Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Kennedy Horse Incident


(image via timeinc)

Letitia Baldridge, who was Social Secretary to President John Kennedy and Chief of Staff to Jackie O, knows how to be discrete. Now that all the principals involved have died, Baldridge can reveal that Jackie Kennedy was a bit ... "tricky" (Like when she used the White House to acquire that Virginia hunt country estate). Pretty women are particularly tricky, as they've usually spent a lifetime getting what they want. And so: Re Jackie O this, from a recentepisode of Index Magazine:

"David Savage: As Social Secretary, one of your other responsibilities at the White House was to help coordinate state dinners. Which was the most memorable?

"Letitia Baldridge: We gave a lavish state dinner at Mount Vernon. It was the first time that George Washington's home had ever been opened for such an event. We had to ship all of the refrigerators and stoves down from Washington. It was in honor of the President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. Pakistan had recently become our first open ally in the Middle East. The Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, told us we had to really 'do a number' on him, and give him a fantastic state dinner.

"David Savage: What constitutes an 'international incident' involving protocol, and what does the White House Social Secretary do in such a situation?

"Letitia Baldridge: An international incident occurs when either the host or the honored guest is humiliated, and it's reported in their local press. Sometimes you just have to let those situations play themselves out. Sometimes incredible apologies are required. John Kennedy was very aware of what the press would do to him if his wife's frivolities got into the newspapers.

"David Savage: Such as?

"Letitia Baldridge: After the dinner at Mount Vernon, Jackie was given a fantastic Arabian stallion as a gift from Ayub Khan. However, the president and his immediate family are not allowed to accept gifts of such great value, so we had to tell the Pakistani ambassador that we couldn't possibly accept it. But horses meant more to Jackie than people. She got word to President Khan that she would love to receive the horse, so the Air Force flew it into the country in a cargo plane. After it arrived, the Army kept calling, asking what they should do with it. So I went to the President.

"David Savage: How did he react?

"Letitia Baldridge: He blew up. He said, 'This is absolutely terrible. We cannot do this. Find out how much that horse is worth � I'm going to pay the full import duty to bring it into the United States.' So I got on the phone and asked the White House operator to connect me to the Ambassador of Pakistan. She misunderstood and gave me the Ambassador of Afghanistan, a country which was, at the time, the great enemy of Pakistan.

"David Savage: Oh no!

"Letitia Baldridge: I knew him because we played tennis together, but I didn't recognize his voice. When we first got on the phone, he didn't reveal whom he was. He was enjoying it! I kept saying, 'Oh, it's so embarrassing, Mr. Ambassador, we have to find out how much that beautiful horse cost! It's so humiliating!' He said, 'Miss Baldrige, that horse is a nag and is worth nothing. Zero!' And then he started to laugh.

"David Savage: He was enjoying himself!

"Letitia Baldridge: Then the Ambassador said, 'Letitia, don't worry about it. I won't tell anybody if you won't.' After much bickering and bargaining, the Pakistani Ambassador and I decided to post the duty at ten thousand dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. But, in the end, the horse entered the country illegally, and the story was never told."

Until now. The full interview here.

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