Did Marilyn Monroe sprawl on a bed with a headboard or without a headboard that day in 1962 when she phoned the White House looking for Jack Kennedy and Jackie answered and Jackie told Marilyn that she was willing to step aside and divorce her husband, the President of the United States, if Marilyn was prepared to marry him and move into the White House?
Production designer Stewart Campbell thought: headboard. Definitely. Which is why he supplied Marilyn’s hairpin-strewn bedroom — in reality a single on the first floor of the Jefferson Sheraton Hotel in Richmond, Va. — with a big, padded, ’40s-glamourpuss thing at the head of a rumpled bed.
But executive producer Lester Persky thought: no headboard. Definitely. So did Eve Gordon, an actress who, wigged and painted, would soon do her part as MM but at the moment looks like a mom at a mall in shorts and a T-shirt; more to the point, Gordon has produced as evidence a book about Marilyn that includes photos of the real bed in question. Which is why a brigade of chunky young men wearing bandannas and small single-hoop earrings and rolls of electrician’s tape slung on their belts have disassembled the headboard and are re-rumpling the pillows. And why Roma Downey, the little-known 28-year-old Irish actress who plays Jackie, is cooling her heels, in bedroom slippers, in her mobile dressing room out back behind the hotel. And why production on A Woman Named Jackie, NBC’s six-hour, three-part, big-ticket miniseries airing from 9 to 11 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, and 15, has come to a temporary halt on a steamy Southern summer day.
Not for nothing has this latest entry from the bottomless bin of Kennedy- inspired, ratings-grabbing TV scripts and screenplays been billed as ”meticulous” and ”detailed”; indeed, so virtuously historical is this Jackie that NBC has decided to teach class right up against baseball’s World Series on CBS. (Kennedy’s uses of counterintelligence are well documented; the use of Kennedy in counterprogramming has been less well explored.)
”I don’t care what you have to do — just remove that headboard!” barks Persky, striding down the hotel hallway. Persky is slight and dapper and in his mid-60s and apt to refer to ”Jackie” and ”Jack” and ”Ari” like old friends. Which, in a way, they are: He optioned the rights to C. David Heymann’s 1989 nonfiction best-seller, A Woman Named Jackie, in 1987, when it was still in outline form.
”Is there a better story around?” he asks, smiling like a man who has invested in blue-chip stock on the American miniseries-plot exchange.
Persky knew Heymann’s work well enough to take the plunge; in 1987, he turned Heymann’s book Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton into a high-ratings miniseries starring Farrah Fawcett. So although he claims he worried for a time that the project would simply be ”yet another book about Jackie,” he trusted the author’s ”meticulous care and tremendous research.” ”This is a different Jackie,” he says confidently, ”a Jackie we’ve not seen.”