Fawn Hall, Ollie's Ally and Shredder, Wows the Hill

updated 06/22/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1987 01:00AM

Long before Fawn Hall was sworn in as a witness at Congressional hearings on the Iran-contra affair on Capitol Hill, she had been seized upon by the press and transformed into a tabloid heroine. After the scandal broke in November, she became "Ollie's Angel," the "Iranscam Beauty" who was unswervingly loyal to her beleaguered boss, Lieut. Col. Oliver North. By the time the hearings began, the most shameless publications had put her in the same sex-kitten niche as Jessica Hahn and Donna Rice: One jaundiced writer snidely pronounced the three "the girls of summer."

But Hall, 27, never had much in common with the victimized Hahn or the hapless Rice. Leggy, well-dressed, blazingly photogenic, she was a welcome antidote to the wattled males who completed the Iranscam cast. Still, she was a loyal foot soldier, not a scarlet woman, and in her eagerly anticipated appearance before the House and Senate select committee, she emerged as a dedicated civil servant whose diligence might, under ordinary circumstances, have gladdened the hearts of taxpayers everywhere.

With the hearings stretching into a sixth week, Hall's testimony came at a point when only hard-core news-hounds were clamoring for more. But her Monday-afternoon debut prompted NBC to rejoin the hearings after a month of network indifference. Ordinary citizens of the republic turned out to queue up for seats in the hearing room, and a solid wall of photographers positioned themselves between Hall and her interrogators. Few could hear her being sworn in: Every automatic camera in the room clacked into action the moment she raised her right hand.

If Fawn's story contained no bombshells, it provided a riveting glimpse of life in North's orbit. There was never a boring moment in North's suite of offices next to the White House. There were phone calls from top Administration officials, delivery of a package containing thousands of dollars in cash, visits from contra leader Adolfo Calero, who used the nom de guerre "Sparkplug." Finally, on the eve of a Justice Department investigation into North's activities, there was a shredding frenzy so ambitious that the machine jammed while the dutiful Fawn (code name: Sunshine) crammed it with classified documents.

Hall's surefooted testimony limned her own character as well. The basics had become public knowledge: Raised in a Virginia family of civil servants (her stepfather is a photographer in the Defense Department; her mother worked as an NSC executive secretary), she had become a Navy secretary soon after graduating from Annandale High School in 1977. In 1983 she had joined the NSC staff of the zealous Oliver North, and friends say her sense of mission was equal to his. Even while trying to develop her career as a model, she worked 12-hour days as his secretary, sometimes turning down photo shoots in favor of typing his memos. As she told the committee, "I was part of the team." And if that meant smuggling documents out in her boots or down the back of her dress, Fawn was willing, no questions asked. Not because she wasn't bright enough to ask them, but because she trusted her superior (code name: Blood and Guts) and put her faith in following orders.

Fawn's supporters have claimed all along that the press was underestimating her. "People don't understand the strength of character that woman has," says political scientist Arturo Cruz Jr., once a Sandinista, later a contra convert, who dated Hall for some 18 months. Her close friend Katey Dickey agrees: "When she was working at the National Security Council, that was a very high-speed atmosphere. She's used to handling a lot of stress."

TV audiences hoping for histrionics were certainly disappointed. One sensed strong feeling in her exchange with Sen. William Cohen of Maine, when she argued that North be given immunity, but there were no titillating breakdowns, no facile tears. And when the quizzing was done, the unwilling sex symbol left with her mother and stepfather. The press squeezed in a final question as Fawn—once again a garden-variety Navy secretary—was hustled away: "Are you glad it's over?" someone shouted.

"Yes," she said quietly, and then she was gone.

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