Because like everyone I love a story with a happy ending, I feel compelled to say a few words about the passing of Annabel Montgomery, better known in the political scandal world as Fanne Foxe.
I don’t mean it’s happy news about the 84-year-old Ms. Montgomery’s death, which occurred Feb. 10. That’s sad.
What’s happy is how skillfully she turned The Bimbo Assumption inside out.
For those who weren’t following political sex scandals 46 and a half years ago, this one goes like this.
On the evening of Oct. 7, 1974, a car whose passengers included Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and therefore arguably the most powerful elected official in Congress, was pulled over near Washington’s Jefferson Memorial for speeding and driving without lights.
A door opened. Ms. Foxe bolted and jumped into the Tidal Basin, an estuary of the Potomac River.
The police fished her out, handcuffed her and, because she had two black eyes, took her to the hospital.
Mr. Mills, who fortunately was a passenger rather than the driver, had a bleeding nose, scratches on his face and way too much alcohol in his bloodstream. He was given a courtesy ride home.
And that was almost the end of it. Mills’s office issued a statement saying it was no big deal, just an innocent kerfuffle. Nothing to see here, folks.
Except unfortunately for Rep. Mills, there was. A television cameraman happened to be on the scene and filmed it.
One can only imagine how golden that film would be as click bait today. It was pretty popular in 1974, too, and even with the political implications, much of the fascination fell on Fanne Foxe, who before October 7 was not widely known outside the Silver Slipper Club on 13th Street in Washington, where she was billed as The Argentine Firecracker and her act involved taking her clothes off.
Has the tabloid and gossip world ever been served up a more camera-ready bimbo?
Nor did Ms. Foxe, who was born Annabel Villagra and had recently been divorced from Eduardo Battistella, seem to behave in a way that argued against the designation.
After being released from the hospital and presumably applying some makeup to her eyes, she doubled down on stripping. She changed her professional name to The Tidal Basin Bombshell and raised her weekly rate at the suddenly very hot Silver Slipper to $3,500 a week. She did two weeks in Orlando for $30,000. She was a top ticket on the take-your-clothes-off circuit.
So what did she do? She retired from stripping, posed for Playboy, gave interviews and talks for money, hired someone to write her story and starred in a couple of movies that were not often cited in conversation about the Oscars.
She also said Mills had told her he wanted to divorce his wife Polly and marry her.
If this all sounds like classic bimbo behavior, or delusion, consider for a moment that maybe it wasn’t.
Maybe it was Fanne Foxe who was playing the system, because unlike the stereotypical bimbo who gets rubbernecked until the world gets tired of her and moves on, Ms. Foxe parlayed this whole affair into a pretty good life.
Within a few years she had bought an eight-room house in Westport, Conn., where she raised her three children. In 1980 she married her business manager, Daniel Montgomery, and they had a daughter.
Okay, she probably didn’t live a 1950s suburban sitcom June Cleaver life, and she won’t get a lot of votes as a role model. But less than a decade after becoming a national punchline, a synonym for airheaded gold-digging floozy, she was living well.
Then she kept living well. After moving to St. Petersburg in the late 1980s, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tampa and master’s degrees in marine science and business administration from the University of South Florida.
This was not a total turnaround in her life, by the way. Her father was a medical officer in Argentina and after she finished high school she briefly attended medical school before marrying Battistella and taking all those detours.
In any case, if USF allowed life experience credits in its graduate programs, her theses must have made for unusually interesting academic reading.
Outside the classroom she became a scuba diving master. In her 60s she did some underwater filming in Cozumel.
It would be a perfect touch to say she did better than Wilbur Mills after the Tidal Basin incident, but the truth is he also landed on his feet.
He confessed he was an alcoholic, a wise move. He said he was so addicted he didn’t remember anything at all about 1974, an even wiser move.
He declined to run for re-election in 1976, ending a 38-year Congressional career that left its mark on the country. He was a fiscal and social conservative who is widely credited with inserting the critical Medicaid provisions into President Lyndon Johnson’s landmark Medicare legislation.
Mills later said he regretted that his alcoholism caused him to be missing in action for several of his final years on Ways and Means, which among other things prevented him from introducing the national health care legislation he had come to believe the country needed.
In the 16 years after he left office, he practiced law, opened an alcohol treatment center, told countless audiences alcoholism is a disease, endowed chairs at the University of Arkansas and secured widespread admiration in his native state.
He remained married to Polly for the rest of his life.
So Wilbur Mills didn’t fall apart. Still, he fell. Fanne Foxe rose.
It’s still an untidy and rather sordid story, and Ms. Montgomery doubtless had tough stretches in her life. But the long-term takeaway from this October surprise was quite different from what most of the world at the time assumed.