Fanne Foxe, Who Plunged Into the Tidal Basin and Emerged Famous, Dies at 84

Fanne Foxe, the stripper known as “the Argentine Firecracker,” who leapt from the limousine of Representative Wilbur D. Mills and plunged into Washington’s Tidal Basin after a night of drinking, exposing one of the biggest political sex scandals of the 1970s, died on Feb. 10. She was 84.

Her death was announced in a paid notice in The Tampa Bay Times. It did not say where she died or give a cause.

Until the Tidal Basin episode, Mr. Mills had been one of the most powerful members of Congress, an 18-term Arkansas Democrat who chaired the Ways and Means Committee and wrote major tax legislation. He had flirted with a bid for the presidency and a Supreme Court seat and, at 65, seemed a model of stability, a married father and grandfather in the twilight of a distinguished career.

But for more than a year he had been drinking heavily and was involved in a secret affair with Ms. Foxe, 38, a mother of three whose real name was Annabel Battistella (later Annabel Montgomery). She was a $500-a-week performer at the Silver Slipper, a club in Washington. Until her recent divorce, she and her husband had lived in an Arlington, Va., apartment building where Mr. Mills and his wife resided.

The first whiff of trouble broke about 2 a.m. on Oct. 7, 1974, when two United States Park Service police officers spotted Mr. Mills’s car speeding with lights off near the Jefferson Memorial and pulled it over. Apparently panicking, Ms. Foxe bolted from the car and, yelling in English and Spanish, tried to escape by jumping into the Tidal Basin, a Potomac estuary with an average depth of 10 feet.

The officers pulled her out, handcuffed her when she tried to jump in again and returned her to the car, where they found Mr. Mills and several other occupants intoxicated. Mr. Mills was bleeding from his nose and facial scratches, and Ms. Foxe had two black eyes. An officer drove her to a hospital and the others to their homes.

The incident might have gone unnoticed, but a television cameraman came upon the scene and recorded it. The police filed no charges, and Mr. Mills issued a statement that cast events in an innocent light. But within days the outlines of a political sex scandal began to emerge. Mr. Mills, facing voters in November, returned home to campaign and was narrowly re-elected to his 19th term.

But under withering publicity detailing his alcoholism and peccadilloes with Ms. Foxe, including an impromptu appearance at a Boston burlesque stage where she was performing, Mr. Mills checked into an alcoholic-treatment center, resigned as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and did not run for re-election in 1976, ending a 38-year congressional career.

Ms. Foxe, capitalizing on her notoriety, changed her sobriquet to “The Tidal Basin Bombshell” and sharply raised her performance fees. She began commanding $3,500 a week at the Silver Slipper and upped her rate to $30,000 for a two-week engagement at Club Juana in Orlando, Fla.

In her first week there, she was charged with indecent exposure for stripping nude. She pleaded not guilty, and the charge was dropped for insufficient evidence. But as a flood of new offers poured in, she announced her retirement from stripping and became a film actress and tell-all author.

ImageMs. Foxe (her real name was Annabel Battistella) in December 1974 at Club Juana. Finding fame from the Tidal Basin episode, she commanded $30,000 for a two-week engagement at the Orlando, Fla., club.
Credit…Ron Galella, via Getty Images

Ms. Foxe appeared on television talk shows and in Las Vegas nightclubs, was featured in Playboy magazine in 1976 and 1977 and starred in several movies as herself, including “Posse From Heaven” (1975), about a stripper who becomes a guardian angel to a cowboy, and “This Is America” (1977), a documentary featuring car crashes and a nude beauty contest.

Her 180-page paperback, “The Stripper and the Congressman” (1975, with Yvonne Dunleavy), detailed an affair that began after she and her Argentine husband, Edwardo Battistella, met Mr. Mills and his wife, Polly Mills, in their building in 1973. The couples became friends and went dancing together.

Then, the book said, Mr. Mills began visiting the Silver Slipper often. He took Ms. Foxe on a three-week junket to Antigua and promised to marry her if he could get a divorce. Ms. Foxe’s husband, with whom she had three children, divorced her just before the affair was publicly disclosed. Mr. Mills, as a recovered alcoholic who counseled other alcoholics, remained married to his wife until his death, at 82, in 1992.

With the proceeds of her new career, Ms. Foxe bought an eight-bedroom home in Westport, Conn., where the three children spent much of their teenage years. In 1980 she married her business manager, Daniel Montgomery. They had a daughter and were divorced in 1985.

Ms. Foxe, who went by Ms. Montgomery in her later years, is survived by her children from her first marriage, Grace McGarry, Alex Montgomery and Maria Ibanez-Lasater; and seven grandchildren, according to the Tampa Bay Times announcement. Her daughter from her second marriage, Melanie, died in 2017.

Ms. Montgomery moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., in the late 1980s, and undertook a series of challenging late-in-life academic pursuits. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tampa in 1995 and a master’s in marine science (in 2001) and a master’s in business administration (2004) from the University of South Florida, all with magna cum laude honors.

“I’m not sure what her motivation was, but we were all very proud of her accomplishments,” Alex Montgomery said of his mother in a 2019 interview for this obituary. “She was a very intelligent woman. Remarkable. She also became a scuba-diving master at the University of South Florida and went to Cozumel, Mexico, to do some underwater filming.”

She was born Annabel Villagra on Feb. 14, 1936, in Nueve de Julio, Argentina, one of three children of Oszaldo and Concepcion Villagra. Annabel and her brother, Nilo, and sister, Norma, grew up in an intellectual household. Their father was the medical officer of Nueve de Julio, a small city near Buenos Aires named for Argentina’s Independence Day, on July 9, 1816.

Annabel attended local schools. Hoping to be a doctor, she enrolled in a pre-medicine program at the University of Buenos Aires but left after a year. She married Mr. Battistella in 1956. She began dancing professionally but soon found that stripping was more lucrative. The family emigrated to the United States in 1963.

In a turbulent life of family and financial pressures, she told People magazine in 1975, she attempted suicide twice and had several abortions and a series of cosmetic surgeries to turn up her nose, flatten her stomach and enhance her breasts. But among the benefits of her fame, she said, was a modest affluence — and at least one rave review of her book.

“I loved it,” her daughter Maria, then 16, told People.

To which Ms. Foxe added: “My children do not care what I did. I guess they think I am a good mother and a good woman — that’s all that matters to them.”

The officers pulled her out, handcuffed her when she tried to jump in again and returned her to the car, where they found Mr. Mills and several other occupants intoxicated. Mr. Mills was bleeding from his nose and facial scratches, and Ms. Foxe had two black eyes. An officer drove her to a hospital and the others to their homes.

The incident might have gone unnoticed, but a television cameraman came upon the scene and recorded it. The police filed no charges, and Mr. Mills issued a statement that cast events in an innocent light. But within days the outlines of a political sex scandal began to emerge. Mr. Mills, facing voters in November, returned home to campaign and was narrowly re-elected to his 19th term.

But under withering publicity detailing his alcoholism and peccadilloes with Ms. Foxe, including an impromptu appearance at a Boston burlesque stage where she was performing, Mr. Mills checked into an alcoholic-treatment center, resigned as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and did not run for re-election in 1976, ending a 38-year congressional career.

Ms. Foxe, capitalizing on her notoriety, changed her sobriquet to “The Tidal Basin Bombshell” and sharply raised her performance fees. She began commanding $3,500 a week at the Silver Slipper and upped her rate to $30,000 for a two-week engagement at Club Juana in Orlando, Fla.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *