3 million in damages, fifty times as much as his annual income.

The best off-Broadway show in town

Jackie responded with a countersuit for harassment and violation of her privacy. It was 1973, and Jackie succeeded in having an injunction issued against him by the New York court barring him from coming within eight meters of her and ten meters of her children. The trial was closely covered by the media, including by "Life" magazine, and the "New York Times" called it "the best off-Broadway show in town."

The decision passed down by the court set a precedent, because it made clear that it was not the star's responsibility to keep her private life secret, but on the contrary: paparazzi were not entitled to invade the star's privacy.

Galella contributed significantly to the creation of the myth around Jackie

Ron Galella was not only notorious as far as Jackie Kennedy was concerned. Marlon Brando once broke his jaw because he had become too impertinent. But this did not deter Galella: as a result, he always wore a football helmet when he encountered Brando.

Yet as much as Jackie Kennedy must have suffered from the invasion of her privacy, one has to admit that Galella contributed significantly to the creation of the myth around Jackie. According to fashion designer Tom Ford: "Ironically, the very photographs that Mrs. Onassis resisted were the ones that define her as an icon."

In 1968, Jackie married the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Settimio Garritano took a picture of her sunbathing in the nude on Onassis's private island of Skorpios in 1972. Garritano was not a paparazzo in the conventional sense, but a reporter and portrait photographer however who followed her for three years. Numerous editorial departments refused to publish these photographs out of respect for the former First Lady. Perhaps also for fear of the two most powerful families of the period: the Kennedys and the Onassises. Yet everyone knew about the pictures, and many magazines published photomontages in which Jackie's head was placed on the naked body of another woman.

The original photographs appeared in the magazine "Playmen," the Italian version of "Playboy," in December 1972, and three years later in the American magazine "Hustler."

Jackie also survived her second husband: Aristotle Onassis died in 1975. In the period that followed, she began a new career as a consulting editor with Viking Press in New York City, where she died in 1994 at the age of sixty-five.