The girl, 38-year-old Annabel Battistella, was a plumage-shaking striptease dancer with the stage title Fanne Foxe. She was billed as “the Argentine Firecracker,” and patrons of the native burlesque circuit had been captivated her elaborate costumes — full with five-foot-tall headdresses and tropical-colored ostrich and pheasant feathers — in addition to the artfulness with which she eliminated them.
On that individual evening, after a boozy get together on the Silver Slipper membership, the place she had carried out, she obtained right into a loud quarrel together with her married lover. Amid the stream of alcohol and epithets, a buddy who was driving them had forgotten to activate the automotive’s headlights, attracting the eye of police, who trailed them from the membership on 13th Road NW.
A TV crew, alerted radio visitors on the police scanner, quickly arrived.
Along with her plunge into the Tidal Basin, Ms. Battistella (later Annabel Montgomery), who died Feb. 10 at 84, secured her place within the annals of political scandal. Standing close to the automotive — drunk and bleeding — was her paramour, 65-year-old Wilbur Mills, the gravelly voiced chairman of the tax-writing U.S. Home Methods and Means Committee and a person esteemed as a pillar of Bible Belt rectitude and respectability.
The Arkansas Democrat, an ascetic grind who shepherded Medicare and different influential laws Congress, was additionally broadly considered essentially the most highly effective man in authorities after the president. “I no means vote in opposition to God, motherhood or Wilbur Mills,” a Democratic colleague as soon as advised a reporter.
However on that October morning, Ms. Battistella’s eyes had been bruised. Mills’s Coke-bottle glasses had been smashed, and his nostril was badly scratched. He reeked of alcohol. And his 16-year maintain on the federal purse strings was out of the blue imperiled.
Washington has a protracted historical past of tawdry scandals, however the distinction between Mills’s public persona and the next revelations about his non-public life — his uncontrolled ingesting, his prowling of strip golf equipment, his common companionship with a star ecdysiast — drew intense media consideration as he headed into his first severe reelection battle in additional than three a long time.
The Mills incident broke nearly two months after President M. Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal, and “the press was drooling for one thing like this to occur, searching for one other Watergate,” Invoice Thomas, creator of “Capital Confidential: One Hundred Years of Intercourse, Scandal, and Secrets and techniques in Washington, D.C.,” stated in an interview. “The ambiance had modified, the press had modified and the searching season had been extended.”
Within the weeks after the Tidal Basin episode, Mills maintained that Ms. Battistella — a divorced mom of three on the time and a resident of the luxurious condominium tower the place he lived in Arlington, Va. — was a household buddy and a social companion of his spouse, Clarine.
On the hustings, he campaigned with Clarine his facet and a folksy credo: “By no means drink champagne with a foreigner.” He gained the race that November however continued to see Ms. Battistella and, her account, deluge her with calls, professions of affection and guarantees of marriage.
Ms. Battistella, in the meantime, spoke publicly of her love for Mills, telling interviewers that she was drawn to “mature” males after a troubled first marriage. “I’ve been round too lengthy,” she advised The Washington Publish. “I could act typically like I’m 18, however I really feel like I’m 50.”
As a lot as she cared for “Mr. Mills” — he was at all times Mr. Mills to her in public — she conceded that they’d a risky relationship. At one level, she claimed, she had turn out to be pregnant along with his little one and had an abortion to save lots of his repute. More and more, she stated, his possessiveness conflicted together with her must make a residing.
Ms. Battistella — re-christened “the Tidal Basin Bombshell” — was inundated with striptease affords that paid greater than 5 occasions the $400 per week she had been drawing on the Silver Slipper. Mills pleaded together with her to not naked herself once more publicly.
“Mr. Mills needed me to remain residence … to review and get a job,” she advised The Publish on the time. “He needed me to depart the entire [stripping] factor within the Tidal Basin. However my going again to work began the entire thing up once more. … Not due to the publicity however as a result of I promised him for the youngsters’ sake I wouldn’t return to being a stripper.”
Recent off reelection to his 19th time period in workplace and reportedly fortified with two bottles of vodka, Mills appeared within the wings throughout a efficiency Ms. Battistella at Boston’s Pilgrim Theatre. As Mills teetered onstage, she later stated, she tried to make mild of the scenario, saying: “Women and gents, I’ve a customer for you, and he desires to say hi there. Mr. Mills, the place are you?”
“Right here I’m!” he declared, as he wandered out grinning. The gang, which included reporters who had been tipped to his presence, started to holler, whistle and stomp. Mills took a microphone and walked to heart stage, rambling incoherently.
Then, backstage, Mills delivered one of the crucial excruciating information conferences ever captured on movie. Slurring his phrases, and with barely managed fury, he declared that each one Ms. Battistella’s future performances had been off, as she struggled to defuse his wrath.
Again in Washington, Mills was eliminated as Methods and Means chairman and sought therapy for alcohol habit. He claimed to don’t have any reminiscence of all the 12 months of 1974 and blamed his indiscretions on mixing alcohol with “some extremely addictive medication” for again ache. Along with his profession in tatters and citing exhaustion, he left workplace in 1977 and have become an advocate for recovering alcoholics till his loss of life in 1992.
Ms. Battistella prospered — for some time — and wrote of her unyielding loyalty to Mills even after he disappeared from her life.
“I bear in mind being very upset,” she advised The Publish in 1981, “as a result of he went on interviews and he’d speak about how he didn’t bear in mind what occurred to him … and, you recognize, that we had been simply associates, and he sort of denied the entire thing — with out placing me down, in fact. The one time he put me down was when he stated, ‘I discovered to not drink with foreigners.’ … I assumed, ‘Why doesn’t he maintain quiet if he doesn’t have something good to say about me?’ ”
Annabel Edith Villagra was born in Nueve de Julio, a cattle-ranching village southwest of Buenos Aires, on Feb. 14, 1936. Her mother and father had been nurses. She described herself as an athletic tomboy who excelled at basketball, capturing wild recreation and rigorous people dancing.
She stated she had been a pre-med scholar on the College of Buenos Aires however left at 20 to marry Eduardo Battistella, a cabaret and cocktail pianist. In her memoir, “The Stripper and the Congressman” (1975) — ghostwritten Yvonne Dunleavy — she described Battistella as a relentless philanderer who initiated her into accomplice swapping. She started dancing in membership acts, showing with him, partly, to maintain her eye on him.
By the early 1960s, their itinerary included Miami, the place Ms. Battistella started stripping for additional revenue, after which to Baltimore. Alongside the way in which, her agent modified her “sweet-sounding” title to Fanne Foxe.
Her marriage had imploded the point she arrived within the Washington space within the late 1960s, however she allowed Eduardo to reside together with her at Arlington’s Crystal Towers, she advised The Publish, “as a result of I don’t like him to spend cash, and he’s the daddy of my kids.” Cash was tight, she stated, as a result of she had exhausted her financial savings on plastic surgical procedures.
In summer season 1973, she met Wilbur Mills on the Silver Slipper a mutual buddy billed as “Carmen, the Peruvian Love Goddess.” Mills and his spouse moved into the Crystal Towers, and the Battistellas reportedly performed bridge with them till the Tidal Basin plunge. (Ms. Battistella later stated that she made the leap out of worry of injuring Mills’s public picture and that she would possibly in some way lose her personal lately acquired U.S. citizenship.)
After the Mills-Battistella relationship grew to become public, Ms. Battistella made the rounds on TV and parlayed her notoriety into starring roles (clothed) in low-budget movies and an off-Broadway manufacturing referred to as “Ladies Behind Bars.” She gave up unique dancing after she was arrested in December 1974 at a go-go membership close to Orlando and charged with public indecency; a decide cleared her of the cost.
The subsequent 12 months, she was residing together with her kids in Westport, Conn., in an eight-bedroom, seven-bath manse referred to as Tally-Ho that wanted fixed repairs. The one stripping she was doing, she advised a reporter, concerned paint.
She married a contractor and businessman, Daniel Montgomery, in 1980 and had a daughter, Melanie. Sooner or later, she made her approach to Florida and settled within the St. Petersburg space.
In keeping with the loss of life certificates issued the state of Florida, she died at a hospital in Clearwater, Fla., however no additional particulars had been obtainable. The household’s loss of life discover within the Tampa Bay Instances listed survivors as three kids from her first marriage — Grace, Alex and Maria — and 7 grandchildren. Her daughter Melanie, who in response to her loss of life discover grew to become a registered nurse, died in 2017.
Little is thought of Ms. Battistella’s later life as Annabel Montgomery, though the College of Tampa stated she graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s diploma in communications, and the College of South Florida confirmed she acquired a grasp’s levels in marine science in 2001 and a grasp’s diploma in enterprise administration in 2004.
“What occurred occurred, so that can’t be repaired fully,” Ms. Battistella advised The Publish in 1981. “However typically issues could be mended sufficient to mean you can reside comfortably and never be fully ashamed of your self.”
Particular correspondent Andrew Meacham in Largo, Fla., contributed to this report.