The president was inside a closet just off the Oval Office with a random blond woman when his wife appeared in the hallway just outside.
Suspicious that something was up, the wife demanded entry into his office. The Secret Service agent standing guard, however, refused, telling the missus she’d have to go around to the other door, through the office of the president’s secretary.
Miffed, she raced down the hall.
As soon as she was gone, the Secret Service agent burst into the office and alerted the commander-in-chief that his wife was on the way. The president quickly pulled up his pants, and the agent whisked the girl out the side door to a waiting car.
By the time his wife made it through the other door, she found the president calmly sitting at his desk shuffling papers. She quickly left the way she’d come in and made her way back around to the first door, where she found the Secret Service agent back at his post.
“She stood and glared at me like she couldn’t believe it,” he later said.
The year was 1922, and the president was Warren Harding. But it could have been nearly any of the men who have occupied the highest office in the land.
As a new book details, sexually scandalous behavior and the presidency seem to go together like Bill Clinton and a saxophone.
“Sex With Presidents: The Ins and Outs of Love and Lust in the White House” (William Morrow, out Sept. 22) by Eleanor Herman explores the lives of several of America’s chief executives.
“Despite the American reputation for prudery, many of our leaders have had a colorful sexual past,” the author writes. “One beloved president suffered a fatal stroke in his mistress’ presence. Another had a 30-year affair and seven children with his enslaved woman.”
Pull a name from a hat and there’s probably a juicy story about him — even among the presidents we might not exactly consider Caligulas.
Richard Nixon had an affair in the late 1960s with a Hong Kong cocktail hostess. Lyndon Johnson supposedly slept with four of his six secretaries, asking around before he hired a woman whether she would “shuck her drawers.”
“There’s an old saying: Still waters run deep,” Herman told The Post. “Franklin Roosevelt, a thoughtful, gentlemanly soul whose legs were paralyzed, was quite the ladies’ man. In other words, you can never tell.”
Take Harding, considered one of the country’s worst presidents as a result of the Teapot Dome and other scandals that erupted on his watch. He may have been a failure in office, but when it came to womanizing, he was world-class.
Harding “exuded a raw animal magnetism irresistible to many women,” the author writes. “His security guards had to keep his female fans from following him around and making embarrassing scenes. Pundits of the day believed he won the 1920 election only because featherbrained women — newly given the vote — were smitten by his sex appeal rather than his policy.”
The woman who would become his wife, Florence, was so infatuated with him when they met in their home state of Ohio that she practically stalked him. When she heard he would be returning on a train with a girlfriend, she staked out the train station and waited for him. He spotted her and tried to duck out the other side of the train, but she yelled out, “You needn’t run away, Warren Harding! I can see your big feet!”
They married in 1891. But soon Harding was checking himself in to the famous “medical spa” Battle Creek Sanitarium, founded by cereal inventor John Kellogg, hoping that bowls of corn flakes might dampen his runaway libido.
A few years later, he got his wife’s childhood friend pregnant, and was busted by plumbers coming out of a local widow’s bedroom.
In 1905, Harding began having an affair with his wife’s best friend, a tall strawberry blonde named Carrie Phillips. He wrote her piles of love letters, some 40 or 50 pages long.
In one, he wrote, “There is one engulfing, enthralling rule of love, the song of your whole being which is a bit sweeter — the ‘Oh Warren! Oh Warren!’ When your body quivers with divine paroxysm and your soul hovers for flight with mine.”
The lovers secretly met out of town, and when they couldn’t be together, Harding liked to sit in his study wearing a bathrobe that smelled of her and masturbate in front of a fire.
‘Most Americans had no idea that [JFK] had sex every day with at least one woman other than his wife, sometimes several times, and often with more than one woman at once.’
– Eleanor Herman
In 1917, Harding began bedding Nan Britton, a 20-year-old from his hometown who was 31 years his junior. At 12, Britton had developed a crush on Harding, covering her room with his photos and scrawling on her school books, “Warren Harding — he’s a darling.”
Harding arranged a rendezvous at New York’s Hotel Imperial at Broadway and 32nd Street. House detectives burst through the door, demanding to know if Britton was older than 21, the age of consent. She wasn’t. The detectives called the police, but when they discovered that Harding was a US senator, they sneaked the pair out the side entrance.
John Kennedy would give Harding a run for his money in the quantity department.
“Most Americans had no idea that he had sex every day with at least one woman other than his wife, sometimes several times, and often with more than one woman at once,” Herman said.
Jack threw nude pool parties with interns in the White House and had sex with prostitutes in elevators while the Secret Service guarded the door.
The president famously slept with Marilyn Monroe, but he also had a six-minuter with Marlene Dietrich.
In 1962, the 60-year-old actor attended a White House awards reception, where Kennedy pulled her into his bedroom. The screen star hesitated slightly, but only because she worried Kennedy’s bad back might immobilize him.
“Now I’m an old lady, and I said to myself: I’d like to sleep with the president, sure, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to be on top!” Dietrich later told a friend.
The White House staff worked overtime to clean up the evidence of Kennedy’s many liaisons. Making their job especially difficult was the president’s love of blondes, whose stray hairs wife Jackie would know were not hers. The staff combed through the bed and inspected the floor on their hands and knees, cursing, “Why can’t he get himself a steady brunette?”
James Buchanan, who served from 1857 to 1861, is the only president never to have married. Some speculate it was because he was gay.
Some claimed he was having an affair with his vice president, William Rufus King. “In political circles, they were known as Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, or Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy,” the author writes.
While in France in 1844, Buchanan wrote a friend that he was lonely and had “gone wooing to several gentlemen but have not succeeded with any.”
Herman writes that sex scandals are de rigueur for presidents because many of those who seek the highest office in the land may suffer from “hubris syndrome,” a psychological disorder brought on by being powerful. It manifests itself with impulsivity, recklessness, contempt for advice from others and overweening pride.
“The same compulsions that send a man hurtling toward the White House can also send him into a foolhardy tryst with a woman,” the author writes. “High political office and dangerous sex are, in fact, all about hubris and power.”
The good news is, if America ever elected a woman to be commander-in-chief, the country’s long, juicy history of presidential sex scandals might take a break.
“Have you ever heard a whisper of such bad behavior on the part of Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel … or any of the other female heads of state?” Herman said.
“Usually, men go into politics to be somebody — it’s an ego thing, which is closely related to sex — while women do so to help somebody.”