Today is Victoria Day in Canada, it’s Queen Victoria’s Birthday. Happy Victoria Day to both of all my Canadian readers. I could have done a post about that, but I’m going another route since I figured you all were royaltied out, so here goes…
One of the most colorful characters in politics when I was a disco hanging out in young man in my 20s was Wilbur Mills, US Congressman from Arkansas.
He kinda led the way for naughty boys everywhere.
He was a Democrat, so Larry Flynt didn’t out him, Wilbur kinda did that himself.
Wilbur was born on May 24, 1902 – so he’s dead now – to a progressive and financially comfortable family in Kensett, Arkansas. His daddy was a banker, school superintendant, and ran the first school system in Arkansas to be integrated.
Wilbur was smart. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, the salutatorian of his college class at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, and studied Constitutional Law at Harvard.
He pretty much had a lot going on.
He was judge back in Arkansas, and began a county-funded program to pay medical bills, prescription drugs, and hospital treatment for the indigent. He was a bit ahead of his time.
He went to congress in 1939, served until 1977, and for 18 of those years was the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was a powerful man.
He was instrumental in creation of Medicare. He was considered the primary tax expert in the Congress. He was a fiscal conservative and a semi-social liberal.
He also ran for President, but then again, who hasn’t?
Although he should be remembered for all that, which ain’t all that bad, most people remember him from the “Tidal Basin” Scandal in 1974.
Ya see, Wilbur liked to drink.
And Wilbur let liquor get him in trouble.
He was married for over 40 years.
Then he met a stripper.
In a bar.
While he was drinking.
Her name was Annabelle Battistella, and she was Argentine, but the world knew her as Fanne Foxe.
Wilbur fell hard for Fanne, and he fell from power.
The Nation section of Time Magazine on Decmeber 16, 1974 said…”From the stage of Boston’s Pilgrim Theater, a seedy burlesque house in the city’s newly designated “Combat Zone” for sex films and ecdysiast exhibitions, a shapely, silken-gowned Fanne Foxe, “the Argentine Firecracker,” had a surprise for her audience. “I’d like you to meet somebody,” she said, then called to the wings: “Mr. Mills, Mr. Mills! Where are you?” Onto the stage strode Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Daigh Mills, 65, the redoubtable Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Placing a hand on Fanne’s shoulder, Mills began a brief exchange of quips with the audience, then received a kiss on the cheek from his favorite stripper and calmly walked offstage. With that unlikely bit of business, Mills’ distinguished 36-year legislative career came crashing down around him.”
They weren’t wrong.
Earlier that year, Mills car was stopped by US Park Police, because the driver had not turned on his lights. Mills was intoxicated, and he had bruises on his face from a “tift” with Ms. Foxe. When the po-po approached the car, Ms. Foxe jumped from the vehicle and dove into the Tidal Basin in a feeble attempt to escape.
It was a scandal!
And we ate it UP.
Not surprisingly these days, despite the scandal, Mills was re-elected to Congress in November 1974 in a heavily Democratic year with nearly 60% of the vote. Back then, is re-election was a miracle.
Later on, in November of 1974, there was the theatre incident, which included an appearance on stage with Ms Foxe’s husgand and a press conference from the Stripper’s “dressing” room. Just a thought, why do strippers need dressing rooms? He told the press he went there to deny an affair with Fanne.
It didn’t work.
After leaving the Congress, Mills got sober. He went to rehab, did not meet Liz Taylor, did not seek re-election in 1976, but did devote his time to counseling other alcoholics and rasising money for treatment centers. One was eventually named for him; the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcohol and Drugs, it’s in Searcy, Arkansas.
He had 15 minutes of ‘infamy’, and a great deal more than 15 minutes of fame!