The Nation: Will the Real Martha Mitchell Please Hang Up?

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One Martha Mitchell has always been earful enough, but for a few bizarre hours last week there seemed to be two Martha Mitchells at work, and neither of them was at a loss for words.

The bogus Martha was elusive because she used only the most celebrated Martha Mitchell weapon—the telephone. At 10:30 a.m. last Tuesday, TIME Washington Correspondent Bonnie Angelo received a call from a woman who identified herself as "Martha Mitchell." The caller apparently was a wily impersonator. She claimed to be in Washington with John Mitchell and phoning from a booth. Airplane noises could be heard on the line as she spoke. Earlier she had phoned Washington Post Managing Editor Howard Simons, and later she would call Washington Star-News Editor Newbold Noyes. In a familiar Martha-like diatribe, she declared that "Magruder, Dean, everybody at the White House and Mr. Nixon are all liars," and denounced Senate Watergate Committee Chairman Sam Ervin as a "country hick from North Carolina—I could ask better questions than he does."

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. The impersonator said she had attended the state dinner for Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev the night before (actually, Martha was at her Manhattan apartment), and expressed genuine fondness for Pat Nixon (who, in point of fact, has infuriated Martha). Strangest of all, the woman offered this defense for John Mitchell's innocence: "My husband is so stupid he hasn't got sense enough to know whether it is raining or snowing outside. He couldn't have done all these things."

Mitchell's attorneys have since vowed that they were meeting with both Mitchells in their apartment at the time of the call to Correspondent Angelo. The real Martha was inimitable herself last week, as always. Irked by the hordes of newsmen frequently hovering outside her Fifth Avenue apartment, Martha emerged twice from the building Tuesday night, and was met both times by Associated Press Reporter Judy Yablonky. The second time she grabbed the doorman's hat and threw it, striking Reporter Yablonky in the face. She then struck the newswoman twice on top of the head and threatened to "thromp the hell" out of the reporter if she set foot on the building doorstep. The encounter ended when the Mitchells' twelve-year-old daughter Marty arrived home, took her mother by the hand and led her back upstairs.

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