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Kitty Kelley's 'Capturing Camelot'

November 29, 2012

Growing up fixated on all things Kennedy (especially Jackie's French style and jet-setting lifestyle), I devoured every image, pre, post and during Camelot. To this day, I cherish my collection of commemorative Kennedy magazines dating back to 1964.

(Photo by: kittykelleywriter.com)

Even decades after learning intimate family details that forever altered the myth, I remain insatiable. I really thought I'd seen everything ever published, until now.

Kitty Kelley's poignant and intimate photographic essay, Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys, introduces us to the man behind all those pictures forever pasted into our national family album. Not surprising, Tretick, Kelley's long-time friend was the one responsible for that one of John-John hiding under his father's desk in the Oval Office. It was taken in October of 1963.

(Photo by: ©Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved) "Caroline holds up a picture to Maria Shriver, who screamed "This is the President." Caroline disagreed: "No. No. That's my Daddy!"

"Seventy percent of the photos have never been published before," says Kelley. Has your friendship with Tetrick and seeing his archives changed your views of the family, I asked. After all, this internationally acclaimed author's first celebrity biography was Jackie Oh!, published in 1978 (three years before she met Tretick). "I've always been mesmerized by the Kennedys, a subject I've read alot about but my impression has not changed as much as it was expanded," says Kelley. "I'm much more appreciative of the public's need to embrace the First Family."

Through Kelley, Tretick shows us just how media-savvy both parents were about controlling the image shared with the world of their oh-so-enchanting young family. Air Force One, which was decorated by the First Couple was off- limits because the President "didn't want any cameras around because he said the pictures would come out looking like they were a rich man's plane."

The President (Photo by: ©Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved) The President

As Joe Alsop said of the President, "Two things make him nervous -- nuns and silly hats.' Tretick managed to capture the two seconds when Kennedy toyed with the idea of putting on a Sioux Indian Nation headdress. He did, however feel quite comfortable in a workman's hard hat because "he appreciated their acceptance of him as one of their own."

Navigating between Pierre Salinger and the First Lady for permission to photograph Caroline and John, Jr. wasn't easy. It took Jackie leaving for Greece for Tretick to finally photograph the President and his young son. You're probably already thinking of that photo, the two of them  in silhouette, hand-in-hand walking down the halls of The White House. The Look  magazine feature on the President and his son ran December 3, 1963. By then, the young widow was "grateful he had defied her orders and taken the photos." Every one of the 68 Look stories on the Kennedys we owe to Tretick.

Caroline and her mother, from the Look magazine JFK Memorial Issue (Photo by: ©Estate of Stanley Tretick, LLC. All Rights Reserved) Caroline and her mother, from the Look magazine JFK Memorial Issue

And while it wasn't always smooth sailing betwen photographer and family protector, that photo taken in a convertible where Jack brushes away strands of Jackie's hair, was her favorite because her husband was generally so reluctant to show affection in public.

We all now know how debilitating and extensive were the President's health problems. Take another look at all those shots of kids rushing to him from helicopters and across lawns and notice he stops short of lifting them. He couldn't. As Kelley points out, "The dichotomy of this handsome, young, glamorous President ... telling us it would be possible to land a man on the moon ... and then to see how much pain, physical disabilities he lived with."

With the ever-growing extended Kennedy clan, play time at Hyannis Port meant the kids could enjoy their favorite golf cart game, 'run over the photographer.' The photographer didn't mind. While the President loved golf, he did not like being photographed playing it, for fear of reminding the public of Eisenhower.

What's most revealing about Capturing Camelot is the sense of a real family trying to enjoy their private lives in their own style, ever cognizant of how the public image would define their legacy. To see, in real-time how cherished iconic images were created, often finessed  during a split second opportunity, by someone so clearly enthralled with his subjects, is a rare sentimental treat. A salute to Kitty Kelley who quietly shines the spotlight on her friend's treasure trove, giving us a richer, more nuanced view of Camelot.

Stanley Tretick died in 1999 at 77, three days after the death of John, Jr.

Kitty Kelley (Photo by: kittykelleywriter.com) Kitty Kelley

Meet the author Wednesday, December 5th starting at 6:30 pm at the  Georgetown Library (3260 R Street ) for a book signing and reception with Kitty Kelley.

"This is the first book I've written," explains Kelley, "that I'm shamelessly saying, 'Go ahead, buy it.' I was given this gift. I live in Georgetown, the Kennedys lived in Georgetown, and so all the proceeds are being donated to the D.C. Library.

$100 per person, includes a signed copy of the book and donation to the D.C. Public Library Foundation. RSVP to rsvp@dclfoundation.org or call 202.727.4943.


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Georgetown's American Lady: Susan Mary Alsop

November 12, 2012

At 2710 Dumbarton Avenue, “a plain yellow concrete cube, barely hidden by a curtain of ivy and clematis, a blemish on Georgetown’s streets,” Susan Mary and her political columnist husband, Joseph Alsop entertained in the 1960s during “Georgetown’s glory years.”

(If you live in Georgetown, you’re wondering ‘Where’s Dumbarton Avenue?’ Over the last couple of hundred years, the street/avenue has changed its name several times).

2720 Dumbarton Avenue (Photo by: Judith Beermann) 2720 Dumbarton Avenue

During Susan Mary Alsop’s 86 years of cross-continental marriages and love affairs, Georgetown was the base from which this descendant of one of America’s first families reigned as the grand dame of Washington society.

American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop is written by Caroline de Margerie, daughter of Susan Mary’s childhood friend. Aided by hundreds of personal letters and diaries, she shares her insights into the passions of a remarkable 20th century American aristocrat.

Bold-faced names weave through every chapter, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Noel Coward, Edith Wharton, Brooke Astor, Ho Chi Minh, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy.

Caroline de Margerie (Photo by: Jacques-Francoise Loiseleur des Longchamps) Caroline de Margerie

The great-great-great-granddaughter of John Jay, signer of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and first chief justice of the United States, Susan Mary Jay Patten Alsop was born in Rome to diplomat parents. Her childhood was spent in South America, Europe, Washington, New York, and Maine, where her family kept a summer house.

At 21 Susan Mary married Bill Patten, a Harvard graduate with asthma. This meant no military service and so Susan Mary’s mother got him a State Department job that landed the couple in Paris from 1945 until 1960, when Bill died.

During her years in the City of Light she met the love of her life, Duff Cooper, British ambassador to France. Cooper was the father of her son (she also has a daughter), but she kept it secret from him until he was 47.

Shortly after his death, Joseph Alsop, her husband’s Harvard roommate, proposed (by letter) to Susan Mary. While their union wasn’t perfect (he was gay and she still mourned Cooper) the timing was. Alsop needed a hostess and a built-in family and she needed security and a platform for social engagement. The Alsops’ was the only private home that President Kennedy visited on inauguration night, "stopping in for a bowl of terrapin soup" (the only thing in the kitchen at the time).

The power couple remained lifelong friends after an amicable divorce and Susan Mary continued to use her husband’s name to help launch her literary career.

At 56, she wrote her first book, To Marietta from Paris: 1945-1960, letters to her best friend, Marietta Peabody Fitzgerald Tree (Caroline de Margerie’s mother). She went on to publish three more books, and was a contributing editor to Architectural Digest.

1611 29th Street (Photo by: Judith Beermann) 1611 29th Street

She died in the Georgetown home at 1611 29th Street which she had inherited from her mother.

If Susan Mary were born 50 years later perhaps she may not have relied on men to propel her into a life of influence through entertaining and liaisons. (The lamb went cold at the Alsops the evening President Kennedy was in the garden, preoccupied with the emerging Cuban Missile Crisis). And she may have used her maiden name and started writing professionally decades earlier.

Christian Dior would send her free gowns and Lyndon Johnson "pinched her behind and exclaimed, Why does such a thin girl wear a garter belt?" Anorexic rather than fashionably thin may be what she’d be called today.

Her serial affairs with married men, not discussed or openly acknowledged may have labeled her a home wrecker rather than debutante-turned-mistress. Ironically no homes wrecked, no marriages ended.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable is that a woman so carefully bred to follow the rules, lived her life exactly as she pleased.


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Making it Yours at C. Wonder

November 10, 2012

Home Decor Room (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Home Decor Room

“Highly curated assortment of beautiful products in all different categories under one roof,” That’s how Amy Shecter, C. Wonder’s president describes the new retail shopping emporium targeted to working women, rolling out across the country.

Launched in New York last year, the company will have 11 U.S. stores by the end of this year, 15-20 next year, and plans to go international in 2014.

Vice President of Merchandsing, Jon Zeiders (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Vice President of Merchandsing, Jon Zeiders

Last weekend marked C. Wonder’s debut in Tysons Corner, Virginia. “We’re so excited to be in the Washington area and its number one mall, bringing our great product to our sophisticated customers and their lifestyle," says Jon Zeiders, vice president of merchandising. “Before Chris, no one has done all three,” added Zeiders. Chris is J. Christopher Burch, the company’s founder and CEO (and ex-husband of designer Tory Burch). “The three pillars of the C. Wonder brand are the most amazing products at the best value, fabulous customer service, and the most beautiful store environment.”

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

“What people say more than anything else,” says Shecter “is that our store makes them happy. Chris has turned the retail experience on its head.”

With 85 categories of business, merchandising and editing is key. An amazing 95% of the products are designed in-house. “Everything has to sit together like a symphony,” Shector explains. “And Chris is a great conductor.”  

C. Wonder Launch Party at Tysons (Photo by: Judith Beermann) C. Wonder Launch Party at Tysons

From online to in-store, C. Wonder's cross-channel brand strategy includes mobile point of sale technology and interactive fitting rooms with customer-controlled music and lighting. It's a personalized experience designed to save busy shoppers time. The retailers' signature customer commitment to “making it yours” means monogramming is offered on everything from belt buckles to cheese boards and gloves.

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

Over 2,000 unique items of clothing, footwear, jewelry, personal electronics, home décor and accessories all artfully displayed by category in colorfully chic separate areas.

The original target shopper, "the 35-45 year-old suburban time-pressed mom,” has turned into, Shecter says, “everyone from 15-60." Products have to pass the 'Does she want this/Does she need this?' filter. There's something here for everyone.”

See you at C. Wonder soon.

C. Wonder in Tysons Corner (Photo by: Judith Beermann) C. Wonder in Tysons Corner


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