Vienna is abuzz over a published report that Helene von Damm, the former American ambassador to Austria, is about to be divorced by her fourth husband, Sacher Hotel owner Peter Guertler.
"I find it all very amusing," says von Damm, reached in the Austrian capital. "Nobody has filed for a divorce, and we're living in the same place."
The Austrian press, however, reported the split was imminent although Guertler had declined comment and von Damm was supposedly unreachable.
For her part, von Damm says the Viennese headlines are "wrong" and that she can only guess that the stories were triggered by the fact that she no longer works in the world-famous hotel.
Von Damm was Ronald Reagan's secretary while he was in the California state house and later, for awhile, at the White House. A naturalized American citizen who was born and reared in Austria, von Damm realized a dream come true when Reagan sent her back to Austria as U.S. envoy.
At the time, she was married to businessman Byron Leeds, her third husband. She divorced him in 1985 to marry Guertler.
If White House curator Rex Scouten has his way, the Reagans will select the artists who paint their official White House portraits before summer is over so there will be ample time to complete them by the end of the president's term.
"I try to encourage that because it's historically important to have the portraits done in a White House setting," Scouten said yesterday.
In recent times, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson had theirs painted while they were still in office; Nixon, Ford and Carter waited until after their terms ended.
The White House Historical Association will pay the fees but the choice of artists is left to the president and first lady, according to Scouten. So far, about 20 of the country's top artists are under consideration and presumably that includes Jamie Wyeth, since Nancy Reagan is known to be a fan.
If Wyeth turns out to be the one with the golden paintbrush, he won't be the first in his illustrious family to do a presidential or first lady portrait. His aunt, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, painted the haunting likeness of Pat Nixon that hangs in the White House, and Henriette's husband Peter Hurd painted the ill-fated portrait of Lyndon Johnson that LBJ labeled the "ugliest thing I ever saw" and which subsequently ended up in the National Portrait Gallery.
At least one of the Reagan portrait contenders took advantage of being in the right place at the right time earlier this month in Venice. Works by Thomas Easley, an American who's been living and painting there for several years, were strategically in evidence all over the place, including the Hotel Cipriani, where the Reagans were staying during the economic summit, and Harry's Bar, where Nancy Reagan had lunch.
Easley said he recently received a letter from Scouten advising him that the catalogue of his work, which he had submitted this spring, had been added to the file and that a decision is expected sometime this summer.
Yesterday, Scouten confirmed that "they all write in and we put them on file," but said he is less certain about when the Reagans will reach a decision.
A United States Information Service anti-drug abuse film released in Vienna last week at the International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking features messages from Nancy Reagan with Marcella Perez de Cuellar, wife of United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. The segment was filmed this spring when the two women got together at the White House.
The agency didn't stop there. Delivering messages that USIS filmed in their own countries were the first ladies of Brazil and Pakistan and the queens of Thailand, Jordan and Sweden.
Mrs. Reagan took a copy of the film to Queen Silvia when she went to lunch in Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm earlier this month.
Out-of-work presidents of the United States or any about to be and feeling unfulfilled may want to go right out and buy a hammer after reading the July issue of McCall's:
"Even for a former President of the United States, it isn't easy to find a project that is at the same time exciting, somewhat controversial, inspirational, challenging, unpredictable, worthwhile, successful and international in scope. But such is Habitat for Humanity."
That's Rosalynn Carter speaking for Jimmy on life in the slow lane and the rewards to be found in rolling up one's sleeves to work side by side with other volunteers. Or, as Jimmy puts it: "sawing lumber, digging and pouring foundations, repairing dilapidated parts of older buildings and putting finishing touches on new houses and apartments" for the poor.
Excerpted from the book the Carters wrote, "Everything to Gain," published by Random House, the McCall's piece explains how the former First Couple got into Habitat. That was in 1984 when Jimmy volunteered "on the spur of the moment, and half in jest," to return to a Habitat project on New York City's Sixth Street to do "some volunteer carpenter work."
He writes that he had not volunteered Rosalynn, but before he realized it Habitat founder and executive director Millard Fuller had also made her part of the package.
Rosalynn writes: "Before we left home I had told Jimmy that I would do anything but hammer. I didn't think I could use a hammer and I didn't want to use a hammer ... At first it took me 15 or 20 strokes for each nail, but before the week was over I could drive one in with only four or five strokes!"
Jimmy writes: "My wife has never been more beautiful than when her face was covered with black soot from scraping burned ceiling joists and streaked with sweat from carrying sheets of plywood from the street level up to the floor where we were working, cutting subflooring with a power saw and nailing it down with just a few hard blows of her hammer."