'Biography' looks at illusive Jackie


Narrator Peter Graves gets it just about right when he says tonight that "we always call her 'Jackie,' as if we really knew her." But as shown by tonight's edition of the series "Biography," at 8 p.m. on the Arts & Entertainment basic cable service, we only think we knew Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The show unequivocally, and perhaps accurately, states the widow of President Kennedy "became the most famous person in the world." Yet writer William F. Buckley, one of a number of public commentators interviewed in the show, observes most acutely that in spite of the fanatical interest of the tabloids, "she gives up just enough of herself to keep from being invisible."

Do not expect any juicy new information here, nor any participation by Onassis herself. We do hear her, but only in mostly black-and-white film clips, some of them dating back to when her husband was still merely a senator from Massachusetts whose mother, Rose, hosted a campaign-oriented local TV show called "At Home With the Kennedys."

Nor is there much discussion of the current flurry of media interest in revelations of the extent of JFK's extra-martial activities. The show merely says dryly that, "Jackie seemed to have come to terms" with her husband's reported infidelities long before they were publicly known.

Curiously, writer Maya Angelou briefly mentions Marilyn Monroe in talking about Jackie, comparing her unflatteringly to the then-Mrs. Kennedy.

Thoughtful viewers might be most struck by the implications of some childhood material in this "Biography:" First, that her father, Jack Bouvier, was repeatedly unfaithful to her mother and they ultimately divorced; second, that her father (according to a first cousin), taught the bright young girl that, when in the company of a man, she should make efforts not to seem too bright or obtrusive.

All who are interviewed also marvel that Jackie has been a wonderful mother under the most trying of circumstances.

ALL ABOARD -- Maryland Public Television has a nice hour for railroad buffs tonight -- and as one subject says, "there are a whole lot of other nuts out there with me."

At 10:30 (channels 22 and 67) comes a half-hour special "Mountain Steam -- The Allegany Central Railroad," a nicely shot piece on the Western Maryland steam-locomotive excursion operation that until December ran trips from Cumberland to Frostburg and back. (It now uses diesel engines.)

And at 11 p.m. is "Tales of the Rails," a study of the importance of railroads to the development of middle America.

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