Onassis and Callas
Maria Callas was born in 1923 in the United States to Greek immigrant parents. When their marriage broke up, thirteen-year-old Maria left school and went to Athens, where her mother pushed her into singing. She established herself as a singer when she went to Italy and met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, whom she later married despite the thirty-year age difference between them. Under his direction, Callas became an opera star and jet-set celebrity. But her notoriety would ultimately have as much to do with her personal life as her talent.
THEY SAID …
“My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular…. I'll never forgive her for taking my childhood away.
During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money.”
— Maria Callas, Time magazine
Onassis and Callas first met in 1957 while attending a masked ball in Venice. They were introduced by society gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell. Two years later, Ari invited the Churchills, Callas, and Meneghini on a three-week cruise through the Greek islands, embarking from Monaco. By the time the cruise ended, Callas and Onassis had fallen in love and were already in the midst of an affair, despite the presence of their spouses on board. Both marriages ended soon after. On March 30, 1960, Callas gave birth to a son, who died after just a few hours. It was a tragedy that would forever bond them.
Purchased in 1954, the Christina was considered the most luxurious private yacht in the world. Renovated for $4 million, it included teak wood decks, a dry-cleaning plant, 18 cabins, a lapis lazuli fireplace, and a full-size movie screen. The dance floor opened to reveal a pool. The yacht costs more than $1 million annually to maintain.
Callas and Onassis were not discreet. Their passionate, volatile romance was very public, and the couple constantly made headlines in newspaper gossip sections the world over. Despite their obvious devotion, there was no talk of marriage. Callas later claimed that she instinctively knew getting married would change the dynamic of the relationship. She also believed there would be different expectations in a marriage than there were in a love affair. Callas was never blinded by love. She was keenly aware of Onassis's faults and his desire to conquer and acquire beyond financial wealth. Nor would she swear to his honesty in business. But his decision to marry Jackie Kennedy completely blind-sided Callas, who had long been aware of Onassis's fascination with her.