Eleanor Medill Patterson (1881-1948), queen bee of the newspaper clan, had two or three irregular lives--and a spectacular string of lovers--before she landed exuberantly on her feet, at 49, as editor of Hearst's Washington Herald. (Her first salvo: a withering front-page blast at teenage chum and longtime romantic rival Alice Roosevelt Longworth.) On the personal side, this is the standard insecurity yarn--late-blooming Cissy had no love from her fashionable, icy mother and so remained an emotional cripple, wary, resentful, often vicious. And, like brother Bob (Ar. Y. Daily News) and cousin Bertie (Chicago Tribune), she brooked no opposition. But she was also a charmer, Martin makes plain, with a quick wit and a zest for people; and if his rather lush, high-keyed prose wears thin over some 500 pages, Cissy is seldom dull and neither are her checkered acquaintances. Her first husband was a dissolute Polish count who tormented her with his mistresses, humiliated and neglected her, beat her and fought her for the custody of their daughter--but never quite dispelled her infatuation. Safely home, she would always think fondly of Vienna and St. Petersburg and Warsaw in their pre-1914 splendor. Just so, captivated later by the still-wild West, she'd withdraw to her Washington mansion for the winter, shelving wrangler-lover Cal Carrington for newspaperman Walter Howey (of Front Page renown) or Senator William Borah. . . or young Bill Bullitt or the dashing German Ambassador. And so it goes into the newspapering days when Cissy raises the Herald's circulation by catering to the tastes of ""government girls,"" cultivates and breaks with ex-son-in-law Drew Pearson (who may also have been her lover), supports and turns on FDR (but remains loyal to Eleanor)--until drugs and drink disable her and she winds up a half-cracked harridan. As newspaper history this is lightweight stuff and as biography it's all-too-exhaustive. But Martin, biographer of Jennie Churchill and author of books on the political scene, knows his way around the personality circuit. And in Cissy Patterson he has a top performer.