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Cunningham, says Sloan, had a history of appropriating the ideas of others as her own. This had resulted in her being shunned by her first study group at Harvard. "By the end of the first year," writes Sloan, "people who had come to know her would no longer speak to her." People who worked with her at Bendix claim she took the expertise of colleagues and seems to have presented it to Agee as hers. As vice president of corporate and public relations, she would assign several writers to do a speech for Agee, choose the best version and, if he liked it, claim that she wrote it. Aside from a brilliant academic record (Wellesley College, Phi Beta Kappa), Cunningham, in Sloan's view, had simply paid no dues and done nothing of substance to deserve the power that Agee bestowed upon her.
What about all that speculation about the relationship between Bill and Mary? Both parties denied that they were romantically involved while Cunningham was at Bendix, and whether they were or not, says Sloan, is "their own very private, personal business. The only reason it is an issue is that they have made it one." Sloan reports that Cunningham, intentionally or not, gave people at Bendix the idea that she was on familiar terms with Agee.
Lampert's book is excellently reported and loaded with lively reconstructed dialogue, although sometimes the drumfire of detail hangs out like clothespins on a line. Lampert discloses that Donald Trump, the New York City real estate tycoon, considered tendering an offer for about 7% of Bendix during the takeover battle in exchange for RCA stock owned by Bendix. The author describes how Agee and Cunningham did not feel they had to play by the same rules as everyone else. At one point, Bruce Wasserstein, a First Boston investment banker who was advising Bendix, tells a flustered Agee: "Before you propose a deal, your team is supposed to do its homework. As far as I can see, that wasn't done."
More Bill and Mary books are on the way. Two FORTUNE writers are preparing their account, and Cunningham, on leave this summer from her job as a vice president of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, will be weighing in with her version by February.
Cunningham may already have offered some clues as to what she is likely to say. In a booklet that classmates at Wellesley compiled for their tenth reunion, she inveighed against prejudice toward women in American business. Said she: "It is the exceptions throughout historyin business, in medicine, in politicsthat have made the breakthroughs and moved us forwardnot by inches but by leaps." Yes, but fold your golden parachute carefully.
By John S. DeMott