Back Pages

How could something that was worthless 45 years ago still be worthless today? In the mind of a collector this should never happen. The mere act of preserving something fragile for that many decades should add some value.

In the case of tabloid newspapers it doesn’t. My stack of Jackie National Enquirers, International Tattlers. and Weekly World News that cost me 10 to 50 cents back in the day don’t even fetch the $4.95 of a current issue.

After all that effort, the archivist in me couldn’t allow them to be tossed or destroyed. I thought of salvaging them as bathroom art but who among us wants to see another door papered with Jackie Kennedy covers?

Then I decided rather than focus solely on her I would celebrate the toilet bowl genre of journalism that fed her celebrity so effectively.  There are a few Jackie front pages included but they are among more hard-hitting pieces like: the tallest known traveling salesman in the world at 8′ 2″; the woman who sprouted porcupine quills; and, the first ever pictures of the Antichrist.

To honor her lifelong struggle of protecting herself and her children from the hordes, Privacy Film was used to cover the articles. And the borders are neon yellow to warn of potential hazard: there are some dangerous ways of thinking out there.

It’s fascinating to think how appalled this refined woman must have been to have her gawkish likeness on two-bit tea towels and coffee cups. Then how she was turned into a cartoon character for the tabloids by the Kennedy publicity machine. They had no problem using her because it only increased the power of the family brand among the masses. Plus it gave her a few bargaining chips in life.

It’s also hard to reconcile that figure with the one who studied art with Bernard Berenson and debated philosophy with Andre Malraux; who was the only one ever to convince the French to temporarily lend the Mona Lisa; whose influence brought the Temple of Dendur to the Met; and, who would charge clothing to Onassis’ haute couture accounts then immediately sell them to second hand shops to pad her cash on hand. You gotta do, girl, what you gotta do. It was the perversity of how she got ahead, and not so much idolatry, that appealed to me.

That was the inspiration for starting the collection 50 years ago. I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.

Clearing the Cobwebs

As we endure the interminable wait for the ending of Mad Men, I think of Peggy and Don and all the things she has learned from him. Personally, the only finale I will be satisfied with is his complete subjugation to her. But, of the many tricks she’s learned, my favorite is that they go to the movies when they need to clear their heads. Me? I prefer to go to Bergdorf Goodman.

My affinity for the store dates back to the late 70’s when my finances were in such shambles no store in their right mind would issue me credit. Bergdorf’s did and I accepted their card as a cosmic sign that I belonged.

Shopping there leaves me with a feeling of exhilaration. Most stores hit you at the door with displays that say “you don’t know what you want but THIS IS IT!!!” Bergdorf’s approach is more “we got it, you figure it out.” It’s this process of discovery I enjoy. Plus the quality is so good it’s pretty hard to make a mistake.

Department stores usually capitalize on trends when a designer spots something new or fresh on the street. Corporate meetings are held and studies are conducted. Tiny, pre-teen Laotian hands are then lined up to do the delicate stitching. After several months preparing the marketing campaign, the shipping of mass quantities begins. The item hits the store to the fanfare of “Look What’s New!” The arty kids see it and think, “oh yeah, we did that a year ago.”

Bergdorf’s feels different. Their production schedule may be just as lengthy but their merchandise always appears unique and challenging. Maybe they are more nimble because they aren’t a chain.

They are also not afraid to take chances (see above re: my credit). The store’s reputation for excellent taste makes them easy to trust. Do I really need a pair of crotchless ski pants? If Bergdorf is carrying them maybe I do.

The Halston note
The Halston note

Whenever I visit I’m exposed to new designers I’ve never heard of. Bergdorf’s knows talent. After all, Halston got his start here. And Jackie was a customer for decades. What’s not to love?

Still it’s hard to justify cross-country shopping when Manhattan is so expensive. If you are willing to travel at certain times of year, however, it can be affordable. Those times would be any of the days in mid to late January.

These two-day trips are completely dependent on the weather and the airlines cooperating. Day 1 is consumed by flying time and zone changes. You no more finish your breakfast sandwich than, theoretically, it’s time for dinner. I often end up ordering the over-priced room service burger at 10:00 pm to conserve energy and fool the body clock.

That energy is needed for Day 2 when you force yourself up at 7 am (4 am California time) to find coffee, shower, and walk over for the 10:00 opening. There’s a five hour window before you need to return to the airport. You can sleep on the way home (maybe).

So, having secured cheap airfare and a very cheap rate at the Westin, I’m going cobweb clearing.



The Jackie Obsession


Low Jackie

Bonhams is only taking some of the higher end items from my collection, less than 5% of the total. They have no interest in the kitschy weirdo things, which are the lifeblood of the collection to me. But there is no money in heart and soul so at the end of the day I’m still going to have to come up with a way to divest myself of all this quirkiness.

I’ ve always been fascinated by the kitsch because it was such a contradiction to how she was brought up. She was a child of privilege, attended the Sorbonne and studied with Bernard Berenson. She became a refined and intelligent woman who was told by her father in law that, in order to win the presidency,  she and her husband were going to be sold  “like a box of soap flakes.” I think of her embarrassment and disgust whenever I see her mawkish image on one of these carnival giveaway quality tchotchkes.

One of my friend Marilyn’s husbands (there have been so many I can’t remember them all) was a pilot for UPS. When he had layovers in San Francisco in the 1980’s he would stay with me. There were two things that intrigued him about my apartment: the lack of a television and the perversity of my Jackie collection.

He did contribute, however, in the form of a cigarette lighter from the 60’s. When he was in the New Zealand Air Force he and his buddies would buy these lighters thinking they were Jackie. It’s not the usual America’s Widow image we’re used to. Still I think we have to accept his word that he thought he was buying Jackie.

I’ve always given it a central spot in the display case. His intent was pure even though his thoughts might not have been.



The Jackie Obsession


High Jackie

Avid readers of this blog will remember my Jackie collection and my angst over what to do with all the ephemera I’ve amassed. A friend has stepped up to help me auction off some of the higher end items. The cornerstone of that part of the collection is a note she wrote to Halston.

Ben and Rags were part of the 70’s Polk Street/Chicken Little’s/Matinee social scene until they moved to New York around 1977. Ben went to work for Andy Warhol. Rags did something too, though I can’t remember exactly what other than laughing a lot and having a good time.

Rags and Ben were close with Halston and his partner Victor Hugo. They partied with them at their Lenox Hill home and vacationed with them out in Montauk. When Victor gave him the Jackie note, Rags immediately thought of my collection. The next time he was in San Francisco he presented it to me.

Jackie’s note writing was mentioned by Senator Kennedy when he eulogized her. “At the end, she worried more about us than herself. She let her family and friends know she was thinking of them. How cherished were those wonderful notes in her distinctive hand on her powder blue stationary.”

We’ll find out just how cherished when the hammer comes down at Bonhams.



The Jackie Obsession