EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review.
When Teresa Heinz Kerry, as she is now known, first slipped into the public consciousness, we were titillated by the promise of unique copy to come. Here was an older, sophisticated woman, cushioned by enormous wealth and, we hoped, possessed of a grand personal style.
A tip-off to the potential for delicious indiscretion came from Lisa DePaulo’s interview in Elle magazine. There Heinz Kerry blithely nattered on about a pre-nup with her second husband, her Botox injections, and how she would happily remove a husband’s dangly bits if she caught him cheating. The interview caused a sensation. Reporters drooled at the possibility of future features and flashes. We pictured Kerry’s staff calling out for cardiac paddles just to get through the primaries. Here at last was a flamboyant, carefree spirit who could not be tamed; this was going to be better than Martha Mitchell swilling Jack Daniel’s on a 2 a.m. phone call. Teresa unplugged was going to be fun. But, as we have sadly come to see, not fun enough.
Teresa Heinz Kerry was a different kind of political wife. She had unfamiliar trappings: the certain ripeness of age, earthy good looks–a kind of throwaway chic, stomping around in sling-back Chanel heels and untucked $600 silk blouses. She also had wads and wads, stacks, piles, mountains of endless money. Money she apparently totally controlled. She had five houses, innumerable cars, presumably green-carded servants, and a private Gulfstream jet. After years of pastel Talbots shirts and Mao suits from lockstep female pols, we were ready for drag-a-sable high nonchalance. We were ready for Ava Gardner in a sarong followed by maracas-shaking cabana boys. Or perhaps–if she was African American, as she claimed early on–a bit of Josephine Baker bananas-and-purple-feathers glam.
We wanted the knowing wisecracks of an Eve Arden, and the toughness of a Margaret Thatcher. We expected–given her life among the rich, powerful, and secure–that accumulation of unembarrassed insolence known as “cool.” We were hungry for the drama of a dying American species: the Grande Dame. We wanted someone with that kind of money to spend it on yards and yards of tulle and chiffon and to let them blow in the political winds.
But let’s face it: The scarves were wool, and way too short. Teresa whinged when a Georgetown salon wanted an extra $60 to send someone to her house for a $30 manicure; she thereby missed a golden opportunity to go to the salon, over-tip everybody, order out for champagne, and be comped for life just for the publicity. The closest she came to a cutting put-down was a Teamsteresque “shove it” to a Pittsburgh reporter. The gunshot publicity from the comment drove her, a few nights later, to deliver probably the uncoolest political speech ever made: remarks before the Democratic convention that sounded like one long political suicide note.
After months of watching Teresa Kerry, it dawns on the observer that she is being suppressed. She is swallowing her inner Beatrice Lillie, and devolving into just another loopy rich lady who made the wrong decision about a man.
She was born Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, East Africa. The product of convent schools, she was, from all reports, a devout Catholic and a daily communicant up through her college days in South Africa. Beautiful, smart, and from a good family, she graduated and left for interpreter school in Switzerland, where she met John Heinz, scion of one of America’s greatest fortunes. On their first encounter, he told her his family was “in the soup business.” (Sort of like John Kerry saying, “I was in the Navy.”) She came to the States to marry him.
What a long, strange journey it has been since then: their wedding at the Heinz family’s private chapel in Pittsburgh; a life of untold luxe; her years as a senator’s wife; three children; Heinz’s sudden death in a plane crash. There she was with three teenage sons and scads of money under her control. One senses that the decade Teresa spent as a single woman was lonely, and perhaps the strain of handling so much wealth made her vulnerable to a younger man’s charms.
Then there is the very real chance that she actually fell in love with the gangly, self-centered junior senator from Massachusetts. She tried life as a senator’s wife a second time. One gets the very distinct feeling that, however she saw her “golden” years playing out, the vision didn’t include uneaten chili at Wendy’s. We doubt that she ever truly pictured herself on a bus grinding through Kansas and Nebraska, listening to the same people she had been with for days say the same things over and over. She couldn’t have imagined herself standing on sweltering platforms, sweating through her blazer, listening to her husband drone on for endless, sun-fried hours about Social Security and outsourcing. Can one blame her for finally snapping at the end of the first cross-country tour of the campaign–for demanding her own room and complaining that there had been no time to “just be”?
It may be that Buyer’s Remorse has finally set in. Perhaps Teresa has grown weary of her upscale walker. And of his high price tag: There was that business of the $6 million loan, and those toys, like the $8,000 bike. Reporters who have interviewed Teresa say she has a pixyish sense of humor; sadly, despite her fortune, she’s stuck with a man who seems to have none.
One night during the tour, she found herself on a platform with a mariachi band. Finally the madcap heiress we had been longing for kicked in. She grabbed a cute, young guy and started to dance. She was into some really good moves when her husband showed up, cut in, and couldn’t even keep time to the music. She quit and walked off the stage.
It may be that Teresa talked about herself at the Democratic convention because it was her only chance. She has invested her millions and the last really good ten years of her life in a man who can’t shut up about himself, who lives in a fantasy world, and carries a little play hat–a souvenir from his Cambodian fantasy–in a “secret compartment” of his briefcase. He says it was given to him by a make-believe CIA operative in a country he’s never been to, on a mission that couldn’t have happened. Having to listen to that story more than once should send any girl who knows better (and Teresa most certainly does) running to l’orangerie to fluff the hydrangeas and wonder what she got herself into.
In her heart, Teresa may know that this will all be over soon. She can climb aboard her Gulfstream, nod to the uniformed steward for a flute of Dom Perignon, kick off her Chanels, and ponder what might have been. She might have provided so much fun for herself (and the rest of us) by being the Real Teresa — if only she hadn’t had to defer to the handlers, the pollsters, the flacks, the pols, and one more senator in her life. She could have brought us just a taste of the Grande Dames of old — trailing Shalimar and cabana boys, making people dance to her tune, not someone else’s — if she hadn’t had that extra baggage to haul around. Maybe some day she can write a book about what it was like out there, tormented by all those people shaping her into something she was not — someone no one wanted to know, talk about, or quote. As things stand now, it’s “shove it” and “four more years of hell” and “there’s no time to just be.” That’s as wild and crazy as she’s permitted herself to get. She could tell herself she tried: She really did. But there was someone else in the picture.
When Fay Wray died recently, stories quoted her saying that, though she’d been in around 80 movies, the only one people remembered was the one with the big monkey.
Teresa, take heed.
–Lucianne Goldberg is publisher and executive editor of Lucianne.com News Forum.