File this under “there isn’t much of anything new under the sun.”
Hearing that the South Carolina Governor and possible Republican 2012 presidential candidate, 49 year old Mark Sanford, was having an affair wasn’t all that surprising. I’m beginning to believe most everyone in politics is diddling somebody on the side. But an Argentinean paramour and a southern Presidential contender reminded me of another career unraveling misadventure a few decades back.
In 1974, Democratic Congressman Wilbur Mills from Arkansas, the powerful overseer of federal revenue legislation as chairman to the House Ways and Means Committee and briefly a candidate for President in 1972, was caught in a year long affair with an exotic dancer from Argentina, Fanne Foxe, who worked at Washington D.C.’s not quite legendary Silver Slipper on 13th Street NW. It was reported at the time that Mills would spend as much as $1,700 a night at the club.
The melodrama unfolded in the wee hours of October 9, 1974. Mills’ car containing five passengers and driven by a former Richard Nixon staffer (... set up? ... conspiracy? ... you never know ...) was pulled over by D.C. Park Police for driving without headlights. Congressman Mills was intoxicated in the back seat sporting a bloody nose and a few facial scratches from an altercation he had with his companion, Fanne Foxe, born Annabelle Battistella, better known in the burlesque world as the “Argentine Firecracker.” But when police approached the car, Foxe leapt from the car and tried escaping by jumping into the nearby Tidal Basin, a man-made inlet next to the Potomac River. That didn’t work out so well; she was rescued by a policeman and taken to nearby St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for treatment.
Despite the scandalous headlines, Mills was re-elected to Congress in November 1974, winning 60% of the vote in a big year for Democrats following Nixon’s resignation and Watergate scandal. But a few weeks later, on November 30, 1974 at Boston's Pilgrim Theater, a Burlesque house where Fanne Foxe was performing, an intoxicated Mills was in the audience. Mills, accompanied by Foxe’s husband, was called to the stage by the exotic dancer. After exchanging a few one-liners with the audience, the Congressman received a kiss on the cheek from Foxe and then exited. According to some accounts he then held an impromptu press conference in Foxe's dressing room. The whole trip to Boston, Mills drunkenly explained, was to quell rumors he had ever had an affair with Fanne Foxe. Well, I guess some people are just a bit thick in the head. Needless to say, after this second round of embarrassing press Mills was forced to step down from his chairmanship on the Ways and Means Committee. Mills' distinguished 36 year legislative career didn’t just end, it crashed and burned. Mills checked himself into the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD for a much needed respite; eventually he acknowledged his alcoholism and entered the West Palm Beach Institute saying he was a “sick man.” He did not seek re-election in 1976 and retired. In 1992 Mills died at the age of 82.
Fanne Foxe continued working as a stripper for a while longer, re-dubbing her stage show from "The Argentine Firecracker" to "The Tidal Basin Bombshell." She also authored a book about the affair, The Stripper and the Congressman. In it Foxe claims she became pregnant by Congressman Mills and had an abortion. A couple of years later it was reported she attempted suicide. After that she just faded away, eventually returning to Argentina.