Jackie Kennedy Book Shoots to No. 1 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble

12:39 PM PST 09/14/2011 by Andy Lewis
Hank Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Will sales help rumored Jackie movie?

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, debuted at #1 on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists today, its first official release day.  Early leaks of the book, which contains the transcript and CDs of the audio recordings of 8.5 hours of interviews Jackie Kennedy did with noted historian Arthur Schlesinger in March 1964, less than four months after the assassination of President John Kennedy, had been the subject of intense media jockeying over the last week.  The book also contains introductory essays from Caroline Kennedy and presidential writer Michael Beschloss.  

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The book was under a strict sales embargo to protect the exclusive for ABC News’ Diane Sawyer-hosted  special, Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words, that aired last night.  Some bookstores broke the embargo and The New York Times, the AP,  and NBC News acquired early copies last week.  Much to the dismay of executives at Disney and ABC, NBC aired audio excerpts on Friday night’s NBC Nightly News with Brian Williamsand followed with additional reports on MSNBC over the next few days.  The publicity surrounding the ABC-NBC squabble and the early leaks certainly helped book sales.  Eleven days ago, the book was not on Amazon’s Top 100 sellers list but as the publicity grew it steadily rose through the rankings to land at No. 1 today.

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 Fifty years after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated president, the sales of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy confirm the continuing public interest in all things Kennedy, especially Jackie, who remains one of the best recognized but most enigmatic figures of recent history.  Intensely private and acutely aware of how her words would shape history, the Schlesinger interviews represent just one of three in-depth post-assassination interviews she gave about life with President Kennedy before her death in 1994.  Few Americans have ever even heard her voice, so the audio recording provides an extra jolt of excitement.   Jackie Kennedy had stipulated that the interviews be sealed until 2044, fifty years after her death, but Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, her only surviving child, decided to break the seal this year.  Some media reports suggested she allowed an early release of the interviews to counter what she regarded as an unflattering portrayal of her parents in the controversial TV mini-series, The Kennedys, that had Greg Kinnear playing John Kennedy and Katie Holmes as Jackie.  The History Channel cancelled plans to air the eight-hour mini and it was then picked up by newcomer ReelzChannel. The show went on to garner ten Emmy nominations.

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According to The New York Times, the recordings reveal a Jackie Kennedy with “a cool self-possession and a sharp, somewhat unforgiving eye” who “in her distinctive breathy cadences . . . intimate tone and . . . impeccable diction of women of her era and class . . . delivers tart commentary.”  She calls Martin Luther King, Jr. a “phony” and French President Charles DeGaulle an “egomaniac.”  She also offers intimate details of life inside the Kennedy family. Recording in the depths of her grieving over the murder of her husband, it is hard to assess the historical value of the tapes or how accurately they capture the real Jackie Kennedy. Most historians believe the tapes do not contain any valuable new revelations about JFK’s life or presidency, mostly adding detail to familiar stories.  Some Kennedy intimates say Jackie grew to become a different woman from the one heard on the recording.  Doris Kearns Godwin told the New York Times,  “It’s certainly not the Jackie that we knew later on.  By then, she’s a different woman.”

The book's strong sales should give a push to the development of Jackie, a movie that imagines her life in the first few days after the assassination. The script by former Today show producer Noah Oppenheim landed on the 2010 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Darren Aronofsky acquired the rights in early 2010 with plans to direct his then-wife Rachel Weisz as Jackie but little has been said publicly about the project since then.

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