The Indiscreet Charm Of Lucianne Goldberg

Her cocktail of sex and gossip proved irresistible, if not deadly

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It's a type as old as melodrama itself, ranging from the truly malignant (Iago) to the merely heedless and goofy (Auntie Mame). Where you place Lucianne between the two extremes is a matter of taste and political predisposition. But there's no denying that she brought color and diversion to a scandal that might otherwise have sunk under the weight of its own tawdriness. The highlights of her bio became quickly familiar even (maybe especially) to those who pretended to hate the scandal. She served as a hired spy for Richard Nixon's factotums on George McGovern's press plane in 1972; every night she reported back the latest (and by all accounts politically worthless) gossip. She is the author of a series of racy novels about sex and intrigue--"chick stuff," she calls them. As a literary agent she has specialized in pariahs and troublemakers: Mark Fuhrman; Watergate figure Maurice Stans; Prince Charles' gabby valet; and Dolly Kyle Browning, a high school friend of the President's who wrote a novel about their alleged decades-long affair.

Most everybody loves a saucy gossip at one remove; pot stirrers can be vastly amusing as long as they're stirring someone else's pot. But in the Lewinsky scandal, the pot Lucianne was stirring wasn't merely Clinton's but the country's. Some resentment, to put it mildly, was inevitable, and so were the counterattacks. Clients and old friends dropped her. Within days of the scandal's eruption, the Democratic National Committee faxed reporters an "information sheet" it hoped would prove damaging. A sheaf of unflattering profiles appeared.

Some of the stories about her shaded into fantasy and wishful thinking. Reporters buzzed with the rumor that she had a CIA connection. On Meet the Press, Louis Farrakhan suggested she was part of an Israeli plot to bring down the President. And this fall an interviewer for the New York Observer asked her whether she'd had a lesbian affair with Tripp. (For the record: she hasn't. God is merciful.)

Turnabout is fair play, of course: gossips should get gossiped about. She concedes the point. "I have never thought of myself as a victim in all this," she says. "Never. Let them take their best shot. I can take a truthful slime. If it's truthful, fine. I mean, it's my life, I lived it, I can't refute it. That's the game. But you have to be bulletproof to survive something like this. And there is enormous freedom in not caring whether people like you. And I can tell you honestly: I do not give a s__."

Besides, plenty of people do like her--now more than ever, as they used to say in '72. Among the vast right-wing conspiracy she has attained the status of folk hero. I met up with Goldberg the other night at Manhattan's Princeton Club, where a group of New York conservatives meet monthly for drinks and palaver. She swept into the room wearing a black pants outfit and a long, charcoal gray feather boa. With her gold cigarette holder and her swampy voice, she seemed a cross between Angela Lansbury and Jimmy Cagney. She made straight for the bar, and conversational clusters parted like the Red Sea as she passed.

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