Ari Onassis was a business partner but above all a very good friend of mine for many years until his death in 1975. It was great to know him and fantastic to be involved in his odyssey and contributes to build his empire. There are so many things that are said about Ari and by creating this blog I want to reflect the reality about him to make sure his memory is not stained by gossiping people that don't know anything about him. You can also view my website:
Aristotle Onassis & Jackie Kennedy
- Onassis Business Structure
- Onassis Skorpios Island
- Onassis Yacht Christina O
- The Onassis Diamonds
- Onassis & Churchill
- Onassis vs Niarchos
- Life on the Christina O
- Onassis Photobook
- Athina Onassis
- Onassis & Callas
- Sale of Skorpios Island
- Onssis Short Story 1
- Onassis Short Story 2
- Oil Tankers
- Onassis Childhood
- Onassis Legacy
- The Life of Aristotle Onassis
- The Foundation
- Christina Onassis
- Christina O
- Aristotle Onassis & Jackie Kennedy
Monday, October 01, 2007
Aristotle Socrates Onassis was born in Smyrna, Turkey, in either 1900 or 1906 - throughout his life he maintained two passports, with two very different dates of birth. A Greek of Turkish nationality, his mother died when he was 6. In adolescence, Onassis admired his Uncle Alexander, who taught him to always charm his way to the top of every situation, and drilled into his impressionable young mind ancient Greek stories of passion, love, revenge, defiance, and loyalty, concepts that would play out in Onassis' later life.
Onassis fled to Greece when war erupted in Smyrna, becoming a homeless Anatolian refugee at 17 - or 23, depending on which year of birth you believe. Onassis wanted to emigrate to the U.S., but immigration quotas had just been introduced, and Anatolian refugees were on the "not wanted list." Soon he ventured to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the destination for many a young man hungry to carve out his place in the world.
During his years in Argentina, Onassis imported Turkish tobacco from Greece. His father had been successful in the tobacco industry in Turkey before the war. Some historians and conspiracy theorists maintain that Onassis actually imported opium, not cigarette tobacco, into Argentina, and that he later made his huge megafortune, not from oil and shipping activities, but from drug running, and from the manufacture of synthetic diamonds, rubies and emeralds which he marketed as genuine precious stones.
Onassis entered the shipping business in the 1930s, when he purchased his first oil tankers. From then on, his fortune kept multiplying. He was like Midas, legendary king of Phrygia, who requested of the gods that everything he touched be turned to gold. The gods granted Midas his wish, but then his food turned to gold the moment he touched it, and man cannot live by gold alone. Onassis identified strongly with other Greek heroes, namely Achilles and Odysseus. From Onassis' private island of Skorpios in the wine-dark Ionian Sea, one can see Odysseus' ancient island kingdom of Ithaca. Onassis' sense of his Greek ancestry was profound. He felt that his life was deeply touched by ancient mythology; he often read Homer's tales of the Trojan War, and fantasized about Helen, "the face that launched a thousand ships."
From the time he was a young man, Onassis' relationships with women were stormy. An early romance with a ballet dancer in Buenos Aires ended with violence; afterwards, he drowned himself in drink, a tendency that developed into raging alcoholism in later life. In the 1930s, he became engaged to the daughter of a wealthy Swedish shipowner, Ingeborg Dedichen, a romance that included more than one violent episode in which an enraged, drunk Onassis beat his fiancée. Onassis admitted a certain sexual pleasure in violence, and was quoted as saying, "he who loves well, beats well."
The first Mrs. Aristotle Onassis, Athena Livanos (Tina), described Onassis as "a brutal drunk." They were married in 1946, divorced in 1960. Visitors who spent time with Onassis and Tina sometimes heard sounds of physical violence, and a woman's screams, coming from the master's bedroom.
During his lifetime, Onassis was investigated by the FBI, the CIA, the KYP (Greek CIA), Britain's M15, and the DST (French security service), among others. In 1953, Onassis hired Dr. Hjalman Schacht to negotiate an oil contract with the King of Saudi Arabia. Schacht had been Adolf Hitler's financial wizard, his economic dictator, and president of the Reichsbank in 1937. Schacht had been acquitted of war crimes at Nuremberg in 1946 - "you can't hang a banker," cynics said - but was later found guilty by a German denazification court. Schacht successfully created the Jiddah Agreement, between the Saudis and Onassis, which called for Onassis to supply 500,000 tons of tanker shipping toward the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Maritime Company. Onassis' fleet would fly the national flag of Saudi Arabia, and be exempt from Saudi taxes. Within a decade, this agreement allowed Onassis to create a strategic monopoly on the transport of Saudi oil.
The Jiddah Agreement created a crisis in Washington, DC, because this new, huge Saudi fleet posed a threat to U.S. interests. Onassis argued his case before the State Department, saying that he had signed the deal with the Saudi Government because "somebody had to"; it was a huge deal waiting for someone to grab it, and he did. The U.S. Government wasn't mollified. The American Jewish lobby was pressuring the U.S. oil companies to stop dealing with the Saudis, and the Jiddah Agreement contained a clause, written by Schacht, that Jews could have no direct or indirect interest in any of the subcontracting companies. Then, to add fuel to an already flaming fire, Onassis invited Alfred Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach to the launching of one of his latest tankers; it was Krupp's first official public appearance since serving six years in prison as a Nazi war criminal. Onassis invited him despite his aides' warnings not to.
It was around this time that the CIA planted a listening device in Onassis' Paris apartment, which led to his indictment by the U.S. Government for conspiracy to violate the false statement statute of the Ship Sales Act when his companies filed applications to buy surplus vessels. He was also charged with false balance sheets, false financial statements, and false claims about citizenship. On December 21, 1955, Onassis paid a $7 million fine (equivalent to $38 million in 1995) to the U.S. Government, for fraud and criminal charges.
Onassis had lots of enemies, some in high places; he also had quite a few good friends who owed him favors, also in very high places. Onassis' need to control everything often led to tyranny on his part, in both business and private life. Some said an air of sinister melodrama followed him wherever he went. Costa Gratsos observed after Onassis' death that there had been a violence in Onassis, tending towards sadism at times, that was never far from the surface, and that he aimed at those closest to him, especially when he drank. Onassis himself once said, "if you have one golden apple, you have the power; you can get away with murder if you have a single apple that somebody else wants."
Onassis had a publicity agent to keep his name in the press, believing that constant publicity about his social life gave him credibility with bankers. Throughout his checkered shipping career, and in his personal life, Onassis made a definite impression on those he met. During Onassis' short-lived friendship with Prince Rainier of Monaco, Onassis declared that "there should be no gambling in Monte Carlo. Gambling is immoral," to which Rainier responded, "Really, Mr. Onassis, I do not think you are in a position to tell me what's moral and what's immoral."
In 1959, Giovanni Meneghini, while filing for a legal separation from his wife, Maria Callas, referred to Aristotle Onassis as one of the "persons who are reckoned the most powerful of our time." His use of the word "powerful" rather than the word "wealthy" is notable. Onassis was, to be sure, an example of self-will run riot.
Onassis was in Hamburg, Germany on November 22, 1963, publicly launching one of his new tankers, the Olympic Chivalry, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He immediately called Lee Radziwill in London, then flew to Washington with her in one of his private jets. Onassis owned Olympic Airlines from 1955 until January 1975, when he handed it back to the Greek government shortly before his death. Having his own private airline for 20 years provided Onassis with the means to go anywhere, at any time, and also to fly other people, anywhere, at any time. Records of passenger lists and flight schedules did not have to be kept for his private airline as strictly as they would have been kept for a public airline.
Onassis was a guest at the White House during the funeral. President Kennedy had told Onassis that he was not welcome in America until after the 1964 election, but his presence went unnoticed in the days of shock and mourning that gripped America and the world. He played the part of court jester at the funeral, drinking heavily and telling stories with Bobby and Teddy Kennedy. Nevertheless, the Kennedy brothers instinctively disliked him.
On December 3, a week after JFK's dramatic, televised funeral, Onassis and Maria Callas conspicuously celebrated her 40th birthday at Maxim's in Paris. But a close Onassis aide, Panaghis Vergottis, said that he knew Onassis' interest in the newly-widowed Jacqueline Kennedy would not quickly go away.
On August 7, 1963, Jackie gave birth prematurely to her son Patrick; he was the last child Jackie was to carry, and he lived only two days. Following baby Patrick's death, Jackie spiraled into a serious depression, from which her younger sister Lee Radziwill tried to help her recover.
Lee invited Jackie for an October cruise on Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis' yacht, the Christina, to give Jackie some solace from her loss, and a week away from the pressures of being First Lady. Lee and her husband Prince Stanislas Radziwill chaperoned the cruise, along with Commerce Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., and his wife Susan.
During Spring and Summer 1963, Lee Radziwill had become intimately involved with Onassis; her marriage to Prince Stanislas Radziwill was deteriorating rapidly. The Onassis/Radziwill affair surfaced in the American press during the Summer of 1963, causing embarrassment for a Kennedy administration hoping for easy reelection in 1964; they didn't want any scandals. Onassis had been indicted by the U.S. Government for fraud, was divorced, and for years had carried on an open affair with married opera diva Maria Callas. Europeans did not bat an eye at such things, but Americans still did. Bobby Kennedy asked Jackie to talk Lee into cooling the affair, which Jackie refused to do. On the contrary, Jackie was impressed that her sister was friends with one of the world's wealthiest men.
Onassis' interest in Lee Radziwill was due at least in part to the fact that she was Jackie's sister, and the sister-in-law of the most powerful man in the world. Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson asked, "
|Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie Onassis|
The October 1963 cruise wasn't the first time Onassis and Jackie had laid eyes on each other. One night in 1958, while then-Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline were vacationing in the south of France, Onassis had invited them onto his yacht to meet former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, one of JFK's idols. Churchill wanted to meet JFK, whom he considered "Presidential timber." Remember, this was 1958. While Kennedy and Churchill talked, Onassis met Jackie for the first time, and noticed everything about her, from her clothing to her short dark hair blowing in the evening breeze. He told Costa Gratsos, one of his most confidential aides, "There's something damned willful about her, there's something provocative about that lady. She's got a carnal soul." Gratsos tried to talk Onassis out of his obvious intense interest in the young Jacqueline Kennedy, telling him he was too old for her.
Back to October 1963. The Christina, stocked with gourmet chefs, paté, lobsters, caviar, wine, a masseuse, and two hairdressers, set sail the beginning of October. The yacht had nine double guest cabins, each named for a Greek island. Jackie stayed in the cabin named Ithaca. They cruised through the Aegean, docked in Istanbul, Lesbos, and Crete, and navigated along the Pelopponnesian coast. The media went wild. Photographs appeared of Jackie and Onassis touring the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and walking hand-in-hand in ancient Smyrna, where Onassis showed Jackie the places from his youth. They also visited Ithaca, Odysseus' island kingdom, and Onassis' private scorpion-shaped island of Skorpios, where they walked up the rocky hillsides, among the cypress trees and olive groves. Onassis guarded his privacy so strictly that he had had his island removed from the official maps of the Ionian Sea, to discourage sightseers and journalists. Walking with Onassis along the water's edge, Jackie told him she wished her Greek island vacation would never end, and that she did not like her life as First Lady. As a 10-year-old girl, she had written a poem, entitled "Sea Joy," which ended with the line, "Oh - to live by the sea is my only wish."
On the last night of the cruise, Onassis gave everyone expensive gifts, including a diamond and ruby necklace for Jackie. On October 17, Jackie returned to Washington, DC refreshed and revitalized. The White House staff noticed the changes in Jackie. One worker remarked, "Jackie has stars in her eyes - Greek stars." Others felt Jackie was more independent and stronger after the cruise, having successfully beguiled a powerful and wealthy man. Partly because of the negative media coverage her cruise on Onassis' yacht had caused - some thought it was wrong for the wife of the President of the United States to accept hospitality from a convicted felon, among other things - Jackie agreed to accompany her husband on his November trip to Texas.
There are conflicting reports about Jackie and Onassis' conduct during the two-week cruise; Franklin Roosevelt Jr. swears that nothing romantic happened during the cruise. JFK's personal secretary Evelyn Lincoln, however, disagreed. Asked if she thought Jackie and Onassis had had an affair before the assassination, Lincoln answered, "I think so, yes. Jackie loved money. Onassis had money." In either case, Jackie later remembered the cruise as a tension-free oasis between tragedy and tragedy, between the premature birth and death of her son Patrick, and the gruesome assassination of her husband.
The cruise marked the end of Lee Radziwill's affair with Onassis, because he fell in love with Jackie during the cruise. Onassis began courting Jackie very soon after the assassination the following month, by which time Onassis' daughter Christina was already referring to Jackie as "my father's unfortunate obsession."
In October 1963, Americans had little reason to believe that Jack and Jackie's marriage was shaky. But in more recent years, evidence has come to light indicating that all was not well behind closed doors. In 1975, Judith Campbell Exner testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that in the early 1960s, she had had an affair with President Kennedy at the same time she was Chicago Mafia leader Sam Giancana's good friend. In her autobiography, My Story, she claims that she had a sexual relationship with JFK while he was President, that his marriage was unhappy, and that Jackie wanted a divorce. Exner's exact testimony was sealed until 2025. Exner's story blew the lid off the conspiracy of silence surrounding JFK's private life; his numerous extramarital affairs are now well-publicized. Ben Bradlee's sister-in-law Mary Pinchot Meyer also had an affair with Kennedy while he was in the White House. She was murdered during the Summer of 1964 in Georgetown; her diary and letters were obtained by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angelton, who claims that he burned them. Perhaps Jackie, fed up with her husband's incessant philandering, decided during the cruise on the Christina to have a little fun of her own.
While she was First Lady, Jackie sadly confessed to a family member that she "would go mad" if she could not get away from Washington soon. If you wonder why Jackie stayed in the marriage, there are several reasons. First of all, the Kennedy's were Roman Catholic, it was the early 1960s, and divorce was rare, and stigmatizing. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jackie's father-in-law, more than once offered her money (reportedly $1 million each time), which she accepted, in order to keep the marriage going for political reasons. Appearances meant the world to Jackie. When her father, Jack Bouvier, was too hopelessly drunk to give her away at her wedding, she was crushed, but she was determined not to let her disappointment show, and that no outward mishaps or embarrassments happened during the wedding. So strong was Jackie's need for the world to see what she wanted it to see, that we saw only what she wanted us to see.
By the Fall of 1963, Kennedy's personal popularity as President remained high, but administration blunders such as the Bay of Pigs invasion had diminished the country's belief in his political effectiveness. Division within the Democratic party was also growing. Jackie's reputation, however, was higher than ever in 1963. She stood tall and beautiful on a sacred pedestal, and no one would publicly criticize her.
As the cruise through the Greek isles came to an end, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover demanded an updated file on Onassis, who he had previously investigated as a spy and a criminal, and who was now beguiling, and dangerously beguiled by, the First Lady. Hoover had always disliked Onassis, and the cruise only served to deepen Hoover's distrust. And Hoover wasn't the only powerful Washingtonian who held firm that the First Lady of the United States should not have accepted the hospitality of a foreigner who had been indicted in the United States.
Jackie fell apart when Bobby was assassinated. Despite her recent arguments with him over her relationship with Onassis, they were still very close. He was her closest male friend, a confidante, and a devoted uncle to her children. She was incoherent upon hearing of Bobby's death. Onassis flew to Hammersmith Farm, the Newport, Rhode Island estate of Jackie's mother Janet Auchincloss, to comfort Jackie, who was completely shattered. "If they're killing Kennedys, my children are targets. I hate America," she sobbed, on Onassis' shoulder.
She suddenly felt terror and panic, and feared for her children. She needed to escape the Kennedy nightmare of killings. As her escape, she chose a secluded island in the Ionian Sea, and a yacht fit for a queen. And king. Camelot was replaced by an enchanted Greek island. Onassis offered Jackie and her children safety and protection. The Kennedy clan continued their campaign against the marriage, but in the end, no one could stop Jackie. On October 20, 1968, she married Onassis in a small, private chapel on Skorpios.
The press was extremely unforgiving of the thirty-nine year old widow's marriage to the much older billionaire. It was rumored that Jackie would never have married Onassis if Bobby had not been killed. Jackie's reputation suffered terribly from her marriage to Onassis, especially in Europe where Onassis was strongly disliked. He was often condemned in the European press, for details of his personal and business life that the American press never covered.
|Jackie's wedding ring made by Van Cleef and Arpel|
Even among those who knew them as real people and appreciated their human complexities, the marriage of Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis is often reduced to a clash of identity labels: age, social backgrounds, physical appearance, nationality, education, ethnicity, religion.
A number of internal yet powerful factors, however, allowed their genuine mutual affection to develop into a mature appreciation if not romantic love for who each really was as a person.
The marriage made no sense to most people, some of whom were disgusted by it and didn't mind saying so in public or in print. How could she, the dutiful widow of a beloved president, believed to be flawless, devoted to her dead husband's memory and ideals, marry a vulgar and disreputable foreigner with no looks and even less class? Onassis displayed Jackie in public as if she were a jewel, and enjoyed shocking his guests - and Jackie, a lifelong animal lover - with bloody tales of harpooning whales.
People need closure and completion in their lives. They need - and deserve - answers. When Jackie and Onassis circled the Greek Orthodox altar three times in October 1968, she had no way of knowing what she may have later come to learn, but it was part of her journey to find out. The marriage provided Jackie - eventually - with answers to questions that must have plagued her for years. In 1977, Jackie confided to a cousin at a family funeral, "there are some things you never get over."
In the musical version of Camelot, King Arthur's reign comes to a sudden, crashing halt, not because of politics, but because of passion, because of an affair between Guinevere and Lancelot. Passion and sex brought down Camelot, not politics. On that day in 1963 when Jacqueline Kennedy, recently widowed, first spoke with Theodore White about Camelot, did she, however unconsciously, hint at truths she felt, but did not yet know, truths that would take years to surface? Camelot had come and gone again, once again a reign full of intrigue and secrets, and once again suffering a tragic end because of passion, not politics.
Jackie's cousin, author John H. Davis, noticed profound changes in Jackie during her marriage to Onassis, and remembers that the loneliness and insecurity which clung to Jackie in the years following the assassination of her husband were transformed during her marriage to Onassis, and that she became happier and more outgoing. At least during the early years of that second marriage.
Whatever the feelings of families and friends, the newlywed couple showed every sign of being in love. They would have sex in all sorts of unconventional places, aeroplanes, small boats, the beach, regardless of who might be watching – or photographing. The brother of one of Jackie’s Washington friends was shocked by the way Onassis would drag Jackie suddenly into any one of the cabins on Christina and make love to her without bothering to shut the door. This sort of exhibitionism satisfied his ego – he would boast embarrassingly to Jackie’s friends, like Pierre Salinger, of her sexual appetite and his own prowess in bed with her.
Only those very few people invited to spend time with both of them in the rooms of their private spaces shared by the couple who had a real sense of how they lived, be it on the yacht or the island.
Jackie went along with this. On Christina she appears not to have minded sleeping in the bed he had shared with Maria Callas for the past nine years. She did, however, have the huge portrait of Tina moved from its dominant position on the staircase. She realised that in many ways Ari still loved his first wife and it upset her to see ‘that beautiful face’.
It was not Tina, however, but Maria who posed the threat. Maria never again came to Skorpios, but her apartment in Paris at 36 Avenue Georges Mandel was conveniently close to the Onassis apartment at 88 Avenue Foch. Onassis and Maria appeared closer and happier together now than they had been before his marriage to Jackie, but Onassis, for once, did what he could to conceal his frequent rendezvous with Maria. He warned her to switch off the lights at the entrance to her apartment when he was due, so that no one could see him arriving, and arranged to see her through his aide, never calling her directly.
Jackie was aware of her husband’s continuing affair with Callas, and was hurt by it. Once again, she was not number one in her husband’s life. For all the satisfactory, frequent sex, the kissing and touching, the little endearments, there was an element of unreality in their marriage. She was kept away from his business affairs. ‘It would bore you, honey,’ he said, just as Jack had not wanted to discuss the political issues of the day with her. With Maria, it was different. No one who saw them together at this time thought that Onassis went to her only for sex.
In reality Jackie was psychologically terribly wounded by the traumas of the past five years and the deaths of Jack and Bobby. ‘She was,’ said the daughter of a close friend of Onassis, ‘a deeply shattered person. How could it be any different? She spoke to me of the assassination, of how she felt during it, immediately afterwards, what it was like coming back to the White House in that state. And I remember when I first saw her it struck me that her face was entirely laboured by these tiny crack-marks. Like crackle glaze on porcelain. It was the outward sign of what she had gone through.’
Marriage to Onassis was a curiously rootless life for Jackie, who was often left alone. According to one of her few Greek friends, ‘She had no real life in Greece. There were no big parties. Our days were very, very quiet. We read, we walked, we went swimming.’
The Onassis compound at Glyfada was not exactly the sort of setting to which Jackie had been accustomed. Damaris, Lady Stewart, wife of the British ambassador in Athens, Sir Michael Stewart, described the Glyfada villas as ‘appalling, of no taste or interest whatsoever’. Lady Stewart had the impression that Jackie had nothing to do with the running of the houses. ‘When I went to lunch with her he [Onassis] was having a lunch in the next-door house, because the food was coming backwards and forwards across the lawn … When we got to the pudding stage – it was a sort of bought chocolate cake – we had half, the other half had presumably gone there … My superficial impression,’ Lady Stewart went on, ‘was that she was bored and didn't feel in any way at home.’
Ari Onassis proposed to Jackie to live on Skorpios Island and provided her with unlimited funding to redecorate the main house, called the "Pink House", Jackie was finally happy as she created the environment she loved although she missed her many New York based friends.
The color images provide the first pubic glimpse into the place Ari and Jackie Onassis called home, although it is difficult to always discern which rooms are from which house.
The main house is a large villa situated at an elevation affording breathtaking views of the water from stone terraces.
Apparently built by Onassis for Jackie, its grand exterior seems to belie a simple and modern interior architecture.
Nearer the shore is a smaller house, Its exterior walls covered in the sandstone which traditionally mark those seen in Mediterranean homes but painted a soft shade which gave it a magical glow at dusk.
He called it “The Pink House.”Onassis had purchased Skorpios only six years before Jackie Kennedy came to live there with him as his wife.
There are three residences on the island and several smaller buildings which can house up to almost fifty guests, the thirty servants and eighteen gardeners who worked there full-time and utility centers for the considerable upkeep of the entire property.
Certainly, an inviting space seen in the new pictures is a large living room with breathtaking views of the island. It seems fairly clear that this room was located on perhaps of the second story of “Jackie’s Villa.” Some of the images, once enlarged, become blurry but nevertheless provide a sense of the room (see the pictures below).
There are two clay tennis courts, a swimming pool with an impressive fountain beside it, even a farmhouse where goats and other livestock were raised to produce fresh dairy products, meats and cheese.
A greenhouse afforded freshly-cut flowers all year. There was a helipad built to permit the Onassis helicopter a place to land. His two seaplanes were docked at an interior cove, reached by small launches.
There is also a modest Greek Orthodox chapel. This was not only where Jackie Kennedy married Onassis but also where he remains buried in a crypt, along with his son, daughter and one of his sisters.
A lushly wild but otherwise barren property when Onassis first purchased it, he immediately began landscaping portions of Skorpios with pine and palm trees and those bearing fruit and nuts. Paved roadways encircle the island and a drive through an endless grove of olive trees is said to be an especially magical experience.
In the Pink House on Skorpios, Jackie Onassis had free reign to redecorate the rooms in various pastel shades, matched to the changing light in the rooms as cast by the rising and setting sun. In the Athens residence, however, she dared not change anything.
It wasn’t just her long familiarity with Paris, but also the more pleasant home atmosphere which made the Onassis apartment there on the Avenue Foch a more comfortable place for Ari and Jackie to be in residence together. Even when her father was away, if Christina Onassis found herself alone with Jackie in their Paris place was exceedingly more polite than her brother.
|The "Pink Villa" on the Island of Skorpios|
|Skorpios - The mooring|
|Skorpios - The Greek Orthodox chapel where Jackie and Onassis wed and where he remains buried in a family crypt with his children Alex and Christina.|
|Skorpios - The lounge of the House decorated by Jackie|
|Skorpios - The lounge of the House decorated by Jackie|
|Skorpios - The lounge of the House decorated by Jackie|
|Jackie Onassis’s private bedroom in the Pink House, with the wrought-iron canopy, made in Greece; it seems to be the same one she later used on her Martha’s Vineyard home.|
|Skorpios - The private beach near the "Pink House"|
|Skorpios - The pool and a man-made waterfall at left.|
|Pine trees were among the many types of green life Ari landscaped into Skorpios as this view shows looking out from the island.|
|Some of the birds - Skorpios.|
|One of several terraces finished with flagstone overlooking the water.|
On another side of the island, in a lagoon cove of quieter waters, Onassis found the perfect spot for a private beach.
To create it instantly, he shipped in tens of thousands of tons of fine sand. Here he built a one-story beach cottage with terra-cotta walls and open-air windows through which soft breezes wafted.
The family referred to it as the “taverna.”
Beneath there were rattan scooped-out oval chairs with white-piping blue cushions, similar to those found in the houses and on the yacht. Inside was a simple kitchen where afternoon luncheons of freshly-caught fish, and salads of greens, onions, peppers and beets which were all grown on Skorpios, were prepared. A big fan of cucumbers, Jackie also had a small garden of these also planted, yielding enough of a harvest to supply her and her guests with the green in all forms, including her particular favorite cold cucumber soup.
|Jackie Onassis carrying out food to the lunch table.|
|Jackie Onassis getting the lunch table ready at the “taverna.”|
|Jackie Onassis practicing yoga on the beach at SkorpiosAri and Jackie Onassis|
Yet even on this remote paradise with all of its houses, this person who fiercely protected her personal privacy needed not only time alone for herself, but an isolated place for her solitude.
Also on Skorpios, tucked into a cove which is so shrouded in a tall, leafy grove where the water laps the shore is a small and simple cottage, with one door, that Ari built for Jackie Onassis. More than any other place, this was “Jackie’s Villa.”
For well over half of their six year and five month marriage, Ari and Jackie Onassis shared a depth of knowledge about Greek culture and continuously pursued even more of it. No place seemed to focus this passion more than the base they shared, a place in that country of unearthly natural beauty, their home of Skorpios Island.
There was open hostility to Jackie in the Onassis circle. Quite apart from his children, Alexander and Christina, who could not abide Jackie, there was Costa Gratsos, one of Onassis’ oldest friends and a devoted partisan of both Maria and Christina. Gratsos had been unequivocal in his denunciation of Ari’s marriage. As Jackie’s spell over Onassis faded, so Costa’s influence grew, as he worked on his friend’s superstitious nature.
The immediate public reaction to the October 20, 1968 Onassis marriage was hostile shock.
Within two weeks, however, an intense curiosity about the newlyweds arose around the world, arousing seemingly everyone with an opinion about the match.
Even the usually humorless Mao Tse-tung, revolutionary Chairman of Communist China, couldn’t refrain from a bit of speculative, amused gossip about the marriage: “If Soviet premier Khrushchev had been killed instead of Kennedy, I don’t think Mr. Onassis would have married Mrs Kruschev.”
Not only supermarket gossip magazines but legitimate news sources were soon enough offering sweeping assessments about the newlyweds, based on tidbits emerging in off-handed remarks by those who had been with them on Scorpios.
Alexander and Christina were irreconcilable and Jackie made little effort to win them over. ‘I will never sleep in the same house as that American woman,’ Alexander told his father’s secretary, even before the wedding. Onassis’ efforts to improve relations only seemed to make things worse: once when he was about to leave with Jackie for New York, he told her to wait while he went off to find Alexander to come and say goodbye to her. After fifteen minutes, Jackie, increasingly nervous, despatched Kiki Feroudi to fetch him because they were going to miss their flight. Feroudi overheard Alexander flatly refusing to do what his father wanted. Jackie was furious and her usual self-control deserted her. ‘I have done nothing to deserve such rude treatment.’
‘Worry only about your own children, not mine, my dear,’ he told her nastily, as he walked so fast to the plane that there was no way she could keep up with his pace.
Alexander’s reaction to Jackie was relatively calm compared with Christina’s. ‘Christina resented her terribly because Christina herself had had an impossible childhood,’ a family friend said. ‘Because of that, her father meant a great deal to her … She was a completely neurotic girl, hanging on to everything which could give her some sort of security … She would have resented anyone because she was too insecure herself. I mean that girl was not all right. When she was thin, Christina was a very pretty girl, with large dark eyes, delicate wrists and ankles, but when she became particularly depressed, her weight yo-yoed. Jackie, with her slim elegance, was a constant reproach to her, even had she not appeared as a threat to take her father away from her.
As much as she was able to control his schedule, Jackie Onassis resisted inviting too many guests for too long a time to Skorpios, and usually did so only when she knew her husband would be away from her for an extended period.
Her stepson and stepdaughter, Alex and Christina Onassis would drop in frequently but as young adults more often than not preferred to spend their time among their young European crowd in the south of France, London or New York.
|Christina and Alexander on the way to the beach|
|Ari loved his children deeply but was not always good at showing it the right way|
While Alex and Christina Onassis have always been depicted as hating their stepmother, it wasn’t a matter of particularly disliking Jackie Kennedy as much as that their father’s remarriage forever ended their hope he’d someday remarry their mother Tina Livanos. They had resented their father’s mistress Maria Callas with equal intensity.
Another ignored factor was that Alex Onassis had begun to display an open hostility towards his father before his marriage to Jackie Kennedy, a resentment of Ari’s intense control to groom him as heir to all of his many business interests.
While Alex Onassis refused to acknowledge Jackie when they were forced to sit at the same table, he never openly belittled her. In contrast, he told his own mother he would never see or speak to her again, after she married Stavros Niarchos, who was not only his father’s primary rival but her late sister’s husband.
Although she voiced the same sentiments about Jackie to her brother, Christina Onassis more frequently visited her father and Jackie. Her stepmother managed to grow somewhat close to her in the early years of the marriage and they were often hiking companions around Skorpios. She encouraged Christina to date Peter Goulandris, whose family Jackie had known before her marriage to Onassis. “Maria Callas never liked me very much,” Christina Onassis bluntly told a reporter in 1971, “but Jackie is my stepmother and she is a great friend.”
On several occasions, they went together to Catholic or Greek Orthodox church services on Sundays in the nearby towns.
During the Easter season in 1969, they even attended a service in each church.
Ari was not big on church.
|Jacqueline Onassis, Caroline Kennedy and Christina Onassis attend Christmas church services in Lefkas, Greece, 1968.|
|During a Mets game at Shea Stadium, Ari Onassis chats with his wife, stepdaughter and stepson.|
John Kennedy, Jr. formed a friendly bond with his stepfather, who especially rose in his estimation after Ari gave him a gift of a speedboat.
They often stayed up talking late into the night. And while it was no yacht, like the one named for his own daughter, Onassis also gave his stepdaughter the gift of a vessel, named for her.
The large, bright-red sailboat Caroline provided the children and their governess Marta Scubin, who Ari Onassis had first interviewed before Jackie did, a way to go off and explore different islands around Greece for journeys of several days endurance.
Onassis once spoke candidly about his role as a stepfather to the children of the late President Kennedy:
|The Kennedy kids and their cousin Tina enjoy the trampoline which Ari Onassis installed for them on Scorpios.|
|Caroline and John Kennedy with cousin Tony on the motorboat Onassis gave his stepson.|
During several of her visits to New York, Christina Onassis also stayed at 1040 at Jackie’s insistence. Before that, Christina Onassis had been making a New York hotel suite her home, living alone since her late teens.
There were inevitably the tense moments when the children of one spouse irritated the other partner. No matter how politely Jackie Onassis smiled back in response to the rude grunts of Alex Onassis or his ignoring of her expressed interest in his activities, she got no where.
She finally blew up, bewildered as to why Ari’s son could not even act civilly towards her. Onassis shot back that he’d take care of his kids and she should take care of her own.
On occasion, however, Onassis could burst his legendary temper on John Kennedy, like the time the boy had gotten the the bits of hair from his freshly-cut head trim all over the yacht furniture.
Yet he unleashed his anger on everyone in his own family and Jackie as well. If anything, Ari Onassis tended to be a bit worried and even more over-protective of her son than Jackie could be.
Once the Kennedy children were on summer vacation from school, they joined their mother and stepfather on Scorpios for most of June and July,
Frequently, they were joined by their aunt and uncle, Stas and Lee Radziwill, Jackie’s brother-in-law and sister, and their children, first cousins Tony and Tina Radziwill.
In the summer of 1971, Jackie invited her friend photographer Peter Beard to join them on Scorpios, a period he recalled as idyllic and full of natural beauty and humor.
Outside of this “blended” family of four children, brought together by divorce and death, Ari and Jackie Onassis shared most of their life in Greece and on Skorpios with extended family members.
|Onassis and his stepson John Kennedy|
That she gave her blessing to her daughter-in-law’s controversial re-marriage proved to be not only a grateful relief to Jackie but seemed to mark a turning point in their relationship.
Drawing closer to each other, Rose Kennedy was a guest on both the Christina and on Scorpios and the Onassises also came to visit at her family’s winter home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Although President Kennedy‘s sisters Jean Kennedy Smith and Pat Kennedy Lawford had come with Jackie Kennedy to her 1968 wedding on Skorpios, along with the three Lawford daughters, they did not return for a visit.
The only other member of the Kennedy family who would come to visit Scorpios and visit Jackie in her new life there was her brother-in-law, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy.
In the summer months between the June assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the Onassis-Kennedy wedding in October, Ari Onassis came to visit the Kennedy family compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
Despite the darkness her husband’s recent murder had left upon her, Ethel Kennedy’s humor returned during Ari’s visit, she and Onassis teasing each other through an evening gathering of the extended family. However startling the match might be to them, those family members of President Kennedy at the dinner were welcoming to Ari.
Onassis would also visit the Newport, Rhode Island estate of Jackie Kennedy’s mother and stepfather, Janet Lee and Hugh Auchincloss.
Janet Auchincloss had been especially displeased about the impending marriage, although it had not yet been officially announced.
During the visit she was fascinated by a little tape recorder and cassettes of classical music which Onassis listened to as he worked virtually through the entire night. At the end of the stay, he gave it to her as a gift. She protested that it was too generous for him to part with his prized music player – causing family members to laughingly assure her that Onassis could surely afford to buy another one for himself.
Still, when her daughter made an unexpected call and asked her to release an announcement to the press that she was marrying Onassis, Janet Auchincloss was flabbergasted and madly tried to talk Jackie out of it.
|Onassis and his mother-in-law Janet Auchincloss.|
Hugh and Janet Auchincloss made their peace with Jackie’s decision, and they also made at least one known lengthy stay on Scorpios during the 1969-1970 holiday season.
Using the island as their home base, Jackie Onassis and her children took her mother and stepfather to various other islands and towns in Greece.
When Onassis was in New York, he also encountered his mother-in-law if she happened to be visiting her daughter’s apartment. Family friend Ros Gilpatric recalled the deadpan look Ari humorously shot his way when he came into the living room at 1040. Jackie had invited Ros up without telling him why. He was to be Rose Kennedy’s bridge partner, pitted against the team of Onassis and Mrs. Auchincloss. Jackie giggled from behind a door, peeking in.
She never learned how to play bridge.
When Onassis had first visited Newport in 1968, he was accompanied not only by his daughter but his closest sister.
|Artemis Onassis Garoufalidis , the compassionate older sister of Ari who befriended Jackie Kennedy.|
Always protective and supportive of her brother “Aristo,” as she called him, Artemis had a more patient and nuanced understanding of human nature than he did. She was extraordinarily humorous and hospitable.
Artemis had first met Jackie Kennedy when the First Lady and her sister Lee were guests on the Christina in October of 1963 and offered her a compassionate empathy following the death two months earlier of her infant son Patrick, a welcome warmth Jackie never forgot. When Mrs. Kennedy arrived in Greece for her wedding, it was Artemis who was there to embrace and whisk her away, shooing off reporters and paparazzi.
A garden path connected Artemis’s Glyfada house to the one Ari Onassis kept there; her home was always the gathering place of the extended family. The matriarch filtered out the frauds who sought to infiltrate her brother’s circle and served as a maternal figure for her niece Christina, who lived in a suite at her aunt’s house Artemis was relieved when Ari and Jackie married, never trusting his lover Maria Callas and never stopped imploring Alex and Christina to be more civil to their stepmother.
With Ari so often speeding out to the nearby airport and flying off to do business deals at points all over the world, it was Artemis who acted as a guide for Jackie Onassis who wanted to begin exploring Athens. Her sister-in-law’s encouragement of her curiosity about the history and architecture of different parts of the city even led the former First Lady to revive her political lobbying skill for a public issue which would remain of lifelong concern to her.
As the American First Lady, Jackie Kennedy had famously helped save the rows of historic building on the east and west blocks which faced Lafayette Square, the White House facing it from the south, across the street. There had been a federal order to demolish these to make room for desperately needed office space for workers in the executive branch. The challenge which she successfully sought to address was a way to keep the historic character of this important public park where generations of people had gathered in times of national crisis and celebration, but to also have it serve the practical needs of contemporary society.
Little did she then know how that experience would now serve her in saving some Greek history while permitting the commerce of the present to flourish.
The city had already begun scheduling plans to pull down building and make way for an archaeological dig intended to uncover some of the ancient walls preserved within ones added later.
Melissinos recalled: “I explained to Mrs. Onassis that it would be good to see more of the old city’s walls and other buildings, but that we, also, are making history, and that it would be a pity if this street, which has its own character, were destroyed.
“Two days later I received a telephone call from the Ministry of Public Works saying that the street will stay.
Mrs. Onassis intervened. She said a word in the right place. They had already put the crosses on the pavements showing that this part was to come down, and then nothing more happened.”
Guided largely by her husband, Jackie Onassis immersed herself in Greek history, art and literature.
He taught her how to speak enough of a rudimentary Greek that she was soon speedily making herself familiar with idiomatic and dialect subtleties which differed in parts of the country.
First with him, and then on her own, she repeatedly visited Ari’s favorite place in Greece, the island of Ithaka. What she found especially intriguing about the island was what she considered its “mythological personality,” since legends written by Homer are associated with it, although the exact locations of where his stories are based could never be absolutely proven.
Especially interested in exploring it by foot, and spending hours ruminating at several archeological sites there, Jackie even out-Greeked Ari, who bored quickly when too much time was spent on too much detail.
It was titled “Ithaka,” and was even read at her funeral, evoking that time in her life which recalled Ari and Greece.
Closer to Skorpios is the island of Corfu. Its unique culture and diversely international history was of especial interest to Jackie Onassis. She first began to explore Corfu in the new year of 1970, following a church service at St. Gerry’s Church for the Epiphany festival on January 3, attending with her sister-in-law Artemis Onassis and both women dragging Ari along. Also with the family group was Jackie’s mother, Janet Auchincloss, and her two children Caroline and John.
After their marriage ended, in the summer after Ari Onassis’s death, Jackie purchased a book of poems by Greek poet C.F. Cavafy. In the volume, she was drawn to a poem which became a favorite.
As far as popular Greek music, Jackie Onassis came to briefly befriend Stamatis Kokotas, one of the nation’s most popular contemporary singers who created a repertoire drawn from the traditional folk sound which defined Greece. She purchased a number of his records, as much to attempt to identify the Greek words he sang as listen to his music. Here is one of his recordings:
If she learned about Greek music from Kokotas, Jackie Onassis learned about Greek theater and literature from a distinguished source, perhaps the most important new friend she made in her new life, director and actor Alexis Minotis.
Considering the history of Ari and Jackie Onassis, it was also rather ironic that in 1958, Minotis had directed opera singer Maria Callas in a production of Medea, in the city of Dallas, Texas.
By the time Minitos and Jackie Onassis became friends, he was director of the Greek National Theater. In that role he joined her for numerous classical performances at Apitdeivros, the fourth century B.C. theater. They also attended the theater and opera together in New York. Apart from theater, they also shared a passion for rare, antiquarian books. It was Minitos who first brought Jackie Onassis to some of Athens’ rare bookstores.
From her school years to that of First Lady, to widow, then a second marriage, then a second widowhood, until the end of her life Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis had a pattern of developing intense fascination with national cultures. She fueled this not only by reading traditional history and biography but studying the natural landscapes and the fine and performing arts of the different cultures. With her wealth and privilege, she was often able to fulfill her impulse to then see the particular lands she had studied, and given entree to places not often open to the public.
Although the remarriage of the president’s widow meant she lost her Secret Service protection, Onassis hired private guards on certain occasions to keep crowds and paparazzi away, but even the regular number of drivers hired for her attempted to protect her.
None succeeded too well and as long as her safety was not threatened, Jackie Onassis seemed to often resign herself to being photographed daily.
In Paris and New York, however, this usually meant she was routinely seen getting in and out of cars, going in and out of stores, restaurants, museums, churches and hair salons.
Store owners and clerks, doormen and waiters, managers and maitre d’s not only did their part to escort Jackie Onassis in and out of their establishments to and from her waiting car, but to also keep away gawkers and those imploring her for an autograph or a few words.
In an era predating cellphone cameras, ensuring the absolute privacy of especially famous patrons was particularly expected in exclusive restaurants.
Not only did it preserve a certain cachet of mystery and appeal to such refined eateries, but it also spared movie stars, business tycoons and former First Ladies the risk of having the world see them reading menus with spectacles, spilling gravy on their clothes, smoking cigarettes or downing bottles of beer.
When Ari and Jackie Onassis came for dinner, Maxim’s of Paris adamantly enforced their unwritten rules about restricting all but familiarly-named patrons from getting inside the door.
On one occasion, when a French paparazzi managed to slip in and begin taking a few discreet snaps of Ari and Jackie Onassis at their favorite reserved corner table, the management did not merely eject him from the restaurant but called the police, threatening to hold him for arrest.
Of course, it was never bad for business to have the world know how frequently Ari and Jackie Onassis dined at Maxim’s, or any other restaurant. If paparazzi managed to find a discreet perch which gave them an unimpeded window view of the famous couple eating away, management could claim look away and claim ignorance of their presence.
|Ari and Jackie Onassis enjoying a spirited dinner, unaware that a paparazzi just outside the window was snapping them.|
If circumstance had long before thrust an unwanted degree of fame on her, Ari Onassis so avidly pursued it that he encouraged paparazzi, often even stopping to pose for and crack jokes with them.
There were even a few regulars he knew, based in Athens, who functioned like house photographers in his favorite restaurants, where the management made it permissible for them to stroll among the large open room with tightly-squeezed tables of patrons. Some got so close to Ari and Jackie Onassis forking down dinner, the pictures practically showed what they’d ordered.
It may have been one Greek custom to which Jackie Kennedy could never adapt, accustomed as she was more to the exclusive dinner clubs of New York and Paris with private corner booths.
No matter how much notoriety his fabulous wealth Onassis had grown accustomed to, it was a carnival stand compared to the Technicolor three-ring circus surrealist film which could enclose Jackie Kennedy in the eye of the cyclone when she made an entrance at a public event.
In such instances, it was not only terrifying, even with a cordon of Secret Service agents, but could be dangerous.
She had seen curious but innocent bystanders at the edge of a paparazzi frenzy nearly crushed to death as she shuffled a step forward and the photographers backed up to keep snapping her, without concern for who was behind them.
Companions and escorts had near-misses with concussions when the paparazzi swung their long lenses and heavy flash attachments in place for the money shot.
Onassis balked at his wife’s mistrust of paparazzi tactics, considering it unnecessary paranoia. On both the day of their wedding and the day before, he even coaxed her into talking to reporters and posing for Greek paparazzi, knowing they meant well and would respect his request to get lost once they’d taken a sufficient round of pictures.
Always preferring to walk everywhere, her interactions with people in Greece couldn’t help but be friendly, so enthusiastic were they to see her wherever she popped up. However such easy familiarity proved wearily intrusive, there were never reports of Jackie Onassis responding to Greek citizens with anything but polite smiles.
|Ari and Jackie Onassis snapped at a cafe.|
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Kennedy legend was crumbling. Jackie’s marriage to Onassis had been a serious blow, but what happened on the night of 18 July 1969, ten days before Jackie’s fortieth birthday, was far, far worse. Earlier that year, after witnessing Teddy Kennedy’s bizarre drunken performance on an overnight aeroplane flight, a journalist had described him as ‘an accident waiting to happen’. On 18 July on the tiny island of Chappaquiddick off Martha’s Vineyard, Teddy was returning from a party there and drove his 1967 Oldsmobile off the Dike bridge, drowning his passenger, a Kennedy ‘boiler-room girl’, Mary Jo Kopechne. The whole incident, bad as it was, was made worse by his inexplicable behavior. He stumbled back to the cottage where the party was being held but instead of calling the rescue services he enlisted his cousin Joe Gargan to dive with him to the submerged car. When they failed to rescue Miss Kopechne, he swam the narrow creek dividing Chappaquiddick from Martha’s Vineyard, returned to his hotel, made a 2.30 a.m. appearance in the lobby, then retired to his room where he made seventeen telephone calls, none of which was to the police.
Attempts to represent him as having made heroic efforts to rescue the girl by ‘diving into the strong and murky current’, and speculations about ‘some awful curse’ having over the Kennedys (later used as a frequent excuse for reckless family behaviour) had the opposite effect. The circumstances surrounding the accident were never full explained, but evidence showed that poor Mary Jo’s head had been in an air bubble and she might have been rescued if prompt action had been taken. The words ‘panic’, ‘cowardice’ and ‘cover-up’ were bandied about.
On February 1970 four of Jackie’s letters to Ros Gilpatric, written between 1963 and 1968, mysteriously surfaced. One, dated 13 June 1963, thanking Ros for a ‘slim volume’, was couched in the intimate flirtatious style that Jackie used in letters to her men friends. The last had been written while on her honeymoon with Onassis, again in the most affectionate terms.
Onassis could discount Jackie’s friendship with Gilpatric, which was not exactly unknown to him but his Greek male pride was offended by his new wife having sat down on their honeymoon to write warm notes to another man. Nor did he like the publicity, which he saw as reflecting badly on him. He told Costa Gratsos, ‘My God, what a fool I have made of myself.’
In a deliberate show of tit-for-tat, he dropped his discretion where Callas was concerned. He spent four successive evenings with her in May and was seen leaving her apartment at one o’clock in the morning. Jackie flew to Paris to take Maria’s place. The message from Jackie to Maria was clear: I’m his wife, I’m number one. Distraught at being used once again, Callas spent three sleepless nights and accidentally overdosed on sleeping tablets. It was now impossible for Jackie to pretend that her husband was not with his mistress whenever her back was turned or that he was using Callas to keep her in line.
Jackie’s marriage to Onassis was not in trouble – yet – but the strains underlay it. Onassis was still beguiled by Jackie who, when in Greece, was prepared to act like a Greek wife. Onassis was proud of her, of her beauty and her taste, the impeccable way she ran her households, but he was not cut out for the delicate minuets he had to dance with Jackie. He became bored with her feyness and fantasy, her need for reassurance and admiration, contrasting it with Maria’s wholehearted passion. As a friend observed, ‘Maria would sing, cook, throw spaghetti at him, they used to fight like crazy, they were temperamental.’
As things began to go wrong in Onassis’ business and private life, darker shadows fell across the marriage. It seemed that Onassis had lost his phenomenal skills in putting together a deal and single-mindedly pursuing an objective. At the same time he seemed to be losing control of his family. In July 1971 Christina, aged twenty-two, married Joseph Bolker, a forty-eight-year-old California-based real-estate dealer, without telling her father. Christina’s marriage outraged Onassis because he saw it as an act of defiance against his rights over her as a father. (In February 1972, after months of pressure, Christina and Bolker were divorced amicably.) To him it was a symptom of his loss of control in other areas. In October he suffered a blow that hit him personally and left him reeling. His arch rival, Stavros Niarchos married Onassis’ former wife, Tina. Illogically, although the divorce from Tina had been the direct result of his open adultery with Maria Callas, the failure of his marriage had hurt. To him Tina was always his true wife and the mother of his children. He saw, probably correctly, Tina’s marriage to Niarchos as her last act of revenge for his own marriage to Jackie.
For his part, Onassis was getting bored with Jackie, who increasingly was getting on his nerves. He resented her increasingly frequent and prolonged trips to America to see her children or to attend Kennedy functions, when as a Greek wife she should be sitting a home waiting for him. Onassis began to complain about Jackie to his Greek friends and, naturally, to Maria Callas. She was never with him, she was cold, she spent too much money. Even sexually now he found her dull. ‘He called Callas and he told her, "I’m just a babysitter. I have to sit and wait and wait for this woman." He also said that going to bed with her was like going to bed with a corpse.’
Onassis was also beginning to face some unpleasant business realities, as his overall assets were showing losses for the year 1973 ahead. Rather than face it by explaining the complexities of a shifting global economy and his own investment decisions, he fixated on a more spiteful excuse for the tumble. From the very start of their marriage, Ari had been repeatedly and extravagantly plying Jackie with eye-popping jewelry that she’d never asked for. Yet now he began to complain that by indulging her expensive tastes in art and clothing, she was depleting his fortune. The high cost of the winning auction bid on an 18th Century French landscape painting was more readily comprehended than the spike in airline fuel caused by an oil embargo.
Whereas Ari had been flamboyantly generous towards any matter of personal importance to Jackie, now he was passing judgement on the value of her concerns. After embarrassing news stories about the deplorable living conditions of Jackie’s paternal aunt and first cousin “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, for example, Onassis eagerly underwrote the costs of bringing their home up to code.
An apparently sharp argument broke out between them, however, when she asked him to make a donation to a fledgling clinic in Vietnam, established by her close friend, journalist Gloria Emerson, which treated children maimed by the war.
When Onassis flat-out refused to do so, belittling the effort, Jackie went “berserk,” especially stunned at how he could so summarily deny aiding such a relatively modest humanitarian effort.
The incident triggered an act of defiance that echoed some of her determined tactics as First Lady when she conceived of creative methods to fund the purchase of especially rare but unaffordable antiques for her historical restoration of the White House.
Although her living expenses were appropriated monthly by Onassis, at some point in 1972 or 1973 he limited her discretionary funds. He had not, however, closed the credit accounts he had always maintained for the women of his family at numerous clothier’s in Paris.
Onassis became bewildered by a particular set of charges that came in for a series of couture gowns charged by Jackie in Paris but which she never once wore. Why did she buy these expensive clothes, he complained, when he knew for a fact that she had been wearing tee-shirts, jeans and sportswear for weeks on end and then appeared shortly thereafter at a formal event in a gown she had already worn publicly on several past occasions.
It is unclear whether or not Onassis ever found out that, in fact, his wife had the new, unworn couture sent to New York and discreetly sold at a high-end outlet for practically its full value, less the cost of customs tax.
To Gloria Emerson, however, Mrs. Onassis made a whopping donation to help her hospital for Vietnamese children – in cash, and on the condition that her seemingly Robin Hoodesque transaction not be revealed in Emerson’s forthcoming McCall’s Magazine profile about her, a strategic piece of public relations with which Jackie was fully cooperating.
If this sort of subversive shopping was providing Jackie Onassis a creative outlet amid the growing frustrations and tension of her marriage, Ari Onassis found it by renewing not so much a romance but a romantic friendship with his former lover, opera singer Maria Callas.
He was also going out more frequently to nightclubs and staying until the wee hours of the morning as he had done before marrying Jackie. On occasion, she joined him but she found the repetitive outings to be tedious. It was also a gross understatement to say that she didn’t quite enjoy the belly-dancing on tables that he loved, particularly during trips they made to Iran and Egypt together.
|Jackie Onassis didn't take as well to a bellydancer in Egypt as she did the Nile. Ari liked it.|
In the following year, she would even successfully prod her husband off his yacht and out of his offices for a leisurely tour of Egypt, a place both had expressed a desire to explore if they could find the time.
Unfortunately, the 1974 Egyptian trip did little to relax Aristotle Onassis. At that point, it was already too late.
On January 23, 1973 another unexpected tragedy had hit this clan that had been cobbled together by a divorce and an assassination.. This time, however, it wasn’t on Jackie’s side of the family.
Just as he had with Callas, Onassis began to humiliate Jackie publicly. Her capacity to ‘tune out’ irritated him as much as it had Jack Kennedy. One rainy evening in Glyfada, Onassis and his friends Miltos Yiannacopoulos and Yiannis Gorgakis had been talking to each other all evening while Jackie sat opposite them, silent, reading a book about Socrates. Finally, she put down the book to ask Yiannis Gorgakis whether he thought that Socrates had really existed or whether he had been an invention of Plato to represent the Athenian philosophers. As Gorgakis began to answer seriously, Onassis jumped up from the sofa and began to scream at Jackie: ‘What is the matter with you? Don’t you ever stop to think before you open your mouth? Have you never noticed the statue in the centre of Athens? Are you too stupid not to know a statue of Socrates?’
Jackie, in tears, whispering to herself in French to make sure that if she was overheard she would be understood, went upstairs, came down wearing a raincoat and walked out. Onassis refused to bring Jackie in out of the rain himself but ordered Yiannacopoulos to do so. Without saying a word, Jackie came in and sat down silently beside Gorgakis. Onassis sat back muttering about ‘idiotic conversations’ and closed his eyes. His form of apology was an expensive gold bracelet he gave her some days later. Jackie had won the battle without saying a word, with enormous self-control and an actress’s sense of how to steal a scene. Silent withdrawal, as she had learned with Jack, was one of her most potent weapons.
Onassis simply did not know how to deal with her, and the great publicity coup he thought he had achieved in marrying her had turned sour. Since everybody believed that she had only married him for his money, the reports of her spending – real and exaggerated – made him look like a sucker. Her devotion was to her children, her real life in America, and not in Greece, or even Paris, with him. He planned to reassert himself by divorcing her and by making sure that she would not get away with a large slice of the Onassis fortune. In November 1972 he sprang his first trap for Jackie. He presented her with a legal document which stated that in return for $2 million in bonds which Onassis had given her as a wedding present she thereby waived every claim she might possibly have to inherit anything from his estate. The document also stated, ‘Each party declares that he or she had been represented by independent counsel in the negotiation and execution of this agreement,’ which was false. Only Onassis’ lawyers were involved; Jackie had not consulted anybody. In fact, the document had no legal validity and could not affect Jackie’s right to inherit a one-eighth share of Onassis’ property under Greek law. But this was merely the first stage in the saga: her husband was planning to use his influence to have the law changed in order to legitimise the waiver and thus deprive her of her statutory rights. Two months later, Ari contacted the infamous Roy Cohn, an unscrupulous lawyer who had every reason to hate the Kennedys, with a view to collecting evidence for a divorce from Jackie.
The idea of showing Jackie and the world who was boss, and depriving her of access to any of his fortune, became an obsession with Onassis. He was in his seventies and ageing. His son, Alexander, with whom he was constantly at loggerheads, taped his telephone conversations with his father. One revealed Onassis, drunk, calling from New York croaking out ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ with a medley of oaths, inanities, orders and complaints. ‘It’s two o’clock in the afternoon over there,’ Alexander commented, ‘and he’s completely pissed out of his mind.’ Sexually, he was no longer the man he had been. ‘He [Onassis] was horrid to all his women in the end,’ said Reinaldo Herrera, a friend of both Jackie and Onassis, who had been Tina’s lover before her divorce. ‘I think it was a sign of impotence, you see. I know he was impotent with Tina. I’m sure she [Jackie] was very unhappy. And I think it all happened because there was a sexual thing there that didn’t work.’
Again, just as she had with Jack, Jackie began to taunt Onassis, saying biting things in her own inimitable way, although rarely in public. She knew of the divorce discussions, although no figures had been put forward. Her experience with the waiver had no doubt unnerved her. Onassis kept her in the dark.
Alexander was delighted about his father’s plans to ‘divorce the Widow’. On 22 January he was at the controls of the elderly Piaggio which, he had told his father, was a ‘deathtrap’, on what was to be a training flight for the pilot, who was to take the plane to Miami to be sold. Seconds after take-off, the plane hit the runway, leaving Alexander with irreversible brain damage. As family and friends gathered at the Athens hospital where Alexander lay in deep coma, his face shattered and the right side of his brain a pulp, Jackie ‘did something so shocking that I can’t talk to you about it’, according to one of those present. ‘It showed Jackie’s insensitivity, her hard side. She approached Fiona Thyssen, whom Alexander had hoped to marry, to ask if she knew what Ari was proposing to offer her as a divorce settlement. Taken aback, Baroness Thyssen replied that that was a question she should ask her husband.
Jackie knew that Onassis planned to rid himself of her – no doubt, as cheaply as he could – and she was desperate to know what he had in mind. Nothing else can explain her crude approach to Fiona Thyssen at a time of such anguish. Jackie, of course, could only experience the anguish by proxy: Alexander had detested her and had been consistently rude to her. But his death was a tragedy for her also: it destroyed Onassis as a man and all semblance of a relationship between them.
‘He was a shattered, shattered man,’ the daughter of one of his friends said. ‘I went to see him at the airport after Alexander’s funeral. I remember all we could do was sort of hug each other.’
Jackie’s position was becoming increasingly untenable. Her husband, deeply superstitious, was beginning to believe the whispers circulating among his entourage, specifically from Christina and her principal ally Costa Gratsos, that Jackie was the bearer of bad luck. Gratsos was bluntly obscene, using a horrible Greek phrase to describe her, of which ‘Black Widow’ is the politest interpretation.
Nothing that Jackie or anyone else could do comforted Onassis for the loss of Alexander, his grief compounded by guilt at his shortcomings as a father, or for the Greek sense of being punished by the fates, which was undermining his self-belief and his will to live. His behaviour was increasingly morbid; night after night on Skorpios he would take a bottle of ouzo and two glasses up to Alexander’s grave, pour one for himself and one for his son, and sit there crying and talking to Alexander. Or he would invite Jackie or Artemis and her husband to lunch beside the mausoleum, sitting at a table set with linen tablecloth, silver and glass, toasting his son.
At heart, Onassis did not hate Jackie. In his drunken states he would take out his frustration and rage on her, not just for what had happened but for what could never happen. He wanted her to be his Greek wife, at his beck and call as Callas had been. He resented her devotion to her children to the exclusion of his own wishes. He resented her Kennedy life, the constant reminders of her first husband, the anniversaries and the memorials; even, perhaps, while drinking pink champagne late at night with close women friends on Christina that she would go over the assassination, again and again, making that arcing gesture to describe the trajectory of a piece of Jack’s skull.
Although he and his clique liked to represent Jackie as ‘the Golddigger’ he had not, considering his wealth, been generous to her financially, apart from lavishing gifts upon her in the early days of their marriage. In marrying Onassis she had forfeited access to the Kennedy trusts and was, therefore, financially dependent on him, apart from the $2 million in bonds he had given her as a wedding present – hardly a fortune in his terms. She had no property of her own – apart from the Fifth Avenue apartment – and he refused to buy her a country house, which she had pressed him for. He retained chequebook power over her by paying her monthly bills for clothing and decoration. For Onassis money, like Samson’s hair, was the source of his power, which no one but he could touch.
Intimations of mortality were all around him, even before Alexander’s death had dealt him the ultimately fatal blow. His heavy drinking was limiting his capacity to function as a businessman, let alone as a husband. He was a sick man. He became more and more determined that Jackie, if she would not bend to his will, should not profit from his death. She should not have even what was hers under Greek law.
To further his aim Onassis drafted a will which gave a lifetime income of $100,000 a year, with $25,000 each to John and Caroline until they reached the age of twenty-one. In addition Jackie was to be given a 25 per cent share in both Christina and Skorpios in partnership with Christina, provided she bore the proportionate share of the not inconsiderable cost of upkeep. Should she choose to dispute the will, she would immediately forfeit her annuity, and Onassis’ executors and his heirs were to fight her ‘through all possible legal means’.
Jackie was not aware of the existence or the terms of the will, which Onassis had not as yet signed, or, more importantly, of the further steps he was undertaking to nullify her rights to 12.5 per cent of his total fortune under Greek law and validate the waiver she had so trustingly signed.
Onassis pocketed his will, unsigned, and left to join Jackie for New Year in 1974 in Acapulco, the place where she and Jack had begun their honeymoon, just over twenty years before. If it had been planned by Jackie as a romantic trip, it turned out to be a disaster. On the return journey in their private jet, after a row over Jackie’s plans to build a house in Acapulco, in which she told him a few unwelcome truths, he signed the will.
In June that year he moved to stage two of excluding Jackie from her legal rights. At his behest his friends, the government of Greek ‘colonels’, passed a special law to validate the waiver he had induced Jackie to sign in 1972. The waiver would entitle him to leave her what he wished and what he had now designated under his will.
Inexorably, disaster seemed to follow upon disaster for Onassis. The fourth Arab-Israeli war and the Arab oil-producers’ decision in the autumn of 1973 to increase their oil prices had hit the tanker business. Olympic Airways was similarly going downhill. On the personal side of the Onassis family, things went from bad to worse. In August Christina took an overdose of sleeping pills. Tina flew to London to be with her; Onassis was not told until she had recovered. Less than two months later Tina herself was found dead in her bedroom. No signs of violence were found on her body; after an autopsy demanded by a suspicious Christina, she was found to have died of ‘acute oedema of the lung’. But Tina’s misery in her marriage may have contributed to her death: she had been smoking and drinking too much.
Several weeks after Tina’s death, Onassis’ own health deteriorated sharply and he was admitted to a New York hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from myasthenia gravis, an incurable disease brought on by stress, alcohol and fatigue.
On the day he discharged himself his face swollen from cortisone treatment, his drooping eyelids held up with plaster behind his dark glasses, he received news that Olympic Airways was nearly broke. He had already heard the news that his plans for an oil refinery in New Hampshire had been turned down. In Greece, his junta friends had been replaced by a democratically elected government. Against his doctor’s advice, Onassis flew to Athens in December determined to negotiate government backing for Olympic. He seemed not to be aware that, as a close associate of the disgraced junta, he was out in the cold. On 15 January 1975, after almost twenty years of Onassis’ ownership, Olympic was sold back to the Greek government. The blow to his sense of his own prestige was immeasurable. It seemed to him that he did nothing but lose.
Jackie’s relationship with her husband was also at an all-time low, so much so that she did not accompany him to Athens this time, but went skiing. At this crisis in his affairs her presence in Greece might have helped him both personally and from a public- relations point of view. She did not seem to care. She did not return to him until she received a message from Christina at Glyfada saying that he had collapsed with severe abdominal pains on 3 February 1975.
On 6 February Christina and Jackie flew with Onassis to Paris. He had been too feeble even to walk to the car to be taken to the airport. Instead he was carried downstairs and placed in the waiting Cadillac. In Paris, flanked by Jackie and Christina, he made a supreme effort to walk into 88 Avenue Foch on his own, past the ranks of photographers, to spend what would be his last night there. The following day, again surrounded by journalists and television cameramen, they took Onassis to the American Hospital. The doctors there decided to remove his gall bladder.
After the operation, on 10 February, he weakened dramatically and for the next five weeks lay there kept alive by a ventilator and fed intravenously, dying slowly. Jackie flew back and forth between New York and Paris to be with him. One woman was not allowed to be at Onassis’ bedside: Maria Callas. Middle-class Greek morality forbade it. Only once did she manage to slip into the hospital unrecognised. On 10 March she could bear the situation no longer and fled to Palm Beach.
That same week Jackie, too, aware that Onassis would not recover, but advised by the doctors that his condition had stabilised and that he was unlikely to die in the near future, decided to leave for New York.
Christina never left her father’s bedside during all the time of his hospitalisation. He was all hers at last, and she was not prepared to share him with Jackie. According to one source, she instructed the doctors not to tell anyone else that he was dying, so Jackie was still in New York when Aristotle Onassis died on 15 March 1975. Of all his family only Christina was with him at the end. After he died, she made an attempt to slash her wrists but was saved by an alert doctor.
Jackie’s absence from her husband’s bedside when he died made the worst possible public impression, giving ammunition to her enemies in the Onassis camp. But it was at Onassis’ funeral, just as at Alexander’s deathbed, that Jackie’s hard streak surfaced inappropriately. Escorted by Teddy Kennedy, she got into the lead car with the grief-stricken Christina for the drive to the fishing village of Nidri from where Onassis’ body was to be carried by boat to Skorpios. Suddenly the car stopped, Christina got out and ran back to her aunts’ car immediately behind. The reason for this surprise move, Christina told Marina Dodero after the funeral, was that Teddy had leaned forward and said to her, ‘And now, what about the money?’ Teddy had blurted it out but he would hardly have done so without Jackie’s previous agreement.
It was a grey and windy wintry day on Skorpios when Onassis’ coffin was lowered into the vault beside Alexander’s. Of the five Onassis women, Jackie was the only one who did not weep, as her husband of almost seven years was buried in the church where they had been married. Yet despite his treatment of her during their latter years together, she was never heard subsequently to criticise him and always expressed great fondness for him. On the day of the funeral she vowed to Christina that she would always keep the Onassis name. But in effect her Greek life was over.
"God is punishing you for your sins," Christina whispered into her dying father's ear. Onassis' health and will to live suffered an unstoppable decline after Alexander's death. At her second husband's funeral, in March 1975, Jackie's chosen facial expression was a fixed, habitual smile, almost a grimace. At his funeral, Jackie said:
Aristotle Onassis rescued me at a moment when my life was engulfed with shadows. He meant a lot to me. He brought me into a world where one could find both happiness and love. We lived through many beautiful experiences together which cannot be forgotten, and for which I will be eternally grateful.
At his death, Onassis' estate was reportedly worth close to $1 billion dollars (equivalent to $6 billion in 2007), and by Greek law, Jackie's legal share would have been approximately $125 million, but Onassis, immediately prior to his death, and without Jackie's knowledge, had persuaded the Greek parliament to change the inheritance laws, in order to keep his wife from inheriting her rightful share. In the two years after Alexander's death, rumors of a pending divorce had surfaced in the papers, but divorce was not possible; Jackie had too much dirt on Onassis, and threatened to use it against him if he even considered divorcing her.
After Onassis' death, rumors abounded, especially in Europe, that Jackie had some dirt on her deceased husband, that she knew something she wasn't supposed to know, but no one could say what it was. Jackie threatened to make big trouble if Christina did not announce publicly that Onassis had not planned to divorce her, and if Christina did not give her a decent sum from the estate. Christina knew that Jackie "had something on Onassis" with which she could successfully blackmail the Onassis estate and reputation. In a nervous attempt to save her family's reputation, Christina bought off her stepmother, giving her $26 million from Onassis' estate, a much greater share than Onassis had left her in his rewritten will (approximately $3 million).
Christina inherited her father’s wiliness and secretiveness, and his determination that Jackie should have as little as possible from his estate. She started the bidding with an offer of a mere two or three million dollars to Jackie. Tough negotiations led to a settlement in May, one provision of which declared ‘the daughter and wife each hereby confirm that to the best of their knowledge and belief that the father died intestate leaving no will or testament of any kind, granting rights or wishes to the wife or to her children’.
The Onassis side alleged that Jackie had signed a waiver ‘which was valid’, to which Jackie’s side replied that it was fraudulently produced and was invalid in its execution’ under New York law, which required that when such an agreement was entered into ‘you must have independent counsel and knowledge of the facts – "both absent here"’. They threatened that they would allege fraud on this and have the waiver declared null and void. Jackie’s lawyers scoured Europe for evidence of Onassis’ assets and found, as he had predicted, no visible leads to his hidden fortune. None the less they pressed on to come to a settlement.
Eventually, Jackie received over $26 million, $500,000 of which went to her lawyers. The agreement was signed on 7 May 1975. But where Onassis’ affairs were concerned, nothing was that simple. Four weeks later Onassis’ will, to the surprise of Jackie’s side, surfaced and was probated. Some people suspected an intrigue or battle of wills involving Christina and a member of the Onassis circle, which led to publication. Jackie’s lawyers immediately telephoned Christina’s side: ‘Well, fancy that, we all thought there was no will, where did this come from?’ The Greek response was to tell them, in so many words, ‘You’ve got your settlement. Now go away.’
But Jackie’s lawyers did not go away. It took an additional two years to negotiate a further settlement, which was finally reached on 5 October 1977. Jackie was to receive the income provided for her in the will for the rest of her life.
Christina represented Jackie as ‘greedy’ but she had married Onassis without conditions, refusing to ‘barter’ herself. His ‘wedding gift’ of $2 million bonds to compensate her for what she had lost in Kennedy funds by marrying him was a mere fleabite in terms of a fortune estimated at more than $500 million.
Onassis had appeared as not only a safe refuge from a violent America and an escape to a Mediterranean fantasy but also, more importantly, as the ideal father/lover who would protect her and physically satisfy her. In the end, both had been disillusioned. Onassis, looking for a little-girl wife like Tina, with the passionate but acquiescing characteristics of Maria Callas, had discovered a little-girl attitude that concealed a real independence of spirit. Jackie, while behaving well – even heroically so – in public, in private found herself increasingly alone, her sexuality and her intellectual ability denigrated or ignored. Her Kennedy children were her primary responsibility, but Onassis who had never regarded his own children in that light until it was too late, had not been able to accept her divided loyalty.