A Fool for Beauty
By Ryan Joe
On October 7, 1971, Jacqueline Kennedy
Onassis was walking along 90th Street on
New York’s Upper East Side when a taxi
driver who recognized her honked his horn.
She turned and gave a faint smile. And that
was when paparazzo Ron Galella, hiding in
the backseat of that same cab, snapped what
would become one of the most famous portraits of the former first lady: Windblown
Galella’s relationship—to use that term generously—with Onassis extended from the 1960s to the 1980s. It encom- passed thousands of photos
taken, but few words exchanged. Onassis sued
Galella twice, and her second attempt, after
Galella violated an injunction to stay at least 25
feet away from her, effectively ended her time as
his favorite subject.
The judge threatened the photographer with
seven years in jail and a $125,000 fine. “So I said
I was going to give them up,” Galella says. “I
gave up Jackie, John Jr., and Caroline forever.”
But even encounters that didn’t involve Onassis somehow
involved Onassis. Marlon Brando, walking with talk-show host
Dick Cavett, once punched Galella in the mouth, shattering five
teeth. Galella believes the assault had less to do with him asking
Brando for a picture and more to do with Brando’s protective-
ness of Onassis.
Galella’s second self-published book (following 2009’s Viva
l’Italia!), Jackie: My Obsession, is a visual journey of Galella’s
tenure as Onassis’s nemesis and unofficial photographer. In
December, he’ll release his third self-published book: a three-volume set called Pop, Rock & Dance.
PowerHouse published your first few books. Why are you self-publishing now?
PowerHouse did Disco Years, which is a beautiful book, which
sold out. Nine thousand copies. They did No Pictures also. I did
Viva l’Italia! a couple of years ago, when I had a big exhibit in
south Italy. I did the book for that opening. It’s a
great book, but I self-published because [it’s]
hands-on and if you make a mistake, it’s your own
fault. And you have full control. As an artist, I
like that. From then on I did my own books.
When did you first fixate on Jackie Kennedy
My first take of her was at the Wildenstein Gallery in May 1967. It was a small gallery and
impossible to get great shots. I waited outside,
and [Jackie] was escorted by the financier Andre
Meyer, who I believe got her the co-op apartment
at 1040 Fifth Ave. I followed her to her apartment. That’s how I found out where she lived. But I didn’t really
photograph her because I didn’t realize she was that important
at the time.
When did you realize she was important?
It was the same year, December 10, 1967. There was a big $500
plate benefit for the Democratic Party at the Plaza Hotel. I
covered that event and there she was. I got a beautiful picture
published in Newsweek, and that’s when I realized she was important, when I got that picture published. That was my first picture published of Jackie.
Despite the lawsuits that followed, you believe she loved your
work. Why is that?
She may not have loved me, but I think she loved my work
because after the trial I did my first book, Jacqueline, and I gave
her a copy through the doorman. I wrote something like “Many
thanks for making me famous.” Before she died, someone delivered a painting [and] saw my book on her library shelf, so she