BOOK REVIEW: Happy Times by Princess Lee Bouvier Radziwill (168 pages) by Gregory Hilton

The author is the younger sister of the late First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and she witnessed many key events during JFK’s presidency and his rise to power. The Bouvier sisters were the epitome of taste, style and elegance in the 1960s and ’70s. Despite reports of a rivalry, they were each others most trusted confidants.
They were beautiful, smart, superbly dressed, and lived privileged lives in beautiful places. They also encountered tragic and unbelievably sad events, but you will not read about them in this book. It is a brief and pleasant memoir and is primarily about the 1960s.
“Happy Times” is a coffee table scrapbook which reveals a limited amount about her life story. The author acknowledges this is not a definitive biography and many important chapters in her life have been omitted. The Princess focuses on good times and vacations, and does not mention the assassination of her famous brother-in-law, the untimely death of her son, the strained relationship with her mother, or the divorce of her parents.
She first wed at the age of 20 and the marriage lasted for six years before being annulled. Her second marriage to Prince Stanisław Radziwiłł lasted 15 years. He was from a Polish noble family, and his mother died in a Soviet labor camp during WW II.
In 1979, Radziwill became engaged to Newton Cope, the owner of the Huntington Hotel on San Francisco’s Nob Hill. The marriage was called off five minutes before the wedding ceremony was to begin. The groom would not sign a prenuptial agreement which stipulated a $15,000/month payment to the bride. Her third marriage to director Herbert Ross in 1988 ended in divorce shortly before he died in 2001.
In the summer of 1999, her nephew John F. Kennedy, Jr, 38, was killed in a plane crash and three weeks later, her son Tony, 40, died of testicular cancer. The story of that painful summer is best told by her daughter in law, Carole Radziwill, in the New York Times best seller, “What Remains.”
The tragedies are known to all, but she reveals the love and compassion behind the scenes. Radziwill has a remarkable ability to be positive in the face of adversity. Her message is to focus on the good, not the sad. She believes it is best to move on and keep going.
There are no political statements or negative feelings in this book. Her ex-husbands and famous boyfriends would all approve of the text. A typical example is when she describes a fun filled friendship with author Truman Capote. They attended dozens of parties as a couple, but she omits their major falling out in his final years.
This is an easy read, and it is full of pictures of smiling celebrities from her remarkable life. They include Diana Vreeland, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Leslie Caron, Peter Beard, Richard Meier and Aristotle Onassis. The photos from her private collection alone are worth the book’s price. You will understand why the sisters were regarded as American royalty, and you note many of the people in their circle were taken prematurely.
Both sisters were incredibly thin, and to curb her appetite, Jackie was a secret chain smoker. She died at the age of 64 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which was probably related to smoking. The sisters were especially close to Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband Stephen Smith. She was JFK’s youngest sister, and he was a longtime smoker who died after a brief battle with lung cancer at the age of 62. Prince Radziwiłł also died of lung cancer at the age of 62.
“Happy Times” is the complete opposite of the many derogatory comments found in Diana Dubois’ “In Her Sister’s Shadow: An Intimate Biography of Lee Radziwill.” If you like Lee Radziwill, then this book will be enjoyable. If you want to read about extramarital affairs that happened 50 years ago and harsh criticism of her, than the Dubois book is for you.

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