New Jackie Kennedy Biopic Brings Camelot To St. Louis

One of the most influential American women in modern history has some surprising ties to St. Louis.

Cited by many as the most popular First Lady ever, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ imprint on politics, fashion, art, literature and design is unparalleled. An iconic and spirited woman, she was admired for her beauty, refinement and courage that unified the nation after her husband, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963.

Kennedy’s life and legacy are the foundation of the new biopic “Jackie,” which plays at 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Tivoli Theatre as part of the closing night programming for the 25th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival. Slated for wide release in early December, “Jackie” has been lauded at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, and its star, 2008 Oscar winner Natalie Portman, already is receiving Academy Award speculation.

One of the points “Jackie” drives home is that America is still in love with Kennedy. Today, her image remains tantalizing to a worldwide audience that admires her bravura, style and tenacity. In fact, several St. Louisans reportedly have had the opportunity to rub elbows with Kennedy in various ways.

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in "Jackie"

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie.” | Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website, two prolific Washington University of St. Louis School of Medicine scientists were among those fêted by Kennedy at an April 29, 1962 White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners from the western hemisphere. Dr. Joseph Erlanger, an eminent physiologist, had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944 for his work with fellow Washington University scientist Herbert Gasser in identifying the relationships between varieties of nerve fibers. Nobel laureate Dr. Hermann J. Muller, an outspoken biochemist whose groundbreaking research on mutagenesis (the effect of radiation and nuclear fallout) brought the atomic age to the forefront of contemporary issues, also was celebrated that day.

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Jackie Kennedy with Nobel Prize winners from the western hemisphere on April 29, 1962. | Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Kennedy’s connection to St. Louis also includes local twin sisters Nancy and Mary Pillsbury. They were featured in a 1996 article in People Magazine about the sale of several of Jackie’s treasured possessions. Motivated by their passion for Kennedy, the Pillsburys dropped serious catch to acquire pieces of her life. Their collective haul included a pearl brooch, an evening bag containing Jackie’s trademark frosted pink lipstick, an emerald-and-diamond pendant, a faux diamond brooch and a bangle bracelet. Their lavish spending spree cost the sisters over $80,000 each.

Similarly, Kirkwood resident Steven Brawley was inspired by the style and grace of Kennedy. Profiled in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in November 2013, Brawley has established himself as a prominent expert on everything related to the First Lady. Over the years, Brawley has been quoted in the New York Post and Christian Science Monitor and served as a consultant for stories about Kennedy from NBC and Vanity Fair. Brawley also serves as the editor-in-chief of pinkpillbox.com, a fan site filled with archival photographs and various articles related to all things Kennedy.

As noted by the Post-Dispatch, Brawley’s home is a mini-museum filled with valuable Kennedy-themed ephemera spilling into nearly every room. Highlighting his collection is a portrait of the First Lady shot by photographer Yousuf Karsh, along with over a thousand magazine covers, commemorative plates, vases, Christmas ornaments and beverage coasters. If that were not enough, Brawley’s spare bedroom has been carefully transformed into a reproduction of the Fifth Avenue apartment where the First Lady resided after her husband’s expiration and where she remained until her death.

Directed by Pablo Larraín and co-starring Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt, “Jackie” is an intimate and mournful film that offers a glimpse inside Jackie’s complex personality while also commenting on how the issues of celebrity, privacy, family and politics affected her personal life. Tragic and nuanced, the movie’s narrative features Kennedy recounting the death and funeral of JFK. Flashbacks are skillfully utilized to emphasize the magnificence of the “Camelot” years.

Kennedy’s immense worldwide popularity also is depicted onscreen. Her fame transformed her from a socialite presidential spouse to book editor and champion of the arts. Portman’s portrayal peels back the elegance of the early 1960s and saturates it with melancholy as Kennedy eventually remarries and becomes a recluse from the prying eyes of nosy paparazzi.

For more information on programming for the 25th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival visit the Cinema St. Louis website.

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