Oh, Jackie...!

I'd like to take a ninety-degree turn from this review with a personal note about Jackie Devotion. Worshipping at the altar of Jacqueline is tricky business. One risks losing all credibility and perspective, and yet, like the Macarena, even respectable people find themselves drawn in. This was proven by the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the auction of Jackie's personal possessions at Sotheby's, here in Manhattan. I did not attend the auction (the lottery system can be so cruel), but I confess that one of the proudest moments of my life was seeing my face on the CBS Evening News at Jackie's funeral.

My personal obsession didn't really have a beginning, because I have never really known Life Without Jackie. I was born in 1957, and therefore, by the time I came into consciousness, Jackie was already a world force to be reckoned with. The effects of the assassination are an early memory for me. My mother saved magazines with the event on the cover, and for years I would furtively sneak these treasures into my room and pore over them. The images of blood-splattered Jackie burned into my psyche as did the photos from JFK's funeral. In those pictures, Jackie exudes an unutterably tragic glamour, not unlike the photos of her wedding a few scant years later to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The world was appalled at her second marriage but I only wished her happiness. I also wished that I could try on her Valentino wedding dress.

By 1978, however, studying her was not enough. I had to know what it was like to be her. I whipped up a copy of Jackie's assassination outfit and wore it throughout that holiday season in Houston, complete with bloodstains and foam-rubber brain matter. The pink-and-navy-blue-trim Halston suit with matching pillbox hat was instantly identifiable. Everyone knew who I was, and for those few bizarre moments, I knew how Jackie felt being recognized all over the world. It was supreme ecstasy. It was like a drug (and that always heightened the effect), and I was hooked.

I took this routine with me to San Francisco in 1978 and then back to Houston a year later, where this little outfit grew into a full-fledged cabaret act. My "girls" -- Joan and Ethel) and I performed live in only the seamiest of venues, such as Houston's notorious leather bar the Different Drum. This Week In Texas magazine devoted much coverage to these antics -- we worked as "Jackie O & the Trash-masters" and were in much demand.

Austin then became the setting for appearances of Jackie (or Jackleen, her preferred pronunciation). There are telling photos from one dizzy night in 1980, when my sister and her first husband were invited to a soirée en blanc, an all-white party. Naturally, we dug out our nurses' uniforms but it wasn't quite enough. When I donned my Jackie suit, we instantly became Jackie & the Trauma Team at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. When I left Austin in 1981, I bequeathed the outfit to a friend, and it enjoyed a life of its own for several years. I was content with my memories.

Until 1995 in New York City, that is, when the echoes of Jackie's death gnawed at me, whispering, "Do it again! Do it again!" I did do it again, reconstructing the outfit and shopping for just the right wig. I was hardly the sylph-like Jackie of my earlier years. I abandoned my youthful figure long ago (some people think of their bodies as temples; I think of mine as a convention center) and I was now Large-n-Lovely Jackie, bigger and better, 32 years after the assassination.

I attended a Halloween party, an AMFAR benefit, and was an immediate hit. I attracted the attention of the star of the evening, Cyndi Lauper, who poked me in the chest and cackled, "You look fabulous!" I kept thinking, "What if I run into John-John? How can I explain that I like to dress as his dead mother? Could he possibly forgive me, have his marriage annulled, and marry me anyway?" Fortunately, I did not see him, so it wasn't a problem. But many people saw me. Everywhere I went, the crowds were whispering, "Jackie! It's Jackie! Look, it's Mrs. Onassis." Here I was, in Manhattan -- Jackie-land itself -- and everyone knew me. I felt at one with the universe, and all was right with the world. -- S.M.M.

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