No Nudes Is Good News? At the Press Club, Some Disagree

Should a barroom nude -- removed from the National Press Club in 1982 after 50 years -- be rehung because club old-timers are nostalgic?

Depends on whom you ask.

Austin Kiplinger, 78, who joined in 1941 and is now helping raise $4,000 to restore "Phryne," calls it a "lovely portrait" of the girlfriend or mistress of a classical Greek sculptor. "She's wearing nice-looking sandals, a very nice belt, and she's in a discreet and relaxed pose," Kiplinger says.

Late last week, his fellow Silver Owls -- Press Club members for at least 25 years -- mailed an appeal for money to restore and rehang "Phryne" (pronounced FREE-nee) at the 14th Street NW headquarters because she symbolizes "our earliest memories" of club life.

Asked if he thought his 4,500 press club colleagues -- about 40 percent of whom are women -- might object to the return of the 4-by-6-foot nude, Kiplinger concedes, "I don't know."

At least five members have called and 18 have written to Press Club President Richard Sammon in the past few days; opinions, he says, are "split by gender and largely by generation."

Ron Sarro calls the lady on the bed "very offensive." In a stinging letter to Sammon (who describes Phryne as "a prostitute in Roman times"), Sarro ripped the painting as "an infamous symbol of what the National Press Club used to be before it discovered that women journalists deserve the same respect and privileges as men, including the rights of membership." The male bastion went coed in 1971.

"You can tell it's a woman just before sex because she's not smoking a cigarette," Sarro archly tells The Source. Did they have cigarettes way back then?

"Phryne"-phobes need not fret.

The club gave it to the Owls last spring, telling them "to do whatever they wanted with it but they were not hanging it in the Press Club," Sammon says. "It evokes an era that is long since gone, when the only woman here was hanging naked on the wall."

Don Larrabee, 74, who heads the "Phryne" rescue drive, admits the painting is "just a vestige" of the men-only days. But he hopes that "when they see how beautiful it is" after restoration, club members will rehang a bit of history. NOW YOU KNOW ...

Torrential rains buffeting Martha's Vineyard yesterday forced a party-hopping President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton indoors to occupy themselves with books and Scrabble.

"The president is in relaxation mode -- reading, relaxing," said spokesman Barry Toiv.

Clinton has already finished two books during the first few days of his three-week vacation: Jean E. Smith's biography of early U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, and Jim Lehrer's novel "White Widow."

Clinton has been so absorbed by Smith's "John Marshall: Definer of a Nation" that he brings it up with aides constantly, describing Marshall's relations with Thomas Jefferson and the machinations of early 19th-century government, reports The Post's Peter Baker.

Yesterday, the president turned to two books that seemed rather inappropriate given the climate, "Snow in August" by Pete Hamill and "The Heat Is On" by environmental journalist Ross Gelbspan, while the first lady kept more to the spirit of the day, poring through Sebastian Junger's "The Perfect Storm."

Jeanne Caruso Theismann, who won nearly $1 million in a divorce settlement from ex-husband and ex-Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann after less than three years of marriage, may soon be back in court.

Her lawyer, Mark Barondess -- whose other high-profile divorce clients include Larry King and Suzanne Martin Cooke -- is suing her for alleged non-payment of $77,961.56 in legal fees and expenses, reports The Post's Peter Pae.

Barondess filed suit in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Wednesday, seeking payment for what he says is hundreds of hours of work (at $275 an hour). Barondess declined to comment on the action. Jeanne Theismann could not be reached. Sex and Wallace's Ex

"I thought it made me look like a sex-crazed airhead."

So says Cornelia Wallace -- the second and ex-wife of former Alabama governor George Corley Wallace -- about her depiction in John Frankenheimer's controversial two-part TV biopic. "I wrote a book. I have two honorary doctorates. I helped with policy through two of my husband's administrations as governor and while he was running for president. I worked 18 hours a day," she told The Source from her home near Orlando.

Now 57, having battled mental illness and cancer, she says could have done with fewer nighties and sex scenes in the TNT flick airing Sunday and Tuesday.

Her ex-hubby -- they divorced in 1979 after a marriage that began 18 months before the 1972 assassination attempt that left him paralyzed -- also hates the movie, said David Azbell, a spokesman for current Alabama Gov. Fob James.

George Wallace, the firebrand turned repentant segregationist, is bedridden, deaf, unable to speak and suffering from Parkinson's disease. He saw the film several times recently while aides wrote out dialogue and explained the plot to him on a computer.

He turns 78 Monday, said Azbell, "and about the best present he can have is that the movie doesn't show on his birthday." CAPTION: The National Press Club in 1955, back in the nude old days. CAPTION: Theismann, sued. CAPTION: Gary Sinise as Gov. Wallace in the two-part TNT film.