The party was in full swing, her handsome house near Buckingham Palace spilling over with the cream of London’s wealthy in-crowd, yet hostess Lee Radziwill couldn’t hide from guests her dismay at events taking place across the Atlantic.
It was early 1961 and Lee’s sister, Jackie, was about to become the most celebrated First Lady in U.S. history. But instead of intense family pride, Lee’s emotions were far from positive.
‘How can anyone compete with that?’ she hissed. ‘It’s all over for me now.’
Lee Radziwill (left) and Jackie Onassis had a turbulent relationship – the Bouvier sisters when they were younger were two of the most glamorous women of their generation
Janet was only 21 when she married her first husband and the girls’ father, Jack Bouvier, a handsome but heavy-drinking Wall Street stockbroker and socialite, whom she divorced 12 years later over his philandering – she later married Hugh Auchincloss
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is seen here in earlier days – left, a young Jackie Bouvier is seen on her 10th birthday 1939. Center, Mrs John F. Kennedy appears in a 1953 Boston Travler file photo. Right, Mrs Jackie Kennedy is seen in a 1961 file photo in the White House Diplomatic Reception room
Many argued that Lee Radziwil, sister of Jackie Kennedy, matched her more famous sibling’s beauty
The Bouvier sisters, Jackie and Lee, were two of the most glamorous women of their generation. Described by the writer Truman Capote as ‘American geishas’ — women who existed only to captivate the world’s richest and most powerful men — their conquests included John F. Kennedy, Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and various royals and aristocrats.
However, as Lee’s bitterness over Jackie’s trump card — becoming wife of a U.S. president — made clear, they weren’t the most loyal of siblings. Their fierce and lifelong rivalry — over money, men, success and even their mother’s love — is revealed in a riveting new book.
In Jackie, Janet & Lee, veteran Hollywood biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, drawing on interviews with family members, reveals how their formidable and hard-nosed mother, Janet Bouvier Auchincloss, sought to mould her daughters in her own ruthlessly mercenary and social-climbing image.
He also reveals startling new details of a little-known love affair Jackie had with Jack Warnecke, the architect who designed JFK’s tomb and whom she almost married.
The new book has already upset Lee, now 84, who reportedly feels ‘betrayed’ by relatives who talked to Taraborrelli.
‘Lee doesn’t like her dirty laundry being aired and she feels betrayed by her cousins,’ according to a friend. And what laundry it is.
When they were young, Janet liked to take her two beautiful daughters to tea at New York’s Plaza Hotel to show them off – and to impart some motherly advice.
‘Do you know what the secret to happily-ever-after’ is?’ she once asked them. ‘Money and power.’
Janet later recalled that while Lee looked appalled by the notion of a loveless match, Jackie, three years older, was perfectly accepting of the idea.
Janet was only 21 when she married her first husband and the girls’ father, Jack Bouvier, a handsome but heavy-drinking Wall Street stockbroker and socialite, whom she divorced 12 years later over his philandering.
She struggled financially for years, but was determined her daughters should never want for money themselves. They must always ‘marry up’, she told them.
And when Janet married a second time, it was to a much older, rather dull — but very wealthy – investment banker, Hugh Auchincloss. Together, they had a daughter, also Janet, and son, James.
Former first lady Jackie Kennedy outside her New York City apartment after a meeting with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in February 1967
Janet tried to instill in Jackie and Lee sisterly support, insisting the girls should never compete with each other.
And yet she made that all but impossible by showing undisguised favouritism towards Jackie – as did Jack Bouvier.
It engendered not only a huge insecurity complex in Lee, but also a lifelong determination to avoid her sister’s shadow – quite a challenge when Jackie became the most famous woman in the world.
Jackie was more polished and more intellectual. Younger sister Lee was more of a rebel, more slender than Jackie and – some thought – even more beautiful.
As children, Janet had washed their lustrous brunette hair with raw egg yolk, and would drag them to museums and libraries and then quiz them remorselessly on what they had learned. If the girls defied her, Janet could be vicious. Jackie was 21 when she lost her virginity in a Paris hotel lift to John Marquand Jr, son of a celebrated writer. When Janet discovered he was penniless, she slapped Jackie across the face.
Jackie Onassis pictured with her sister Princess Lee Radziwell
Undated picture of US Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) his wife Jacqueline Kennedy – her sister Lee is also believed to have an affair with the President
Lee Radizwill- sister of Jackie Kennedy – seen here with her baby daughter Anna Christina Radizwell in 1960.
A shameless snob, Janet instead steered her towards a British-educated stockbroker, John Husted, who was dull but socially connected and – she thought – rich. He and Jackie became engaged but when Janet investigated his finances and learnt he earned ‘only’ £12,000 a year (about £115,000 today), she vetoed the match.
Jackie simply took her engagement ring off her finger and slipped it into Husted’s jacket pocket when she next saw him.
‘She was ice cold. Like we never knew each other,’ Husted recalled.
‘I understood the end had come. I never heard from her again.’
Janet had more trouble steering the mercurial Lee away from Michael Canfield, a young publishing executive who, it was later claimed, was the illegitimate brother of the Duke of Kent.
Lee defied her mother, insisting she would marry for love – and she was determined to beat her sister, then dating a young U.S. Senator, Jack Kennedy, up the aisle.
She was just 19 when they wed, but their marriage struggled from the start as Lee discovered Canfield couldn’t fund the expensive lifestyle she expected.
Canfield went to Jackie for advice. ‘The best thing is for you to get her some real money,’ she told him.
When he objected and said they had a perfectly decent standard of living – they had a house in London’s Belgravia and two servants – Jackie responded: ‘I mean real money, Michael.’
Janet had no objections to Jackie’s boyfriend, Jack Kennedy – not least because he was a member of a clan worth at least $500 million. But she was alarmed by his reputation as a philanderer.
Jackie – in thrall to JFK’s huge political ambitions and his family’s glamour – brushed her mother’s reservations aside.
In London, meanwhile, Lee was rumoured to be having a fling with the handsome and charismatic playboy David Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, who owned the 52,0000- acre Badminton estate. She was also seeing the ‘dashing’ property developer Stanislaw ‘Stash’ Radziwill, a twice divorced former Polish prince, 44.
The revelation that Jackie (right), a multi-millionairess, had left nothing to her sister in her will came as a huge shock to her sister Lee (left), her social circle and the millions of ‘Jackie O’ fans worldwide
It was Janet who gave Canfield his marching orders while the couple were visiting her in the States.
Janet ordered him to leave the house and her daughter’s life, next morning informing her daughter: ‘He’s gone, Lee. I took care of it.’
Canfield later claimed Lee had boasted to him of having sex with JFK while the two couples were on holiday together. Nini Vidal, sister of Gore Vidal and distantly related by marriage to Jackie and Lee, claimed she had made a similar admission to her and said the tryst occurred while Lee was staying with the Kennedys after Jackie had given birth to daughter, Caroline. Lee reportedly left her bedroom door open deliberately so Canfield could hear her and JFK making love.
Taraborrelli, a seasoned Kennedy biographer, admits he doesn’t know if these stories are true. What’s significant, he says, is that they were bandied about not by strangers or enemies, but by family members – so Jackie must have heard them, too.
Lee, by then 26, married Radziwill and remained in London, where she insisted on being addressed as ‘Princess’ Lee Radziwill, even though her husband had become plain Mr Radziwill when he took British nationality in 1951.
Jackie at one point was close to Belgian-born diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman
Soon, restless and bored once more, she embarked on an affair in 1962 with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest men in the world.
Charming, adventurous but also a chauvinist and rough diamond, he was 27 years older than Lee. He was also involved with the Greek opera diva Maria Callas.
‘Ari’ told friends he was drawn to Lee because she was a ‘sad and lonely little creature’, aggrieved that her sister was getting all the attention. Lee was, according to her friends, not only more approachable and entertaining than the rather regal Jackie, but also naturally stylish, whereas Jackie needed expert help in becoming a style icon.
Yet Lee was also the type of woman who had her maid follow her into the lavatory to drop gardenias into the bowl every time she used it.
‘Ari is what I deserve,’ claimed Lee. So she had only herself to blame for inviting her elder sister – in low spirits after losing her baby son, Patrick, shortly after his birth — to join her and Onassis on a cruise in October 1963.
Once again, Lee was overshadowed as Onassis turned his attention to Jackie. The old goat kissed Jackie lingeringly on both cheeks, alarming her Secret Service bodyguard who knew JFK would have ‘had a fit’ had he seen it.
But even the First Lady was impressed by his astonishing extravagance. ‘So this is how kings live,’ Jackie whispered to him.
On November 22, 1963, in the hours after JFK’s assassination, Onassis tried to ring Jackie on a private number she had given him. He then flew to Washington and, at Jackie’s insistence, stayed at the White House.
A friend of Lee’s told Taraborrelli that, knowing Onassis’s predatory instincts, she had suspected his motives in ‘comforting’ Jackie even with JFK’s blood still on her pink Chanel suit.
‘Onassis was a fast mover,’ agreed his friend, the socialite Taki Theodoracopulos. He was moving in for the ‘real prize’ even as he continued his affair with Lee. After Jack’s death, however, Jackie was rather more taken with another man. Not her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy, as has been widely reported, but Jack Warnecke, a tall, handsome architect.
A year after the president’s death, they started an affair. Taraborrelli concedes there was talk she was involved with other men, including Lord Harlech, who was then the British ambassador in Washington.
However, it was Warnecke who swept her off her feet in those vulnerable months. He wanted to marry her, but her ruinously expensive lifestyle was a problem.
Warnecke’s son told Taraborrelli how his father had once described driving Jackie back from a party. Unable to keep their hands off each other, they had stopped the car and had sex. However, passion came a poor second to money with Jackie, who spent vast sums on clothes, jewellery and furnishings.
Two-and-a-half years into their relationship, Warnecke admitted to Jackie that he was nearly $1 million in debt.
He’d even spent the staff bonuses at his architect’s firm to keep up with her lifestyle.
In the summer of 1967, Onassis invited Jackie to his private Greek island of Skorpios. At dinner each night, she’d unfold her napkin and a huge jewel would fall out. Onassis blinded her with his wealth, just as he had her sister years earlier. Jackie returned home and sent Warnecke on his way.
But even her conniving mother drew the line at a billionaire she knew would divide her daughters. Janet told Ari to stay away from both of them.
She was ignored. He and Jackie married in 1968, with Janet whispering that her daughter could still back out even as they walked down the aisle together.
Both Roy Jenkins (left) and Mark Shand (right) were among famous men to be linked with Lee
When Jackie returned from honeymoon, they had a vicious row about Onassis which ended with Janet once again slapping her, ‘first on her right cheek with the palm of her hand, then on the left with the back of it — just as she had done when her girls were younger’, writes Taraborrelli.
Lee was furious and utterly mortified by Jackie stealing Onassis from her – years earlier she had turned him down and stuck with Radziwill for fear of causing a scandal for her sister, then the First Lady. It was from this point that Janet noted a ‘marked difference’ in the sisters’ relationship.
Jackie remained married to Onassis until his death in 1975, but the union had soon unravelled, and they were estranged when he died. He had regarded Jackie as just another ‘acquisition’ and had never ended his affair with Maria Callas.
Lee, who had two children with Radziwill, divorced him in 1974. A proposed third marriage five years later to a mega-rich property heir, Newton Cope, foundered on the rocks of Bouvier greed. Just an hour before the ceremony, he refused Jackie and Janet’s insistence that he formally agree to guarantee Lee a whopping $20,000 a month in maintenance.
Lee went on to be linked with a string of famous men, including comic Peter Cook, politician Roy Jenkins, and Mark Shand, brother of the Duchess of Cornwall.
By the Eighties, the sisters were seeing far less of each other, but in 1983 Janet was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although Jackie became her mother’s devoted carer, it was, ironically, Lee who became Janet’s avowed favourite, despite barely ringing her mother once a month.
Jackie’s resentment increased when she discovered in 1987 that Janet had given Lee $750,000 – said to be a ‘guilt’ payment for the way she had favoured Jackie when they were younger.
‘Lee was bewildered. After all, Jackie had millions in the bank,’ says Taraborrelli. ‘Why begrudge her sister this small amount?’
Lee certainly never matched Jackie when it came to raking in money from her husbands. After Onassis died, Jackie received more than $25 million.
Janet ‘went to her grave’ in 1989 believing her daughters never recovered from their rift over Onassis, says Taraborrelli. With their mother gone, the sisters drifted even further apart.
Jackie – by then living with the Belgian-born diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman – was diagnosed with cancer in 1994 and declined rapidly. She died in May that year, aged 64, at home in New York. And Lee was at her bedside.
‘I love you so much. I always have, Jacks. I hope you know it,’ she told her sister, who was too drugged up on morphine to hear her.
The news that Jackie, a multi-millionairess, had left nothing to her sister in her will came as a huge shock – to Lee, her social circle and the millions of ‘Jackie O’ fans worldwide.
But to those who had known them both, says Taraborrelli, it was no surprise at all.
Jackie, Janet & Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli is published by St Martin’s Press, £22.99.