After 30 years, the former Rita Jenrette is debunking one of Washington’s most beloved sex scandals:
She never had sex with her congressman husband on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, she now says.
Well, this changes everything!
Imagine if Monica Lewinsky’s blue Gap dress actually came from Saks. Or if Fanne Foxe jumped into McMillan Reservoir instead of the Tidal Basin. Or if the Watergate break-in happened somewhere else, and we could no longer call every scandal Something-gate.
Jenrette, now 61, is remarried to an Italian aristocrat and known as the Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. A lengthy profile in the Nov. 28 New Yorker details her efforts to preserve the Villa Aurora, her husband Prince Nicolo’s ancestral estate in Rome, and to catalogue antiquities that include handwritten letters from Marie Antoinette and Louis XV.
But anyone who knew Washington in the early ’80s remembers her as the gorgeous young wife of then-Rep. John Jenrette.
After they separated and he was convicted in a 1980 bribery case, she shocked the city with a risqué Playboy photo spread. In the accompanying story — “The Liberation of a Congressional Wife” — she wrote that, on one night, in a shadowy spot on the Capitol portico, she and Jenrette “made love on the marble steps that overlook the monuments and the city below.”
This was a huge story in 1981. It inspired the name of the musical-satire troupe the Capitol Steps — and heaven knows how many daring couples with a thing for Corinthian columns.
But, as the princess told the New Yorker’s Ariel Levy, “It was a lie. Why I included it is beyond me,” adding that she may have felt obliged to uphold the image of a femme fatale.
Say it isn’t so! You must understand, Principessa: Washington needs this story to be true!
In an e-mail exchange Monday, she clarified for us that she and Jenrette did have “a romantic moment on the Capitol steps,” after a late congressional session the night of their 1976 wedding. “We kissed and held one another. It was a romantic moment but not a salacious one.”
She told us: “I should have disputed this long ago, but it seemed to have taken on a life of its own, and I was more focused on building a new life for myself.” (Which included a brief showbiz career before moving into TV reporting and real estate. She met her prince in 2003.)
True? Only one other person knows for sure — and John Jenrette sounded a little frustrated that the story has suddenly changed.
“That’s not the way I remembered it,” he told us.
Now semi-retired in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jenrette said he’s happy for his ex-wife and her new marriage, and he’s glad to have forged a friendship with her. He takes the blame for their divorce. But about that night . . . he says she told the sexy story countless times, “in front of me and in front of all my friends,” as well as in interviews.
Well, sir, hate to ask, but did you have sex on the Capitol steps? He declined to say.
The princess, for her part, notes that even back in 1976, security measures and police patrols would have made a tryst on the steps “impossible.”
One final call — to the Capitol Steps. Writer-performer Mark Eaton sighed when he heard the news. He noted the troupe is coming up on its 30th anniversary. “Seems kind of nefarious she would choose this timing,” he joked. “Maybe she had sex somewhere else we could incorporate into our name. The Reflecting Pool?”
Read also: The New Yorker: From Rita Jenrette to Principessa Rita Boncampagni Ludovisi, 11/28/11
Read much earlier: Washington scandal tour