‘Camera Girl: The Coming of Age of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy” by Carl Sferrazza Anthony begins as a bio about family laundry. It’s not to say the laundry isn’t interesting. Soapy suds spill across some pretty remarkable spaces from Newport to Naples, Vassar to the Vatican and on to Boston and bedlam. The book’s value is, however, less about globe-trotting gossip but rather more about the emotional development of a historically significant woman’s transition from childhood into adulthood.
Alcoholism, academic compromises, bitterness and inter-personal manipulations are a few of the unseemly bubbles that burst the well cultivated image of Jackie Bouvier’s ‘les rites de passage‘. As the picture develops more fully, Jackie emerges from her romanticized appearance as a dazzling debutant into a woman stained by indelible truths of family dysfunction.
‘Camera Girl’ portrays young Jackie as a willful child, as capable of harnessing her parents contempt for each other as her beloved horse Danseuse.
An antagonistic relationship with her mother and morally adrift dad, initially frees Jackie to travel the world in pursuit of cleansing her pallet of vapid social obligations. At times Jackie’s personality seems off-putting. However, the context of her psycho-social manipulations feel deeply rooted in family chaos. The camera girl was just trying to survive a life that was often abusive, untidy and filled with the tricks deployed by desperate social climbers.
In this book Anthony reveals inconvenient truths about the family’s humble ancestry, incest and self-absorbed personality disorders only dilettants can afford to indulge. ‘Camera Girl’ explains how exploring her interests enabled Jackie to develop an image of her own design. For her, adventure would feed her free-sprit with art, music and a few lovers, but never~ a traditional husband.
Threats of a waning family allowance derailed Bouvier’s detachment from autonomy. Although marriage was her definition of confinement it was also a means of escaping the financial realities of most working girls.
Mid-way through the book, the author replaces family laundry with the chronology of Jackie reeling in a handsome bankroll to satisfy her plan to live an adventurers life. And so, as we know ~ she did.
Without realizing it, the young woman who rejected living the conventional life of her social circle’s expectations, was unexpectedly preparing herself for the role of First Lady. When she married the monied Jack Kennedy Jackie Bouvier was already accustomed to seeing only what she wanted to see. Mrs. Kennedy was adept at overlooking the dirty laundry of his sex-capades.
If you have an interest in biographies or reading about Americans of historic significance “Camera Girl” tells an interesting story. The clarification of Bouvier’s gritty personality makes each turn of the page worthy of the reader’s time. The book exposes the apocryphal version of Kennedy’s Camelot. But given perspective, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy’s life of manipulating images and the underlying soap opera that supports each delusion was the natural extension of a sordid childhood where maintaining appearances for society cameras was the psychological price of living a social climber’s adventurous life.