Maggie in the marketplace: why she let it all hang out
In a posh winter retreat at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, last week, the telephone rang for Margaret Trudeau. She an swered it in her little-girl voice, all
tremulous and open, but did not recognize the name of her caller. There was no discreet pause on her part to invite explanation, no softly phrased yes? to elicit a statement of the business at hand. Instead the delicate voice turned a touch flinty. “Who are you with?" It was a much more interesting voice, this one, with an edge, the same kind of tone a New York movie mogul might use when he picks up the phone and says “Get me the coast.” It was the voice of a celebrity, with a let’s-make-a-deal ring to it, laced with the certitude that its owner was hot property.
It was not exactly the voice of innocence, but then Margaret Trudeau has travelled far and fast and had to leave a few things behind. A woman who, at 30, has gone through at least as many public costume changes as her celebrated
politician husband Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (who is one year short of being twice her age), she has recently climbed (or descended, depending on one’s sensibilities) to yet another rung in the ladder of life with her emergence as The Author, or at least, the Authorin-Waiting. After following her progress from demure child-bride through Earth Mother to, in rapid succession, girl photographer, working mother who would never leave her husband and children, working mother who left her husband and children and, finally, actressjetsetter, Canadians could be forgiven for believing there is nothing new to learn about Margaret Joan (“I’ve gotta be me, I’ve gotta be free”) Trudeau. They would be wrong.
Few are yet aware of attempts last December to patch up her marriage, with her husband’s agreement to retire from politics; of the financial arrangements between her and her husband when they separated—or of her claim to a romantic liaison with perhaps the most renowned political figure in the
United States. Whether all these details will emerge in her autobiography Beyond Reason, or during her forthcoming promotional tour, is unclear. But the role Margaret Trudeau is about to embark on may well bring her more notoriety than all the others combined.
With less than two weeks remaining before the serialization of Beyond Reason begins in newspapers around the world (April 2), less than one month before it actually hits the bookstands
and springing more leaks than the Titanic, the Margaret Trudeau book publishing affair contains enough dramatic tension—and comic relief—to be a book in itself. There have been her own gossipy revelations about her intimate life with the prime minister splattered across the pages of the British newspapers and eagerly reprinted in Canada. “He crushed me, he gave me _ nothing to do, he treated % me like the most worthless
woman ever hatched on this earth” was one despairing quote that appeared in an interview Margaret gave to the Daily Express's leading columnist Jean Rook.
With lightning speed, there has been an injunction sought and won by her publishers Paddington Press to prevent the airing on the CTV network of a “revealing” interview with the lady in question because the reporter Henry Champ allegedly broke an embargo agreement. (Before the court action, a CTV publicity blurb said that in the interview “she tells of the one-night love affair that was the last straw of her troubled marriage.”)
And there has been the amusing (or horrifying—again depending on one’s sensibilities) spectacle of grown men and women representing newspaper chains, syndicates, publishers and distributors holding each other’s hands, exchanging hysterical phone calls, telexing warnings, filing affidavits and imposing (with their fingers and toes crossed) what is virtually their own Official Secrets Act on a 256-page property (or excerpts thereof) that for them—as well as for the author, by her own admission—came down to one familiar word: money.
In an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court of Ontario in the Paddington Press vs. Henry Champ case, the London Daily Express disclosed it had invested £100,000 in its “Trudeau serialization program.” Her Washington lawyer Steve Martindale predicted she would lose up to $500,000 if material from Beyond Reason were released prior to the April 2 serialization date. The only official figure available regarding sales of the book is the $250,000 paid by Pocket Books for the paperback rights. If any of these figures is accurate, it is enough to conclude that by turning her back on a prime minister and thumbing her nose at Canadian political life, a 30-year-old woman whose intelligence, stability and charm have all become a matter of public debate is having infinitely more impact than she would have had she stuck around to pour tea.
Moreover, there is still the unanswered question hanging in the political air as to what effect, if any, the publication of Beyond Reason and the author’s subsequent promotional tour of Canada and the U.S. will have on the pending federal election campaign. Margaret Trudeau’s already emotionally beleaguered husband now faces the nightmarish prospect of having to compete with his estranged wife for front-page space during what is clearly a crucial time for the country. While he murmurs about national unity and economic stability in Moose Jaw, she could be, if she
remains true to form, breathlessly informing the world Why Pierre Blackened My Eye, or How I Smoke Grass to Relax in such scheduled low-key appearances as a press conference at the Washington Press Club or an interview on NBC’s Today Show.
Sukey Howard, the vice-president of Paddington Press in New York, insists that Margaret (with whom, she says “there’s nothing to compare in the publishing world, she’s not Bacall, she’s not Betty Ford, she’s rather unique”) will only be involved in promotion “that is best and that is in good taste,” which could be a contradiction in terms. The fact of the matter is that if she has proven herself adept at anything in her painful public search for self-worth it is
at being spectacularly indiscreet. “You get the feeling the discretion is totally in the hands of the reporter,” says one journalist who has interviewed her several times.
This is not good news to the Liberal party. While there are many who feel the only effect Margaret could have on their leader’s political fortunes would be to generate enormous sympathy for a man who has publicly shown restraint in the face of her apparent attempts to humiliate him (“I can’t say I don’t have any reaction, but I will say I keep it to myself,” he said recently), there are others who are not so sure.
“She could be the turning point in electing a Tory government” was the glum prediction of one Liberal candidate who has known Margaret socially for several years. “I don’t think she has any idea of how much damage she is doing to her husband’s government.” Certainly the point is being made with alacrity in some political circles that, if nothing else, Margaret or “the Hollywood-struck, disco-loving estranged wife of . . .” as the British tabloids describe her, is walking—sometimes dancing—proof of Trudeau’s “bad judgment,” a painful reminder in her ongoing indiscretions and relentless selfishness of a middle-aged man’s folly. (Although the point could be made that a prime minister needn’t choose a wife the way he chooses a cabinet minister.)
In 1971, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was 51 to Margaret Sinclair’s blushing 22 when they married in Vancouver amid daisies and home-baked wedding cake. There
are those who would make the argument that far from being erratic, Margaret has remained consistent in character from the day she became the prime minister’s wife until the present—a very pretty, slightly flaky (that old West Coast influence) upper-middle-class girl who dabbled in everything predictable for a young woman of her generation and background—a little drugs, a little sex, a little travel, a little politics. It is the media that have alternately fawned over or savaged her for her rather clichéd (California circa 1968) pronouncements about love, peace and freedom. At the time of her marriage, press reports gloated that she was brilliant and beautiful. Beautiful she may have been—Trudeau still talks about the stunning impact her deep blue eyes made on him—when they met vacationing in Tahiti. But she was neither brilliant nor accomplished — and she knew it.
“I’m not sure Margaret really thinks of herself as all that talented, despite what she might tell the press,” says one close friend. A lot of her remarks about herself in public and private centre pathetically around her looks. (“I can’t decide what is my best feature ...”)
In one of the rare instances he has ever discussed the marriage, Pierre Trudeau makes the point that, as the daughter of former Liberal cabinet minister James Sinclair, Margaret knew exactly what she was getting into when she married into public life. But there is hardly a mother in the land who would not shudder at the thought of her daughter assuming the public position that Margaret did at the tender age of 22. Although she describes it as a “fairy-tale romance,” there were (and
still are) a great many young women of Margaret’s age who didn’t envy her a bit for marrying so young, producing three children in rapid succession and living her life in a fishbowl. That had absolutely nothing to do with the ’70s twinbarreled gold-plated ideals of independence and self-fulfillment.
When Margaret finally decided to seek a little of both, she did so with a vengeance. (“The woman who gave freedom a bad name,” as she’s known in some circles.)
The trendy psychological term for her behavior during the disintegration of her six-year marriage would be “acting out.” Everyone does it—children against too-strict parents, husbands and wives against what they believe to be the repressive (or uncaring) behavior toward each other. But Margaret’s stellar performances—her singing debut when she toasted the first lady of Vene_ zuela, her stint as a recalcitrant rock ’n’ = roll groupie, her pronouncements about women—had an added fillip that is essentially the key component in her story: every time she did something outrageous, it brought her more publicity. The public was charmed or disgusted, but always titillated, always attentive. She began to see herself, perhaps even value herself in terms of her own celebrity. In the presence of friends she would always sigh and say “Ah, there go the cameras again.” It was as if she had an image of herself as always being in the viewfinder.
Her relationship with the press became compulsive. No matter how much she got burned (as she said she did in the famous nipples and garter belt interview in People magazine) she went back for more almost daring the press and even her friends to take her to task for her outlandish behavior.
One night in February of 1976, in the wake of extensive publicity about her Latin-American adventures, Margaret, after going to the movies with her Mountie escort, gave him the slip and sashayed naughtily into the National Press Club, where, in her expensive fur coat, she stood at the bar flirting and joking with several astounded reporters. One of the prime minister’s horrified press secretaries happened to be present and quickly embarked on a “let’s-get-her-the-hell-out-of-here” operation. Trudeau, at a Liberal party function across the street in the Parliament buildings, was dispatched to fetch her. He too arrived in a luxurious fur coat, with a leather-coated Mountie at his side. Obviously uncomfortable, he waited until she had a little fun with his presence, then danced with her once or twice before suggesting they leave.
Before they did so, however, Mar-
garet paid a visit to the ladies’ room. When she emerged, according to one reporter who was there at the time, she was enveloped in the unmistakable haze of marijuana smoke. There followed the bizarre tableau of the prime minister of Canada, Margaret and at least one member of the RCMP (presumably with his eyes fixed on the ceiling) emerging out of the elevator on the ground floor of the National Press Building—followed by a cloud of happy smoke. That part of the incident went unreported in the press: by agreement, anyone’s social slipping and sliding in the club is considered out of bounds for reporters.
But it was clear that Margaret was engaging in deliberately provocative behavior. What wasn’t clear—and perhaps few had the iron insides to contemplate it—was just how far she would go. In 1977, she confided that she had earlier had a brief romantic liaison with Senator Edward Kennedy. She added that her husband had found out about it and was extremely annoyed. She speculated on how traumatic it would be if Kennedy, a potential Democratic presidential nominee, were elected president and the two men had to deal with each other as heads of government. If she was telling the truth, it is difficult to determine which was the more monumental indiscretion—doing it or talking about it.
Andy Warhol’s famous analysis of the Seventies has become a cliché: in an age where the public appetite for gossip is surpassed possibly only by that for Big Macs, everyone will be a celebrity for 15 minutes. Margaret Trudeau, it seems, wanted to linger a little longer than that in the spotlight.
A little over a year ago, she developed the idea for Beyond Reason (her own choice of a title, she said, “because that’s what they say everything I do is, don’t they?”) with a young Washington “celebrity” lawyer, Steve Martindale. She had met him three years before while dining in Washington with the U.S. ambassador to Canada, Thomas Enders, and his wife. Good-looking and originally from Pocatello, Idaho, Martindale, 35, ascended so quickly into the upper social strata that his rise was chronicled in an article by The Washington Post’s star lifestyle reporter Sally Quinn. (Martindale says reports that he travels in a Lear jet to meet clients are greatly exaggerated. “I did it once from London to keep an appointment. It’s expensive!”)
Together he and Margaret negotiated a deal with Paddington Press (of
London and New York), a medium-sized publishing house owned by his friends John and Janet Marqusee. “We wanted to place her with a company that would give her the best deal with the most attention, but not at the same time exploit her,” explains Martindale, who is interested next in negotiating movie rights to the book.
In turn, Paddington sold the North American and South American English-language syndication rights to The New York Times syndicate, which then peddled excerpts of Beyond Reason to such American papers as The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chron icle, and such Canadian publications as The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun (which apparently paid $25,000 for them).
Margaret Trudeau received a sub-
stantial advance to write her book. With the help of ghost writer Caroline Moorehead, a journalist with the London Sunday Times and daughter of author Alan Moorehead, she put it together, working for oneand two-week stretches at a small hotel in the Mayfair district of London. According to Moorehead, Margaret took her work very seriously and produced a book that is unlikely to shock Canadians: “The aim of the book is not to reveal. It is to write it a bit like it was to be the wife of the prime minister and be so young.” For instance, the strongest part of one excerpt from the book quotes Margaret as saying she was a flower child, while he was a prime minister, and both acted out their roles. Other people in the publishing world who saw advance material from the book at the Frankfurt Book
Fair report that it is well-written and not at all hard on the prime minister.
But no matter what it says or promises to say about the prime minister and his wife, it will in all likelihood become a best seller, with Margaret Trudeau standing to make, says her lawyer (who stands to make a bit himself), upward of $500,000 from the profits. This raises an interesting irony: when the Trudeaus split, he agreed to give his wife roughly 50 per cent of his after-tax salary (about $37,000) while she, earning nothing at the time, reportedly offered in a light-hearted way to give him half of hers. Will he wish to collect? Moreover, last winter, in the throes of reconciliation fever, the Trudeaus engaged an architect to design a house in the Laurentians. According to Margaret, the prime minister had also agreed to resign—a
fact which, if true, may now cast Trudeau in the role of a lame-duck leader in the eyes of many Liberals. That time, the reunion fell through, but what if there is a next? Will Pierre and Margaret one day be happily ensconced in a new home with several courtesy copies of Beyond Reason nestled in their joint bookshelves?
From her telephone in Ocho Rios, Margaret Trudeau, the woman holding all the cards, airily dismisses the possibility of an interview with a reporter. The girlish tremor returns to her voice: “Why, Pm not interested in talking to anybody. Pm busy making sand castles with my son.”