Ah, the American presidents. What a minefield of scandal. There’s the whole Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings debacle, obviously JFK’s numerous affairs (which may or may not be the subject of a week’s worth of future posts – stay tuned), and dear Uncle Bill’s Oval Office shenanigans.
And then there’s Warren G. Harding, he of the strong eyebrows and mysterious mid-term death in 1923.
Harding sort of epitomizes the frivolity of the American 1920s, in that he used malapropisms (“Return to Normalcy” was his 1920 campaign slogan. “Return to Normality” would have been correct. But he was only running for President, so you know, no biggie.), openly served and consumed bathtub gin in the White House during the Prohibition, and showered his friends with gifts, perks, and Cabinet positions. Also, his middle name was Gamaliel, which wasn’t even an unfortunate family name or anything. It has nothing to do with his personality or actions, I just think it’s weird.
Ultimately, he’s remembered by critics as sort of a terrible President who oversaw lots of labor strikes and administrative scandals. And he was remembered by at least two sassy ladies as a terrible sugar daddy.
That’s right, Warren had two known mistresses, one of which was probably delusional. Let’s begin there, shall we?
Nan Britton (who after some Googling, I learned was apparently a character in an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Who knew?) grew up in Marion, Ohio, which was Harding’s hometown. He was a friend of her father’s, and she developed a little crush/unhealthy obsession for him. You know what, no – the bitch was a stalker. When she was 16, she used to wait outside of the newspaper office where he worked every day, hoping to bump into him on his walk home. To his wife.
Anyway, apparently the teenage creeping worked. Mr. Britton talked to Harding about the situation, prompting Harding to talk to young Nan. And by talk to I mean bone. He was also having an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips at this time, but more on that later.
Nan and Warren did their thing (each other) for a little while, then she graduated high school and moved to New York to become a secretary (the loftiest of female ambitions), and things fizzled. But after Harding died in ’23, she wrote what a lot of people consider the first kiss-and-tell book, aptly titled The President’s Daughter. Aptly titled in that girlfriend claimed WGH knocked her up, and that he had promised to support her and young Elizabeth before he died. Convenient? Sure. DNA testing wasn’t an option yet, so who knows. But the remaining Hardings, specifically Warren’s wifey, Florence, weren’t having any of that.
As for the book, I’d love to get my paws on it. Nan claims that she was Harding’s mistress before and during his presidency, and there’s apparently a famous passage in which they do it in a closet in the executive office. If this is true and if Nan was still alive, she’d get a big high-five from me. Because bitch was BOLD.
But she wasn’t nearly as bold as Carrie Fulton Phillips. She’s the only woman to successfully blackmail the President of the United States, and she was also sort of crazy. Both fantastic character traits.
Carrie moved to Marion, that star-crossed hamlet, when she married the owner of a dry-goods business there and she and her husband rose through the proverbial ranks until Carrie became pretty tight with Mrs. Harding. Girlfriends were so close that they decided to hit Europe together with their husbands, and all those Parisian nights must have gotten to Warren and Carrie, because pretty soon they were getting fancy all over the continent.
After they got back to Marion, Mr. Phillips and Mrs. Harding got wind of the naughtiness afoot and decided it was best that the Phillipses skip back over the pond, this time to Germany. Where Carrie became obsessed with German culture, maybe probably inappropriately. In roughly 1918, Harding was running for Senate and this little conflict called the First World War was a-brewing, so everyone headed back stateside. And those two crazy kids picked right back up where they left off, irreparably damaging two marriages! Can’t fight a love like that.
In 1920, when Harding won the Republican presidential nom, he told some VIPs about his ‘delicate’ situation, and that oops, Carrie felt passionately about the German cause in the war, and that ooops, Carrie had hundreds of love letters, and that oooops, many of them were written on Senate stationery.
Hoping to quietly resolve a potentially disastrous situation, said VIPs said “Hey Phillipses, remember Europe? Wasn’t it great? Want to maybe go back to there? On us?” To which dear Carrie said, “Aw HELL no,” and like a mob boss in the back of a New Jersey Italian restauarant, she dictated her terms. She would keep quiet if:
a. The Republican Party paid for a long, exotic-ass trip to Asia and the Pacific.
b. They also paid her a tidy annual sum for her silence for the rest of her life.
Girlfriend worked that negotiation, and the GOP paid up.
But her brilliance waned when she continued to support the Germans during World War II. Yikes. The government kept tabs on her for a while after that. And then she sort of went crazy. She had A LOT of German Shepherds (we’re talking Animal Hoarders status), and she used to walk them wearing only her finest mink coat. So you know, things didn’t really end so well for her.
But she did hand over those Senate-stationery letters, and after much legal action, it was ruled that they would be opened on the 100th anniversary of Harding’s death. So mark August 2, 2023 in your iCal. You heard it here first: shit’s getting real.
So what is it about Warren Harding? Did they have to be crazy to fall in love with him? Or was it loving him that made them crazy? The world will never know (except maybe in 2023).
Personal conclusion: Nan and Carrie couldn’t resist the raw sexual power of the eyebrows. Either that or the last name was pretty indicative of what old Warren was packin.