Metropolitan Life: Following in Jackie's footsteps

Jackie O may have departed, but adoring fans trace her footsteps weekly on a tribute tour. Liesl Schillinger joins them
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"When Jackie Onassis died, she became Jackie Kennedy again," the stylish, crusty old woman tells me. With her leopard-spotted hat, her taut face and faux-fur swing coat, she looks as if she's stepped off the set of Sunset Boulevard, rather than the corner of 91st and Madison, the location of the august bank that once disbursed Mrs Onassis's mad money.

The woman's name is Mimi Kazan, and she used to cover Jackie Kennedy for the New York Daily News. "She's my all-time permanent heroine, and there isn't a single woman in New York that's anything like her," Kazan says combatively, her voice rising for the charge. "Where has our glamour, our style gone? Jackie had a tragic life but she kept her mouth shut. Now, look at someone like Princess Diana - Diana's a mess. Where is somebody we can actually look up to?" It is a question that the 17 people who have gathered on this gelid morning to take the popular New York tour "A Tribute to Jackie" clearly have on their minds.

A couple are visiting from England (Helen and Carl Waddington from West Sussex) and Helen declares: "Jackie is American royalty" and the crowd seems to agree. As the Jackie-pack wanders Manhattan's upper east side, retracing their idol's footsteps, they hungrily eat up the crumbs of alternately reverent and bitchy inside information provided by tour guide, Tom Farrington. "She almost single-handedly saved Central Park," he boasts, and gushes later "as you all know, she ate at the finest restaurants." But more ears prick up when Farrington tells the scandalous stories about her ne'er- do-well father, Black Jack Bouvier, who "was a serious drinker, a serious philanderer",and was eventually sent packing by Mrs Bouvier, Jacqueline's mother.

Leading the group past the posh apartment where Jackie grew up with her sister, her mother, and her mother's second husband, Hugh Auchincloss, Farrington explains how the sisters grew apart after Jackie "stole" Onassis, and concludes meaningfully: "Jackie didn't leave her sister Lee a penny in her will." Revelations of this sort once prompted a tourist to conclude righteously at the end of a tour: "I always knew she was a money- grubbing bitch, I only took this tour to prove it to myself" - an assessment that Farrington claims astonished him and the other walkers. "People were really upset; there were a couple of gasps," he recalled.

Indeed, one might think that the tour would leave its takers with an impression of a certain rapacity on the part of the mysterious woman who remained beguilingly mute throughout her post-Kennedy life. Aristotle Onassis, Farrington tells us, said at the outset of his marriage: "Jacqueline has had a tragic life. If spending money makes her feel better, let her do it." A few years down the line, the tycoon apparently moaned that even he could not conceive of spending money as quickly as she did.

But this information does not turn today's audience against her. "I think she just married Onassis to protect the children," says Judith McDermott, a Jackie lookalike who has come all the way from California with her grown-up daughter, Lisa. "Sure, she was into money and liked the good life. But you'd think the Kennedys would have taken better care of her." McDermott admits she identifies with Jackie. "I raised a son and a daughter on my own, too, and I admire her because of the attention she gave to her children," she says. "She raised two beautiful children who are a tribute to her."

In any case, the tour has generally been composed of unshakeable fans, even though the nature of the group has changed over the years. "When we started seven years ago, on Jackie's 60th birthday, we got a lot of Jackie wannabes, and Jackie impersonators. Some of them were actually women," he winks, to loud laughter. For gay men, he says, Jackie was an icon on the level of Judy Garland. Since her death, however, for whatever reason, the numbers of transvestite tour-takers have dwindled.

Not all of the tour-goers plan to attend next month's auction at Sotheby's, when the puzzle pieces that make up Jackie's life, some 4,000 of her personal effects, will be auctioned, and are expected to fetch upwards of $5 million, her last act of maternal solicitousness toward her two grown children.

In fact, spots on the auction floor are few. Still, Mimi Kazan, a little cockily, counts on being among the lucky. "They can plan on a $1,000 from me," she says - and then she adds coyly: "But I have something money can't buy; I have a photograph of me and Jackie."#

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