Aug. 5, 2013 at 6:21 PM ET
In "These Few Precious Days," author Christopher Andersen goes behind the headlines to examine the human intimacy between John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy during their last months together. Here's an excerpt.
They were, by any definition, one of history’s most remarkable couples: he the handsome, dynamic young president whose wit, charm, and idealistic fervor captured the world’s imagination; she the young wife and mother whose beauty, style, and elegance made her one of the most admired first ladies in American history. By the time it all ended with gunshots in Texas on November 22, 1963, Jack and Jackie Kennedy were irrefutably the First Couple of the World.
In the immediate aftermath of Dallas, Jackie’s quiet strength and natural dignity—her gallantry, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called it—were the glue that held the nation together. What did not endure, however, was the glittering fairy tale conjured up by Jackie as a way to preserve her husband’s legacy. By the turn of the new century, the flood of revelations concerning JFK’s reckless private life washed away what little remained of the Camelot myth.
The ultimate question remains: On that day in Dallas fifty years ago when Jack was shot to death with Jackie at his side, did they truly love each other? After the affairs, the humiliations, the triumphs, and tragedies both known and unknown to the public, had they finally come together?
Together, they had survived his life-threatening illnesses, his unfettered infidelity, the death of one parent and the crippling stroke of another, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a difficult delivery that nearly killed both mother and child, and the loss of their son Patrick. Incredibly, over the course of their marriage, either the president or his first lady were administered the last rites at least six times—a little-known statistic that spoke volumes about what they had suffered through, and triumphed over, in private.
It is no wonder we are still fascinated by them. They were impossibly attractive, outlandishly rich, brilliant, passionate, exciting—and deliciously complicated. Power, sex, mystique, money, and glamour—not to mention the dreams and aspirations of an entire generation—were embodied in the charismatic young couple who occupied the White House for a thousand days. Yet it is the bittersweet account of how they came together in their final year as a couple that really makes theirs a love story for the ages.
It was a scene replayed on more than a dozen occasions—at Hyannis Port, in the White House, wherever President Kennedy gathered with family and friends to unwind.
“Red,” he asked his old Navy buddy Paul “Red” Fay, “sing ‘Hooray for Hollywood.’ ”
And with that, Fay burst into a slightly off-key, window-rattling version of the song while the boisterous crowd laughed and clapped. Afterward, Jack’s youngest brother, Ted, led everyone in singing “Heart of My Heart.”
Until that moment, the president had been silent. “Do you know ‘September Song’?” JFK asked Ted’s wife, Joan, who was at the piano. She played the chorus twice, and then Jack began to sing the melancholy standard that tells the bittersweet story of a middle-aged man facing his own mortality.
This night, the normally boisterous crowd fell silent as Jack looked over at Jackie with tears welling in his eyes and sang the final lines:
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few.
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you . . .
Excerpted from These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen. Copyright © 2013 by Christopher Andersen. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.