The relationship between Lee Radziwill, her sister Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis is complicated and reveals one of the reasons behind the siblings’ rivalry.
Caroline Lee Bouvier was the younger sister of Jacqueline Bouvier, who in 1961 became first lady of the United States, as Mrs. John Kennedy.
The two sisters — daughters of a Wall Street stockbroker father and a socialite mother — were raised to look beautiful, have impeccable manners and to marry rich, prestigious men.
Jacqueline married John F. Kennedy in 1953, at age 24. Her sister Lee married the Polish nobleman Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł, of the princely House of Radziwill, in 1959.
After the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, the widow went on to marry Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis five years later, in 1968, thereafter becoming known popularly as Jackie O.
There have been books written about the rivalry between the two sisters — with chapters dedicated to an implied relationship between Lee and Onassis.
The Bouvier sisters’ rivalry
The two girls adored their father, John Vernou Bouvier III, who was a stockbroker and ladies’ man who resembled Clark Gable. Bouvier always advised his daughters to “be the best.”
Lee and Jackie struggled to be their fathers’ very best daughter. Lee loved her older sister, but she found it hard to follow Jackie’s many accomplishments in school and in horse riding.
After Jackie married Kennedy and later became First Lady of the United States, she was regarded as one of the most beautiful and stylish women in the entire world.
Her younger sister was equally stylish and beautiful, yet to the world she was just Jackie’s sister; needless to say, she was obscured by her sister’s shadow.
So she divorced her first husband and became Princess Lee Radziwill.
Princess Radziwill and Aristotle Onassis
When Princess Radziwill started an affair with Aristotle Onassis, the Greek tycoon was still involved with opera diva Maria Callas; Lee’s husband was indifferent and Jackie was still in the White House.
On August 22, 1963, Radziwill and Aristotle Onassis attended the opening of the Athens Hilton in Greece, invited by Nicky Hilton. Their appearance together at the luminous event generated the expected gossip.
Some speculated that Onassis wanted to be near Lee for her connection to the White House. John and his brother Robert Kennedy both disliked Onassis, who had been sued by the U.S. government in 1955 for removing from the U.S. a fleet of ships he had bought and promised to keep in the country.
In order to keep Lee away from Onassis, they asked her to accompany John on a presidential European tour to Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and Ireland because Jackie was seven months pregnant at the time.
When John Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Berlin, he had his sister-in-law, not Jackie, at his side.
Despite that, however, Princess Radziwill returned to Greece and resumed her relationship with Onassis. When in late August of 1963 Jackie gave birth to Patrick, the newborn died 39 hours after being born.
Lee flew to Boston to attend her nephew’s funeral and to comfort her grieveing sister. Concerned about Jackie, she urged Onassis to invite her aboard his legendary yacht, Christina.
Despite objections from the Kennedy family, Jackie went on a vacation on the yacht for four weeks, accompanied by her sister. The two sisters were left alone by Onassis for most of the time, resting and exchanging confidences.
When President Kennedy was assassinated in November of that year, Onassis stayed at the White House some days after, at Lee’s request, despite the Kennedy brothers’ distrust of him.
The years after the Kennedy assassination
In 1964 the young widow bought an apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue in New York City and Robert Kennedy persuaded Stanislaw Radziwill to buy his wife a duplex at 969 Fifth Avenue in order to be near Jackie and so her children could spend more time with their cousins.
Princess Radziwill then became friends with Truman Capote, who admired her style, elegance and femininity. He urged her to become a stage actress, and she embraced this new direction in her life with fervor.
She starred in a couple of plays and had options for film roles, but the reviews were not impressive. Nevertheless, she received great publicity and was on the cover of TIME magazine.
It was speculated at the time that all that was an effort to become more popular than her sister. Yet it was Jackie, again, who continued to gaining more attention as the grieving widow who was carrying the torch of the Kennedy legacy.
At the same time, Jackie Kennedy was relying heavily on her brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, urging him to run for president in the 1968 election.
However, when Robert was assassinated in June 1968 after he and a crowd of his supporters had been celebrating his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary, Jackie fell into depression once more.
Furthermore, she feared for her own life and her children’s, convinced that there were people who hated the Kennedys and wanted to exterminate the family, saying that she wanted out of the United States.
It was rather sudden when on October 20, 1968, Jacqueline Kennedy married her long-time friend Aristotle Onassis.
Understandably, that came as a blow to her sister. After all, Lee had been the first of the two to have an affair and fall in love with the Greek mogul. She reportedly wept when she heard the news.
Onassis called and asked her sister to be at her wedding. Although she was personally devastated, Lee dutifully served as matron of honor in the wedding.
Sixteen years later, Jackie dealt a final blow to her sister. At age 64 she was diagnosed with cancer and Lee rushed to comfort her ill sibling.
But when Jackie died, Lee found out that her sister had left her out of her will and the substantial holdings and cash her inheritors received. Maybe this was somehow because of Onassis, maybe not.
In any event, although the will included $500,000 trust funds for each of Radziwill’s two children, Tina and Anthony, there was nothing for her — not even one family memento.