Interesting array of fruit grows on Clinton family tree


June 23, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Family, huh? As if he didn't have enough problems, Bill Clinton has family like "Jurassic Park" has lizards.

Doesn't this guy ever get a break?

Let's review. He's got Mom, the woman behind the false eyelashes, who is willing to bet the entire tax hike at the racetrack. And then there's rock-and-rolling Brother Roger, who makes Billy Carter look like Sir Laurence Olivier. In his latest episode, Roger was seen assaulting a heckler at a basketball game. It gets worse. You know the story. Now Bill's got a 55-year-old high-school dropout who's also a Republican showing up on "Good Morning America" claiming to be his half-brother.

His name is Henry Leon Ritzenthaler. Trips right off the tongue, once you get used to it. But don't practice too hard. This story has the shelf life of flounder.

But for the moment, he's hot.

Not hot hot. Not Letterman hot. But this hot:

Ritzenthaler made the Washington Post on Sunday.

He made the morning news shows on Tuesday.

The movie-of-the-week offers should be in by the weekend. Maybe he's related to Amy Fisher, too.

And the tabloids? The tabloids are going to run with this baby. And every Tom, Dick and Henry Leon this side of the Ozarks is going to claim now to be related to Clinton -- ROB, relatives of Bill.

Elvis will turn out to be a third cousin, by intermarriage. Tom Arnold will check his family tree and find a mutual relative in Edward of Saxony, a 12th-century barber who went by Eduardo and was hanged when he was caught overcharging for bleeding. (In those days, you had to be very careful when you told a barber to take a little off the side.)

Henry Leon came out of nowhere, or Paradise, Calif., which is nearby. The story is that Henry Leon and Bill apparently share a father. The father, William Blythe, divorced Henry Leon's mother before he was born and later married the woman who would be Bill's mother. But Blythe died in a car accident before Bill was born.

Henry Leon didn't know any of this until Bill got to be president, and Bill didn't know anything about it until he read it in the papers.

If you're having trouble following the plot line, don't worry. The twist to the story is better.

Blythe's sister, Vera Ramey, says the father actually was another member of the Blythe family, a married man. She said Clinton's father did the stand-up thing -- his family was apparently no prize, either -- by signing the birth certificate in order to avoid a family scandal.

Look for "A Current Affair" to be camping on somebody's doorstep until we get to the bottom of this.

Two observations:

* Bill Clinton is the Mark Spitz in his family's gene pool. Not only is he the first Rhodes Scholar in the family, he's the first one to wear shoes.

* Maybe it's me, but I'm having trouble picturing Hillary at the family barbecue.

Most presidential siblings prove to be no problem. Some were distinguished, like Milton Eisenhower. Some were folksy, like Sam Houston Johnson who used to play dominoes on the White House lawn with brother Lyndon. Some were just relative unknowns. Neil Reagan. Donald Nixon. Skip Lincoln.

The Kennedys made being a brother into a cottage industry.

George Bush's brother, Jonathan, was on the board of directors of the Orioles, which isn't the worst gig. I'm sure either Roger or Henry Leon would be happy with that.

But Henry Leon, who is at least pudgy like Bill, says he doesn't want anything out of this. No money certainly. No fame, he says. All he wants is an opportunity to say hi to the president and have him acknowledge that he's really his brother.

Clinton is playing this one cautiously. He said Monday he tried to reach Henry Leon by phone -- but couldn't get him. Right, he's the president of the entire United States and he can get Yeltsin on the car phone, but he can't run down Henry Leon.

Look, the guy's on TV more than Michael Jordan. Every two-bit producer has his home number, and Clinton can't find him?

You saw the guy. He looked darned uncomfortable. The spotlight, as Bill could tell him, isn't always kind.

All I know is I've got an idea for the movie title: "He Really Ain't Heavy, He's Just My Half-Brother."

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