Jackie Kennedy with Roswell Gilpatric in 1970
On February 10, 1970, the announced auction of four personal letters Jackie wrote to Gilpatric between April 18, 1963 and November 13, 1968 hit the news and caused a world-wide scandal, becoming the subject of public curiosity and private anguish. Stolen by Theodore Donson, a former employee at Gilpatric’s law firm of Cravath, Swain & Moore, Donson consigned the letters to Manhattan autograph dealer Charles Hamilton, who paid him an advance of $500. Gilpatric had been notified by The Washington Post that the newspaper intended to publish the letters’ contents and, despite the threat of legal action, did so on February 10, 1970, under the headline “Jackie and the Purloined Letters,” by Maxine Cheshire. Cheshire reported that according to Hamilton, who had originally tipped her off to the story, “Mr. Gilpatric sounded as if he were weeping when he called…his voice was shaking and he was concerned that the sale, if it went through, would ruin his friendship with Mrs. Onassis.” Ultimately, the “Dear Ros” letters were handed over to the Manhattan District Attorney, and returned to Gilpatric, but not before their publication led to widespread speculation about the pair’s relationship. Ros’ friendship with Jackie may have caused the final breakup of his third marriage (of five) to Madelin Thayer Gilpatric; in fact, Mrs. Gilpatric set their divorce in motion the same day the letters were subpoenaed and seized. She was quoted as saying, “They were very, very close. I have my own feelings about that, but I won’t go into them. Just say it was a particularly warm, close, long-lasting relationship,” (New York Post, February 11, 1970). The scandal also distressed Jackie, as revealed in the February 12, 1970, New York Daily News front-page headline: “‘Dear Ros’ Fuss Upsets Jackie.” Extremely reserved, Jackie avoided public scrutiny and initiated several lawsuits against the paparazzi who invaded her privacy.
Following JFK’s death, Jackie devotedly worked to preserve his legacy and, with her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy (with whom she engaged in a 4-year love affair), famously sued to block publication of The Death of a President, William Manchester’s authorized account of the assassination. The June 1968 assassination of Robert, then campaigning for president, dealt her another blow. It was Gilpatric who drove a shocked and grieving Jackie to the airport to fly to California upon hearing the news, but after Robert’s death Jackie was also consoled by wealthy Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who had long been infatuated with the former first lady, and whose sister had once been his lover. The two married on Onassis’ private island Skorpios on October 20, 1968, much to the dismay of Jackie’s friends, family and the public. However, their relationship was damaged by the publication of Jackie’s letters to Gilpatric, one of which was written aboard Onassis’ yacht during their honeymoon and expressed Jackie’s apology to and lingering feelings for Gilpatric. The letter’s contents suggested a close, possibly intimate, relationship between the pair while Gilpatric served as a member of Kennedy’s administration and both were married. When Aristotle Onassis read about the letters, it reportedly refueled his relationship with opera diva Maria Callas and led to his estrangement from Jackie.
After Onassis’ death in 1975, the former first lady moved to New York City where, in addition to her arts advocacy, she was prominent in the book world, working first for Viking Press and then as a book editor at Doubleday. Our letter is accompanied by Jackie’s gift, the 1963 chapbook L’Amitié Amoureuse by Margaret Lane, which provocatively begins: “One of the prerequisites of middle-age is being allowed, with little or no disapproval, to enjoy the pleasures of romantic friendship. By romantic friendship I mean exactly what I say. Not a love affair. Not the sort of businesslike camaraderie which depends on an occasional luncheon with something to discuss. Neither of these, but something in between, with some of the advantages of both.”
Jackie’s letter indicates the ongoing warm feelings between her and Gilpatric despite the publication of their earlier intimate letters. Some surface paper loss and tape residue along the left edge slightly affects several words. Additional tape residue along the right edge. Otherwise in very good condition. Accompanied by a candid photograph of Jackie with Gilpatric in at a dinner in their later years.