>>> EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR: MEETING JACKIE KENNEDY ONASSIS IN 1982:
Frigid New York air poured into the room when I slid the hotel's window to the side. I stuck my head out. Snow danced on the night air and swirled toward me from all directions. Falling silently out of the blackness, it obscured all things distant. No noise reached me, and only a soft radiance of light suggested the
Manhattan streets thirty-seven floors below. Nearby towers, their bases dissolved, floated—immobile ghosts in the night. I held out my hand, caught a few flakes, and then pulled back into the hard-edged geometry of the room.
We were guests of the Commission for Cultural Affairs of the City of New York. Someone in the mayor’s office had chosen the UN Plaza Hotel so that
Tennessee could enjoy the sky-high indoor pool. However, swimming pool or not, the hotel had a cold, modern luxury that Tennessee detested.
Earlier in the day, we had gone to Gracie Mansion where Elizabeth Ashley addressed the gathering, and then Mayor Koch presented Tennessee and five others with the Mayor’s Award of Honor. In his acceptance speech, Tennessee became emotional, crying as he dedicated the award to Rose. I wondered how he would hold up at the party the next night.Looking out on the snowy scene, I fingered the pack of matches in my pocket before pulling it out to light a cigarette. The embossed letters of my name ran across the glossy black cover. I could not decide if a personalized matchbook was chic or tacky, but I would use only this one. I had packed the rest away, and planned to stash the replacements when the maid left them in the morning.
Besides our own matchbooks,
and I had each received a large basket of fruit and a bottle of iced champagne. We downed the first bottle, and then Tennessee commandeered the second to keep him company during his nocturnal writing session—not bothering to keep it chilled. Tennessee
I looked back out through the open window into a world transformed and yet the same. There was a second reason we were in
New York, the party George Plimpton and Jean Stein were throwing in Tennessee’s honor the next evening. Although I had no idea who would attend, I looked forward to that.
“Oh . . . don’t talk to her.”
Distinctly Truman Capote’s voice.
“She’s a whore. And her sister’s a worse whore.”
I did not look to the next room where I knew he was lying, curled on an oversized ottoman. We were at the party in Jean Stein’s upper-story apartment on Central Park West. Earlier, I had spoken with Truman. His companion pulled me aside and warned me that Truman had been on the seven-day vodka diet. That had not stopped him from raising his head from the ottoman to comment on my height in a whining, vaguely sexual way. He did not have enough energy, or perhaps interest, to sustain a conversation, and soon his head rested back on his sprawled arm.
About fifty guests mingled in the two large, high-ceilinged rooms. Turkish carpets covered the floors and walls. A bar was set up under a crystal chandelier in the marble entrance hall. I had gone to get a drink. As I asked the bartender for a vodka tonic, the door from the outside hallway opened, and in walked a woman I instantly recognized. Unescorted and with unpretentious grace, she fixed me warmly in the eye, walked over, and extended her hand. With a small smile, she said, “How do you do? I’m Jackie Onassis.”
My heart jumped to my throat, but words still came to my mouth. I introduced myself. After a maid took her coat, I managed some small talk while I got her a drink. She was soft-spoken—almost shy. She was easy to talk to.
Jackie and I turned from the bar. My hand at the small of her back—but not quite touching—I guided Jackie toward the party. It was at this point that the nodding Mr. Capote noticed her and raised himself up on the ottoman to call out his warning. I felt the little jolt in her back.
Time froze. A thousand scenarios, chivalrous to cowardly, rushed through my head. What to do?
Snap! I was back in the room. Jackie showed no reaction. The few people within earshot ignored the insult. I supposed they were in the habit of ignoring trouble from Truman, so I ignored it too. There was no other remedy, given his condition.
As we reached the edge of the party, people began to greet Jackie, and then a minute later, she found
Tennessee. He took her on his arm and they retired to a corner of the room to talk privately. Tennessee had told me that since first meeting her while Jack was in the White House, he felt very close to her. He and Jack Kennedy had had a bond as well. Each of them had a sister who in her youth had grown excitable—Rose and Rosemary. And they both had parents who had acted on their belief that the best corrective for their daughter would be a lobotomy.
The other guests and I left them to talk alone.