Interviewer: William Kuhn | Writer of Jackie’s Stories
Bill Kuhn: What are your recollections of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis from when you were growing up? Did you learn anything about her in these Jackie Stories that you didn’t know or surprised you?
Pamela Dillman: I grew up during an era that particularly idolized Jackie Kennedy in terms of her style and glamour, and her contributions to the White House’s décor restoration and preservation. I think every little girl of my childhood in the 1960s felt the same idolatry. The story of her sitting in her pink suit by JFK’s side when he was shot, and Jackie’s stoicism in the aftermath of the assassination, were widely discussed then, and still.
When Jackie married Onassis, I remember being aware that it was a shocking and controversial event, one which had wide repercussions of disapproval among the court of public opinion. She had been considered American royalty. It felt like a kind of abdication of her crown.
Recording “Jackie Stories” gave me much more insight on her humanity and intimate relationships. The range of perspective, coming from people who knew her closely and had direct conversations with you about their experiences of Jackie, illuminated her personal life beyond what I perceived about her marriages and her style and her glamour.
Bill Kuhn: What was the greatest challenge you had as a narrator and a producer for this series of audiobooks?
Pamela Dillman: Most often, audiobook narrators do not try to portray “character voices” in non-fiction books. However, this series was different, insofar as the people involved are genuine historical figures with voices that are, in many cases, memorialized in online archives. So I felt it was important to give a nod to the tones of the main figures. As I produced the audiobooks myself, I had no outside director to argue with my choices – but Bill and I had discussed this intent in advance of the recordings. I hope the listeners agree with our decisions to add that element to the stories.
Bill Kuhn: Your stepmother was Suzy Parker, a famous model, and actress, as well as the muse for the photographer Richard Avedon. What was she like
Pamela Dillman: Suzy was fiery, funny, independent, and inspirational. I believe she and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would have found a common interest in a love of all things literary. Suzy was a voracious reader. She was also an intensely passionate Democrat, much more interested in politics than many women of her era. Unlike Jackie, Suzy really didn’t love what she was hired to wear in her modeling years. She appreciated that beauty and fashion had launched her into the public eye, through her “discovery” by Avedon – and she was a true artist in the way she modeled and brought fashion editorials to life, working in utter collaboration with the photographer. However, she scorned any focus on her own appearance, in private life. Suzy’s lifelong appreciation for décor, art, and antiques is another interest she would have shared with Jackie, though.
Bill Kuhn: Your father Bradford Dillman was an actor. You’re an actor yourself. You were trained at Britain’s most famous acting school, RADA in London, and have worked with some legendary names, including Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert. What are some things non-actors don’t know about an actor’s life that they probably should?
Pamela Dillman: Ha, that is a great question! Well, the short answer is that an actor’s life is richly varied. You can have periods of utter inactivity and then a job can arise that changes your path completely. It’s a great thing to be able to pursue a craft that (one hopes) inspires delight and humor and empathy in an audience. But you’d better have a lot of hobbies and other interests that bring you joy between times of employment. My dad taught me that. He was the most masterful crossword-puzzle enthusiast I’ve ever encountered. And he was a writer. I feel very fortunate to marry my favorite hobby — reading — with my work.
Bill Kuhn: What was the last book you listened to or read for pleasure and would you recommend it?
Pamela Dillman: I seem to always have at least three books going at any given time: the one I’m reading for pleasure, which I tend to leave on the dining room table for at-home consumption; the one I’m listening to on Audible or through another download, for a different kind of pleasurable consumption, while driving or working out; and the book I’m working on recording. The current book I’m reading for leisure I “The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout, one of my very favorite contemporary fiction writers. And I’m currently listening to Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” masterfully narrated by JD Jackson.