The Bay Area Reporter ran a story about me today. Ostensibly the interview was about my Jackie collection but the conversation turned into a mash-up of Jackie, eviction, and drag. I was fine with that and pleased with the article except I look so old. But then so does Mick. It’s always fun to talk about Mrs. Onassis.
It all started in a Chinese Political Systems class back in the fall of 1972. As I leafed through my Warhol book I happened on his Jackie series. Inspiration struck. I turned to my friend and said “this is it!”
He was actually paying attention to the lecture and gave me a perturbed, “what’s it?”
I pointed to her and said “my Halloween costume.” We both started laughing. I knew I had a winner.
The Gay Halloween Dance at the Student Union was one of the biggest events of the year on campus. The pressure was on to be outlandish, everyone tried to outdo each other.
I thought my idea was the perfect antidote to glitzy, traditional drag. My idea contained the essential elements of Halloween: ghoulish, glamorous, sickening, sexy and instantly recognizable. Not to mention controversial and potentially in very bad taste.
I found a pink suit at the Goodwill and proceeded to alter it to resemble her Chez Ninon boucle. Food coloring mixed with ketchup served as the blood and brain matter. There was nothing haute about the reconstruction since I didn’t know how to sew. But as long as it produced the right effect, bas couture would have to do.
It did. People were stunned. I walked into the hall on Gary’s arm as he shouted “the President’s been shot!” Half the room was fascinated by it, the other half repulsed. The latter thought it cruel and callous making fun of America’s sainted widow (cum Greek shipping magnate courtesan). I was dealing with imagery not people.
It would have been one thing if I was mocking my next door neighbor who was killed in a hunting accident. But I was in the public domain here. This was a person I would never meet or ever know, an image that would be used for years to gain political advantage.
And it’s not like the Kennedy’s haven’t milked martyrdom. Every time one of Bobby’s kids takes the stand it begins with a litany of the family tragedies.
My connection to Jackie was sealed after that night. When I moved into my second San Francisco apartment on 14th Street, a friend brought me a house-warming gift. He had just moved into a flat on Page Street where someone left behind Jack and Jackie salt and pepper shakers. He re-gifted them to me.
I had no idea this kind of kitsch existed. I could only think how appalled such a refined woman like Jackie must have felt seeing herself represented in such tacky gewgaws. It made me love them even more.
Once the pattern was identified, the collection was off. I found a plate to match, then small pitchers, then another pattern, and on and on. Friends gave me Jackie ephemera they found like books, magazines, autographs, letters, head vases, and pictures. The collection grew exponentially.
The first couple decades it was a challenge to collect since I only wanted items that included her. Kennedy’s campaign teams considered Jackie too effete for the masses so her image was rarely used. The scarcity of propaganda using her meant I could go months without finding a thing.
Then eBay came along and it was like fish in a barrel. Many items I’d accumulated as unique were really rather commonplace. Though I had a lot that were not. I continued to search but the sport went out of it. I slowly just stopped collecting.
One morning back in the 1980’s I was having coffee with an overnight guest. We sat quietly in my dining room under Jackie’s serene gaze. Out of the blue he said, “it’s like being surrounded by death.” I hoped he was commenting on the shrine and not the night before.
The Jackie Obsession