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- December 30, 1991
- Vol. 36
- No. 25
From Survivor Sandra Dee to Unlucky Motorist Rodney King, We Revisit Some of the Year's Memorable Subjects
In March, Sandra Dee, 49, finally exorcised the demons that belied her sunny image as the Teen Queen of '50s and '60s movies. In an exclusive PEOPLE story, she recounted the gothic tale of a sexually abusive stepfather, a battle with anorexia that began in childhood and a stormy seven-year marriage to singer Bobby Darin, all of which drove her to amphetamines and drink; by 1988, she weighed only 80 lbs.
Dee's revelations prompted more than 10,000 letters. No support was more meaningful than that of an aunt and uncle from her New Jersey hometown. "My aunt told me she actually suspected" the abuse, Dee reports. "She said, 'Hold your head up high: you told the truth.' "
In May, the actress returned to work opposite John Saxon in the L.A. production of Love Letters and received a five-minute standing ovation before uttering her first line. ("It was the strangest, most overwhelming feeling I've ever experienced. John leaned over and said, 'You ought to leave now, while you're ahead.' ") An unsigned note slipped under her dressing-room door had a different impact. It appeared to be from a distraught victim of sexual abuse. "It brought everything back," says Dee, "and made me want to do something."
As a result, Dee has since filmed several TV commercials on behalf of a child-abuse counseling center. "It's a place where children can talk to someone who will understand what they're going through," she says. "I could have used a place like that." She has also signed with an agent and is looking to make her first movie in 20 years. Says Dee: "I've still got it tough, but there are times when I feel like—what do they call it in sports?—comeback player of the year."
SCORING A 10 ON THE HUMANITARIAN SCALE
"We don't smile anymore, and we used to be a happy people," said retired Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut in March of her fellow Belorussians. The source of the 1972 Olympic triple gold medalist's distress: Five years after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, fallout in the republic of Belorussia has left more than 700,000 children suffering from radiation contamination. On the advice of doctors, Olga and her husband, folk-rock singer Leonid Bortkevich, had even sent their young son, Richard, to live with American friends while they stayed behind to carry on relief efforts.
Since then Olga, 37, accepted a coaching job in Norcross, Ga., and moved there with Leonid, 42, and Richard, now 12. (Their son, whose English is fluent, is a seventh grader at the local junior high; Korbut and her unemployed husband are still trying to master the language.) "It's not easy coming to a new country," says Korbut. "We struggle sometimes, but we are happy. I'm much more content now that my family is together." In addition, the constant fatigue and malaise she and Leonid experienced because of radiation has vanished.
Korbut works at a gymnastics center where, she reports, "I'm coaching three Olympic hopefuls." She also continues to be active in the Emergency Help for Children Foundation, Inc., a charity based in Carmel, Ind., that buys medical supplies for the ailing children who still remain in Belorussia and the Ukraine. With Olga's help, nearly $200,000 (including $10,000 from Bette Midler) has been raised so far.
A BIG CHILL ENDS HAPPILY FOR A TODDLER
Before dawn last Dec. 24, Brittany Eichelberger, 3, unlatched the door of her family's mobile home in Elkins, W.Va., and ventured into the 20°F cold. By the time her parents, Melinda Eichelberger, 20, a restaurant cashier, and Steve Robinson, 21, an unemployed retail clerk, awoke and found her lying in the snow, Brittany's heart was still, her temperature just 74°F and her hands and feet blackened by frostbite. Revived at a hospital three hours later, Brittany endured 13 weeks of recuperation and physical therapy that ended in March, about the time sister Kristen was born. At Brittany's last checkup, says pediatrician Dr. Joung Wye Rhee, "everything was normal. With a trauma like that, you might expect some brain damage, but there is none. She is a very intelligent little girl."
LOST AND FOUND AND LOST AGAIN
For a while in May, it seemed the Bermuda Triangle was about to give up a few ghosts. A civilian research ship that was trawling for sunken galleons some 10 miles off Fort Lauderdale made videotapes of a quintet of World War II Navy Avenger torpedo planes clustered on the seabed 750 feet down. Could this be the famous Lost Patrol, a flight of 14 aviators and five fully armed planes that never returned from a Dec. 5, 1945, training mission? Nope. Detailed analysis of the tapes yielded serial numbers and fuselage tags, ID'ing them as among the 134 other Avengers that went down during the war years off the Florida coast. The Lost Patrol still is.
A VISCOUNT CAUGHT IN A MARITAL SCANDAL
The year began nicely for Princess Di's kid brother, Charles, Viscount Althorp, 27. Not only was he a U.K. reporter for NBC's Today show, but his wife of 15 months, Victoria, bore their first child. Then in February, 30ish society satirist Sally Ann Lasson blabbed to the tabs that she'd been Charles's "sex toy" since 1986—even postmarriage. (He owned up only to a pair of one-nighters.) Althorp soon became the sole staffer in NBC's 50-person London bureau to get the ax in a cost-cutting drive. Hired by a British morning TV show, Althorp tried to repair his image by having wife and child at his side during a report on terminally ill hospice patients. Alas, one critic cruelly dismissed Victoria as "an anorexic sock" and Althorp as "a royal wannabe."
Lasson later puckishly wrote in an Observer article that "sex with someone else's husband is not to be recommended" for everyone. It leads to secrets, she added, "and the only point of having secrets is to reveal them."
GROWING PAINS, MINUS THE LAUGH TRACK
A trio of '70s and '80s sitcom kids are finding the '90s tough sledding. Adam (Eight Is Enough) Rich, now 23, was twice nabbed in April by L.A. police, for breaking into a pharmacy and for shoplifting. In August, Rich boasted of having kicked a decade-old habit of booze, drugs and painkillers but was arrested again, two months later, for allegedly stealing a Demerol-filled hypodermic from a hospital. Rich has since plea-bargained the shoplifting offense (in exchange for rehab and probation) and awaits trial on the other charges.
Dana (Diff'erent Strokes) Plato, now 27, was convicted of knocking off a Las Vegas video store (take: $164) in February. Despite ploys like baring all for Playboy, her career stalled after she quit the series in 1984; she committed the armed robbery just after losing a job at a dry cleaners. In August, Plato's six-year sentence was suspended; she must spend 200 hours lecturing teens on alcohol's dangers.
In September, Danny (The Partridge Family) Bonaduce, already on probation for a 1990 Florida cocaine rap, assaulted a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix. Shrugs Bonaduce, 32: "It was a fist-fight that I won—the guy happened to be dressed in a skirt." Perhaps, but it cost him his local deejay job, $4,500 in restitution to his victim and 750 hours of community service. In October, Bonaduce was hired for the second time by Philadelphia's WEGX-FM. At wife Gretchen's insistence, his contract calls for twice-weekly urine tests—which the irrepressible Bonaduce takes while on-air.
A GENERATION LATER, STILL MISSING IN ACTION
Released in July, the grainy photo hinted that of America's 2,273 Vietnam War MIAs, a trio of downed flyers was still alive in mid-1990. The Defense Department was skeptical—not one of several hundred past sightings has panned out. But the photo renewed a Senate committee investigation into the MIA issue; testified Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: "Our photographic experts have concluded the picture...has been altered." Yet Gladys Fleckenstein, 70, mother of Navy Lt. Comdr. Larry Stevens, insists the government is still "not doing a damn thing" and says her family plans a national billboard campaign to keep the issue alive. Says Air Force Maj. Albro Lundy Jr.'s son, attorney Albro III, 32: "The government has been dangling us off a cliff. We want answers, resolution. They want anything but." And in October, Deborah Robertson Bardsley, 37, a daughter of Air Force Col. John Robertson, journeyed to North Vietnam, where she paid $800 to visit his crash site. Bardsley's fear: that "he has been alive and thinks that his family doesn't care—that his country doesn't care."
CHEERS FOR A TEXAS POM-POM
What's a mother to do when another teenager twice beats out her own daughter for a spot on the junior-high cheerleading squad? In September a Harris County, Texas, jury convicted 37-year-old Wanda Holloway of putting out a $2,500 contract on the other girl's mom. But after a 15-year sentence had been meted out, the verdict was set aside in November; one juror was under felony indictment and thus ineligible to serve.
Holloway claims a new witness will testify that she was framed by her first husband's brother and vows the new trial, probably starling next spring, "will come out different." Prosecutor Mike Anderson agrees: He plans to seek an even longer sentence.
CITIZEN KANE—OR CITIZEN CON?
In November, eight months after British media lord Robert Maxwell added to his two-continent empire by buying New York City's ailing Daily News, the self-styled "Captain Bob" was found off the Canary Isles, naked and dead in the water. Just how the Czech émigré, 68, vanished from Lady Ghislaine, his 180-foot yacht, was quickly overshadowed by scandal. Maxwell, whose holdings also included the London Daily Mirror and Collier encyclopedias, had apparently met massive debt payments by secretly robbing some $1.5 billion from public companies and employee pension funds on both sides of the Atlantic.
The disclosures threw the empire into bankruptcy and two sons—Kevin, 32, and Ian, 35—under suspicion of complicity. Within a month of running a reverent front-page eulogy of its late owner, the Daily Mirror denounced Maxwell as "a thief and a liar," and a Daily News article about its fallen angel was headlined CAPTAIN CROOK.
A PAINFUL EXORCISM OF CHILDHOOD HORRORS
A Phi Beta Kappa scholar and champion swimmer, beautiful Marilyn Van Derbur seemed an ideal Miss America in 1958. Yet her smiles masked a devastating secret, as Marilyn, now 54, revealed in May. Between the ages of 5 and 18, she had been a repeated incest victim of her father, Denver businessman Francis S. Van Derbur, who died in 1984.
That same year, after long guarding that dark corner of her past, she finally found herself "totally dysfunctional" and unable to continue her career as a motivational speaker. With the support of her husband, attorney Larry Atler, Marilyn entered therapy. Later, she contacted Denver's Kempe National Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect and offered to help others. (In addition, the Van Derbur family gave the Kempe Center $240,000 to launch the Adult Incest Survivors Program.)
Marilyn says that for the most part her family has been supportive and that "hundreds of letters poured in from [other] survivors after my story was in PEOPLE." For now, she has spurned all book and movie offers (for fear they would be "violative of my family") but continues to speak regularly on behalf of other incest victims. (Inspired by her courage, comedian Roseanne Arnold came forward in September with her own tale of family abuse.)
Noting that up to 95 percent of victims never report the incidents, Marilyn will record radio public service announcements to spotlight the issues of child abuse and neglect. "I used to believe that if anyone knew my secret, my life would be over," she says. "I had put the shame in the wrong place, with me instead of my father. Now I feel no shame."
A CRIME OF PASSION WITH NO RESOLUTION
Who pumped nine bullets into 40-year-old suburbanite Betty Jeanne Solomon the night her grade-school teacher husband had parking-lot sex with his mistress? The mistress herself, said police, who arrested Carolyn Warmus, now 27, for the 1989 murder of her lover's wife in New York's Westchester County.
Testimony in the so-called Fatal Attraction case painted Warmus as so possessive of colleague Paul Solomon, 44, that she killed his wife. The defense stressed the absence of any witness, any murder weapon or any forensic evidence while successfully portraying both Solomons as practiced adulterers.
On April 27, after deliberating 12 days, the jury declared itself hung. (One consequence: A book and TV movie on the case were put on hold pending Warmus's second trial.)
In September, Paul Solomon was denied classroom duties in Greenburgh, N.Y., after petitions of protest from parents; however, he still draws full pay. Warmus, free on $250,000 bond, will face an additional charge of having forged a defense exhibit in the first trial.
Round 2 is set to start in several weeks.
SEVEN MINUTES THAT SHOOK L.A.
At 12:30 A.M. on March 3, George Holliday, 31, was awakened by sirens and a helicopter hovering above his San Fernando Valley apartment. The scene out-side caused him to grab his new camcorder. Two days later Holliday, manager of a plumbing business, took his tape to KTLA-TV. The footage of white L.A. cops savagely pummeling prostrate black construction worker Rodney King, 25, quickly brought simmering racial tensions to a boil.
Daryl Gates, L.A. Police Chief-for-life since 1978, was roundly criticized for tolerating departmental brutality and racism. After an independent task force reported that the police would benefit from a new leader, Gates, 65, agreed to step aside next April—maybe. (He has hinted he must approve his successor.) Meanwhile three policemen and their on-scene superior, charged with beating King, are set to stand trial in early 1992; because of extensive publicity, they will be tried in nearby Ventura County.
Camcorder-man Holliday will soon begin logging court time himself. Subpoenaed to testify at the officers' trial, he is also bringing suits against stations that ran his tape without permission or payment.
The battered victim, Rodney King—never ticketed for the alleged traffic violations that led to his beating—is recuperating in seclusion. According to his attorney, Steve Lerman, the blows to King's head "were so forceful they knocked some fillings out of his teeth." The damage report, according to Lerman: broken bones at the base of King's skull, facial fractures that required surgery, chipped teeth, a severely broken leg and possible damage to the brain and heart.
King has filed a civil rights suit against the LAPD, seeking unspecified monetary damages. Though refusing all interview requests, King has told PEOPLE, through Lerman, "I know I'm not the first one this sort of thing has happened to. But I pray to God I'll be the last."
FOR HIM, THE WAR WAS A BRIEF ENCOUNTER
Desert Shield flared into Desert Storm just as three-star Gen. Thomas Kelly was set to retire after 34 years of Army service. Asked to stay on to handle the Pentagon press corps, as he had during the 1989 U.S. strike on Panama, Kelly conducted daily briefings over the next two months. Then, two days after war's end, he hung up his uniform.
Today the avuncular Kelly, 59, is still Q & A'ing—but for up to $20,000 an appearance. He now has his own agent and has been crisscrossing the country discussing the Gulf War with groups ranging from the CEOs of the Young Presidents' Organization to metropolitan New York grocers. Also signed by NBC to serve as a military analyst, he and his wife of 35 years, Dorothy, recently moved from German town, Pa., to Woodbridge, Va., to be nearer another new posting as well: adjunct professor at George Washington University's engineering school. "Dot's been able to order furniture and drapes and things she's never been able to do before," says Kelly contentedly. "Uncle Sam doesn't pay very much. For the first time, she can live a little bit first class."
A.F.T.E.R THE WAR
Post-Gulf, ex-POW Jeffrey Zaun, Scud Stud Arthur Kent and other veterans make their peace
HER ARABIAN NIGHTS WERE NOT MAGICAL
Shortly after both a miscarriage and a divorce, Army Spec. 4 Melissa Rathbun-Nealy of Grand Rapids, Mich., was tasked to Saudi Arabia. Then on Jan. 30, her luck worsened. She and Spec. 4 David Lockett were on a supply run near the Kuwaiti border when their flatbed bogged in the sand. First to reach them: an Iraqi patrol. Freed 33 days later (five days before her 21st birthday), America's first female captive of the war was quick to scotch fears of Iraqi mistreatment. "They did everything in their power to make me feel comfortable," she said.
In March, near her Fort Bliss, Texas, home base, Melissa married fellow gulf warrior Spec. 4 Michael Coleman, 31. The couple recently received new orders. Come February they'll again ship out—to a less hazardous overseas billet in Germany.
IN IRAQ, BRAVING BOMBS (AND BRICKBATS)
Baghdad gave combat war-horse Peter Arnett another chance to lap the field. After joining CNN colleagues Bernard Shaw and John Holliman to bring the world live video and audio of Desert Storm's opening salvos, the New Zealand native refused to evacuate.
As the sole accredited Western newsman in Iraq for two weeks, Arnett, 57, beamed out Iraqi-censored footage of bomb damage and on-the-street interviews and even phoned a marriage proposal (to Israeli-based American journalist Kimberly Moore, 24). But such scoops as a 90-minute talk with Saddam had some U.S. critics calling for CNN to pull the plug; one still sneeringly insists that "Arnett was Hussein's one big hope."
Since the war Arnett, father of two by his first wife, has been on the rubber-chicken circuit and writing his memoirs. When the book is done, he and Kimberly are "going somewhere exotic to tie the knot." Reflecting on his risk-prone career, Arnett says, "It's not the idea of a story being worth dying for, it's having to cover important news." And, he adds, "What we did this past year, everyone will be doing in the future. We've revolutionized the business."
PUTTING A LID ON IRAQ'S CRUDE REVENGE
"You half expect to see little guys with pitchforks and tails coming out of the ground," said one American oil-field engineer, surveying the desert inferno in Kuwait, where retreating Iraqi forces had set ablaze 650 wells. By war's end, 6 million barrels of oil were going up in smoke each day; the pall was visible to orbiting satellites.
To cap the wells, Kuwait eventually hired firefighters from 34 countries, including 72 from three Texas firms—Red Adair Co., Boots and Coots, and Wild Well Control. Although experts initially feared the task would lake years, in fact the roughnecks got the job done in eight months (with, remarkably, fewer than 10 fatalities). When the Kuwaitis decided to lay on a Nov. 6 fete for the Emir to officially extinguish the last blaze, they first had to relight a well that had already been snuffed.
GOODBYE, SCUDS; FAREWELL, DESERT FOX
From the roof of the Dhahran International, he epitomized the Chic of Araby: a bomber-jacketed correspondent play-by-playing the deadly Scud-vs.-Patriot duels overhead. NBC's Arthur Kent was, at 37, already a double Emmy-winner for foreign reporting. But the Gulf War transformed him into a seven-week wonder, complete with fan clubs, cutesy nicknames (Scud Stud) and even a few R-rated faxes.
Though Kent noted that his strength was as a correspondent, NBC tried to cash in on Arthurmania by having him sub for Bryant Gumbel on Today. Audiences, alas, agreed with the self-assessment of Kent, who appeared ill at ease chatting through the soft news. Now back in Rome, Kent is again scouring Europe for stories, much as he had before he became—for one brief, shining moment—the Gulf War's Satellite Dish.
BEHIND BARS, THEY WERE SITTING DUCKS
During the seven months that Iraq occupied Kuwait before Desert Storm, some of Saddam's units bivouacked at the Kuwait City zoo—where they regarded the animals as either main courses or the source of cruel amusement. The soldiers dined on deer, baby water buffalo and even a porcupine; they also shot and wounded an elephant and a monkey. Despite the efforts of Kuwaiti volunteers (like the al-Hohti brothers, below) who brought in feed, by war's end just 30 of the zoo's 442 animals remained.
Since the cease-fire John Walsh, 51, of the Boston-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, has been coordinating efforts to bring in food, water and veterinarians. On his first visit, in March, Walsh was appalled: "Can you imagine seven months of hippo crap, four feel deep? I've been to zoos the world over, and I've seen thin animals in dirty cages. But this was different."
U.S. and British soldiers quickly pitched in, securing water tanks from bombed-out buildings, bringing mess-hall scraps and attempting to re-establish the traumatized animals' confidence in humans. "I remember one Special Forces guy who would cut up apples for the monkeys," says Walsh. "He'd sit at their cage for hours as the monkeys cowered, afraid to come out. But slowly they built up a relationship until the monkeys would shriek with pleasure when they saw his truck coming."
By November, the surviving water buffalo, bald from starvation, were growing fresh coats, and even Dalal, the elephant shot in the shoulder, had mended without surgery: "The wound healed, and he has no pain whatsoever." says Walsh. "Now he's just like an old World War II guy with a war injury."
In February the seven-acre compound—its buildings repainted, its broken glass repaired—will reopen to the public.
PLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER CREWMAN
Two days after his Navy A-6E Intruder was shot down over southwestern Iraq, navigator-bombardier Lt. Jeffrey Zaun of Cherry Hill, N.J., was trotted before Iraqi TV cameras and made to mouth stilted antiwar propaganda. Under-cutting the effect: his face, bruised as if from torture.
In fact, as Zaun revealed when he and pilot Robert Wetzel were repatriated six weeks later, most of the injuries occurred during his high-speed bailout. Other bruises were self-inflicted in hopes of diminishing his propaganda value.
Bachelor Zaun, 29, recuperated for several months. Shortly after acting as honorary grand marshall of the Miss America parade, he was tasked to a flattop now cruising, ironically, the Persian Gulf.
A FALLEN HEROINE GETS A FINAL SALUTE
Paul and Gertrude Rossi still grieve over the March 1 loss of their vivacious 32-year-old daughter, Marie, the Army's first woman commander to die in a combat area during the Gulf War. Yet the Oradell, N.J., couple now take some comfort that her loyalty to her country will soon have a lasting tribute. Last March, Major Rossi was chosen as the fund-raising poster figure for an $18 million memorial to military women to be built in 1993 at Arlington National Cemetery, not far from where Rossi is buried. "Marie's a symbol of all women who've served in our country's wars," says Paul, 77, himself a Marine veteran of World War II. "It's an honor she would approve of."
Many Americans were introduced to Marie on Feb. 23, the day before the ground assault against Kuwait, when she appeared in a CNN segment about women in war. One of 34,000 U.S. women deployed to the gulf (the largest number ever to serve so close to combat), the personable Major Rossi made a strong impression. Six days later, as she flew her Chinook helicopter at night and in bad weather, it crashed into an unlighted microwave tower. Stunned, many Americans felt as if they had lost someone they knew, if only briefly.
"People haven't forgotten her," says Gertrude, 71, at home, where Marie's cats, Praline and Squeaker, gambol about a living room filled with pictures, medals and posthumous awards. "We've gotten over a thousand letters. And we're still going to dinners in her honor. They even named a local swimming pool where she was a lifeguard after her. It's all very touching, but it's still painful."
Marie's husband of one year, Chief Warrant Officer John Cayton, 36, a chopper pilot stationed at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Ga., adds, "She's still very much with me. For months I could hardly talk about her without breaking up inside. I just wish everyone who died over there could get the same recognition as she received."
As if in answer to Major Rossi's belief that qualified women should be given the same combat flight duties as men, President Bush signed a measure on Dec. 5 allowing the Defense Department to have that option in future conflicts. "I believe Marie's courage and sacrifice helped bring about this long overdue change in the law," says retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, head of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. "She was one of our finest. Now she's left us a lasting legacy."
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