Jackie Kennedy and Sukharno's awkward evening


U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy relaxing in a chair in December 1961, a few weeks after John F. Kennedy won the presidency.



I can see it now:

The young and regal Jackie Kennedy scooches away from her husband to make room on the couch, gently patting the taught upholstery between them.

Sukarno, Indonesia's founding president and legendary ladies' man, glances at Jackie, then at JFK. Then, again, at Jackie. He sits gingerly between them.

The three exchange niceties and Sukarno laughs politely when Jackie apologizes for the weather, certainly harsher than what he's used to in Southeast Asia. Perhaps His Excellency would enjoy perusing some familiar art.

Jackie gestures to a book on the coffee table in front of them. She had it specially delivered, always remembering every little thing.

Sukarno opens the book and Jackie blushes. But Sukarno misses the rose on her cheeks, so enthralled is he in the images before him: portraits of his wives — let's remember there were eight of them — naked down to the hibiscus blossom.

This and many other choice scenes are included in Jackie Kennedy's soon-to-be-released oral history, dictated 47 years ago to the historian and Kennedy aide, Arthur M. Schlesinger.

Rare Jacqueline Kennedy interview to be made public

The New York Times has been leaking choice excerpts prior to the release of the full project on Wednesday.

Chief among them a scene of giggles the night Sukarno came to town:

[Jackie Kennedy] humorously recounts a visit from Sukarno, the president of Indonesia, to the Kennedys’ private sitting room. The briefing papers she had read in preparation had mentioned that Sukarno had been flattered by Mao’s decision to publish his art collection. To impress Sukarno, Mrs. Kennedy asked the State Department for the volume, positioned it prominently on the table and invited him to sit on the sofa between her and Mr. Kennedy and admire the paintings.

Every single one turned out to be of a woman — “naked to the waist with a hibiscus in her hair,” Mrs. Kennedy tells Mr. Schlesinger, who bursts out laughing. She says she could not believe what she was seeing. “I caught Jack’s eye, and we were trying not to laugh at each other.” Sukarno was “so terribly happy, and he’d say, ‘This is my second wife, and this was.’...” Mrs. Kennedy says. “He had a sort of lecherous look” and “left a bad taste in your mouth.”

Other choice descriptions include: Charles DeGaulle, the French president, as “that egomaniac.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as “a phony,” and Indira Gandhi, the future prime minister of India, as “a real prune — bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.”

Jacqueline Kennedy calls Martin Luther King, Jr. a "terrible" man

The seven-part interview conducted in early 1964, the year after JFK was assassinated, is being published as a book and an audio recording.