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#1 Aug 19, 2019 7:00 pm

New Historian

(Un) Pretty Woman and Bill Clinton

On 19 September 1994, the US Marines “invaded” Haiti (live on CNN) and ousted the military junta that had recently overthrown the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Haiti was one of those rare things: a successful US military invasion, and Aristide was the darling of the Clinton White House, showered with praise, support and money.

One evening I went to a fundraiser at the State Department where President Aristide was due to say a few words and press the flesh. Also in attendance would be Aristide's fan and patron Julia Roberts. The Pretty Woman had taken the plight of the Haitian children to her perky breast, and a grateful Aristide along with them. For this occasion she had flown in a group of Haitian “street children”, human props in her roving photo shoot.

At this point Julia’s PR people were faced with a dilemma: having gone through all the hassle and expense of getting the kids their passports and flying them up to Washington DC, they couldn’t leave them in their Haitian street rags; they had to scrub up. But although they were all clad in brand-new Nikes, they were obviously encouraged to try and appear a bit more “street”. Shirt untucked, shoe unlaced. Julia was posing for a photo-shoot, flashing that famous smile and hugging “her” children, while a dozen cameramen clicked away in a frenzy. The poor kids were totally bewildered, not speaking any English and not knowing what was going on.

As I watched this scrum unfold, I noticed I was standing next to Danny Glover, who also was watching the scene, with a rueful smile. We exchanged rueful smiles, and then started a conversation. About Haiti, not Pretty Woman. We talked about America’s long history of supporting corrupt Haitian dictators, and I was impressed with his depth of knowledge. Unlike Julia, who just smiled.

Suddenly there was a kerfuffle at the other end of the ballroom and who strolled in but … Bill Clinton! Woosh! Like a flock of frightened birds the paparazzi rushed over to Bill, leaving Pretty Woman frozen in mid-smile. Oh she was not happy! Shooed away “her” kids, fixed her face and walked off with head high – to catch up with Bill.

Bill Clinton was a real pro, strolling through the crowd, shaking hands, knowing everyone by name, smiling with this one, cracking a joke with that one, everybody’s buddy. He walked right by me, I even got a smile, I felt my heart melt. Just a little.



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