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John & Rita Jenrette

Even in his own obituary, John Jenrette had to yield the spotlight to lovely Rita, his devoted wife from long ago. The Times’ account began, “John Jenrette Jr., a charismatic Democratic Representative from South Carolina who became ensnared in the Abscam investigation of political corruption that also brought down six other members of Congress, died on Friday in Conway, S.C. He was 86.” 

The TV-watching masses had been mildly titillated in 1978 by footage of Rep. Jenrette accepting a bribe offer. For $100,000 he agreed to introduce legislation that would allow an Arab businessman into the US. (There was no such businessman. Abscam was an FBI sting.) 

But people became seriously titillated when Mrs. Jenrette published a piece in the Washington Post hedded “Diary of a Mad Congresswife.” She proclaimed, “I hate my life as a congressional wife” and described her husband’s womanizing and drinking. Then she posed for a spread in Playboy.

Flash forward to last week when Richard Sandomir of the Times reached her at her home in Italy. “Ms. Jenrette said that her ex-husband’s alcoholism had fueled his participation in the sting. But he also needed money. He was paying substantial alimony to his first wife, Sally (Jordan) Jenrette, as well as child support payments, and he was involved in a money-losing resort development.

“ ‘Between our two salaries we were OK but not flush with money,’ Ms. Jenrette, now known as Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, wrote from Italy. ‘This evoked his childhood to him, the poverty, the lack, the uncertainty brought to a child with elderly parents. He drank more, and the rest is history.’

“She said she had forced him to go to five rehab centers during their brief marriage.

“ ‘He’d be OK for a while,’ she said, ‘but it’s hard to overcome it.’ 

“In addition to Mr. Jenrette, Abscam snared a senator, Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey; five other congressmen; and other public officials, including the mayor of Camden, N.J.  The sting inspired the 2013 movie ‘American Hustle,’ which starred Christian Bale as the operation’s central figure, a con artist.”

Rita Jenrette deserved to marry the prince and achieve grand respectability. (Google shows the happy couple meeting the Pope.) What a gal!

Rita Jenrette

Queen of the prom type, snub-nosed and delicious
gets married to a lawyer who is hard-assed and ambitious
and y’all send ’em off to Congress and what do you get?
Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

He starts seeing other women right away in the hallways of power
and takin’ them 3-maritini-long lunch hours
don’t seem to care how bad he might upset
Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

Then they catch him in the Abscam, right on television
pocketing the bribe without too much indecision
like some compulsive gambler getting down on a bet
against Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

And she tries to stand by him, says blame it all on alcohol
says get this man to a doctor maybe save him from some final fall
and y’all down in Carolina can just forget
Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

Will he take her assistance? Nope, he takes her things and her money
says he’s got all the expenses she’s a w----, she’s a Playboy bunny
don’t cry all over Donahue, he’s already all wet
over Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

And at last she attacks him, violating their intimacy
breaks the number one rule of thumb from under male supremacy
and as far as I know she’s still out there breakin’ ’em yet
Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

and alongside everybody who ever had to cover
up for some lying two-faced lover
I see the snub-nosed revolver silhouette
of Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette, Rita Jenrette!

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