Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Martha WHO is calling?

The next show at the Actors' Playhouse draws either questions or exclamations, depending on whether you're a baby boomer or a Gen-Xer. It's worth learning a little bit about Martha Mitchell Calling.

...I do think Martha deserves more than a footnote in its history. She should be remembered as the woman who tried to blow the whistle on what was going on...
Front Row At The White House - My Life And Times by Helen Thomas, Scribner, 1999

According to Actors' Playhouse in their press release:
"On the eve of an election year, Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables takes its audience back to the Watergate scandal through Jodi Rothe’s fascinating, inventive and entertaining play, Martha Mitchell Calling, playing Nov. 28-Dec. 23, 2007."
But who the heck WAS Martha Mitchell, anyway?

In December 1971 a wire story ran about Vice President Spiro Agnew's gag Christmas gift list. Included on the list were: "For Martha Mitchell, a brand-new Princess phone. For John Mitchell, a padlock for a brand-new Princess phone."
- Front Row At The White House - My Life And Times, Helen Thomas, Scribner, 1999

As anyone who remembers Watergate can tell you, she is the woman who brought down the Nixon White House. She was an insider, and she was the first to call for Nixon's resignation.

“[Nixon] bleeds people. He draws every drop of blood and then drops them from a cliff. He'll blame any person he can put his foot on.”
- Martha Mitchell

I hear you. You've seen All The President's Men. Redford was hot, Hoffman was intense. They had sideburns. Hal Holbrook spilled the beans. That's what GenX remembers about Watergate. But there is a human side to the story.

"Martha's trademark is her mouth, literally and metaphorically."
TIME, November 1970

I love its gentle warble,

I love its gentle flow,
I love to wind my tongue up
And I love to let it go.

Martha Mitchell's High School yearbook comment

Annette Miller as Martha Mitchell. Photo by Kevin Sprague

As important as two harried reporters were, and even counting "Deep Throat," the truth is that it was a woman who toppled Tricky Dick and his cohorts.

But it didn't start out that way:
Martha-isms such as "Anytime you get somebody marching in the streets, it's catering to revolution," and "Adults like to be led. They would rather respond to a form of discipline" have made her a pillar of rectitude and moral resurgence to much of conservative America, a figure of ridicule to liberals and a public embarrassment to many a traditionalist Republican.

...the Attorney General, who might be the most embarrassed of all, merely smiles a wan little smile and refers fondly to her as his "unguided missile." She also has an admirer in President Nixon, who has referred to her as "spunky" and told her to "give 'em hell."

- TIME, November 30, 1970

Martha wasn't like all the stuffed shirts involved in the scandal; she was a popular hostess in the Washington scene, a true Washington insider. She was featured on the cover of NEW YORK magazine in a glamorous spread. She appeared on the cover of TIME and LIFE. And she spoke her mind.
"I don't like Agnew, but my God, I think he's better than Nixon. I've told my husband repeatedly that I may not be here many years, but Marty will be, and his grandchildren."
- TIME, July 2, 1972

"I've given John an ultimatum. I'm going to leave him unless he gets out of the campaign. I'm sick and tired of politics. Politics is a dirty business."
Front Row At The White House - My Life And Times by Helen Thomas, Scribner, 1999

"This month the Gallup poll announced that fully 76% of the American population realizes who Martha Mitchell is, establishing her as a personality who is already better known than many politicians or entertainers—and is fast approaching the celebrity of Jacqueline Onassis (91%), who has been at it considerably longer and with some notable advantages."
- TIME, November 30, 1970

Eventually, Nixon and Mitchell tried to shut Martha up.
"They threw me down on the bed, five men, and stuck a needle in my behind. A doctor stitched my fingers after the battle with five guards." (She had bruises on her arms and thighs.)
-Mae Brussell, The Realist, August 1972

The decision was made to discredit Martha, and to portray her as delusional, a lonely housewife succumbing to an alcohol-driven fantasy. And they didn't just tell tales:

Telltale blunders, however, gave the caller away. Though the accent sounded Southern, the voice was too gravelly with whisky, and the speech too ungrammatical, for Martha. The impostor went on to confess: "I am half drunk—I do drink a little bit. Why shouldn't I drink a little bit?" Anyone who has received a call from Martha Mitchell knows that she consistently denies having downed a drop of alcohol before getting on the phone.
- TIME, July 2, 1972

From her biography on Wikipedia:
Dubbed "the Mouth of the South", Martha Mitchell began contacting reporters when her husband's role in the scandal became known. At one time, Martha insisted she was held against her will in a California hotel room and sedated to keep her from making her controversial phone calls to the news media. However, because of this, she was discredited and even abandoned by most of her family, except her son Jay. Nixon aides even leaked to the press that she had a "drinking problem". The 'Martha Mitchell effect', in which a psychiatrist mistakenly diagnoses someone's extraordinary but reasonable belief as a delusion, was later named after her. Nixon was later to tell interviewer David Frost (in September 1977 on Frost on America) "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate."

I found one travel website talking about her stay at the Hyatt-Regency in Newport Beach, Ca.

"Martha Mitchell occupied one of the villas when she made her infamous Watergate-era phone calls to blow the whistle on the Nixon Administration and her husband"

I think the TIME article sums it up best:
"A lot of this takes a great deal out of me," she said recently, and these lonely low points are likely to generate some late-hour phone calls to friends, which the public never hears about.

But the next day, Martha is ready to face them all down again with her big laugh and pretty dimples and her yellow hair piled high—"little ol' Martha," as she likes to call herself, undaunted, silly, reveling in attention, and making the staid, Republican capital a livelier place."
- TIME, November 30, 1970

Martha Mitchell Calling will preview at the Miracle Theatre Nov. 28 and 29, open on Nov. 30 and will play through Dec. 23, 2007. Performances will be held Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Additional Wednesday Matinee Performances will be held at 2 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 19.

Tickets available online at the Actors' Playhouse website

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