Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ friend and colleague has shared her memories of the former First Lady’s ‘often overlooked’ publishing career.
Jackie Onassis spent almost 20 years working for New York publishing houses after returning to live in the US full-time following the death of her second husband, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, in 1975.
Despite her high profile, the style maven insisted on having a small office, dressed simply in ‘a top and pants’ and disliked using her name or social clout for business deals, former Doubleday president Nancy Evans recalls in an essay published in One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much to Us.
Jackie Onassis spent almost 20 years working for New York publishing houses after returning to live in the US full-time following the death of her second husband, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, in 1975. Pictured, Jackie with author Edvard Radzinsky in New York in 1992
In an extract published by AirMail, which described Onassis’ publishing career as ‘often overlooked, Evans tells how she faced great difficulty trying to convince Jackie – who received $26 million after Onassis’ death – to accept a pay rise.
‘Once she was on a roll, bringing in hit after hit, making big bucks for the company, I went to her office, a small office, by choice—she didn’t want anything fancy because of who she was—and I said, “I’m giving you a raise. You’re doing great, and your salary should reflect that.”,’ Evans writes.
‘And she said, “I don’t need it. Really, what I’m getting is fine.” And I said, “It’s not a matter of need; you deserve it.” I don’t think I gave her a speech about how this is how women get paid less— Oh, you don’t need it, you have a husband who works – but it’s what I thought. Her next paycheck reflected the raise.’
Jackie spent two years working as an editor at Viking Press between 1975-1977 before moving to Doubleday, where Evans was president and publisher.
Among the books she edited for the company are autobiographies of ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, singer-songwriter Carly Simon, and fashion icon Diana Vreeland.
The pair also worked together on Michael Jackson’s autobiography Moonwalk, the publication of which was thrown into jeopardy when Jackie initially refused to write an introduction because ‘people were always trying to use her’.
Despite her high profile, the style maven insisted on having a small office, dressed simply in ‘a top and pants’ and disliked using her name or social clout for business deals. Pictured, Jackie at a book party in New York in 1979 (left) and at her Georgetown home in August 1960
Evans shares a story of another occasion when Jackie tried to hold firm in the face of someone wanting a piece of her fame.
‘When I pleaded with her to accommodate our German owners, who wanted a dinner with her, in order to be able to trot out their show horse and say, “When I had dinner with Jackie O,” the deal was that when she put her handbag on the table, we were out of there,’ Evans remembers. ‘And we were; we fled to her waiting car.’
Evans recalls how Jackie turned heads wherever she went but had taught herself to look ahead and walk with purpose, as if it was all normal.
Even the authors she worked with struggled to believe they were speaking to the famous Jackie O, Evans recalls. On more than one occasion an author hung up on Jackie, believing they were the victim of a prank call when they heard her distinctive breathy voice on the other end of the line.
Nancy Evans became president of Doubleday in 1987 and resigned three years later.
Her essay is published in One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much to Us, a collection edited by Erica Heller in which contributors imagine one final lunch with a loved one.