Jacqueline Kennedy's White House -- The First Lady led TV on a tour of her home 30 years ago

By Jess Cagle
Updated February 14, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House

She seemed slightly nervous under that magnificent bouffant, but her aristocratic alto was enchanting, and on Feb. 14, 1962, when First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy invited America into her house — the White House — an estimated 80 million Americans fell under her spell. For most, it was their first good look into the Presidential residence.

Since moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1961, the First Lady had begun renovating the mansion by systematically hunting down and restoring furnishings that had belonged to her husband’s predecessors and acquiring other American antiques. In her 60-minute tour, broadcast by all three networks, Jackie described (without notes) how a destitute Mary Todd Lincoln had sold off many objects after her husband was killed, and she spoke knowledgeably to CBS anchorman Charles Collingwood about the state dining room’s ”architectural unity.” Almost $2 million in donations for her renovation project poured in after the tour. So did critical praise: Jackie received a special Emmy, and the show was exported to 106 foreign countries — even Nikita Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.

But it wasn’t Mrs. Kennedy’s decorating tips that wowed the nation that night, it was the 32-year-old herself. America’s love affair with the glamorous First Couple was in full swing, thanks to the growing power of television and their ability to harness it, and the tour further fueled Jackie-mania; her wispy lecturer’s voice was even parodied on comic Vaughn Meader’s hit album, The First Family. Barbara Bush, who would later give her own tour of the official residence on PrimeTime Live, once said she found herself ”watching and listening to Mrs. Kennedy more than thinking about the White House.”

Historian Carl Anthony, author of the recent two-volume First Ladies, says the TV show helped to lock in place the Jackie mystique. ”She became hot news,” he says. ”Especially after this, she was treated like a movie star, like Sophia Loren and Liz Taylor at the time.”

Feb. 14, 1962

J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey was the No. 1 best-seller on the fiction list. Warren Beatty and Vivien Leigh romanced oddly in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Hips flipped to ”The Twist” by Chubby Checker and Wagon Train chugged ahead in the TV ratings.