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Jennie Eisenhower, Making Herself Perfectly Clear

By Richard Leiby
The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page C03

With two presidents in her family tree, Jennie Eisenhower might seem like a natural for politics, but that role doesn't interest her. "You have to be obsessed with politics to put up with it," she tells us. "I'm too focused on the theater to think about it."

At Olney Theatre Center tonight the audience can assess her career choice: Eisenhower, 26, granddaughter of Richard Nixon and great-granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower, opens her run as Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan." She has held other lead roles, but calls this one "the biggest to live up to." It's also her first Washington-area show.

Jennie Eisenhower
Jennie Eisenhower
The actress would prefer to stay off the political stage. (Olney Theatre Center For The Arts)

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The eldest child of Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower, who married in 1968, she has on occasion visited the White House -- for the naming of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and on a fifth-grade class trip arranged by her mother. "It's one of those perks," the actress says with a gentle laugh. The downside of her political pedigree is that "people make assumptions because of who I am."

Born in San Clemente, Calif., Eisenhower grew up in Valley Forge, Pa., and became particularly close to Nixon when the former president lived in New Jersey. She says she always called him "Ba" and her grandmother Patricia "Ma." ("I couldn't pronounce grandfather and grandmother," she tells us.)

The former first lady died in 1993 and her husband in 1994. "They were just the best," their granddaughter says. "I, of course, think he was fantastic."

Was Nixon misunderstood?

"It's hard for me to have any solid opinions on that -- I didn't live in that time," she says. "But most people are getting a fairer view of him in retrospect. It's gotten a lot more positive as time has gone on."

Eisenhower, who lives in New York, has appeared onstage around the country and landed a speaking role in the 2003 movie "Mona Lisa Smile." "It ended up on the cutting-room floor, but when the credits roll you can see my name. I'm called 'Girl at Station.' It's a very 'Where's Waldo' experience, if you watch it in slo-mo." In showbiz, as in politics, a little humility always helps.

Grass-Roots Politics for Young Sprouts

• Just when we thought the youth vote bandwagon had run out of gas, along comes another effort to get it rolling. This one boasts no Rock the Vote stars, hip-hop moguls or P. Diddy T-shirts, but it does have twenty- and thirty-somethings with campaign experience and parents who are politically connected. "We're young folks with a good idea who have sold it well," says Adrian Talbott, 25, executive director of Generation Engage.

Adrian Talbott (yep, son of Strobe) wants to get other young people involved in politics. (Generation Engage)
It's a bipartisan civic initiative but has a Democratic flavor. Besides Talbott, whose father is Clinton-era State Department official Strobe Talbott, another founder is Justin Rockefeller, son of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Supporters include Chelsea Clinton and Phil Deutch, son of Clinton CIA head John Deutch.

Tonight marks the nonprofit group's kickoff at the Kennedy Center with big names on the roster: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Mayor Anthony Williams will provide introductions. Coretta Scott King delivers the keynote address. Other scheduled to attend include former national security adviser Sandy Berger and former House speaker Tom Foley.

How does this effort to connect young people to politics differ from others? "Most importantly we are explicitly targeting the 49 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds who are not in college -- who are waiting tables, working assembly lines and have been marginalized for too long," Talbott told us yesterday. "We're building from the ground up from a field that has only built from the top down."

Mike Briggs, a former John Edwards spokesman who's volunteering for the group, said: "These are young folks who have been steeped in [politics] all their lives and want to spread the good word." Including Republicans? "I don't think the Bush twins are going to be there," Briggs said, "but it'd be great if they came."


• For weeks retired slugger Jose Canseco has been running his mouth and flacking "Juiced," his book alleging widespread steroid abuse in baseball. But don't get the wrong idea: He says he didn't do it for the moolah. It's payback! "If I were worth one dollar or a billion dollars, this book would still be written," Canseco insisted to Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity yesterday. "The reason is for 17 years I've taken a beating in the media. For 17 years, the media has made me the black knight, the scapegoat. For 17 years, the media has portrayed me as a wife beater, an aggressive, loud individual who does nothing but go to nightclubs and beat people up."

The Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

"As nominees clean up at the upcoming Oscars, celebrity presenters will also clean up with the much-talked-about Dyson DC11 canister vacuum. This high-tech vacuum that doesn't lose suction will be featured in the coveted 77th Annual Academy Awards Presenters Gift Basket, among other luxury items."

With Anne Schroeder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company