Today is Presidents’ Day, and that’s all well and good. But it’s important to remember that as interesting as presidents are, their wives are often as interesting as them—and often much more so. Here are six scintillating examples of what American royalty is really like.
1. Nancy Reagan was rumored to give the best head in Hollywood.
That’s the rub according to—among other sources—the notorious Kitty Kelley in her Nancy Reagan: the Unauthorized Biography. Ronald Reagan bears a couple of other interesting firsts. Despite being a conservative hero, he was the first president to have formerly been president of a union (namely, the Screen Actors Guild) and the first president to have been divorced. We can’t be 100% certain of the former Nancy Davis’s oral skills, but by all accounts she wasn’t exactly Pollyanna. Small wonder that Reagan’s first wife, Jane Wyman, basically spent the 1980s doing a Nancy Reagan impression—down to the clothes and red suits—in her villainous lead role on the primetime soap opera Falcon Crest.
2. Rosalynn Carter hated Nancy Reagan, too—as well as Bill & Hillary.
The 1980 election was a very bitter one and in many ways set the stage for the toxic environment in Washington today. Depending on your political perspective, it was either the year that the Republican Party grew a spine or the year that the Republicans went insane. In any event, there was no love lost between outgoing Rosalynn Carter and incoming Nancy Reagan. During their White House meet-and-greet, Rosalynn complained that all Nancy cared about was where all the closets were. Rosalynn didn’t even bother showing two of the kids’ rooms because they allegedly “weren’t tidy enough.” Right, because who knew that they’d be having company? Rosalynn was so put off that she didn’t bother joining Jimmy and the Reagans for their exit photo op. Her aide claimed this was due to a “lack of communication between the West and East Wing” because of course the White House phones only call North to South.
As a bonus, the Carters and the Clintons also totally hate each other. Here they are on video at the Obama inauguration, each pair pretending that the others don’t exist despite both greeting the Bushes very warmly:
3. Betty Ford was high on TV.
Your Facebook friends found it absolutely hilarious that Ruth Bader Ginsburg basically admitted to passing out drunk during this year’s State of the Union speech. Been there, done that! In 1977 Betty Ford went to Moscow to narrate the Nutcracker ballet. Her “sloe-eyed and sleepy-tongued” performance, as the press tactfully put it at the time, was a function of her popping a ton of pills as the show went on. It prompted her family to stage an intervention, which started Ford down her career as an advocate for helping those with substance abuse. The most poignant moment of her recovery: After she got sober she asked President Ford why he, too, stopped having a drink before going to bed. Ford confessed he’d been playing along for years because he didn’t want to watch his wife drink alone.
4. Laura Bush killed her friend.
No, this isn’t a euphemism or a metaphor and the friend isn’t a dog she put to sleep. Laura Bush took the life of another human being, which is probably the only interesting thing about her. Laura Welch had only just turned 17 years old when she ran a stop sign on the night of November 6, 1963. Her car struck another at an intersection near Midland, Texas. Laura and her passenger only suffered bruises, but the other driver was pronounced DOA when he got to the hospital. Well, it turned out that other driver was a friend of hers, one Michael Douglas. What are the odds? Small world, eh? A little over two weeks later and just 300 miles eastward, JFK was also killed in his car. Could the future Laura Bush have been involved? No.
5. Pat Nixon proved there is an escape from the Friend Zone.
First things first: Pat Nixon was never named “Pat.” Her name was Thelma, but her dad started calling her Pat as she grew up, in part due to the fact that she was born the day after St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not clear why he didn’t name her Pat to begin with, but she liked it and so she adopted it as her own. What else isn’t clear is why she sometimes pretended her name was Patricia. Well, she wasn’t the only disseminator in that family, right? While being a Senator, vice president and president are all very clearly high-status, “alpha” roles, Dick Nixon was totally a beta when it came to the ladies. Not only did he ask Pat to marry her on their first date, he would even drive her to date other men. Richard Nixon: doing PUA right? Or doing it wrong?
6. Florence Harding was not the president’s “first” lady.
Warren Harding is usually regarded as the worst president of the 20th century. It’s odd that he holds the record for the largest popular vote landslide in history—it’s almost as if democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But Harding also holds the record for the first presidential sex scandal. In 1928, five years after Harding’s death in office, Nan Britton published The President’s Daughter, claiming that she had been his mistress in the White House and that he knocked her up. What’s truly remarkable is that said daughter died in 2005 without ever taking a DNA test—and her children and grandchildren refuse as well. Almost a century later, we don’t know if Warren G. did the deed or if he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”