(Above, original spread in Italian magazine Playmen, December 1972)
In the years following John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy was the most famous widow in the world. She had many suitors and she eventually married Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage was not a success. Onassis carried on his affair with opera star Maria Callas from the beginning of their 1968 marriage.
In 1972, paparazzi in Greece were being tipped off about the villa Jackie Onassis was staying in. It was unclear who had tipped them off. Some said it was her stepchildren, who wanted to embarass her. Other claimed that it was Aristotle Onassis himself. After all, two years earlier, he had dined openly with Callas at Maxim’s in Paris and made sure paparazzi were there to show Jackie that he was undaunted and unconstrained by his marriage to her. Onassis was also getting annoyed by Jackie’s insistence that he sue every paparazzi that crossed her path. No longer willing to finance her costly invasion-of-privacy lawsuits, he might have hatched a plan to embarrass Jackie to such an extent that there would be nothing more that the press could do to hurt her.
In November 1972, ten photographers put on wetsuits and slipped into the waters off Skorpios. One of them Settimio Garritano managed to get pass the island’s security and be in the right place at the right time to take photos of the former first lady taking a nap, doing yoga, swimming and sunbathing naked. Garritano noted that the tip came from an employee of Olympic Airways, Onassis’ airline and that a Skorpios worker told him that she sunbathed without clothes.
“Sometimes I have to undress to put on my bathing suit. My wife does the same thing,” shrugged off Aristotle Onassis when the photos appeared the Italian magazine Playmen in December 1972. American reactions were more explosive.
Bootleg copies of Playmen appeared in New York and Washington, and in February 1973, Screw magazine published the images in America. “Naked Jackie Kennedy!” was the front-page headline. Inside photo was titled “Jackie Kennedy’s Billion-Dollar Bush,” alluding to her husband’s fortune, at that time estimated at $1 billion; 144,000 copies of Screw were sold in its first seven days and more than half a million in the following week. It was the most successful issue in the history of the magazine.
Larry Flynt, founder of the pornographic magazine Hustler, reprinted the photos in August 1975 issue. He purchased them for $18,000 (approx. $98,000 in 2022 when adjusted for inflation). One million copies were sold within a few days, making Flynt an instant millionaire. “I made the wisest investment of my life buying the Jackie Onassis nudes I published in the August 1975 issue. The rest is history. If the photographer had asked me for a million dollars, I would have paid him,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hustler went from sales of a few thousand copies to over two million.
Onassis died in 1975, without getting his divorce from the former first lady. He left her a fortune of $26 million. She remained the center of attention for paparazzi until her death in 1994.