Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
At 2 a.m. Oct. 9, 1974, police stopped a car in Washington, D.C., carrying Wilbur Mills, the powerful Arkansas congressman from Kensett and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was drunk and his face was injured. Another passenger, Annabel Battistella, an Argentine stripper who performed under the name Fanne Fox ("The Argentine Firecracker"), got out of the car and jumped into the nearby Tidal Basin. He was 65; she was 38. Despite the scandal that followed, Mills survived a re-election challenge in 1974. But a second public appearance with Battistella at a Boston burlesque house later in November signaled the beginning of the end of his political career. Soon after, he resigned his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged his alcoholism and sought treatment. Battistella reportedly eventually returned to Argentina. Forty years after the Tidal Basin scandal, if she's still alive, Battistella would be 78. Mills died in 1992.
Pinnacle Books published "Fanne Fox," Battistella's biography and account of her time with Mills, in 1975. Here are a few of the juicy bits:
Battistella meets Mills at the club where she dances, The Silver Slipper.
"After my performance, Mr. Mills told me it was the loveliest dancing he had ever seen in his life."
Battistella and a friend go to dinner with Mills and back to his apartment for a nightcap.
" 'These two young ladies,' Wilbur said waggishly, pointing to Claudia and me, who were both dressed in glamorous evening clothes, 'are my nurses.' "
At Mills' apartment.
"As I walked out of the bathroom I bumped into Mr. Mills and couldn't help but look him up and down because of what he was wearing. He had changed into a robe beneath which I could see his long knee socks and his highly polished shoes."
Battistella and Mills begin an affair.
"The nice advantages about our older man-younger woman romance were his wisdom and the variety of information exchanged between us because of the generation difference. He knew things I could not possibly know, not from book learning but from being there, and I was able to contribute to his life with the cultural and emotional products of my generation."
After a night of drinking, Battistella writes that she and Mills get into a lover's spat, hitting and clawing at each other's faces, before they're stopped by police.
"Wilbur ordered me to stay in the car, but I was very defiant and I would not. ... Then Wilbur started to get out and I told him to stay in the car. But he would not, and the yelling started all over again. ... There were lights glaring on us from the uniformed police flashlights and headlights, and the television cameramen. ... Uppermost in my mind when I saw all this activity was that I had gone too far this time, I had lost him, and I just had to get away. So I dashed over to the stone parapet near the bridge over the Tidal Basin, and I dove in head-first."
"Down in the dark, deserted water I dived very deep, not knowing or caring where I would come up. My long, expensive evening dress lapped around my legs, but I felt nothing."
The scandal lands Battistella job offers.
"At first he protested that he did not want me back in the business, but when I explained I needed the income, and should exploit this chance, he capitulated, 'as long as you don't remove all your clothes.' "
Mills makes an appearance at a burlesque club in Boston.
" 'Oh Anna,' Wilbur said with the face of a child caught stealing cookies, 'I love you. I wanted to see you and I want everybody to know.' ... After fifteen minutes of dancing I finished my act upstage, where I could see behind the curtain line. To my horror, he was on the stage, right behind the half-open curtain. In an instant, to preserve some dignity, I announced to the audience, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I have a visitor for you, and he wants to say hello.' And I called out, 'Mr. Mills where are you?'
"He was grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary when I took him by the hand and led him before a cheering, whistling, foot-stomping crowd. "Here I am," he said.
It was supposed to be only a brief token appearance, but he reveled in the acclaim, and insisted on having his say. 'Yeah,' he said into the microphone, 'she's beautiful, but who do you think made her?' With that enigmatic remark, he was led back offstage by me."
"Offers and requests, along with fan and hate mail, poured in from everywhere. I politely declined an inappropriate invitation by the Republican Club of Wilbur's home state, Arkansas, to perform for a substantial fee at a benefit."
"I don't know how the final chapter of Wilbur and Fanne will read. Wilbur is trying to draw his brilliant political career to a stable and dignified conclusion, I am embarking on a career that was interrupted long ago in Miami, and although we haven't consummated a marriage, we have consummated a love that no amount of scandal or press can destroy. ... Even though the labels stripper and congressman are completely incongruous, there was never anything but harmony in our hearts. Que sera, sera."
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