For Once, No Comment

updated 03/30/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1992 01:00AM

TOPIC: MAKE A VOW, BREAK A VOW! Television's loudest and most famous ex-Jesuit turned conservative commentator is getting a divorce. It should be a noisy affair—true or false? Hurry up, what's your answer? Time's running out. True, you say? Well, you are wrong!

Or so it might go if John McLaughlin, 65, chose to headline his marital woes on The McLaughlin Group, his weekly gong show for news junkies. Fact is, the divorce settlement reached last week between John and Ann Dore McLaughlin, 50, a former Secretary of Labor, was arrived at quietly. The potential for nastiness, though, always threatened to puncture the surface calm.

Demonstrating that they planned to take their leave of each other civilly, the couple, during the proceedings, officially lived under the same roof in Washington, D.C. "Well, it was not exactly War of the Roses," said McLaughlin's lawyer, Glenn Lewis. "In that movie the couple stake out a battleground, play psychological warfare and ultimately kill each other. This was settled peacefully." When she first filed for divorce, however, Ann alleged that John had stopped paying $10,000 a month for home expenses and had exerted sole "control of marital property worth millions of dollars."

The couple's romance blossomed in the early '70s, when John, while still officially a priest, took a job as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Ann was public affairs director for the Environmental Protection Agency. Dubbed the Brooks Brothers Jesuit during his White House gig, John gave up his Roman collar in 1975 to wed Ann. The marriage apparently started falling apart when McLaughlin was slapped with a $4 million sexual harassment suit in August 1988 by his former executive assistant Linda Dean, then 35. She claimed her boss told her "he needed a lot of sex" and on several occasions had touched her "intimately and against her will." McLaughlin adamantly denied the charges. News of the suit broke just days before Ann had to deliver a high-profile speech at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Says one former McLaughlin associate: "She was totally humiliated." The sexual harassment suit was eventually settled out of court in December 1989 for an undisclosed sum.

When President Bush did not reappoint Ann as Secretary of Labor, she devoted much of her free time to overseeing six months of remodeling their $2 million home. "That house needed a hell of a lot of renovation," says another McLaughlin associate. "John once had his accountant in the office call his wife and tell her they couldn't spend any more money."

Even friends acknowledge that the couple are complex individuals who can be difficult. "There is a part of John McLaughlin that is genuinely tortured," savs Marina Ein, his former publicist. "I believe he still wrestles with his faith and prays." Others describe him as less tortured than torturing. Says one former staffer: "Once he didn't like the way someone closed a door. He had him stand there and open and shut the door for 15 minutes." Gail Neyland, a senior vice president of McLaughlin's production company, says, "If that's true, it's an example of John's sense of humor." Funny or not, McLaughlin's haughty manner has irritated Washington biggies, among them George Bush and Dan Quayle. At one point, when Bush, then Vice President, called to express regrets about canceling an appearance on his One on One show, McLaughlin refused to speak with him. Now, he is out of favor at the White House.

McLaughlin's wife, apparently, was no more easily intimidated. "Ann is tough," says a friend of the couple. "He would come into their house bellowing. She would shout back, 'This is my house! Behave.' She seemed to be the one person he was civil around."

Whether the house is still hers, under terms of the secret divorce agreement, remains to be seen. "I guess you'll know when someone moves out," says McLaughlin's attorney, Glenn Lewis. "Won't you?"

DAVID GROGAN
JANE SIMS PODESTA in Washington, D.C.

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