"Camera Girl," Reviewed by Pat Sainz
“Camera Girl” by Carl Sferrazz Anthony tells of the last four years in Jackie Kennedy’s life before she married John Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. The years span 1949 to 1953. “Camera Girl” gives insights into the life and mind of the famously reticent Jackie before she became Jack Kennedy’s wife in 1953.
“Camera Girl” shows Jackie to be a young woman of contradictions. She was shy but ambitious, generous in personality yet calculating in her relationships, with a desire to be influential and even “great.” She was witty and ironic.
Even though Jackie had a privileged upbringing, she was a product of the 1950s in which women were expected to marry and devote themselves to their husbands and children, foregoing their own ambitions. Had she lived in a different era, it is likely Jackie would have pursued her desire to be a writer and global journalist.
In the years leading up to her marriage, Jackie attended Vassar and the Sorbonne in Paris. She learned to speak fluent French. She traveled widely and met influential people whom she could introduce to her husband years later.
Following her year in Paris, Jackie graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in French Literature. Before graduation, she entered a Prix de Pais writing contest for female college seniors. Out of 1,280 applicants, Jackie won. She was hired by Vogue, sponsor of the contest, to begin work in Paris.
Jackie did not go to Paris at the insistence of her mother. Janet Bouvier Auchinncloss wanted Jackie to stay in Washington to find a husband. Jackie tried not to disappoint her mother even though Janet was physically and verbally abusive to Jackie, often berating her for her “kinky” hair, choice of clothes, and her lack of interest in marriage.
Jackie was very close to her father, John “Black Jack” Bouvier. Jackie’s parents divorced when was a child. Jackie worshiped her hard drinking, gambling father. She never blamed him for the divorce even though he was repeatedly unfaithful to her mother. Both parents vied for Jackie’s attention by withholding money or expensive gifts if she didn’t comply with their expectations.
In 1951, Jackie began a job with the “Washington Times-Herald” as the “Inquiring Photographer.” She interviewed people on the street with a question of her choice, photographed the respondents, and submitted the best responses for a daily column. Her byline was published daily. A promotion changed her title to “Inquiring Camera Girl.” She reluctantly quit the job following her engagement.
Jackie met Jack in 1951 through mutual friends. Jack told a friend that he had never met anyone like her, and that she was different from any girl he knew. Jackie said she saw greatness in Jack the first time she met him. After she met Jack, she broke off an engagement with John Husted, admitting that she did not want to be a suburban housewife.
When Jack became a senator, he asked her to help him prepare a speech for the Senate in which he would entreat Congress to stop giving funds to support France’s war in Vietnam. Jackie read history books and current commentaries in their original French, translated salient passages, and gave them to Jack to use in his speech. The author sees Jackie’s helping Jack as the most salient point in a time when Jack realized what an asset she could be to him in his political endeavors.
Jackie and Jack were compatible because they both wanted to see him in the White House. They both learned more from traveling, reading, and through conversations with influential people than they did from school. They were both perfectionists.
Jackie believed a woman should not divorce a man following marriage. She felt her mother ruined Jackie’s childhood when Janet divorced her father. Jackie also believed in the tenets of the Catholic Church regarding divorce. Ambassador Joe Kennedy, Jack Kennedy’s father, recognized Jackie’s viewpoint about marriage and knew that she would not thwart Jack’s plans to run for president by divorcing him for his “indiscretions.”
Joe Kennedy urged Jack to marry Jackie. Once they were engaged, Joe Kennedy hired a public relations firm to plan and publicize the wedding of his son and bride-to-be. He knew the publicity would further Jack’s trajectory to the presidency.
I have read several books about the Kennedys, but this book explores the years of Jackie that have not received more than cursory attention. I relished it.
Sferrazza has written many books about the presidents’ wives and families, including a two-volume work, “First Ladies: the Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and Their Power, 1789-1990.”