- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On the hot list

Since Michelle Obama became the first presidential spouse to land on the Maxim Hot 100 list, a litany of the world’s sexiest women, we wondered if other first ladies would have made the cut in their heyday.

So we tapped first-lady historian Betty Boyd Caroli to help us out.

1. Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison, was “a lot younger than her husband, wore attention-getting clothes and was rumored to use snuff,” says Ms. Caroli of the nation’s fourth first lady, who was also known as a prolific hostess. “Although,” Ms. Caroli adds, “I don’t think her arms were as good as Michelle’s.”

2. Grace Coolidge, wife of Calvin Coolidge, like Mrs. Obama, was considered a fashion trendsetter during her reign. However, she crossed the line when she tried to venture out in (gasp!) culottes, something akin to wearing a miniskirt in the early 20th century. Her husband, known in some circles as “Silent Cal,” the direct opposite of his outgoing and vivacious wife, finally put his foot down. “He (Mr. Coolidge) told her that women in his family did not wear culottes.” Hmm. Maybe if Mrs. O’s sexy sleeveless sheaths get more press, Mr. Obama will have to do the same.

3. Priscilla Cooper Tyler, daughter-in-law of John Tyler, stood in for the deathly ill wife of the the nation’s 10th commander in chief. Ms. Caroli says that Priscilla Tyler, a glamorous actress with a scandalous occupation in 19th-century America, may not have been the real first lady. Still, she had a string of admiring fans, mostly young men, just the same.

4. Frances Folsom snagged the country’s most eligible bachelor when she wed Grover Cleveland, some 28 years her senior, in 1886. Mrs. Cleveland’s hairstyle and attire were adored by women everywhere - so much so that people tried to profit from her name. In fact, Ms. Caroli says, so many people were using her name in songs that legislation was introduced in Congress restricting the use of names and/or photos bearing the image of the first family.

Gonna make it after all

G2 caught up with Valerie Harper, in town Monday to rehearse her role in the upcoming Arena Stage production, “Looped,” which runs May 29 through June 28 at the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street.

The Emmy-winning Miss Harper - known for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on the hit ‘70s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff, “Rhoda” - will play headstrong actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Rob Ruggiero - whose past Arena affiliations include the musicals “Ella” and “Big River” - will direct.

While in the District, Ms. Harper - now a resident of Santa Monica, Calif. - tells us she plans to see “all the sites. … The monuments, the Smithsonian. I just love the feeling of the city!”

When asked what it was like to appear as Rhoda - one of television’s first portrayals of a working woman - Ms. Harper replied, “It was a great joy to play Rhoda and to play those characters. Mary Tyler Moore and I both were so thrilled to be in the vanguard in 1970. It was about women, their friendships and their jobs.

“We could show that not having a date on Saturday night was kind of good … if you could spend time with your best girlfriend and eating pizza just laughing. That was a precursor to a lot of shows - certainly ‘Sex and the City’ and others.”


We look forward to Ms. Harper’s return and the play’s debut in June.

To contact Stephanie Green and Elizabeth Glover, e-mail undercover@washing tontimes.com.

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