John Profumo, Gary Hart and Pandora's Box
The End of Media Decorum
March 14, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 20
IN THE NEWS
Scandal minister Profumo dies at 91
John Profumo, the man at the centre of the most notorious political sex scandal of the 20th century, has died at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke. Profumo, who spent four decades atoning for his disgrace, died peacefully at about midnight last night surrounded by his family, a spokesman for London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said. He had been admitted to hospital two days earlier.
—The Independent, (UK), Online Edition, March 10, 2006
John Profumo, the central character in the most delicious British government sex scandal of the century—and on the front page of every newspaper in the world—had been off my radar screen ever since. In my mental inventory of newsmakers, he was presumed dead.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was startled to see his obituary online. The vision of a handsome, debonair British Secretary of State for War—with patent leather hair, a finely chiseled face and elegant attire—surfaced in my brain (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/politicspast/story/0,9061,471383,00.html).
What looked out at me was the portrait of a very old, wizened man with ghastly skin and a bald head with wisps of grey hair flying in every direction. (http://www.manchesteronline.co.uk/men/news/s/207/207325_john_profumo_dies_aged_91.html)
Suddenly raised were questions about the conduct of one's life and what effect errors in judgment can have on one's future.
Sex Scandals in the UK
For all its stiff-upper-lip reserve, an undercurrent of sexuality has always been rampant in Britain, from the 1888 seedy Whitechapel murders of Jack the Ripper right on up to the Royal Family, where over the years, the Princes of Wales have caused headaches and heartaches.
For example, Queen Victoria's son, Edward VII, was a libertine whose affairs were legendary. His most notable mistresses were the celebrated actress, Lilly ("The Jersey Lily") Langtry and Alice (Mrs. George) Keppel, whom historian Victoria Glendinning said had the "sexual morals of an alley cat," and whose great-granddaughter, ironically, is Camilla Parker-Bowles
Of course, very strict libel laws in the UK dampened the press's enthusiasm for reporting—or even alluding to—the peccadillos of those in power.
The Profumo Affair
It was just too juicy with too many foreign policy implications to sweep under the rug. In the words of the London Times's, Matthew Parris on March 11, 2006:
Media muckraking is not new. This affair reminds us of that. We are brasher, ruder and more explicit now, but even then the relentless, intrusive, merciless excitability of the 1960s media helped to destroy Profumo, turned Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies into a sensation, and killed their friend Stephen Ward. In some ways, the delicacy with which the politer newspapers picked their way around the rudest bits only gave the story an Agatha Christie-like spice. But the government then ordered an inquiry (by Lord Denning) at least as detailed as Hutton, and a good deal more lip-smacking.
Cabinet Minister John Profumo was married to an elegant, highly regarded actress, Valerie Hobson. But he got mixed up with a black-haired dancer/call girl named Christine Keeler (http://tinyurl.com/akcvl), who was also bestowing her favors on Evegey Ivanov, the Soviet naval attaché. Another of the players in the drama was the blonde, pixyish Mandy Rice-Davies, who had become involved in Keeler's set and was intimate with many a big name in London including, it is reported, Vincent Astor ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandy_Rice-Davies ).
Profumo lied to Parliament and the press about his dalliances, but the truth eventually surfaced and he was forced to resign, very nearly taking the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan down with him.
Valerie Hobson remained at Profumo's side, finally dying in 1998. Even though all the characters went on to other achievements, they will forever be tarred by the brush of the Profumo Scandal.
Muckraking in America
Until 1987, only one sex scandal exploded around an American president. As a bachelor attorney in Buffalo, N.Y., Grover Cleveland fathered a child in 1873 with Maria Halpin, a widow in her 30s. Cleveland admitted paternity and provided for the support of his son, who grew up to become a physician. The story broke when Cleveland was running for president on the Democratic ticket in 1884 in what has been called the dirtiest campaign in American history. The Republicans came up with the pejorative campaign slogan, "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" When Cleveland squeaked into the presidency, the Democrats completed the two-line poem, "Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!" Cleveland had taken responsibility and acted like a gentleman, which the voters respected.
A number of high profile politicians since Cleveland had been involved in extra-marital relationships and the press looked the other way. Among them:
- Warren G. Harding, had a 15-year liaison with Carrie Fulton Phillips and later, when he was Senator from Ohio, fathered a daughter with young Nan Britton, paying her substantial sums of money for child support.
- Franklin Roosevelt fell deeply in love with his wife's social secretary, Lucy Mercer. In 1918 Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, confronted her husband with a cache of love letters from Lucy. Eleanor wanted a divorce, but Roosevelt's ironwilled mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, would not hear of it. Franklin agreed to never see Lucy again and the Roosevelts remained married, although it was a loveless arrangement. Roosevelt is believed to have had a longterm relationship with his private secretary, Marguerite "Missy" Lehand, but this was never discussed, never broached in the press, which was tremendously solicitous of the president. For example, he was never photographed in a wheelchair, nor being lifted and carried by valets and aides, which was the only way he could get around. As a result, the American people didn't have a clue how terribly crippled Roosevelt really was.
- During World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower hired a Woman's Army Corps (WAC) driver, Kay Summersby, who was not only a stunning redhead, but also a crackerjack bridge player and great drinking companion. Eisenhower tried out the idea of divorcing Mamie and marrying Kay on his boss, Chief of Staff General George Marshall who threatened to bust Eisenhower out of the Army and make the rest of his life a living hell. Eisenhower backed off and went on to become president.
- John F.Kennedy's myriad dalliances were well known. But despite the swirling rumors, the media pretended nothing was going on. One affair that could have caused serious repercussions was with Judith Campbell Exner, whose every move was being tracked by that insatiable old gossip, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, who loved having dossiers with which to blackmail presidents. When it was pointed out to the young president that Campbell was also a close friend of Chicago Mafia Don, Sam Giancana, Kennedy dropped her.
With the exception of Grover Cleveland's indiscretion, none of this was covered in the press.
Gary Hart and the End of Innocence
Colorado Senator Gary Hart, was a highly intelligent, good looking hunk, who was perceived as the front runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination for president. Plagued by rumors of marital infidelity, Hart was asked about it point-blank at a press conference. "Follow me around," Hart snarled. "I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored."
The Miami Herald acted on Hart's challenge and staked out his Washington town house, where a beautiful blonde model, Donna Rice, was observed entering the premises two nights in a row. When asked if he was having an affair, Hart said, "I have no relationship with the woman." Shortly thereafter the National Enquirer published a front-page photo of Hart and Rice canoodling off Bimini on the deck of a yacht aptly named "Monkey Business" http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/id323.htm). Hart's candidacy was history and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis became the nominee.
Hart had thrown down the gauntlet to the press, was caught, lied and, when he announced his withdrawal from the race, accused the media of setting him up.
After that, the gloves came off and the media declared open season on politicians, entertainers, businesspeople and even nobodies.
John Profumo and Gary Hart opened Pandora's box.
We're all fair game.
Takeaway Points to Consider
- The media are relentless in looking for stories that can embarrass people. Without John Profumo and Gary Hart, might Bill Clinton been given a pass on the Monica Lewinksy dalliance as every president before him had?
- In the world of business, former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, was interviewed by Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer and a personal relationship grew out of it. The result was a highly publicized and very ugly divorce that included eye-popping revelations about the myriad retirement perks Welch negotiated at the expense of GE stockholders and an informal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Welches had the good sense to settle out of court.
- Even if you are a nobody, you are fair game. On the editorial page of the March 12, 2006, Philadelphia Inquirer was a story titled: "GIRLS, DON'T GO WILD: Spring Break and Binge Drinking." A photograph from a south Florida newspaper depicted a university co-ed—and named her and her college—performing a wild, drunken dance, eyes closed, mouth wide open, with an empty glass in her hand. The caption: "A recent survey has confirmed what everyone already knows: College students engage in heavy drinking and unprotected sex during this annual rite of passage." On graduation, this young woman can only pray that a prospective employer won't take the trouble to Google her by name and university; her performance can be found on three Web sites—so far.
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
John Profumo, 1963
John Profumo, 2005
Gary Hart and Donna Rice
- Agatha Christie
- Camilla Parker-Bowles
- Carrie Fulton Phillips
- Chicago Mafia Don
- Christine Keeler
- Donna Rice
- Dwight Eisenhower
- Edition John Profumo
- Edward VII
- Evegey Ivanov
- Gary Hart
- George Marshall
- Grover Cleveland
- Harold Macmillan
- J. Edgar Hoover
- Jack Welch
- Jersey Lily
- John F. Kennedy
- Judith Campbell Exner
- Kay Summersby
- Lucy Mercer
- Mandy Rice-Davies
- Marguerite "Missy" Lehand
- Maria Halpin
- Matthew Parris
- Nan Britton
- Queen Victoria
- Sam Giancana
- Sara Delano Roosevelt
- Stephen Ward
- The News
- Valerie Hobson
- Victoria Glendinning
- Vincent Astor
- Warren G. Harding