The actress on the spot was Susan Sarandon, 37, best known for her co-starring role opposite Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City (it got her an Oscar nomination)—and as a fledgling activist in Hollywood political circles. She and a dozen other women delivered milk and baby food to needy mothers under the auspices of a New York-based women's group called Madre ("mother" in Spanish), whose sponsors include Joanne Woodward, Tammy Grimes, author Alice Walker and other notables. Though plainly a challenge to the Reagan Administration's hostility toward the leftist Sandinista government, Sarandon's trip, she insisted, was strictly a humanitarian gesture. Wasn't she concerned about being seen as another Hanoi Jane? "Nonsense," she said. "That's like worrying if your slip is showing while you're fleeing a burning building."
The women flew to Miami, where they boarded a Nicaraguan plane to Managua, the capital. Although they stuck mostly to hospitals and day-care centers, they also ventured into the war zone on the red-hot Honduran border. Despite their confrontations with the U.S., Nicaraguans who recognized their gringo visitor as an American movie star were friendly. "People would come up and say, 'Cine, cine,' " says the actress, referring to the Spanish word for the movies. But Sarandon insists she got no special treatment despite her star status. Was she being used as a political pawn? "I went there for eight days to see what was happening," she answers. "The Sandinistas just want us to leave them alone."
Among missions of mercy it was pretty routine, and as a stroke of provocative PR on the international stage it wasn't in a class with Jane Fonda's jaunt to North Vietnam in 1972. But the headline wrote itself: BIG STAR BRINGS MILK TO HUNGRY BABIES OF NICARAGUA.