*As posted Sep 30, 2021
Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Maria Callas were some of the most important female figures of the 20th century. Their love choices, however, put them apart and marked their trajectories. In the center of this pentagon were two typical men of their time: John Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. The result was sadness, scandal, and death.
Legends, marriages, and separations
The lives of these three divas are marked by pain, overcoming, and broken hearts. Jackie came from a broken family and entered politics alongside her handsome, and charismatic husband. Maria, a daughter of Greek immigrants, was overweight when young, in constant conflict with her mother, but determined to be a star at the Opera. She survived hunger and the war, faced prejudices, and arranged historic fights, but ultimately made her dream come true. Marilyn, a “waif”, as she used to prefer describing herself, whose schizophrenic mother’s mental health plagued her, became a sex symbol in Hollywood, married and divorced three times, and collected famous boyfriends. In common, the three were united by men who appreciated them within the sexist style of the time, which almost meant that these women were mere pieces to be collected.
Jackie Kennedy and John Kennedy represented to the world the ideal, happy, united, and perfect young couple. Behind the scenes, he betrayed her compulsively and when he was already President, his affair with the actress Marilyn Monroe could not be less discreet. His birthday party in 1962, where the actress wore a (historic) see-through dress and sang sensually Happy Birthday to him, was a night of public humiliation for Jackie.
And it was also the night that Maria, who loved Greek Tycoon Aristotle Onassis, met Marilyn, who loved Jack, who was married to Jackie, who was unhappy and then was taken in herself by Onassis not long afterward. That’s right, in 1962, the lives of these 5 people would be irreversibly linked.
Maria Callas married young to a much older man, who took care of her career and had an almost paternal relationship with her. When she met Onassis, at nearly 40, the opera singer’s spartan and disciplined life gave way to an overtly physical and extramarital romance with the Greek shipowner.
Their love was scandalous and even after Maria’s divorce, he did not marry her. Like a passionate and resigned woman, she accepted. But she was surprised when, in 1968, out of nowhere, Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy, giving her everything he denied Maria: his heart and last name.
The sadness of the photo above is real because they were taken simultaneously: Maria was in Paris when Onassis married Jackie. Maria tried to regain her career, but it was too late. She tried to work as an actress, but it didn’t work out. She taught, but she was not happy. Onassis and Jackie’s marriage turned out to seem like a business negotiation, and that made him unhappy. He asked for forgiveness from the woman who loved him unconditionally, but died before they were reunited. Maria, desolate, died two years later of a heart attack. She was only 53 years old.
Jacqueline Kennedy comes from a wealthy family, but she had her dramas too. Her marriage to Jack Kennedy was the real deal, but as he was a womanizer, and didn’t respect her at all, it only got worse when he was elected President of the United States.
The affair with Marilyn Monroe soon gained prominence in the gossip columns and Jackie even contemplated asking for a divorce, but it was re-election year and the two tried to recover their marriage with a new son, who tragically died stillborn. It was while she was depressed that her sister introduced Jackie to Aristotle Onassis, at the time connected to Maria Callas. The two’s friendship secretly advanced into something more after Kennedy’s assassination but didn’t move into marriage until Jackie’s brother-in-law, Robert, was also assassinated. In an openly commercial arrangement, the two were married and Jackie came to be known as Jackie O. Her American pragmatism contrasted with Maria’s blind passion, and Onassis quickly regretted the change. When his son died, it was with Maria that he consoled himself. However, he died soon after, leaving his former lover heartbroken, and his fortune and name to Jacqueline.
The tragic story of Marilyn Monroe has been retold countless times in film and TV. Her fascination is to this day unanimous, so from the sexist side, it was “understandable” that Jack Kennedy did not resist having an affair with her. However, Marilyn was a passionate woman, and the inconsequential way she was treated by the President and later by his brother, contributed to her depressive spiral and her death.
In 1962, the actress was in love with Jack and sang happy birthday to him at a party/event at Madison Square Garden. Jackie refused to accompany her husband and be by his side when his mistress was on stage. Her absence only released any intention on Marilyn’s part to keep a low profile. In a dress that became iconic, she entered the universal imagination.
The event for the birthday of Jack Kennedy gathered celebrities from all areas. The guest list joins the names of Marilyn and Maria, in a harbinger of what was to come. Maria opened the night. Marilyn closed.
Only a few months later, Marilyn was found dead in her home, allegedly by suicide after being rudely dumped by the Kennedys. Jack was murdered less than a year after her death, Bob two years. The fear that they were “killing all the Kennedys” made Jackie decide to leave the United States. Aristotle was his bridge to material security. And Maria? Well, Maria was left desolate, paying the bill for relationships broken by others.
In different circumstances, these three women could and should have supported each other, but society has placed them in opposing positions. A story that deserves to be revisited.
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