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Vendor Essay: Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Grace Kelly

Wed, Jun 22, 2011

Lance Bartel
StreetWise Vendor

I was standing on my corner and one day a customer asked me what I thought about the passing of Elizabeth Taylor. I told her I had been unaware, that being a StreetWise vendor, you do not necessarily keep up with everyday activities.

But my customer, whom we’ll call “Julia,” wanted to talk to me about an era of style from the last 40 to 50 years that has seemingly come to an end with Taylor’s death. It was a feminine style and beauty that brought its own power in a male-dominated era, Julia told me as she took me to Starbucks to discuss the issue.

We talked about women of similar power such as Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Their sense of style led to Kelly becoming a princess and Jackie marrying a future President. But what is important about Taylor, Grace and Jackie was that they used beauty to draw people to them to accomplish their goals that benefitted those in need.

Kelly was the ravishing blond who won the Oscar as best actress for The Country Girl in 1954. Few people know she also took a stand for Josephine Baker. Baker, the burlesque star of 1920s Paris, had been refused entry into New York’s Stork Club because she was black. The Stork Club was one of Kelly’s favorites but as a result she refused to go back there. Later, in 1968 Baker became bankrupt and was on the verge of being homeless when Kelly gave her a villa, not far from Monaco, where Kelly lived after her marriage to Prince Rainier. Baker remained there until 1975, when she made a musical comeback that Kelly financed.

To me as an American the Kennedys created our Camelot, with President Kennedy as king and Jackie as his queen. The woman who became my wife, Karen, was dark-haired like Jackie and also had a French background. She liked the way Jackie looked in all her clothes – even slacks – which were not commonly worn by women then. Karen began to wear slacks after she saw photos of Jackie in them. She also had a friend copy one of Jackie’s designer dresses, but in green rather than pink so that it would seem more her own.

Karen and I even had a Camelot wedding at our small town in Texas: two dance floors, a seven-tier cake, 800 guests. Karen’s dress was indeed fit for a queen, white crushed silk, with 9,000 hand-sewn sequins.

She was my queen and I was her king for almost 30 years until March 18, 2010 when our Camelot was shattered by a drunk driver.

As First Lady in 1962, Jackie Kennedy took us on a tour of Camelot: the White House she had redecorated with antiques of the relevant period. The White House TV tour, wrote Michael Curtin on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website, showed changing attitudes toward American women. Jackie was showing us her family’s home, which was also a piece of our nation’s heritage.

My mother always admired Jackie for her strength in raising children in the White House. Not only did she have two toddlers, Caroline and John Jr.; on August 7 1963 she gave birth to Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces and who died two days later.

Having lost my wife and three children to the drunk driver (including one taken by Caesarean section who lived 10 days after Karen’s death) I can relate to Jackie’s state of mind and ability to carry on. All the money in the world does not relieve the pain of losing a child.

Three months later, she lost her husband to an assassin’s bullet, bringing Camelot to an end.

Taylor captured our attention with her eight marriages from Nicky Hilton to Larry Fortensky, but especially the two marriages to Richard Burton, who gave her the 33.19-carat Asscher-cut Krupp diamond, the largest in the world. Julia calls this marriage a true love story because of Burton’s spontaneous gifts, which she sees in her own marriage.

Rock Hudson became another deep friend early in her career when they filmed Giant, a movie about the Texas oilfields. When Hudson died in 1985 from AIDS, no other Hollywood stars wanted to talk about the disease, but Taylor helped found amFAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. She also established her own foundation against AIDS.


3 Responses to “

Vendor Essay: Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Grace Kelly

  1. lance bartel says:

    i thought the design on this page was great the way the layout was in the magazine and the web page thank you britt and tobey

  2. Nancy Jacobs says:

    Interesting article about three outstanding women. They definitely exhibited style and class. I wish we saw more of this today.

  3. Antonio says:

    Absolutely Grace kelly . The epitome of beauty grace and style. Unique!

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