I'm fascinated by other people's lives. I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies. Of course these books cannot give a full, accurate picture of someone's life. We're only getting a filtered view. Still, with that said, I can't help but form opinions on the people I read about.
This January I read several books about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and I just read Slim Keith's autobiography. You're probably familiar with Jackie O, but many of you may never have heard of Slim Keith. Both women intrigued me, but after reading about them, I drew my own conclusions.
Jackie O was known for several things--her style, her grace as first lady while John F. Kennedy was in office, her loyalty to her children, her dedication to her privacy, and her love of good literature--she was an editor for many years. She also used her celebrity to champion historical preservation.
Slim Keith, born Nancy Gross, was also held up as a style icon in the forties, fifties, and beyond. Born into a wealthy family, she married Hollywood showbiz producer Howard Hawks, after he divorced his first wife, of course. She later cheated on him with Leland Hayward, top Hollywood agent, and remarried, enjoying a happy union for roughly ten years before he left her for another woman. She briefly remarried a third time, and lived the remainder of her life on her own. She was good friends with many influential stars and authors, including Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis married John F. Kennedy, soon to be President of the United States. Five years after his untimely death by assassination, Jackie married Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping billionaire. They enjoyed an easy companionship at first, but later their relationship strained to the point of non-existence until his death. She spent the later years of her life with a live-in companion, still-married Maurice Templesman, a diamond merchant.
Slim and Jackie took the same route to fame. Both married high-powered men who were in the spotlight. These two women shared a keen intelligence, an eye for style, and an unwavering sense of self. The world focused on them because they were glamorous, interesting--worth focusing on.
So many similarities. While still single, these gals hung out with elite, wealthy men. They had their choice in suitors, and they chose--for first husbands--men who lacked the means to share emotional depth. Both of their first husbands cheated on them extensively. It must have been a shock for these young women to realize their picture-perfect marriages were plagued with infidelity. Jackie and Slim suffered miscarriages and still births. Slim had one daughter; Jackie had a daughter and a son (another son lived only a few days). I feel terrible for their difficult pregnancies. As a mother, I deeply sympathize with the heartache they experienced.
But, also as a mother, I found this fact enlightening: both women took multiple, extensive trips while their young babies stayed home, and they continued to travel sans kids their entire lives. Both employed nannies and governesses and later sent their kids to boarding schools. Jackie even went on record as saying (I'm paraphrasing) if you bungle raising your children, nothing else you do matters much.
I'm sure they did love their children. But in my mid-western, middle class, late-century upbringing, I can't imagine having my mother jet-setting around the world while I'm home being raised by a nanny and later being sent off to boarding schools. How much mothering is going on if you're never around? Hmm...
Yes, I'm judging. And, yes, I'm thinking of the non-stop, exhausting job motherhood is to most of us moms. Have I fantasized about two weeks in Paris with no kids, my sister, and unlimited funds? Oh, yeah!
These women hung out with top entertainers, artists, and diplomats. Flirting was going on--you only need eyes. I can see it in the pictures. When you're admired by the world, you're not going to be content withering away unnoticed while your hubby is cheating on you with every showgirl who walks his way. Playing with fire? You betcha.
Then there were the odd choices in marriage. Slim flat out admits she married her third husband for financial security. Jackie never did admit it with Aristotle Onassis, but let's face it, she wasn't marrying a billionaire old enough to be her father for anything other than security.
Do I have a point?
If the character in your novel grew up in a wealthy, high profile environment, she's likely going to have very different views about parenting, education, and security than the average person. She might have been raised primarily by nannies. She might think traveling to Paris for the weekend quite normal. She may have a deep-seated need for financial security, and if she isn't prepared or equipped to earn it herself, she may be willing to marry for it.
Even if your heroine is more enlightened, her mother may have experienced all these things. This affects the heroine's attitude, her values, and her desires. Or maybe her father still has a bit of that old sixties swing in him--the good ol' boy club where you marry a classy woman but cheat on her every chance you get?
And think twice before having this type of character naturally fall for Joe Blow, the mid-level accountant for a tax firm. She's used to being around entitled, rich, plenty-of-time-on-their-hands men. Yes, she may find Joe's integrity appealing. She might long for a man who will honor his commitments and pour his heart into making her happy--but will she trust him? Will she even notice him? And will her expectations be dashed when their first date isn't a jaunt to Paris? When he presents her with a smallish diamond ring instead of the Hope diamond?
I'm not saying all high profile, wealthy people live like this, but read enough biographies of women and men from the forties to present day, and you'll see how common it really is. Hey, I subscribe to UsWeekly. The infidelity hasn't changed at all. Neither has marrying for celebrity, money, or security.
Do you enjoy reading biographies? Who has fascinated you recently?
Have a terrific weekend!