The great irony of their lives is that fate handed shy, introverted Jackie a role on the world stage—for much of her adult lifetime she was arguably the most famous and admired woman in the world—and Lee, who longed to shine, was handed the lesser role of lady-in-waiting. "Being Jacqueline Kennedy's sister," their Bouvier cousin John H. Davis explained, "involved crosses and laurels no other Bouvier but she would have to bear."
But Lee rebelled against the role of lady-in-waiting. She was the first of the two sisters to make "a sharp break with the milieu in which she was raised" when she proposed to her first husband, Michael Canfield, settled in London, and later became the first Bouvier to hold an aristocratic title, as Davis has noted. She has always known who she is, but has been frustrated in finding ways to express herself on the world stage; she needed to battle those who would keep her in a conventional—and secondary—role. Jackie, on the other hand, did not truly become herself until she was in her forties, after her first husband John F. Kennedy's assassination and her second husband Aristotle Onassis's death. Her inner life and her outward actions finally came together, and her originality and perspicacity were given a chance to fully bloom.
Their story is also one of paradise lost and the struggle to regain it, because at the center of their core, they both yearned for the bliss of their earliest childhood, spent with their parents at Lasata, swimming in the sun-dappled waves off the Hamptons in the arms of their beloved father.
The filmmakers Albert and David Maysles, whom Lee had hired in the 1970s to make a documentary about her and Jackie's early years summering among the sand dunes and hedgerows of the Hamptons, remembered a special moment during filming. Albert Maysles recalled:
One of the most memorable things that we shot was in the cemetery. Lee was walking around the graves in a very sad mood and she was telling me about her family. All of a sudden, she heard the sound of a train whistle in the distance. That haunting sound transfixed her. It must have brought her back to her childhood and the memory of her father's week-end arrivals on that same train. As the cry of the train came roaring through, there was a captivated look on her face that I had never seen before. It was not a public look—I don't think it has ever been captured by a photographer or a paparazzi. It was a private moment that got inside her soul, and it was beautiful. If I weren't filming, I would have been moved to tears...something of great beauty came across in that moment, in the cemetery of all places, surrounded by death.
Lee Radziwill in New York
My sister spoke a rather lovely and convincing French, but I got to live a more French life.
I love walking on the angry shore, To watch the angry sea;
Where summer people were before, But now there's only me.
—JACQUELINE LEE BOUVIER
Lee's designer's eye was much in evidence the first time we met Princess Radziwill in 2014 in her Manhattan apartment on East 72nd Street, not far from where her sister had lived at 1040 Fifth Avenue. It was a sunny day in spring and Lee's floor-through apartment was bathed in light. "It's my first priority," she said. "I've never had a place that didn't have fantastic light." We emerged from a small elevator and were greeted at the door by Therese, her longtime lady's maid, and ushered into a living room where light poured in from three tall, graceful windows. She was
waiting for us on a fawn- colored sofa, impeccably slim, smoking a Vogue cigarette and drinking a Diet Coke, simply but elegantly dressed in black slacks, her champagne-colored hair immaculately upswept into a regal coif.
Therese had arranged a lunch of chilled cucumber soup and an avocado- and-watercress salad, served on a folding table in front of the large fireplace, where an impressive over-the-mantel mirror gleamed back at us. It lived up to her reputation for serving exquisite meals that subtly matched her décor, such as serving borscht to coincide with the color of her dining room walls. Meeting Lee for the first time, we had the uncanny sense of looking into her wide-eyed, sensuous face and seeing two women: Jackie's face is so famous that it's hard not to see it reflected in Lee's, as if Lee has somehow come to embody both women. Whippet thin, Lee's features are more refined than her sister's, her coloring lighter, her lightly tanned skin a shade of honey. Truman Capote famously described her eyes as "gold-brown like a glass of brandy...in front of firelight."