A Woman Named Jackie (1991)

If you have to ask “Jackie who?” you might as well stop reading.

C. David Heymann’s wildly popular dirt-digger on Jackie O comes to life with a literally breathless Roma Downey in a very good impersonation and all the Kennedy skeletons-in-closets you would ever want to know.  Jackie was still very much alive in 1991 when “A Woman Named Jackie” aired, but there is not a whole lot of fawning in the way nearly every other Kennedy miniseries had treated her, though there is a certain amount of respect that would disappear in tales shot after her death.  In fact, it was due to Heymann that we learned a whole new set of Jackie facts, whether you choose to believe them all or not, that repositioned her somewhere between the saint in the bloody pink suit and the hex of the Onassis family.

There are better Kennedy-related miniseries, there are worse, but there aren’t many as juicy as this one, which actually took the Emmy for “Outstanding Miniseries.”

We start with the expected flashback, but since Jackie was still with us, it can’t be from her deathbed.  So, someone wondered, “hmmm, what would be a life-altering moment that would have one thinking about the past?” and decided to use the birth of Caroline’s first child.  Well, that might work if this were Caroline’s stormy but it’s not.  They attempt to use the hospital thus: “I’ve spent so much time here…waiting…praying.”

Anyway, trying to cover that mistake, the creators decided to throw us a piece of gossip first: Jackie is waiting, with John John (Andy Buckley), smoking a cigarette!  Yup, Jackie smoked.  Never in public, of course, but hey, according to Heymann, that was the least of Jackie’s vices.

Then it’s back to her birth, which of course she wouldn’t be able to remember, but we’ll skip over that.  Pop Black Jack Bouvier (William Devane, who had already played JFK in a TV movie) is very proud, but fussy Janet (Wendy Hughes) isn’t the cooing type.  She gets that from her father, a grumpy old codger who can’t wait to attack Black Jack for his drinking and gambling.  Little Jackie, now with younger sister Lee in tow, is used to hearing heated family discussions, though it makes Janet mad, not because the discussions are had, but because the nanny should be watching the girls.

At a horse race, Janet is of course aglow because there are people around, though Jackie is only worried if her father will show up.  “Need any help, Jackie?” a well-meaning extra asks as she mounts a horse.  “No.  It’s Jacqueline.  Bouvier,” she tells him imperiously.  Black Jack shows up, late, with a friend of Janet’s on his arm no less, and the two predictably trade innuendos.  Little Jackie does not win.  Janet wasn’t the type to fix a horse race (and has nothing but complaints when Jackie dismounts) and Black Jack was, but he didn’t have the money (he’s full of compliments for his fourth-place placer).

When Jack’s affair hits the papers, Janet is pissed and blames his drinking.  “It never mattered when the Bouvier name got you into the Social Register,” he notes.  “That’s not why I married you,” she claims.  “All you want to do is claw your way to the top of society because your father came from NOWHERE,”  he digs in.  Maybe someone should ask Auntie Edith Beale which name carries more social weight.  Or perhaps her daughter Little Edie.  Nah, this miniseries is way too serious to drag in that much comic relief.  Black Jack breaks the news of the impending divorce with aphorisms and solemn lines that he couldn’t have managed sober or drunk, but we have to explain Jackie’s intellect somehow.

Teenage Jackie (Sarah Michelle Gellar) parades down Manhattan streets with her father, scooping up packages and even a dog, when Lee spills the beans that Janet is marrying Hugh Auchincloss (Bob Gunton), though Jackie admonishes her joking father, “don’t laugh, he’s very nice…and very rich.”  Bang, she’s become a snob too.  Neither the Beales nor new cousin Gore Vidal seem to be at the wedding, and mopey Jackie wanders off before the “i dos.”  Wandering into a den, citing it “awful,” she finds fellow misfit step-brother Yusha (Boyd Gaines), who shares her disdain, at least some of it.  He jokes that she’s going to “Miss Porter’s,” and she corrects him that it’s Farmington.  “Those who call it Miss Porter’s don’t go to Miss Porter’s,” she glowers, but at least follows it up realizing she sounds ridiculous.

Ta-ta Sarah Michelle Gellar, enter Roma Downey, at Farmington in 1946, and now smoking.  Back Jack takes her to lunch, full of praise for her artwork and such.  He asks about her relationship with Hugh, a question four years too late, and the moves on to “what are you doing for boys?” an equally inappropriate question, but for different reasons.  She changes the subject, that she wants to be a “photographer’s model” when she graduates.  Showing him a photo, she is rebuffed with an “absolutely not” as her father tears up the picture.  “All one really has is a reputation,” he reminds her, a few hours early, still speaking in the language one can only call “drunken fortune cookie.”  Back to the discussion of life after Miss Por…Famington, Jackie says, “I can promise you one thing, I’ll never be a housewife,” having already acquired that vague New-England-Mid-Atlantic-I-wish-I-were-kind-of-British accent that followed her the rest of her life.  The other girls may giggle at Black Jack’s inability to walk a straight line, but it weighs on Jackie.  Well, frankly, what doesn’t?  The girl hasn’t cracked a smile since she started mining diamonds (if you know what I mean).

Yusha that she wants none of the typical country club boys, but when he points out Clay Holmby (Nick Gregory), how can she refuse to dance with someone that handsome?  On paper, he’s ideal.  He’s smart, “up and coming” on Wall Street, stunning to behold and he adores her. He even buys Vogue to see her picture in it “for winning the essay contest.”  But even Yusha can see she’s “bored to tears” with him, assuming she believes all the hype about herself in Winchell and Maxwell’s mentions.  Not our Jackie, as she would rather be miserable.  “Who am I?  And what am I doing with my life that’s worth a damn?” she wonders.  Deciding to drop out of Vassar, Jackie tells Black Jack she wants to work for a newspaper, covering politics, “something that matters.”  Black Jack sees this as a personal betrayal, her finally taking Janet’s side over his.  “I belong at the center of things and that is where I intend to be.”  Wait didn’t this woman just tell Yusha she wanted nothing to do with spotlight.

She then famously becomes a man-on-the-street reporter, asking inane questions like “what does a woman like?” by leading in with a  quote by Chaucer, whom no one knows.  I suppose we are supposed to laugh at how dumb they are in DC.  She’s a flop because the pictures suck.  “They are out of focus, aren’t they?” “Either that or I should sue my eye doctor,” the editor says, quipping like every hard-boiled newspaper editor everywhere.  When she volleys that no one takes her seriously because she’s a woman, she sounds like a spoiled movie actress.

More than half an hour into the movie and already engaged to Clay, she’s introduced to Congressman John Kennedy (dependable Stephen Collins, always playing a miniseries second fiddle), who takes an immediate shine to her.  “Great, a politician.  All they do is talk about themselves,” she complains to her girlfriend, but is told to keep an open mind.  There’s something goofily  attractive about him, though seemingly they have not a thing in common, he who eats asparagus with his hands and she who cuts her into small bits with expensive silverware.  After an excruciating round of charades, there’s a slapstick bit that involves a dog and a drunken suitor, the kind of scene begging to be cut.

“I find it hard to talk about private things,” she tells John on a movie date, their first.  That’s kind of oxymoronic, no?  Meanwhile, she keeps putting off a wedding date with Clay, must to Janet’s dismay.  “We all have our parts to play in life,” mother tells her, “and a woman may not get to choose, but she can carry it off with style and integrity.”  Spoken like a true social ice sculpture.  When Clay shows up one day and Jackie doesn’t want to see him, Lee (Ashley Crow), who hasn’t made an appearance since she was about five, wonders aloud what is going on with her sister.  Well, Jack Kennedy is what’s going on with her.  “There’s something a little dangerous about him, like Daddy,” notes Lee, who should have been a psychologist instead of…well…whatever the hell she was (and still is).  “I’ve never seen you this way.” “I’ve never felt this way.”  Clay finally gets the brush off when he brings Jacqueline home after a date (using the same outdoor set as the one with the dog-and-suitor scene, just decorated differently).  Naturally, it was kept out of adoring Jackie portraits that she bumped off one boyfriend for another, one who is “at the center of things.”

Bringing John a picnic lunch to his office, Jackie sets it out and he asks, “French mustard?”  “But of course” (in a mocked French accent).  “I prefer American.”  “Nobody said you were perfect.”  Okay, now that we’ve established that John Kennedy is some sort of politician slash vaudeville comic, I’m expecting the striptease act to come next.  No, instead, Jackie proves how smart she is by offering to write him notes on Southeast Asia.  That AND mustard?  What more could a dumb rich boy ask for?  She necks in the car, always a plus, though she ruins it with more talk of Southeast Asia.  She and Funnybones Malloy are kissing when a policeman tells them to move along, but he’s the grabby time and wants to get at least a few bases.

He’s so serious about her, he summons her to Hyannisport, where the Kennedy clan is in full swing playing baseball.  Rose (Rosemary Murphy) and Joe (Josef Sommer) seem delighted to meet her, but the rest look positively puzzled at the pink princess.  “What position do you play?”  “I don’t play much baseball, but I did do ballet.”  “Hey, the deb prefers ballet to baseball!” one of the cackling Kennedy sisters caws.  Ah, now the whole family is filled with schtick artists.  That’s new, considering every other portrait of the Kennedys has always painted them as sporty, but dull.  Maybe Joe Sr. really wanted them all to be clowns.  Speaking of Joe, he’s already marked her out for greatness and they have a very serious conversation the first time out.  Though his daughters exist “to push the men along,” he brazenly admits that he wants a powerful wife for the future president, the second man in the family to want that office, the first having died.  “We’re a family of winners.  We marry winners.  I think you’re a winner, Miss Bouvier,” he tells her.  Marry winners?  Ethel?  Joan?  Peter Lawford?  Mr. Smith (Jean’s husband)?  Yeah, prizes all!  I think what he means is HE married a winner (Rose’s money) and John will marry a winner (Jackie’s glamour).  As usual, Joe is marked as manically driven, though this Jackie is in on his plans from the onset.

John proposes to Jackie, or rather tells her they are going to be married, when she is sent to London to cover Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.  Finally showing his truer colors, John admits, “I wanted to marry you a year ago,” a chilling head tilt to Joe’s plans.  Jackie is suddenly not quite sure she wants this, and she goes to her mother, of all people, who unloads a tirade about the upstart Kennedy, and eventually, Black Jack (who, by the way is now coughing in a big chair, a sign of impending death).  “This isn’t a horse show, we’re not competing against each other,” Janet says when Jackie accuses her of marrying a scoundrel and dumping him for a secure husband.  Ah, now we see where Lee gets her staggering ability to assess the minds of others.  She next turns to a stranger on the plane with her problems, an odd choice given how tough a time she has with opening up (as she told John on their first date, remember).  Oh, and the woman she talks to is an old flame of John’s.  You saw that one coming.

Hold on tight for a romantic walk on the beach.  “It’s so hard to be married these days,” Jackie says, as if she has so much experience.  “I love you, I want to be your wife, I want to have your children,” she continues, with all the warmth of a popsicle.  “We’ll have fun,” John replies.  “Spoken like a true Kennedy,” she opines, and not happily.  We’re about to make our Faustian pact, or, more accurately, our first Faustian pact.  You mean Camelot was all a business deal?  Oh, just you wait!

Janet puts the wedding together, against her better judgment, having to “bend” to Joe’s desires, and calling his guest list something “like a summit meeting,” and odd term for the 50s, considering summits of between the US and USSR didn’t kick in until the 70s.  Black Jack arrives in town for the wedding, clearly not well.  Unfortunately, he gets sloshed and doesn’t show up for the wedding, Hugh having to step in and give her away.  She’s informed of the switch on the red carpet outside the church, complete with mobs of women proclaiming their eternal devotion to her.  Actually Hugh is the only person at the wedding smiling.  Even the priest doesn’t believe this one!

Freshly wed, Jackie cries with only her mother offering a shoulder to cry on.  She would get more succor from just holding a pillow.  Jackie then spends her honeymoon writing a forgiveness letter to her father.  John tries to be a little lovey dovey, but she puts him off so long that when she finds him, he’s entertaining young ladies at the pool (okay, it wasn’t actually that long, I was being polite).

Funnybones Malloy is back when Jackie screws up scrambled eggs, cracking wise as he tries to get to work, having to put up with her decorating desires while the car bleats for him.  She said she never wanted to be a housewife, but she tries awfully hard: golf, bridge, everything she hates, but all “to make Jack happy,” she tells Yusha, discovering her golf ball in the sand, leading to the inevitable line, “whenever you are in a trap you try to get out,” delivered by Yusha.

To be fair, Jacqueline does try her best.  When she forgets about a lunch for a 20-man Greek delegation, she calls for delivery.  “Did you have something to do with all this?” Funnybones Malloy rather nastily sasses.  Hey, the guys are fat and happy, what are you complaining about?  You could be married to Ethel, you know!  It’s at this lunch that John collapses in agony and has to be taken to the hospital, her first trip to the dreaded place she mentioned on the opening scene.  Yes, her first time at a hospital since she was born, it seems.  I would say that’s a damn good avoidance record.  That’s the positive.  The negative is simply bad dialogue and a stupid framing idea.  “His publicity people are playing up the war hero angle,” she complains, again to Yusha, though John manages to continue being a Senator from his hospital bed, where two exceedingly glum doctors handle delivering bad news.  Having surgery is a risk, but they have to do it.  For the first time, he actually needs Jackie and confides in her.  “We’re a team, right?” he asks.  “Right,” she replies, sobbing, something Bouvier women have never done.

John wakes up from surgery to see Jackie (and a picture of a mostly naked actress on the wall behind her).  She is by his bedside day and night, even through a “very serious” infection (that news told her extra blandly).  History shows that he pulled out of it all just fine.  I guess this was all included to soften their marriage a bit.  They go to Hyannisport to recover, where Joe takes charge like a general and where his siblings give him a football right out of the ambulance.  Poor John is a caged prisoner caught between his clucking mother, scheming father, nameless siblings and Jackie, who forces him to read and listen to her periodic bouts of flirty intelligence.  He somehow manages to write “Profiles in Courage” during this convalescence.  “Now we’re going to make this book a winner!” Joe declares.  “Joe, a book isn’t a political candidate, you can’t just make a bestseller,” she replies with outrageous naivete.  “Two calls, one to assure rave reviews and another to have my people go out across the country and buy every copy.  That’s how you make a winner!”

Finally in her own house, Jackie is pregnant and wants to hang a “hideous” fish on the wall.  Much to Janet’s dismay, Lee helps her.  Why?  “Because she’s older,” and a few sentences later remarks, “people catch lots of things on vacation and don’t hang them on the wall,” referring to the fish, or perhaps gonorrhea.  It’s hard to tell with her acidic delivery.  Janet fears her daughter is becoming a Kennedy.  “Make babies, make politics,” Jackie says, patting her stomach.  Janet doesn’t want Jackie going to the Chicago convention and “you tell Joe Kennedy I want a healthy grandchild.”  No ma, you tell him!  That conversation I would like to see.

The only person who has any sympathy for the clearly uncomfortable Jackie is the first person in the movie drawn without any glaring faults, the one and only Lady Bird Johnson (Carlin Glynn).  Lady Bird wises her up to some political realities, while not ducking the fact that she sashayed on over to also find out if John is “looking for delegates.”  “Neither is Lyndon” she says and then excuses herself to “do what we have to do…laugh at the jokes” and all that rot.  Jeepers, not even Lady Bird Johnson is without ulterior motives?  Jackie hasn’t met a genuinely good person, well, ever!  That’s even more unlikely than waiting almost 30 years to visit a hospital.  Adlai Stevenson is the presidential candidate, but John is definitely in the running for Vice President, along with everyone else.  It’s lucky for John he didn’t get on the ticket because Eisenhower was unbeatable.  However, John takes a call from Joe. “I was just talking to the Pope, our father…in 60, we go for the top spot.”

Jackie goes into labor picking flowers with her mother (luckily, nothing got on the flowers, or Janet would have lost it!).  She wakes up in the hospital (trip #2) with Bobby Kennedy (Tim Ransom), giving her the awful news that her baby died.  John is on vacation in Italy (one she sent him on without her).  Two guesses what John is doing in Italy. Stomping grapes?  No.  Bangin’ babes?  Yup.  Extra helpful Janet rages, “it’s Jack’s fault for not being here,” yet again without a kind word for anything Kennedy.  To make matters worse, Janet picks this time to reveal to her that “friends of mine in Italy have seen Jack in the company of a young woman.”  “If you ever want to be President of the United States, you haul your ass back to your wife,” John’s friend tells him, when the senator wonders what he should do.  Okay, even in a marriage of convenience, you know to be by your wife’s side the second you find out something catastrophic has happened.  “I’ve failed you as a wife and you’ve failed me as a husband,” Jackie says angrily when he arrives.  “You have no idea what I’ve been through and I don’t think you even care!”  Then it’s onto the pity party, nothing that Pat just had a baby and Ethel is due yet again, oh, and also that they “turn their heads when it comes to their husbands indiscretions.”  Zing!  This round goes to Jackie.  Having just suffered the death of an infant, she has all the storytelling cards.  Trying to argue would make John the ultimate heel.  “You forget, I grew up with one of the great philanderers of all times, I know how it’s done, Jack,” she adds.  Then comes the melodrama.  “We don’t have a home.  I’m going to live with my mother.”  John can fight that one, since he has lost the child too, but he’s back in trouble when she cries that it took him five days to get to the hospital.  To be honestly, it’s rather an overstuffed scene, tackling way too many issues, but it is some sort of climax, one in a hospital, of course.

Wearing an insanely large hat and a polka dot dress, a rare fashion misstep for Jackie, she goes to her father for solace.  Rose Kennedy has her opinion as well.  “High born ladies like Jackie weren’t mean to have children,” she says, though Joe shuts her up rather violently.  “I don’t like the rumors.  Time magazine sounds like you’re headed for a break-up,” Joe admonishes John.

Then comes a scene that was considered shocking in Heymann’s book and in the miniseries: the Faustian Pact, Part 2.  If the story behind it is true, it’s a whopper of a bombshell, and if it’s not, it certainly had people talking!  Joe and Jackie take a walk in the garden.  They have seen through each other since the beginning and Jackie is not afraid of Joe.  “These are Jack’s priorities: politics, other women, the Kennedy family and then maybe vaguely he remembers he has a wife,” she claims.  “There’s a different between love and sex.  Come on you’re a big girl,” Joe replies, not giving an inch to her proper lady sentimentality.
“What will it take you to come back?” Joe asks.
“What is this, a business deal?”
“I asked a question.”
“More time alone with Jack, less time with the family.”
“That means when we’re in Hyannisport or Palm Beach, we have dinner with you once a week, not every night.”
“You better straighten that out with Rose.”
“No more phone calls during dinner and at all hours.  You better straighten that out with Jack.”
“I want a home of my own.”
“Name it.”
“Washington, so Jack can come home for dinner.  I want a house in Georgetown and a free hand in decorating it as a gift from you.”
“Within reason.”
“No, absolutely outside of reason.”
“You’re a tough kid,” Joe replies, laughing, “okay, what else?”

And here it comes.  The line that would destroy the illusion of Camelot forever.

“A million dollars in cash.”  She looks at Joe and wonders if she went too far, so she says “I’m just kidding.”
“You can have it if you want it.”
“Am I that much of a political asset?”
“Let’s just say I want you to be happy.”

The deal having been concluded without so much as a handshake, Jackie returns to the loving daughter-in-law, takes Joe’s arm and says, “Then fix it so I can have a baby.  How are your connections in that one, Joe?”  “I’ll put in a word for you upstairs.”  It’s this scene that shocked readers of Heymann’s book and was meant to do the same in the miniseries, and sure packs a punch, knocking the stuffing right out of the priggish Jackie imagine.

For Jackie’s life up until the assassination, there had been rumors of infidelity, of marriage problems, etc., but the press was respectful and the couple never wavered in their public devotion to each other.  But, it’s this exchange that, if true, is the smoking gun that explains why they married, why they stayed married and why Jackie tended her husband’s flame until at least the last 1960s.  The God John Kennedy had already taken his lumps for decades by this point: mistresses came forward, Marilyn Monroe, Joe’s supposed purchasing of votes, mob connections.  Dead, he was fair game.  But, Jackie was still alive and the most famous woman in the world still when Heymann wrote his book and this miniseries was filmed.  The Goddess Jackie was suddenly torn from her pedestal right here, and, if Heymann is correct (and with Jackie and Joe dead now, there is no way to know), it makes everything else in her life suspect, a proposition that had occurred only to a select few.  When Christina Onassis roared about Jackie, everyone thought she was a crackpot.  But, with history changed like this, perhaps Christina Onassis wasn’t so far off base.

Anyway we continue with the miniseries as that is the task at hand.  Historians and gossip writers will forever continue to shower us with new takes on Jacqueline.

The house in Georgetown that Jackie wanted is the same set pier we’ve seen over and over again, being given a remodel inside as Jackie is plump in pregnancy again.  Jackie isn’t even pretending anymore.  John gives her a string of pearls for a birthday present and she reminds him they are supposed to go to a party at her mother’s that night.  Just a look from him tells her he’s forgotten.  “Don’t worry, you remember the most important part,” she says, fingering the pearls.  Lee calls with the news that Black Jack is in the hospital, but not to fly up because it’s just for tests.

Cue Jackie and Lee in all black at the coffin of their father, whose funeral is sparsely attended.  John asks Hugh who the weeping women in the back of the room are.  “They aren’t family.  More like a fan club,” he notes, adding, “you know what women say, once you’ve been with Black Jack Bouvier, no other man will do.”  “It’s not a bad epitaph,” Joe remarks, always the hell.

And finally the couple has a healthy baby, little Caroline.  “She looks just like you,” John says.  Yeah, maybe as a baby, but look at her fifty years on, she’s all Kennedy.

Now it’s safe for Joe Kennedy to get what he wants: John in the White House.  The first call is to Frank Sinatra to deal with “High Hopes.”  “Don’t hide Jackie,” Joe reminds John, who says that Jackie hates campaigning.  “Jackie and I have an understanding.  She may not admit it, but she’s getting a taste of power.  She’s got a whiff of the White House.  She’ll work her ass off to get there,” he says confidently.

Campaigning in Wisconsin, John is called back to Washington to vote on the Civil Rights bill, but Jackie tells him to go and she’ll do the campaigning.  John tries to think it’s because she likes the attention, but she “likes the crowds.”  No, she made a deal and she’s living up to her end of it.

A blow-up ensues when a very pregnant Jackie refuses to attend the Los Angeles convention for fear of losing the baby.  John insists she be there when he accepts the nomination.  “Four years ago, I was a naive political wife, desperate to please you and your family.  Now I’m a mother and I know what’s important.  I’m staying home,” she says.  “That’s just great!” John explodes.

By that point in time, Jackie wasn’t needed to assure votes, though if she had been there, some matters might have been different.  John goes to dinner with Peter Lawford (Nicholas Walker) and trusted aide Ken O’Donnell (Clark Gregg) when in comes Marilyn Monroe (Eve Gordon) to join them.  “I’m always on time for the Senator,” she purrs.  This Marilyn is alternating idiotic and knowing.

Election night arrives and it’s a nail biter.  Even in the wee hours of the morning, “it’s too close to tell” who won the election.  Somehow, the Jackie and John manage to sleep, woken by the doorbell.  It’s the Secret Service, “here to provide security for the President-Elect.”  That means he won!  Jackie is less than thrilled with the surge of attention on her, but John is unsympathetic.  That goes with the job.  Off he goes and naturally she goes too, into premature labor.  This time, John is on the plane when he gets the news and he turns it around as soon as they get the news.  Only moments later, they get the news that he now has a son.

A photographer shows up at the hospital and pops out of a closet.  The Secret Service tackles him to get the film.  “You said they would protect us,” a horrified Jackie brays.

The inauguration means the pillbox hat.  We haven’t heard from Janet in a while, and she’s as vicious as ever.  Imploring Jackie to get her ass down to the inaugural balls, she’s not happy with the hairdo a sassy man is giving her.  It looks like a rat’s nest.  History would be on Jackie’s side this time.  The inaugural balls means Jackie in that cape, her second fashion triumph of the day.

At the White House, Jackie, in jodhpurs, is already making changes.  She refuses to greet the staff en masse, preferring to do so one-on-one, and says “don’t call me the First Lady.  My name is Mrs. Kennedy.”  She has everyone sign confidentiality agreements and comes off as exceedingly imperious.  He answer to John’s note that everyone is complaining that the French chef isn’t American is to tell him to push through the naturalization papers.  She wants to do “something useful” and redecorate the White House, going into a comedy routine mocking foreign guests that belonged somewhere about an hour ago.  She promises to make the White House a showplace for the nation without spending taxpayer money.  “Be careful, remember what happened to Marie Antoinette,” John warns her.  “Eat your cake, darling,” she coos, a cute line wasted on her uncultured hubby.

Jackie raises the funds by publishing a book celebrating the changes she’s made and the taxpayers are thrilled.  In passing, we find out that Joe had a stroke, and then so-called Dr. Feelgood arrives to administer B12 shots, which he does for the President and every famous celebrity he’s addicted to his phony concoctions.  We’ve managed to hit everyone in one scene or another, even Dr. Feelgood!  It’s a regular old Kennedy Cliffs Notes party.

She refuses to see a delegation from Miss Porter’s, from Vassar and even her mother, but she will see George Balanchine.  “No to anything that doesn’t have to do with my promotion of the arts,” she tells her secretary.  John insists she goes to France, where she just has to “look ravishing and speak beautiful French.”  She charms De Gaulle as no one else had ever been able to do.  Strangely, John’s line, “I’m the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris” is not used in context, but merely in a rather bizarre conversation between husband and wife where her eyes are bugging out over Parisian splendor.  He admits his success in France is due to her.  They then dance alone in an opulent hallway.

John prefers romps in the swimming pool to cello recitals and the like that Jackie has arranged.  This is the focus of “A Woman Named Jackie” as it’s her story.  Apparently she had no care of the Russians, of the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs or anything political.  But, she does toss floozy underwear at him and we do get to see Marilyn perform her infamous “Happy Birthday” at John’s Madison Square Garden party.  Jackie watches with Janet, and for once, they seem to agree with appropriately pinched faces.  Note to the people who cast Marilyn: you’re about six sizes too small in the waist.  Janet insists Jackie do something about the women, but Jackie isn’t exactly in a position to divorce her husband like Janet did.

As for Lee, she reminds Jackie at a fashion fitting to buy American and then admits her marriage is over, but “I’ve been spending a lot of time with Aristotle Onassis.”  At least they got that detail right, Lee was there first.  Directly following is a low point of the miniseries, when Marilyn calls for John and Jackie answers.  Jackie challenges her, offering to “step aside” if they really do want each other.  “Then you two can get married and live in this damn White House,” she bleats, continuing until Marilyn definitely gets the message.  “What a bitch,” Marilyn says when Jackie hangs up.  I told you, that was just plain dumb.  Bobby tells his brother that tapes exist of John and his women.  Hoover has gotten them from the mob.  So, Bobby is dispatched to Los Angeles to tell Marilyn “it’s finished.”  Oh, but he adds, “she can be very difficult to resist when she wants to be.”  “I know.”  “I had a feeling you did.”  Ah, the Kennedy men!  Funnybones Malloy is back immediately, saying, “let’s talk about something more difficult, what do you want to do about Mr. Castro?”

Skip the scene of Marilyn’s last night.  It doesn’t belong here and it’s very poorly done.  What does belong is the one-sentence pubic speech Jackie has to deliver to the press, with her game face on.  Unfortunately, the first scene lasts an eternity and the second a second.  After that, Jackie freezes out John, understandably.

When Jackie discovers she’s pregnant, it’s not John she tells, but Bobby.  “I’m afraid to hope again,” she tells him, confiding in the Kennedy brother to whom it was said (and it’s completely chaste so far) she was the closest.  Sadly, this baby is born, but does not live long.  At a rainy funeral, John is there with Rose, Jackie still in the hospital.  Yes, the hospital.  We still haven’t even hit ten visits, FYI.  John tries to bond with Jackie, but she is not interested.

But, she can deal with Joe again, now that he’s incapacitated.  Feeding him applesauce, she delights in the one-way conversation.  In a melancholy mood (what others are there?), she tells him, “I miss you so much.  I miss your energy and your vision.  You were always so good at fixing things.  Can’t you tell me what to do?”  Joe swats the bowl from her hands, so Jackie grabs a brush, tends to his hair and…sings!  Yes, Jackie Kennedy sings to her father-in-law.  This is an interesting scene because it shows that the pact she and Joe made actually bonded them together stronger than it did she and John.  However, it’s a creepy scene nonetheless.

After tending to show, Jackie is the recipient of a temper tantrum from Caroline, but Lee calls Hyannisport in the middle of things.  She’s on Ari Onassis’ (Joss Ackland) yacht.  “He wants to give it to us,” Lee shouts through the phone, because he “knows you need a vacation.”  John and Bobby are furious when Jackie tells them the news.  “You might as well get used to him, because he’s going to marry my sister,” Jackie retorts.  “Not until after the 1964 election.  I’ve already discussed that with her,” Bobby informs Jackie.  Jackie pulls the “I need to get away” card, hinting at the loss of the baby, and John and the American people will just have to deal with it.  John suggests FDR Jr. and his wife as chaperones.

Immediately, Ari adds some cheer to the gloomy enterprise.  The Jackie-the-Martyr years have been awfully dull, duller even than her dull childhood.  Jackie asks Lee if she is going to marry Ari.  “First of all he hasn’t asked me.  Second, I’m still married to Stas.  Third, he’s still got Maria Callas on his mind,” Lee says as a boat of photographers hurry by.  “Get her back here!” John demands when a picture of her suntanning lands in the paper with the headline “Jackie Mourns.”  He has a telegram sent to her: “Dear Jackie.  Get your ass back home.”  He forgot STOP.  Before she leaves Ari, he gives her a gleaming ostentatious necklace.

Back home, Jackie, who has worked wonders with De Gaulle and Kruschev is asked to go to Dallas with  John to help heal wounds within the Democratic party.  “No bubble top” on the car, John insists.  Roma Downey is back to using her vacant I-hate-my-life look that has been omnipresent since she married John.  But, this time, it brings her and John closer.  They hug, admit love and kiss.  “He brought us together, didn’t he?” meaning poor Patrick.  It’s so nice this new spirit of togetherness, right as they are about to be torn apart permanently.  It’s a bit too convenient, a bit too sappy, a bit, well, too miniseries-esque.  We’ve learned so many bad things about these people, do we really believe in this sudden change of heart?  We will never know.

“Can’t we go to Texas with you?” Caroline asks.  “Not this time, it will just be a bunch of boring grown-up speeches,” Mom says.  We’re really giving this the full works, no disrespect to the assassination itself intended.  I don’t envy Roma and Stephen having to recreate one of the images burned in the heads of so many people with such harsh and unbelievable permanence.  Shots are fired and John falls into Jackie’s lap.  She jumps on the back of the car as the Secret Service takes over.

Lady Bird rushes to Jackie at the hospital, insisting that they have to change her clothes, which begot Jackie’s famous line (and deservedly so), “I want the world to see what they’ve one to Jack.”  She tells a doctor, “I don’t want a sedative, I want to be with my husband when he dies.”  They actually allow her in the operating room, where she falls to her knees and crosses herself.  Indeed, she is there when he is pronounced dead.  Where Roma has so far been doing a (very good) imitation, here she gets to show some acting chops.  A scene like this is up there with a courtroom blowout in most acting dream roles.  She removes her wedding ring and slips it on his finger.  Ken, flouting Texas law, insists the autopsy not be performed there and tells the crowd that all decisions are now up to the President.  President Johnson (Brian Smiar), immediately shown to be a buffoon.

The casket is placed aboard Air Force One and everyone is crying in horror.  Jackie’s suit doesn’t have much blood on it, strangely.  Because of the uncertainty, Johnson insists on being sworn in before the plane leaves the ground and “wants Mrs. Kennedy there for the swearing in.”  “I owe the country that much,” Jackie agrees.  Another famous tableau is rendered.

At Andrews Air Force Base, Bobby boards the plane, brushing off Johnson and heading right for Jackie, both lowered with the casket in another of the day’s infamous images.  Surprisingly, Janet is at the airport to inform Jackie that yes, the children have been told.

I must admit, from the moment the shots rang out to the moment the hearse at Andrews pulls away, the miniseries corrects itself, tucking away the gossip and playing the scenes straight as they happened.  Other than an obvious attempt to smear Johnson a bit, it’s handled with sincerity and solemness.  And if you are going to cry, and you can, it will be during the scene where Jackie discusses the event with the kids.  No mother should ever have to deal with such tragedy, but Jackie handles it beautifully, having her kids write letters to John.  Lee is there for support, but Jackie has her own letter to write.  It’s a difficult few scenes to tuck into such a chewy and mud-slinging movie.  “This is your father’s bed,” she says as she puts her son in it, “I want you to remember it because we’ll be leaving soon.”  She then retires to her own room to finally do the crying she hasn’t been able to do.

But Jackie is back in full form as she plans the funeral details.  Others try to stop her, but she declares, “I want this funeral to remind the American people of that they have lost,” she insists, though the hints of stage management going beyond national tragedy are definitely there.  Subtle, but there.

With Johnson’s eulogy playing in the background, Jackie has a private funeral with the kids and sees the body one last time with only Bobby.  “And so she took the ring from her finger and placed it in his hand,” he says over and over in a very moving tribute, which goes a long way to undo the damage they have done in his two brief scenes so far.  Well, for a moment, at least.  He starts to pester Jackie to come to the White House, for political reasons, and after doing an imitation of him, calls him an “oversized cow-punching oaf.”  She says, “it will be a long time before I accept an invitation from Colonel Cornpone and his little pork chop.”  OUCH!  Her tirade ends when a bus of tourists pulls up outside and she decides she can’t go outside too much.  “Why can’t they leave us alone?” she cries.

Of all people, it’s of course Bobby and Ethel (Kathleen McNenny) who provide Jackie the most comfort, with their 1,613 children good playmates for her two.  Well, okay, it’s Bobby more than Ethel.  Bobby, who hates Johnson, wants out of the administration, but Jackie urges him to continue, especially since he’s a father figure for her son.  But, Jackie saves her crying fits for the middle of the night when she’s most likely to win an Emmy.  Rather unbelievably, she takes a late-night walk to the house where they first met, noticed by no one until a photographer discovers her.

Therefore, she moves her kids to New York City.  Redoing yet another home, she tells Lee, “sometimes I just wish I could say to hell with all of them.”  “Why don’t you?”  Jackie doesn’t answer, but it’s a perfectly legitimate question.  Of course, as the widow of a slain president, she really can’t, but there are options besides pouting all the time.  Lee is worried that Jackie only cares about “Jack’s place in history” and is forgetting her own life.

There’s another problem: Jackie is broke.  John left her nothing and the Kennedys aren’t footing any bills.  Her business manager suggests going to Ari Onassis.  She doesn’t want to ask him for anything, but when John John is razzed at school and gifts start showing up for the children (cars and carousel horses), and we know how Jackie’s head is turned by gifts, she reconsiders.

The dreary childhood years were not very exciting (except for Janet’s wacky outbursts).  The Kennedy years were dignified, and we know Jackie was heavily medicated to get through them, I hope the reason why Roma chose to play the scenes as a sleepwalker, but the REAL fun of Jackie’s life came when Onassis took over.  Unfortunately for “A Woman Named Jackie,” there’s less than an hour left to get through not only him, but the 15 years after his death.  However, let’s see what muck we can dig up.

It starts off innocently enough, which Jackie confessing only that she has “escorts to certain events,” and as Ari chuckles over that, he puts a hand on her knee.  “You know I adore you, Ari, but we’re just having dinner,” she says in an extra soft whisper.  There’s nothing subtle about Ari Onassis.  He buys out a restaurant for the night and then does the cooking himself.  Jackie can’t help but have a glimmer in her eye, because Jackie does love anyone who devotes any time (or money) to her.  Ari wants Jackie to understand that he feels Lee is only a friend, but Jackie ignores the implication and rambles on about how great he’s been to her since Patrick’s death and then since John’s death.  “Maybe we Greeks have an instinct for tragedy,” he says, in a classic bit of understatement where he is concerned!  He then starts speaking in Greek fortune cookie-ese, a twist on the other fortune cookie-eses we’ve been unlucky enough to hear.

Caroline is accosted at school by a crazy woman (she has flaming red hair, so we know she’s nuts), and Jackie isn’t happy.  But, she can’t escape just yet because Bobby wants to run for the White House.  Jackie promises she’ll “be there for the part in ’68,” but things are coming to a head.  She doesn’t feel safe.  Bobby’s earnestness earns her “support.”  Bobby wants to know how serious she is about Onassis and she dances around it, but he’s a political liability.  “I won’t have the Kennedy dictating who I can see!” she insists.  The conversation goes back and forth, but Jackie is whispering more silently than ever now, so I couldn’t quite catch one side of it.

Guess who else doesn’t like Onassis?  Yup, Janet.  She’s still around still a snob.  “I hate the way he chases around,” she sniffs.  She thinks it’s “vulgar” the way he loads everyone with gifts.  “He’s a vulgar man,” Jacqueline admits.  Ari and John John bond over fishing, so Ari gives him $100 to buy worms but John comes back without worms.  He gives him another $100.  “I’ve never bought worms,” he says when Jackie tries to explain the problem is that it was too much money, not too little.

Ari makes life in Greece sound so captivating that Jackie can’t resist and is thrilled that not only do the press not know her whereabouts, but the Kennedys aren’t pestering her either.  Ari preys on the feeling of security he gives her and proposes marriage, though by saying “I’m ready to get married again, how about you?”  Not smooth, but she’s already had that.  “I promised the family I would wait to make a decision until after the election” about any marriage proposal that comes her way.  “They think I have so much power, but they do not know about the power of love,” Ari says, having a grand old time.  Joss Ackland digs into these cheesy lines with gusto, one of the best television Ari’s of all.

Then June 1968 happens.  Before Jackie gets the call, Caroline asks “is there enough room in the White House for all of our cousins?”  It’s a fair question and most people would love to know how that would have worked, but crazy Sirhan Sirhan robbed us of that chance (and if you believe later books about Jackie, Onassis could have been behind it all).

It means another trip to the hospital, this time to comfort Ethel.  Talk about wacky scenes, this one almost sweeps the rest away!  Ethel, understandably hysterical, wants to know why it happened, saying “you’ve been there, you know.”  “I don’t know anything,” Jackie replies.  Ethel wants a priest, but won’t get Jackie go to find him and leave her alone.  “If there’s one thing the Catholic Church knows, it’s death,” Jackie says, as some sort of comfort.  Is that not the strangest line?  I assume it was tucked in there by someone with an ax to grind, but it’s downright laughable!

“I hate what’s happening to this country.  I don’t want to live here anymore.  If they’re killing Kennedys, my children are the number one targets,” she tells Lee, who “flew in direct from London.”  Now that’s something I did not know, that dependable sister Lee was at the hospital in Los Angeles with Jackie and Ethel.

And with that, Jackie packs up the kids and hightails it off to Greece.  But, it’s not so simple.  The Kennedys send Teddy (Dylan Price) to negotiate with Ari.  Jackie has already made Faustian Pact, Round 2, but somehow Uncle Teddy has to tie up loose ends.  Time with Onassis was never about love, but Jackie and her kids were too precious as American icons for the Kennedys not to have a say.   I know, Teddy seems an odd choice, but he’s the only one left.  Who else can they send?  Eunice?

Teddy says that if Jackie marries Ari, the Kennedy income, the widow’s pension and the Secret Service all disappear.  Ari says he’ll cover it all.  Oh, and here’s the dirtiest dirt: the Kennedys want a cash payment of their own.  Ari agrees to pay a third of the figure and then sends Teddy to splash in the pool with “some very interesting young women.”  Alexander (Jad Mager) and Christina (Nadia Dajani) glower a few feet away.  Since all is settled, we can recreate the next famous photo of Jackie, the darling of the United States towering over her new hedgehog of a husband, neither looking particularly happy, their four children even less so.  Janet and Hugh recount the fun late night comedians and the newspapers are having at Jackie’s expense, such as “Jackie Weds Blank Check.”  Janet’s reply?  “I can’t say I didn’t warn her.”  The whole country new this was a marriage of convenience.  Ari wanted to boast that he landed the “most desired woman in the world” and Jackie wanted his security and his money.  “With me, you are going to open up like a flower,” Ari tells her before she goes on a fantastic shopping spree.  It’s his wallet that she’s opening up, and with no shame.

Jackie is not as thrilled to be trotted out like a show pony for Ari’s ghastly friends, every bit as gauche and boorish as he is.  He’s cruel when he feels their bargain has been violated, but it’s too late to back out now.  One lovely day, Jackie asks Christina where Ari has gone and Christina oozes, “Paris probably.  I think he misses the opera.”  Jackie was a pro at that sort of game long before Christina was ever born, and counters back with, “then I shall go to New York, why don’t you come along?  We can go shopping.”  Christina is not looking for new friends, saying “don’t try to make me into some vapid American model.  I’m the daughter of a billionaire.  I know very well how to spend money,” but then gets even nastier, asking “do you know why me married you?  Just to prove to Stavros Niarchos that he could have the most desirable woman in the world.  They’ve been rivals in the shipping business for years.  You’re just another supertanker, Jackie.”  And if the stories are true, that was one of the nicer things Christina said to Jackie’s face (what she said behind her back was often hysterical, but also rather pathetic, given her own issues).

Part of the bargain Jackie has with Ari was that she only had to spend a few months of the year with him.  The rest were all hers, and when he showed up in New York, she wasn’t thrilled.  “I wish you’d call before you just show up,” she castigates him.  “You can’t stay here,” she adds.  “Why on earth not?”  “I’m redecorating your room.”  The conversation goes on like a tennis volley, getting angrier and angrier, though Jackie’s whispers have acquired some venom.  “I’ll be at the Pierre until Thursday,” he says on his way out.  “That’s nice to know.  I usually have to call your secretary to find out where you are,” she snaps back, finally becoming Janet’s daughter.  The dialogue sizzles with miniseries grittiness and it’s fun!

Janet joins Jackie at a fitting and seems to have mellowed.  She actually takes Ari’s side, liking the fact that “John has formed a deep attachment” to the little gnome.  “Culturally, we have nothing in common,” Jackie replies, a wild line that sounds like something her mother would have shouted decades ago.  It’s actually a damn good line.  I wonder if Jackie ever actually said it.  “Why don’t you try to work it out?” Janet asks, “you don’t get that many good chances in life, Jacqueline.  I would hate to see you throw this one away.”  Jackie actually takes that advice and joins Ari for dinner.  They exchange affectionate words, just like Jackie and John did before Dallas, but a phone call interrupts them.

Alexander has been injured in a plane crash.  Jackie swings into action, calling the world’s finest doctor and arranging to get them to Greece quickly, but Alexander’s injuries are too severe and he dies.  Ari is a broken man after his death and any attempt Jackie makes to be even understanding or cordial are rebuffed.  Ari believes the crash was “a plot against me,” though Jackie thinks it was “an accident, an act of God.”  She’s not looking for a fight, but he’s furious.  “You accepted the murder of my son just like you accepted the murder of your husband,” he growls.  And that’s just the beginning.  He claims she never cared who killed him and then asks Christina, “did you see her at her husband’s funeral?  She never cried once.”  Christina is more than happy to agree.  Jackie trumps that by reminding them that “he died in my arms,” so Ari changes tactics.  “Did you shed one tear for my son?  And in New York, when we heard the news, you were immediately on the phone, so calm, so aloof.”  How many ways does he want it?  Jackie is no prize as a human being in this miniseries, but she’s hardly bad enough to deserve the bile he pours out on her.  Actually, for the first time, Christina sides with Jackie.

Apparently, Ari wants to divorce Jackie, but after having her followed and her phone bugged, he has no proof of infidelity, so he instead starts a public smear campaign.  He wants Jackie to sign a “new financial agreement,” and her advisor tells her to do so.  After all, Joe Kennedy is dead and “you’ve cut ties with the family,” he reminds her.  “The only way to protect you, Jackie, would be with a new financial agreement,” he tells her, noting that she’s basically nothing without a powerful rich man.

By 1875, Ari is in the American Hospital in Paris dying.  Jackie comes to pay a visit, causing Christina to flee the room in a Greek temper.  “It must be close to the end if you’ve come all the way to Paris just to see me,” he quips.  He has some late-in-the-game words of wisdom for her, delivered with the expected death-bed theatrics by pro Joss Ackland.  Another hospital scene, by the way.

Once again a widow, Jackie of course has no desire to stay in Greece and eventually ends up as a ritzy book editor in New York City.  By this point, she’s the grande dame of American society, the ultimate “get” as a celebrity, but finally living more quietly.  After her first day on the job, she comes home to John John having been offered a chance to play his father in a movie.  Jackie refuses, insisting he graduate first and then never become an actor.  “It’s the one thing I’m good at,” he pouts, but she says, “you have even begun to discover what you’re good at.”  Time would prove it wasn’t law and it wasn’t the magazine business.  It probably would have been politics.

Anyway, Caroline goes to bat for her brother, saying that this is all a repeat of the arguments Jackie had with her mother.  But, there’s a difference.  “I was a Bouvier and you are Kennedys.  My mother didn’t have to protect me from deranged assassins or people on the street from the time I was five…you and John have inherited a different world.”  No matter what dirt has been dug here about Jackie, there was never any indication she was anything but a brilliant and caring mother, very protective of her children, who both turned out quite well.

Cantankerous Janet is still alive.  Hugh has been dead a decade and they have to sell the mansion, moving Janet into the “servant’s quarters,” but Janet’s mind is going.  She doesn’t remember Caroline or her fiance, but she remembers John Kennedy.

Looking more like late-career Ann Miller, Diana Vreeland (Nan Martin) swoops into Jackie’s office to pronounce, “it’s simply marvelous–you, our most cherished national treasure an editor!”  Diana decrees that the office should be red…or pink.  “Pink is the navy blue of India,” she says, in her best Auntie Mame imitation.  Why Diana Vreeland tells her holding the grandchild Caroline is about to birth is “the most special feeling in the world, it’s what life is really about” makes no sense at all, but we’re minutes from the end and they are simply tossing anything at us.  Apparently Jackie was editing a book on Imperial Russia for Diana.

Given the flashback insistence of the miniseries, we end up back in the hospital where Jackie waits nervously with John for Caroline to give birth.  I imagine the scene was filmed early on because the Jackie of this scene doesn’t look at all like the Jackie of the last few scenes, where she had become middle aged (though always glamorous).  There is one insanely stupid line left.  Caroline gives Jackie the baby to hold and announces, “we’re going to name her Rose, after Grandma Rose Kennedy.”  Really?  That Rose?  Never heard of her.  For Pete’s sake we had to be reminded who Rose was (and at that point, still was, as she was alive, though probably not kicking).

Admittedly, Jackie cooing in the hospital room with her first grandchild is an odd place to end the story, but Jackie was still alive and there wasn’t a whole lot else to tell.  No one could know that Jackie would live only a few more years and risk waiting.  By 1991, this sort of storytelling was getting decrepit, so they had to strike while the Heymann iron was hot.

What works best here is not the dirt about Jackie.  In a way, that’s expected.  Heymann and others had been writing tell-alls about people at the top for years.  Gone was the time when any celebrity was exempt from the treatment.  People were less shockable by the late 80s and early 90s.  Everyone knew somehow that Jackie had married Onassis only for his money and security.  There were always snickers about John Kennedy’s affairs.  There would be whispers of Jackie’s, but only after she was dead.  Though people were less shockable, they were still fairly reverent of Jackie, so the mudslinging here is interesting done: mud is slung AROUND Jackie.  Other than the business deal of a marriage she did with Joe Kennedy, the faults tend to settle on Janet or Black Jack or John or Joe or Ari.  It’s not that Jackie was a saint, for the story clearly shows that she knew how to battle with the best of them, but those around her were such deep sinners that nothing she did could possibly compare.

Not until Caroline is long gone will anyone really attempt to smear Jackie in the way they have smeared everyone around her (and most of them seemed to have deserves smearing).  But, how much more is there to find out?  Did she have an affair with Bobby?  I don’t know, but do we really care at this point?  The “national treasure” she’s referred to here is generations gone.  To history, she’s the pretty First Lady who was witness to one of the most shocking moments in 20th Century Presidential history, and though books will be written about her where none will exist for Mamie Eisenhower or Jane Pierce, celebrities have done way worse than marry for money in the decades since Jackie did it.

A word about the acting.  Roma Downey must have been scared as hell to take on such an iconic role, especially with Jackie still alive!  She was not a well-known actress and Jackie is in nearly every scene of this 6-hour miniseries (she sits out Marilyn’s death scene and a few others, but that’s it).  This is a gigantic role about a gigantic presence in American history.  Daunting, absolutely.  Roma actually delivers.  She gets the Jackie-speak down perfectly, but there’s a problem inherent in that.  It doesn’t allow for much acting.  When you have to whisper and under-emote everything you say, you don’t get to go up against smarmy Josef Sommer or howling Joss Ackland.  They have the fun roles, so they have the fun acting.  What Roma does is anchor the piece in reality, not an easy task considering she was playing the most unrealistic woman in the world at the time.  She certainly did it better than Francesca Annis or Jaclyn Smith or any of the other miniseries Jackies.

Only one question remains: what every happened to Clay Holmby?

Categories: Historical Miniseries

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