Jackie Kennedy: "The stuff of legend"


This 1962 photo shows John F. Kennedy, Jr. playing with his mother's necklace at the White House. The simulated pearl necklace worn by Jacqueline Kennedy while at the White House sold for $190,000 during Sotheby's auction of the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, April 25, 1996 in New York.


(CBS News) Jacqueline Kennedy was a symbol of courage during the days of mourning that followed the assassination -- not the first time she set just the right example during her time as first lady. Susan Spencer of "48 Hours" reports:

Inauguration Day 1961. Vice President Johnson's 16-year-old daughter was mesmerized -- not by her father taking his oath, but by the new first lady.

"We all wonder, what did she look like when she woke up in the morning?" said Lynda Johnson Robb. "Did she have a bad hair day like the rest of us, 'cause we always saw her looking beautiful."

More important, says Lynda Byrd Johnson Robb, behind the scenes she was also kind, becoming a friend to an awkward teenager.

"Mrs. Kennedy was, I think, looking at me and thinking, my children are going to grow up in this environment," she told Spencer. "Here is somebody who has been doing it since she was born, and somehow has survived."

Jacqueline Kennedy was, says University of Virginia historian and Kennedy biographer Barbara Perry, as stark a contrast to Mamie Eisenhower as one could imagine: "She was only 31 when she and President Kennedy came into office. She had these two beguiling children; Caroline was only three when they came into the White House. John Jr. had just been born.

"She was the third youngest first lady ever to appear at the White House. She was so stunningly beautiful and had such amazing clothing. The way she spoke was different, in her breathy voice. Everything about her seemed different."

The first time many Americans heard that distinctive voice was during her 1962 tour of the White House, showcasing its restoration. Fifty-six million people watched.

Jackie Kennedy may not have considered her role political, but she was a huge political asset -- at home and overseas. The crowds would yell "Where's Jackie?" if she wasn't on the stage.

Her husband famously joked about it, referring to himself as "the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris."

Perry said Mrs. Kennedy would often be at a formal gathering in a strapless gown: "Bare shoulders, very unusual for a first lady. And she would tuck a bare shoulder up under the arm of an important man and then whisper in their ear.

"And men would just fall at her feet."

"I thought of her as just larger-than-life," said Lynda Johnson Robb. "People still think of her that way today."

"Why do you think that is?" asked Spencer. "It's been 50 years; she was first lady less than three years."

"Well, I think it's because she was young," said Robb, "and she never aged."

Because time froze in Dallas. The image of her bloodstained suit symbolized a different side to Jackie Kennedy.