So, you’ve written Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen, and now Sex with Presidents. Clearly there’s a theme here. Are you obsessed with sex?
Haha. Not really. I am, however, obsessed with understanding human nature, figuring out why people do the things they do, what motivates them. Looking at sexual relationships is one way of examining an individual's psychological makeup. You could also look at power, at money, at lifestyle, even food. But putting the word “sex” in the title does help sell more books.
Having spent two years researching and writing about philandering U.S. presidents, what is your main takeaway?
Surprisingly, I found that going back hundreds of years most Americans—despite the occasional prudish squawks of outrage emanating from our Puritan heritage—don’t really care about the sexual misbehavior of their politicians and vote on basic issues like taxes and the economy. This explains why many evangelical Christians have supported Donald Trump despite the Conga line of women accusing him of misdeeds and his own taped admissions.
Who was your favorite philandering president?
FDR. I admire his unparalleled courage in dealing with his paralysis in a time when such a handicap was considered almost worse than death. His reassuring leadership in hauling the nation out of the Depression and to victory in World War II. His charm and sense of humor. He had a thirty-year affair with the love of his life, Lucy Mercer, who was with him when he had his fatal stroke in April 1945.
I am also quite fond of Lyndon Johnson, though I feel a bit embarrassed admitting it. He was a liar and serial adulterer. He stole an election to become U.S. senator in 1948 by stuffing the ballot boxes. He yelled at his staff until they cried and bullied his wife in public. And yet he had had such a tough childhood, had worked so tirelessly to pull himself out of poverty, and he became such a skilled politician, I have to admire him. I read the four LBJ books by Robert Caro—I think we’re talking some 3,000 pages—and never got bored. He also had a great deal of sympathy for the underprivileged—as he had been—and a hilarious sense of humor. When he got angry, he would take his eight-and-a-half-inch penis out of his pants—which he named Jumbo—and wave it around and that would sort of end the argument.
Who was your least favorite philandering president?
JFK. Yes, he was gorgeous and inspirational and got us safely through the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I just can’t ignore the fact that his sexual behavior was pathological and disgusting. He would bring women into his wife’s White House bedroom, have sex on her sheets, and then instruct the staff to pick up hairs and bobby pins on the sheets and rug. Why not change the sheets? Why did he want Jackie to sleep on sheets that had been soiled by her husband and another woman? Ew. Just ew. And he practically raped a nineteen-year-old intern on Jackie’s sheets, who went home mystified as to how it happened and sad that she would no longer be a virgin on her wedding day. He would have orgies with his brothers–his brothers–and several women, and when they were finished with their woman they would swap. I think they were all sick.
Who was your favorite first lady?
Lady Bird Johnson. I’m convinced that a kinder, sweeter person never lived. She put up with Lyndon’s philandering and bullying because she was the stronger of the two. She knew he loved her and that he was a tormented soul who sometimes couldn’t get out of bed for days on end due to depression and he needed other women to make him feel better. One day she and an associate went into his hotel room and found his secretary’s panties and bras strewn all over the floor. She tidied them up into a neat little pile and left and never said a word. Another time she went into the Oval Office to find him having sex on the couch with a secretary and just backed up and left, apologizing. Johnson had a buzzer system installed so the Secret Service could let him know she was on her way so he could pull up his trousers. You know all those gorgeous wildflowers you see on our highways? It’s because of Lady Bird. That was her signature program as first lady, beautifying the highways.
I also admire Eleanor Roosevelt who did so much good for so many. It’s just she was a rather humorless individual.
Who was your least favorite first lady
Mamie Eisenhower. She never really did much other than wear pink and hold tea parties. She was sort of blah.
Who was your favorite presidential mistress?
Kay Summersby, General Dwight Eisenhower’s driver and aide during World War II. Courageous, tirelessly dedicated to helping save the world from Hitler, and so in love with Eisenhower. Reading her autobiography made me weep.