Public life has long been a breeding ground for scandal (did we ever properly thank you, Anthony Weiner?), but this always-sketchy ecosystem is also fertile territory for the PR headache known as the misbehaving relative. To misquote Tolstoy, all happy families are alike, and all unhappy ones are just trying to keep certain names out of the press. Let’s get acquainted with some of these boldface troublemakers from years past, shall we?
Princess Pauline Borghese
The Kim Kardashian of her time, Napoleon’s sister Pauline was just really, really into herself. But the Napoleonic era’s knockout brunette kept up a coital regimen that makes Kim’s sexcapades and sagas look downright demure. Pauline busied herself with a revolving cast of generals, nobles, and the occasional pretty lady—sometimes more than one at once—to the point that one of her conquests quit out of despair at being used. Her doctors debated whether her nymphomania was a cause or an effect her many gynecological troubles; the least kind of those maintained that she was such a nympho she could barely walk. Napoleon’s designs on world dominion were frequently complicated by the need to move his sister’s latest conquests to various distant military posts in the empire. But the siblings were close, and whenever Pauline detected a lapse in Pauline-related buzz, she deployed her natural PR abilities in the historical equivalent of TMZ baiting. She once propositioned the pope at a dinner party, and, in a quest to immortalize her perfect figure, she commissioned an all-but-nude marble statue of herself as Venus. One of her boobs served as the model for a gold goblet. Pauline may have missed the age of the sex tape by a good two centuries, but she pretty much owns it anyway.
Photo source: shafe.co.uk
As misbehaving first daughters, the Bush twins accomplished a lot, but it was Alice Roosevelt (daughter of Theodore) who broke down the barriers of teenage rebellion in the White House back in the nineteen-aughts. Princess Alice, as she was known, was the first American girl to smoke publicly, and when the president banned her from lighting up in the house, she took the party up to the roof, anticipating what would become a suburban teenage cliché. A gambler, Alice beat men at cards and bet on horses. She had a bookie. She stored tiny bottles of booze in her long white gloves and sneaked them into somber dinners. (Can this be a thing again, please?). After her father left office, Alice took a dislike to subsequent first ladies, and allegedly buried a voodoo doll of Nellie Taft on the White House grounds. As an adult, after her marriage to the Ohio congressman Nicholas Longworth, she gained influence as a Republican strategist. Alice was a free spirit (she loathed the Washington custom of social calls, preferring impromptu meaningful conversations instead), a foreign-policy lobbyist, and a confrontational accessorizer. When her cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt took America off the gold standard, to her great chagrin, Alice turned up at a White House reception decked out in gold trinkets and jewelry.
Photo source: theodore-roosevelt.com
Prince Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland
King George III’s little brother was the 18th century’s Eliot Spitzer minus brains. He began his ducal career by installing a prostitute named Polly at Windsor Great Park. After he threw her over to pursue yet another lady of the night, Polly took her story to the tabloid press and managed to keep the scandal alive for a year. When the duke fell for the baroness Lady Grosvenor, he began riding to meet her in broad daylight disguised (or so he imagined) in completely conspicuous getups—usually a giant overcoat and a huge curly wig. The duke would sometimes forget to remove his disguise in the bedroom, as happened when agents of the baroness’s husband caught a bewigged and panting Henry in the lady’s hotel room. Much to King George’s embarrassment, a very public divorce case brought by Lord Grosvenor ensued; the king had to bail out his broke brother and appeal to the prime minister to pay Henry’s legal damages.
Photo source: Wikipedia
When your brother is president, pretty much the thing to avoid is to become a foreign agent of a terroristic state. But nobody really spelled that out for Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy. First Billy attempted to cash in on his famous last name by bottling a vanity brew, Billy Beer. After a very Mel Gibson–esque arc involving anti-Semitic comments followed by a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse, Billy (naturally!) turned to the Libyan state for help with his cash-flow problems. Libya gave Billy $220,000 to coordinate sales of oil, an arrangement that exploded into embarrassing “Billygate” press coverage just as Carter was campaigning for reelection.
Photo source: falstaffbrewing.com