It’s the strangest romance of the century,” says a friend of John William Warner Jr., the outgoing head of the Bicentennial Administration. As all the world knows, Warner, 49, has announced his intention of becoming Liz Taylor’s sixth husband. (Because she was Mrs. Burton twice, it is her seventh marriage). “She’s hoping to become the hostess with the mostest,” clucked one Washington society editor, “but I don’t think he’ll open many doors.”
On the surface, however, Warner appears to be a fine catch. He was Secretary of the Navy under Richard Nixon and was married to Catherine Mellon (of the rich Pittsburgh family) for 16 years. He maintains an elegant townhouse in Georgetown and a 1,000-acre cattle spread, Atoka Farms, in horsey Middleburg, Va.
Liz’s interest in the Washington scene has been on the rise since last spring when she dated Iranian Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi. And although she can’t vote because she holds a British passport, she told British journalist Robin Stafford she will campaign for Jimmy Carter. “I have nothing against President Ford—he seems like a sweet man,” she says, but adds: “Carter is very intelligent, quick-minded and has a whole new image.”
Liz’s new lust for politics may appeal to Warner. He would like to run for the Senate seat held by GOP Sen. William Scott of Virginia, whose term expires in 1978. Warner has told friends that Miss Taylor would be a great asset on the campaign trail.
Born to a prominent family in Washington (his father was a gynecologist, and his uncle was the rector of St. Albans Episcopal Church), Warner prepped at the St. Albans School before dropping out to enlist in the Navy. Subsequently, he attended engineering school at Washington and Lee University, then the University of Virginia Law School. He interrupted his law studies for two years to serve as a Marine Corps officer during the Korean war and eventually wound up at the Justice Department.
Although a handsome and dashing bachelor, he has long had the reputation of a nonstop worker. At Justice he slept with the help of an eyeshade, drank straight Scotch laced with Alka-Seltzer and smoked a pipe incessantly. As Bicentennial chief he logged 320,000 miles at his own expense in one year, visiting every state in the U.S. Over the past 18 months he has taken only four days off.
“He’s a terrific father, and his wife was a good mother,” says a Georgetown neighbor. “That’s why his recent statement that he was marrying Liz because his kids needed a mother is ridiculous. Warner arranged to live next door to his wife in Georgetown because they wanted the kids [Mary, 18, Virginia, 17, John, 14] to feel secure.”
Since the divorce Warner has dated Page Lee Hufty, Barbara Howar and Barbara Walters. Warner and Liz met last spring when he was asked to escort her to a dinner for Queen Elizabeth. He invited Liz home the next weekend, and she promptly injured a leg on his son’s minibike. Liz has visited so often since then—sometimes with her 80-year-old mother—that the Warner farm is jokingly referred to as “National Velvet.”
Neighbors say Liz was not thrilled with the bathroom accommodations, so Warner ordered them remodeled to suit her tastes. And he has been trying to hire more servants. “In her world of highs and lows,” said old pal Barbara Walters, “John will be steady, and he will take care of her.”