Here’s a question for you: which of America’s 44 presidents once boasted: ‘I’ve had more women by accident than he’s had on purpose’?
Surely it has to be Donald Trump, I can hear you answer — another of his late-night ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ tweets that continue to astonish a world which expects a modicum of dignity from the White House.
But although this has the unmistakably tacky air of The Donald, the president who bragged of his sexual prowess in those words was actually Lyndon Baines Johnson, who occupied the Oval Office for five tumultuous years in the Sixties.
John F Kennedy (pictured) had a reputation for being a womaniser, but his predecessor Lyndon Baines Johnson was keen to prove his own status
And the person he was putting down as a mere amateur in the superstud stakes? Well, that was his predecessor, the notoriously libidinous John F. Kennedy.
Johnson, who took over as President after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963, apparently always thought it unjust that his predecessor’s reputation as a womaniser outstripped his own.
Indeed, a new book shows the Oval Office has been a hotbed of sexual intrigue and scandal for almost the whole of American history. And although Donald Trump’s presidency is mired in sleaze allegations, he is not the first ‘p***y-grabber’ to occupy it. Not by a long way.
A small closet for coats in the executive suite was where President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky groped and groaned in the Nineties.
Seventy years earlier, President Warren Harding and his sweetheart Nan Britton (whom he had known since she was 13 and he was 50) crammed themselves into the same tight space with the same purpose in mind. Kennedy had ‘quickies’ there, too.
British author Nigel Cawthorne, in a new book, uncovers a startling catalogue of indiscretions and excesses stretching back centuries — almost all of which were unknown to U.S. voters.
Even by President Trump’s standards of acceptable behaviour, some of his predecessors’ habits were outlandish.
American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963) smiles as he speaks on the telephone in the White House’s Oval Office
Johnson, for example, the Texan Democrat, was a flasher who thought it amusing to whip out what he called his ‘jumbo’ at the slightest excuse.
To his buddies he would give detailed accounts of his sexual conquests and offer the crudest possible descriptions of his partner’s anatomy.
His wife, the long-suffering Lady Bird Johnson, turned a blind eye to his two long-term mistresses as well as the casual couplings he indulged in with the half-dozen White House secretaries and staffers who constituted his unofficial harem.
He had sex with them on his desk in the Oval Office and also on Air Force One, the presidential plane.
If he spotted a pretty woman at the White House gates, he would send an aide out to get her. And there was only ever one thing he wanted from a woman.
‘We spent our time doing, not talking,’ said his mistress, Madeleine Brown. ‘He was a little kinky and I loved every second of it.’
George Washington was also rumoured to have indulged in a lover called Sally Fairfax
Did he score more than JFK? No one was counting, but probably not, given how rapacious and reckless Kennedy was.
His repulsive tycoon father, Joe, was the Harvey Weinstein of his day, investing in Hollywood to make full use of the casting couch.
His son, though far more charming, had a similarly exploitative approach to women, from his first encounter with a prostitute at the age of 17.
His nickname in the U.S. Navy during World War II was ‘Shafty’. Afterwards, as he built his political career, he bedded women on an industrial scale: starlets, ice-skaters, a stripper named Tempest Storm and another called Blaze Starr.
Hush money was paid out at least once to silence an aggrieved partner. He also shelled out for abortions for girls he got pregnant — despite being a Roman Catholic.
The famous flocked to him as well, including Marlene Dietrich (15 years his senior) and the actress Angie Dickinson, who described sex with him as ‘the best 20 seconds of my life’.
And, of course, the sad, besotted, irresistible Marilyn Monroe, who put a black wig over her blonde hair to be smuggled into his hotel suite and onto Air Force One — an affair that lasted for years, during which she fantasised about replacing his wife Jackie as First Lady before he dumped the actress.
For Kennedy, anywhere, any time would do. There were orgies in Washington hotels just across from the Senate so he could nip out between votes; nude frolics in the White House pool.
George Washington was allegedly in love with Sally Fairfax (pictured)
He liked threesomes and, according to one source, a New York call-girl recalled tying his hands and feet to the bedpost and teasing him with a feather.
His security detail, their job made almost impossible by his insatiable quest for coition, gave him the codename ‘Lancer’. There were said to be times when he slipped away and the officer with the nuclear security codes in a briefcase chained to his wrist had frantically tried to find him.
Even during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, he spotted an attractive secretary and asked for her name and number.
How it was all kept out of the public eye is the mystery. Politics may have played a part. Even today, Democrats who pillory President Trump for his attitude to women tend to draw a veil over the unbridled sexual antics of the party’s favourite son from the Sixties, preferring the heady myth of Camelot — the description coined by Jackie — with its king and queen.
Cawthorne points out that the newspapers all knew about Kennedy’s philandering, but chose to keep quiet.
‘In those days, unless a politician’s thirst for strong drink, womanising or homosexual activities affected his performance in office, the press corps simply refused to report them.’
Nobody breathed a word. But the problem of an oversexed president was summarised neatly by the mother of actor Peter Lawford, who was married to one of Kennedy’s sisters.
‘I find it difficult,’ she said, ‘to place my complete trust in a President of the United States who always has his mind on his c**k.’
Few U.S. presidents, in truth, could pass a modern morality test. If #MeToo were to be applied to U.S. history, then in Hamlet’s words, ‘who should ’scape whipping’? Certainly not George Washington.
In the recent partisan strife over Brett Kavanaugh’s suitability to be a Supreme Court judge, Donald Trump maintained that the Democrats would have voted against confirming George Washington as the country’s first president in 1789. After all, Trump mused, ‘didn’t he have a couple of things in his past?’
Cawthorne’s book backs him up, detailing how Washington, a married man, had a long-term lover, Sally Fairfax, and as a soldier away from home for years on end, dallied with other women.
Given his love of the opposite sex, Cawthorne writes, ‘it is amazing Washington found time to fight the British or found the nation’.
This is admittedly a contentious claim, vehemently denied by American patriots as scurrilous rumour put about by the British to discredit their enemy, but Cawthorne contends there was a deeply erotic side to the handsome and charismatic Founding Father.
Covering a president’s tracks was commonplace for most of the 20th century.
Hard-drinking, poker-playing, philandering Warren Harding’s (1921-23) long list of conquests included chorus girls and the teenage Nan Britton, whom he checked into hotels as his niece. Once, in New York, two policemen, tipped off by a suspicious receptionist, burst into the room and found them in bed.
They arrested Harding before seeing his name on his hat-band, realising he was a senator and letting him go. He slipped them $20 for their discretion.
Dwight Eisenhower (centre) and Kay Summersby’s relationship was denied by many reputable historians
Yet this close, potentially career-ending call made no difference to him. He continued his lusty affair with Nan wherever he could — in hotels, his office, a quiet corner of Central Park. She even had his illegitimate baby, a little girl.
Yet when the Republican Party leaders put his name forward as a presidential candidate and he was asked if there was anything that might jeopardise his nomination, he replied: ‘No, gentlemen, there is no such reason.’
Generally speaking, what went on in the White House stayed in the White House, hidden from a disapproving public.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mistress was never talked about in the years before World War II; Eisenhower’s affair with his wartime army driver, Kay, remained a secret until five years after his death; Richard Nixon’s fleeting affair with a cocktail bar hostess in Hong Kong was kept in a confidential file by the creepy boss of the FBI, Edgar Hoover — a useful lever for keeping the president in check.
Things changed, though, in 1988, with the election that brought George Bush Sr to the White House.
The Democratic candidate was the handsome Gary Hart, whose womanising was well-known but went unreported — until he told the press defiantly that he had nothing to hide.
Newspapers staked him out and discovered that, while his wife was out of town, he was spending nights with a 29-year-old model, Donna Rice. Other women came forward with similar stories.
Kay Summersby servied as Dwight Eisenhower’s driver and was speculated to be his lover
The cat was out of the bag, and not just for Hart. ‘From then on,’ writes Cawthorne, ‘nothing in a politician’s bedroom was safe from the press.’
That was bad news for Bill Clinton (1993-2001), today adored as a hero of liberal politics but whose sexual shenanigans while leader of the free world have seemingly been forgiven and forgotten.
Just this month, his wife Hillary defended his honour on the technical grounds that intern Monica Lewinsky had been an adult.
Bill Clinton (right) and intern Monica Lewinsky (left)
She still rejects the idea that her husband’s behaviour constituted an abuse of power, although the august New York Times disagrees: ‘It absolutely did — and would have been even if Mr Clinton had been the president of a small business rather than of the United States,’ it thundered back at her.
Details of Bill Clinton’s girls, assignations and so on surfaced before he was even nominated for the presidency.
He looked humble and said it was not quite the way it was being presented — just as he famously admitted puffing on a marijuana joint while at Oxford but not inhaling. And the American electorate still voted him in.
But in the White House his philandering carried on unchecked.
There was then the absurd situation of him arguing that he had not had ‘sexual relations’ with Lewinsky in the strict definition of the term because, he insisted, she had touched him sexually but he had not touched her.
It became, in Cawthorne’s words, ‘Carry On Up The White House’ a situation all too common in the history of the U.S. presidency.
- #WeToo And The U.S. Presidents, by Nigel Cawthorne, is published by Gibson Square Books on November 1 at £9.99. © Nigel Cawthorne 2018. To buy it for £7.99 (20% discount) call 0844 571 0640 or go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books. Offer valid until November 10, 2018. P&P free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery.