Martha Mitchell's View From The Top

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The Mitchells took a six-room apartment at Watergate, the parking place for many big wheels* in the Nixon Administration. There, in her blue bric-a-brackish living room, its view interdicted by a newly built wing, Martha flutters through her mountain of mail and fusses about her daughter, her weight, her clothes, her security, her public image, her "projects," and her "backbreaking" official schedule.

The letters pour in at the rate of thousands a month. "About 1% of it is unfavorable," she claims, though the Gallup poll rates opinions of her as 33% unfavorable to 43% favorable. A recent morning's sampling of letters included encomiums from a woman in New Jersey ("I think you are absolutely great. You call a spade a spade") and a Tennessee man who asked for a picture of her so that "when things go wrong, I will look at it and it will cheer me up." A man in Ohio urged her to start a national women's organization "for the American cause." She is flattered by invitations to speak. "After I blasted the universities,* I got a little hesitant to open my mail from universities. Then one day comes a letterhead from Yale Law School, and then Harvard Law School—both for speaking engagements! But I can't do any of it. If I start to make speeches, how much home life would I have?"

But how much does she have now? One typical day last fortnight, Martha gave a coffee party for a friend in the morning, went to a reception for Mamie Eisenhower in the afternoon, and dined at the Uruguayan embassy, where she and John were guests of honor. "It's almost required of you to attend those foreigners' functions," she complains. "If you miss one, they get upset—even if there are five cocktail parties in one night. I love a small dinner party, and I love to dance. If they really wanted to improve Washington social life, they should include more dancing."

Security is strict, and FBI agents are constantly in attendance, though their duties frequently extend beyond what J. Edgar Hoover presumably has in mind. Recently, on a maid's day off, Agent Frank Illig helped out by serving Marty her breakfast in bed, and in a picture spread in LIFE this fall, another FBI agent was seen ironing one of Martha's evening dresses and patiently hooking her up in back.

Martha tries to keep track of which dresses she has been most photographed in and which she has worn to the White House, so that she can replenish her supply after too much exposure. Her more distinctive fashion note is her fondness for unfashionable spike-heeled, sling-back shoes, now so out of date that they have to be made up specially for her at Saks Fifth Avenue. She gets requests for these anachronisms from fans who want them as souvenirs ("If I get any more, I'm going to take a picture of my foot in my shoe and autograph it").

Programmed Projects

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