The Tennessee stud: U.S. presidential candidate Fred Thompson's womanising ways


Last updated at 14:26 09 September 2007

On a winter's day in 1958, Fred Thompson's classmates crammed into a stadium to watch the hulking 16-year-old football star in a match.

But their cheers turned to groans and girls had tears in their eyes as the

handsome 6ft 5in youth slumped to the ground. When a group of coaches

rushed to assess his injury, he flashed them a conspiratorial grin.

'How's the crowd taking it?' he whispered. Nearly a half century later, it is no surprise to anyone in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, that the schoolboy who

always wanted to be centre stage is one of America's most popular actors.

At 65, Thompson plays District Attorney Arthur Branch in the TV series Law

& Order and he has appeared alongside Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Bruce

Willis and Clint Eastwood in The Hunt For Red October, Days Of Thunder,

Die Hard 2 and In The Line Of Fire.

Watch the moment Fred Thompson declared his candidacy on American TV below

Now he is appealing to his millions of fans in a new role - as the Right-wing

candidate expected to challenge Democrat Hillary Clinton in next year's race for the White House.

Some opinion polls already put the former Tennessee Senator ahead of his

rival, Rudy Giuliani, for the Republican nomination.

Unlike Giuliani,the former New York mayor who is perceived as a dangerous liberal on gay rights and abortion, many see Thompson as a true conservative who can rescue their party from the disasters of George Bush.

Watch the moment Fred Thompson declared his candidacy on American TV

They have even compared him to his hero - Ronald Reagan. "Fred Thompson is a southern-fried Reagan", said the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, comparing him to the late President who, of course, was also an actor and Right-wing ideologue. He has the same appeal.

But a Mail on Sunday investigation raises serious questions about whether

the affable Thompson is the committed pillar of "family values" that

conservatives take him to be.

His second wife, Jeri, is a blonde 24 years his junior. They wed in 2002 after Thompson was advised that if he wanted to become President he needed to quell a reputation as a womaniser that earned him the nickname the Tennessee Stud.

His conquests include the five times-married "Elizabeth Taylor of

country", Lorrie Morgan, and three-time-divorcee Georgette Mosbacher,

known as the "Divine Mrs M".

Scroll down for more...

Moreover, when Thompson married his first wife, Sarah Lindsey, at Lawrenceburg Methodist Church in 1959, she was already two months pregnant with their first child.

The couple - she was 18 and he was 17 - kept the news a secret from everyone apart from their parents.

Lorrie Morgan

The marriage wasn't to last. Though Thompson tries to portray their 1985 break-up as amicable and his family says Sarah will campaign for him, we can disclose that in her original divorce writ - which until now has never been made public - she accused him of "cruel and inhuman treatment".

Her brother, Oscar Lindsey, confirmed the marriage was one of secrets and unhappiness. Like Hillary Clinton, who suffered through her husband Bill's "bimbo eruptions",it seems Sarah is standing by Fred because she shares his political goals.

In an exclusive interview, Oscar said: "Initially there was consternation when Fred married into my family. I believed the reason was that they were in love and I was aware there was a lot of urging from my sister. It was a secret to me she was pregnant. I learned the truth only a few weeks ago after Fred started to talk about running for President.

"It has been a bit of a dilemma, deciding whether to support him. But his political philosophy and ours are very close, time heals and Sarah and he had three children together. We believe he can beat the hell out of the Democrats."

Thompson admits his marriage was the first in the series of lucky breaks that have made him one of the unlikeliest front-runners for national office in US history. Sarah Lindsey's family were wealthy Republicans whose connections have been invaluable to Thompson.

Her late father co-owned a factory that made church pews and school furniture, and her uncles included a judge. Thompson had a more humble background: his mother worked in a shop and his father was a used-car salesman. No one can remember Thompson having any academic, let alone political ambitions.

Childhood friend Jerry Hughes recalls Thompson often used to fall asleep in class, while in the school's 1960 yearbook his picture was captioned: "The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow."

His chief interest, apart from sport, was Sarah, the prettiest, brightest - and perhaps the richest - girl in school.

Scroll down for more...

One day when he was due to pitch at a baseball match, Thompson persuaded his father to lend him a tail-finned Buick. A friend drove while Thompson, wearing a smoking jacket, reclined in the back seat. As Sarah and her friends giggled, he slowly peeled off the jacket and donned his baseball glove.

Mesmerised by his attention, Sarah agreed to a date. According to Oscar, she had been seeing the son of a jewellery shop owner, whom her family considered a much more suitable match.

"Fred was not their first choice for Sarah to marry," said Oscar. After their wedding on September 12, 1959, they lived with Sarah's parents at Tall Oaks, their grand red-brick home on a Lawrenceburg hillside.

The couple's first son, Fred Jnr, was born in April 1960. Thompson later won a scholarship to attend Nashville's prestigious Vanderbilt Law School. To his chagrin, however, Thompson's in-laws insisted he work his way through university.

"My dad put him to sorting lumber," said Oscar. "He also worked as a postman and at a local bike plant. I think it added to his realisation that he had to grow up and make something of himself."

When Thompson graduated, he worked for Sarah's lawyer uncle before being given his first political appointment as a federal prosecutor by Richard Nixon's attorney general.

Later the Republicans manoeuvred him into an even more powerful position, as an attorney for the committee probing the Watergate scandal. Transcripts of Nixon's secret White House tapes disclose his real function was to leak the committee's findings to the disgraced President, but the public hailed him as a reformer.

His image as a champion of the people made him much in a demand as a lawyer.

In 1977, he was retained by Marie Ragghianti, who had been sacked from the Tennessee state parole board for accusing Democratic governor Roy Blanton of selling pardons. The trial later became the subject of a 1983 book, Marie.

When the book was optioned as a film, a Hollywood director interviewed those involved in the case.

After meeting Thompson, the director decided to cast the charismatic lawyer to play himself - and so began his Hollywood career.

When the film was released in 1985, a respected critic called Thompson a "real find".

Other roles followed and Thompson grew rich. "It's like finding money on the streets," he said. But he didn't give up his day job, working as a corporate lawyer and lobbyist for clients including General Electric which, in a parallel pleasing to his supporters, once employed Ronald Reagan as its spokesman.

He also lobbied for less savoury clients which,according to last week's Newsweek, included deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and an insurance firm trying to limit payouts to asbestos victims.

Commuting between movie locations and Washington took its toll on his marriage and in May 1981 Sarah filed her accusations of "cruel and inhuman treatment".

She withdrew the petition the following March, and according to her brother, the marriage improved for a while.

But Sarah renewed the proceedings in November 1984, this time citing "irreconcilable differences".

Asked if Thompson was unfaithful, her brother replied carefully: "He has said he 'takes opportunities' [with women]. I will tell you it wasn't physical cruelty and it wasn't mental."

During his first campaign for the US Senate in 1994, Thompson portrayed himself as a Washington outsider, faithful to his rural roots.

He toured Tennessee in a beaten-up pick-up truck, sported a cowboy hat, chewed tobacco and swapped catfish recipes. In fact, his real passions are expensive cars and fine wines.

Whenever pressed about issues, he delivers platitudes. He supports the Iraq War and free-market capitalism and is opposed to most government interference with 'individual rights'.

Thus he would repeal gun control but is '100 per cent' on the side of those who would ban abortion.

Like his hero, Ronald Reagan, he has no interest in the trivial details of political office but has been praised as a 'first-class communicator'.

In 1994, Senate Republicans picked him to deliver their response to a major economic address by Bill Clinton and three years later he investigated allegations that the Democrats committed fundraising abuses.

His laconic southern charm also has made him a magnet for eligible women.

Following his divorce, one of his first girlfriends was Lorrie Morgan, whom US tabloids once linked to Bill Clinton. "He's the kind of man little girls dream about marrying. He opens doors for you, lights your cigarettes, helps you on with your coat, buys wonderful gifts. It's every woman's fantasy," Lorrie said.

After he concluded his second term in the Senate in 2002, he decided to store correspondence from his eight years in office in a public archive at the University of Tennessee.

The papers include a copy of a letter he sent to socialite Georgette Mosbacher during their romance: "We must remember the unspoken vow that all US Senators take - "I shall have no money, and I shall have no fun."

I, of course,regarding myself as an unconquerable soul, am still determined to break the second part of that vow.'

Documents also reveal that during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he sent a risqué note to Clinton's chief of staff, joking that he shared the President's now notorious taste in cigars.

When Thompson met Jeri, the blonde who may become America's 'First Babe', she was struggling with thousands of dollars of debts.

She had been living with stockbroker Bernard Alvey, even taking his surname although they never married, but he too had financial woes and she clearly considered multi-millionaire Thompson a better catch.

After they began dating, she complained she faced competition from other women: "I can't get up to get a cocktail at a party without coming back and finding some girl in my chair."

The couple now have two children. With Democrat strategists planning to portray Jeri as a gold-digger, Thompson's hopes of using her to counteract his image as an ageing Lothario are fading fast.

But if, as seems inevitable, he faces allegations of promiscuity, they will balance out, say political veterans, because of Hillary Clinton's marital embarrassments.

Leading Democrat Harlan Mathews said: "I think it will be Hillary versus Fred and it will be awfully close. To convince voters you can be a leader, you need to get their attention. Fred knows just how to do that."

Indeed, Americans curious about how Thompson may perform in the Oval Office have had a glimpse of what's to come. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, a 19th Century political drama, received poor reviews when it was recently shown on American TV.

But it was notable for one thing. The actor who played the President? Fred Thompson.