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HOWARD ROSENBERG / Televison

Monica and the Frisky Presidents

November 23, 1998|HOWARD ROSENBERG

If you haven't had your fill.

If you can't wait for the Andrew Morton book and the Barbara Walters interview.

If you can't possibly hang on until the movie, the unauthorized TV biopics, the Cliffs Notes, the coffee mugs, the designer kneepads, the Monicahhhhhh fragrance and thong underwear, the Mighty Monica action figure, the Teddy in a teddy pajama bag, and the Trippo and Ms. Monica (Oh, nohhhhhh) Play-Doh characters.

If you're that impatient, there's . . .

"Monica Lewinsky: When I Knew Monica," tonight's "Investigative Reports With Bill Kurtis" on the A&E Network. That's the former highbrow, now middle-brow and sinking-fast Arts & Entertainment Network.

One question you'll be asked to ponder: "Is the woman who revealed to Linda Tripp that she told President Clinton, 'I love you, Butt-head,' a stalker and a seductress or is she just a kid who's made a terrible mistake?"

Actually, what needs investigating most is the deteriorating brain matter that led to making and airing this British cheapo rehash about that woman! and some of her friends, who have little to say that hasn't already been said or that merits a TV audience.

Hosted and narrated by Kurtis with his usual breathless urgency--his voice replaces the original British narration by actor Tim Pigott-Smith--this program comes under the category of How Much More of This Can Be Ingested Without Throwing Up? As in:

* Monica's baby pictures and this factoid: "When Monica was 1, Nixon resigned," says Kurtis, who could have e-mailed in this assignment.

* Home footage of Monica at her eighth-grade graduation. Monica: "Hey, I think that Hawthorne is a really, really, really cool school."

* Michelle Glasov commenting about the adventures of her best friend, Monica, "It's so odd to think that the president of the United States is somewhat of an ex-boyfriend of a friend of mine."

* Washington journalist Jack Trapper saying about the Monica he dated briefly, "She's so unhateable. She's benign . . . and ordinary."

And Kurtis describing an early move that Monica supposedly put on Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. "She lifted up the top of her jacket and flashed the top of her panties at him." Pigott-Smith had called them knickers, of course.

Speaking of knickers, A&E is really smoking this week, for coming Tuesday is another of its Kurtis-narrated "Investigative Reports," this one titled "All the Presidents' Women." Yes, all!

It includes, among other things, a "rare interview with one of Lyndon Johnson's alleged mistresses" and Warren G. Harding's grand-nephew speaking publicly about one of his great-uncle's alleged affairs in the White House.

How real is "All the Presidents' Women"?

Kurtis: "In this world of innuendo, FDR dies in the arms of his mistress, Ike wants to divorce his wife, Mamie, to marry his wartime driver. . . . Warren Harding makes love in an Oval Office closet, [and] JFK swims nude every afternoon with White House secretaries and Hollywood stars."

To say nothing of Grover Cleveland admitting he fathered a child out of wedlock and of a woman claiming to have had a 21-year affair with Johnson that produced an illegitimate son.

"And while I was dancing with him," she says about LBJ, "he put a key in my hand, and, of course, I was old enough to know what it was for."

All right!

Why, compared with some of these men about town, Bill Clinton is the Pillsbury Doughboy.

"But what is fact, and what is fiction?" Kurtis asks.

Uh-oh. This universe of innuendo may not be entirely true?

You get few definitive answers here, even though the Grover Cleveland story is documented, as are Franklin Delano Roosevelt's liaisons with both Lucy Mercer and Missy LeHand, and married Dwight Eisenhower's World War II courtship of his British driver, Kay Summersby. And only last month, DNA tests confirmed another episode cited here: Thomas Jefferson's long-suspected affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, which produced at least one offspring.

But there appears to be no proof of the LBJ story. Stories of a womanizing JFK have abounded for years, but these particular afternoon swims appear to be a new twist. And what about Harding, a rather notorious figure who died in office in 1923 and, we're told here, had an affair with his best friend's wife?

It's another of his reported romances that's featured in the program--the one with a woman who Kurtis says is known as "the Monica Lewinsky of her day."

Thirty years younger than Harding, she was Nan Britton, who claimed in her memoir that she had been Harding's longtime lover in a relationship that was regularly consummated in a tiny White House closet, presumably amid the mops and brooms.

On one occasion when Mrs. Harding demanded to see the president in the Oval Office, we hear, a Secret Service agent refused because Harding and Britton were in the closet. When the first lady ran to the other side of the Oval Office to use another entrance, as the story is told, Secret Service agents "quickly knocked on the door, pulled Harding out of the closet, positioned him behind the desk in the Oval Office and snuck Nan Britton out the back door of the White House."

Years later, Britton claimed that her daughter was fathered by Harding, but George Harding, his grand-nephew, claims here that she "could not produce one shred of evidence."

In a better world, that would count. In a world of innuendo, who cares?

* "Monica Lewinsky: When I Knew Monica" can be seen at 10 tonight on A&E. "All the Presidents' Women" can be seen at 10 p.m. Tuesday on A&E.

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