Madame Nhu, who as the glamorous official hostess in South Vietnam’s presidential palace became a politically powerful and often harshly outspoken figure in the early years of the Vietnam War, died on Sunday in Rome, where she had been living. She was believed to be 87. Her death was confirmed by her sister, Lechi Oggeri. Born in 1924 — the date is uncertain, though some sources say April 15 — she spent the last four decades in Rome and southern France.
Her parents named her Tran Le Xuan, or “Beautiful Spring.” As the official hostess to the unmarried president of South Vietnam, her brother-in-law, she was formally known as Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. But to the American journalists, diplomats and soldiers caught up in the intrigues of Saigon in the early 1960s, she was “the Dragon Lady,” a symbol of everything that was wrong with the American effort to save her country from Communism. In those years, before the United States deepened its military involvement in the war, Madame Nhu thrived in the eye of her country’s gathering storm as the wife of Ngo Dinh Nhu, the younger brother and chief political adviser to Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam from 1955 until 1963.
While her husband controlled the secret police and special forces, Madame Nhu acted as a forceful counterweight to the diffident president, badgering Diem’s aides, allies and critics with unwelcome advice, public threats and subtle manipulations. Then, after both men were killed in a military coup mounted with the tacit support of the United States, she slipped into obscurity. In her years in the spotlight, when she was in her 30s, she was beautiful, well coiffed and petite. She made the form-fitting ao dai her signature outfit, modifying the national dress with a deep neckline. Whether giving a speech, receiving diplomats or reviewing members of her paramilitary force of 25,000 women, she drew photographers like a magnet. But it was her impolitic penchant for saying exactly what she thought that drew world attention.
When, during Diem’s early days in power, she heard that the head of the army, Gen. Nguyen Van Hinh, was bragging that he would overthrow the president and make her his mistress, she confronted him at a Saigon party. “You are never going to overthrow this government because you don’t have the guts,” Time magazine quoted her as telling the startled general. “And if you do overthrow it, you will never have me because I will claw your throat out first.” Her “capacity for intrigue was boundless,” William Prochnau wrote in “Once Upon a Distant War: Young War Correspondents and the Early Vietnam Battles” (1995). So was her hatred of the American press. “Madame Nhu looked and acted like the diabolical femme fatale in the popular comic strip of the day, ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ ” Mr. Prochnau wrote. “Americans gave her the comic-strip character’s name: the Dragon Lady.”
Wow! I would have LOVED to have met and interviewed this LADY!! She coined the term DRAGON LADY! She was soo gorgeous and had powerful men eating out of her hands!