Walking across a sun-kissed beach on her private Greek island, the former first lady of the United States had just turned 40 and looked tanned, slim and entirely at ease with her luxuriant surroundings.
So comfortable was Jackie Onassis in fact, that she felt no need to wear even so much as a bikini.
Yet JFK’s widow, four years into her second marriage to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, wasn’t alone. And the nude photos of her that would go on to appear in Penthouse magazine became one of the final acts of betrayal that would destroy the union between one of the world’s wealthiest men and the planet’s most famous widow.
“Jackie was far more independent than I think people realise”, says John Randy Taraborrelli, author of an impeccably researched new biography of Jackie, published this month.
“She didn’t really need romance in her life, or as she said of Warren Beatty when they had dated, ‘Men can only do so much’.
“She was OK with the situation with Ari. It was he who started having issues about their arrangement when he began to think she got more out of it than he did. But my research shows that she was fine with the marriage just as it was and didn’t expect
anything more from Ari than what he gave her – money, protection and, when it felt right to them, companionship.”
It’s a fresh perspective on a marriage that many have long believed was undermined by Onassis’s infidelities and acts of malice towards his wife.
Yet Taraborrelli’s new biography of Jackie contains much that scotches the oft-told narrative of who was behind the release of the photos. Contrary to widespread belief, it wasn’t Aristotle who leaked the photographs of his wife as an act of vengeance.
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It was in the autumn of 1972 that the scandal blew up. For the previous few years, Jackie had seen little of her new husband. Constantly away on “business” Ari, as he was known to his wife, was also embroiled in an affair with the opera singer Maria Callas.
Wooed at the beginning of their relationship by gifts and a promise of the levels of security that Jackie and her young children needed, the marriage was rocky from the outset.
Throughout their relationship, Ari pursued his not-so-secret affair with Callas, while using his press contacts to publicly humiliate Jackie for stepping out of line.
In 1970, alone at the beach on the couple’s private Greek island of Skorpios, Jackie was being watched by a photographer named Settimio Garritano.
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Having taken the pictures of a naked Jackie taking a shower and walking along the sands, he stored them in a Swiss bank vault until, two years later, he took some more illicit nude photos. This time, they were of Baroness Fiona Campbell von Thyssen, the fiancee of Aris-totle’s son Alex-ander; a young man who, according to Taraborrelli, was the very definition of privilege and wealth gone sour. “A big part of Alexander’s resentment of Jackie had to do not only with the feeling that she had replaced his mother, but she had also took his father from him,” asserts the author.
“At his core, Alexander idolized his father, and the feeling was mutual, even if Ari didn’t always show it. Jackie walked into an explosive family situation and there was no winning over Alexander.”
As John reveals in his book, far from it being a wrathful Aristotle who leaked the nude photos of Jackie in order to humiliate his wife, it was in fact his son who, long harbouring a hatred of his stepmother, did a deal with the thrilled paparazzo Settimio to sell the photographs to the Italian magazine Playmen.
Admitting the details of his chicanery to Aristotle’s sister Artemis, Onassis junior was slapped across the face and ordered to tell his father about his betrayal.
“No Greek tragedy is worse than when a Greek son let’s down his Greek father,” Aristotle is reported to have said when Alexander finally told him the truth.
Jackie, to her immense credit, declined to take legal action against her stepson and instead went to Alexander in an attempt to smooth out the rancour he had against her.
Yet, not long after the scandal, intimates of the Onassis family overheard Alexander bragging to his friends that, “Madam got exactly what she deserved. They both did. She and Father.”
Publicly, Jackie handled the affair with notable elan.
Speaking to Newsweek magazine about the Skorpios photographs, she was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t touch my real life, which is with my children and my husband.”
Yet, in private, an exasperated Jackie revealed far more.
Confidents speaking to Tara-borrelli for his book, recall her saying, ‘‘I can’t believe this family I married into.”
Aristotle however, was far from sympathetic to his wife.
“I have to take off my pants to put on my bathing suit sometimes. She does, too,” he once flippantly uttered to a reporter.
“But after what she went through in Dallas with the assassination, there was nothing she couldn’t
handle,” contends Taraborrelli.
“No drama in her life could compare to the horror of Dallas, and she put things in perspective that way.
“After watching your husband murdered, who cares about some naked pictures? That’s the way she looked at things.”
Despite taking no legal action herself, a reprieve against Jackie’s pictures being published almost came about in the form of prosecutors in Florence and Vienna.
They requested that copies of Playmen should be seized and argued in court that the entire issue should be confiscated due to the images being obscene.
A judge in Milan disagreed however, to the delight of the Playmen team, who were keen to recoup the reported $51,000 they had paid for the snaps, which it achieved partly by selling the pictures to Penthouse magazine in the US.
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Death intervened once again in Jackie’s life a year after the scandal, putting an end to any further attempts by Alexander to smear his stepmother.
A qualified pilot, it was on January 22, 1973, that his amphibious airplane, in which he was a
passenger, crashed at Ellinikon International Airport in Athens, just 15 seconds after take-off.
Alexander died the next day from his injuries, aged just 24.
Crushed by his errant son’s death, Aristotle’s health went into decline.
He offered a $1million reward to anyone who could prove that he was murdered.
When he died in 1974, he still believed his son was killed on purpose, and not due to negligence.
For Taraborrelli, Jackie’s scandal of half a century ago, is one that could never be repeated today – a transition in both the legal and media worlds that makes for good news for public figures and bad news for the paparazzi.
“There’s more fear of litigation than there was in the 1970s,” Taraborrelli concludes.
“If someone leaked an improper photo of Melania Trump for example, the ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it would be instantly known.
“It took more than 40 years for the story of Jackie’s nudes to finally be explained.
“Today, all of those details would be instantly known, a lawsuit would be instantly filed, and the photographer would end up on the losing end.”
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