Motion Picture Magazine
Mary Hartman, Louise Lasser
America’s Favorite Housewife
Featuring Never-Before-Revealed Facts About:
· What Really Happened in That Boutique
· Why the Cocaine was in Her Purse
· Why Her Lawyer Quit the Case
By Will Tusher
Louise Lasser, Louise Lasser, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a mess like this?
You’re the runaway star of the season’s runaway television hit, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Leave the scripts to the writers, Louise! So far, they haven’t done so badly…
How Louise Lasser came to have the cocaine on her is something that, as of this writing, she had not revealed to the public. Nor had she and her lawyers yet decided whether they would go public with it. But a close friend of Louise’s told Motion Picture what she claimed were the true circumstances leading to the incident. There was a Catch 22 atmosphere to the unfolding of the real-life adventures of Louise Lasser…
The irony, according to the friend, is that Louise had never sniffed cocaine. If she had, that vial wouldn’t have been in her purse, and she wouldn’t have had to phone her house from jail to explain to waiting guests that she would be a little late for the birthday party she was throwing for Sandra Baker, her wardrobe woman on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”
Louise Lasser is a very sentimental lady, and that’s how she got into this pickle in the first place. Getting into pickles, in fact, is Louise’s specialty in life. That’s why her role in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” fits her like poured cement.
One of the hallmarks of Louise’s personality is that she never likes to hurt anyone’s feelings, and it is beyond her to suspect that anyone is up to no good.
It was some months ago—she can’t even remember exactly how many—that an acquaintance insisted on giving her the vial of cocaine. “Try it, you’ll like it,” he urged. It was, he assured her, a great upper, a real spirit lifter.
He seemed so anxious for her to discover the wonders of cocaine that Louise didn’t know how to say no. Drugs weren’t her trip, but obviously he meant no harm. So, with a bewildered shrug, she let him drop the vial into her bag.
“So,” explains her close friend, “Louise said, ‘Maybe—some day.’ Like a dummy. She didn’t even think of there being anything wrong with having it—because she was not a user of it. It was so long ago she didn’t even remember it was there.”
But to know that’s the true story is one thing. To prove it in court is another…
. . .
It had all begun on Saturday, when Louise drove down to The Rainbow boutique on Camden Drive from her off-Benedict Canyon home, without a care in the world. She would pick up a birthday present for Sandra and give it to her at the part at her house in the evening. The Rainbow, a very popular Beverly Hills boutique, was a nonprofit establishment operated for the benefit of the Arnie Carron Cancer Fund.
Louise was delighted when she discovered something she thought was suitable for the birthday gift—a large wooden dollhouse that she would have filled with toy mice.
The bill came to something over $100—and the trouble surfaced when it came time to pay for it. Louise had no cash or checks on her, just an American Express card. It was the store’s policy to accept Mastercharge, Bankamericard, cash, or check—but not American Express. Louise explained that she’d be glad to pay with Mastercharge, but she’d lost her Mastercharge card.
Lyly Galedary, the saleswoman who waited on her, said she’d be happy to hold it on layaway until Monday if need be, so Louise could come back and pay for it. But Louise thought she had a better idea. Why not just let her have it on trust, so she could have it today, when she needed it? After all, you needed only to look at Louise to know that she was honest.
Unfortunately, explained Ms. Galedary, it was against store policy; no merchandise could be released until paid for. Ms. Galedary later said she had no idea that Louise Lasser was the living incarnation of Mary Hartman, but that it would not have made any difference if she had. Store policy was store policy.
Louise became increasingly adamant, as Lyly tells it, and Lyly had no option but to hold her ground. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Louise delivered her allege ultimatum.
“She said she would not leave without the present,” Lyly repeated to Motion Picture, “and she said she was going to sit there all day long—which she proceeded to do. I guess it was around 1:00 p.m. when the police came.”
What brought the police running was a phone call from the store’s manager, Cora Dorsey. What brought the phone call from Cora Dorsey was Louise’s insistence, according to Lyly, on mixing her sit-in with a stream of profanity aimed, at random, at her and her customers. Lyly declined to repeat the epithets with which she says she was favored by Louise.
“I don’t use that kind of language,” she states. “I’m not accustomed to being sworn at. I don’t think anyone here is. She was putting down the shop, and yet she wanted to buy something here—which was kind of contradictory. If she didn’t like it, why was she here?”
For standing her ground, Louise found the earth giving way under her. She was brought in on a misdemeanor complaint of causing a disturbance in The Rainbow, but never booked on any charge arising out of the incident in the store. Instead, she found herself caught up on two traffic warrants and a felony count of drug possession when the vial containing a small amount of cocaine was found in her purse.
That vial of cocaine later measured out to 80 milligrams of the rich folks’ drug that reputedly markets for something in the neighborhood of $10,000 a pound. The street value of Louise’s 80 milligrams was $6 or $7! To give you an idea of how much of that white powder was contained in the vial, the market price on a mini-spoonful of cocaine is $200. Figure out what $6 worth would leave you with.
But the law doesn’t make such fine distinctions about quantity. Cocaine is a hard drug, and a one-count possession conviction in California calls for two to ten years in the state penitentiary.
In another Catch 22 touch, it was later to turn out that Louise had only one unanswered traffic citation standing against her, and not two as the police originally reported.
Meanwhile, Louise Lasser was freed on $1,631 bail—a nice, odd figure that made sense in the kinky world of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” When she had found herself in the hands of the gendarmes, she’d quickly discovered that Saturday was a lousy day to be caught in a jam. Getting someone to bail her out took some doing and some time. She couldn’t reach any of her omnipotent friends from Norman Lear’s Tandem-T.A.T. kingdom, so she phoned a friend who contacted another friend who sent a bail bondsman running.
When the bail bondsman finally arrived, Louise called her house, already alive with the hubbub of other “Mary Hartman” cast members and friends of Sandra who’d been invited to the party. They were all wondering where their hostess was when the phone rang.
“This is Louis,” she explained. “Just go on with the party until I get there. Something came up and I’ll be a little late.”
“Where are you calling from?”
Louise got to her house without a birthday gift—but with a dandy excuse. As one friend later said, “All she had was a little extra ink on her hand from the fingerprints.” The party proceeded according to plan, and Louise’s account of her adventure only added excitement to it. By Monday, however, the gravity of it had begun to take effect. Louise was incommunicado, and Tandem, Norman Lear’s production company, was maintaining a grimly low profile—while Lear himself ostensibly was unaware of the commotion. He was vacationing on a boat off the Virgin Islands, blissfully out of touch with civilization.
Sunset Strip movie-map peddlers were enjoying an all-time boom because the Los Angeles Herald Examiner had front-paged Louise’s home address when it broke the story of her arrest. It would be months, she was sure, before she would dare move back—if ever! Mad Saturday—after she was bailed out, after she held that incredible party at her house—was the last night she’d slept in her own bed. The next night she hid out at the San Fernando Valley home of her friend, Barbara Brogliatti, who publicizes “Mary Hartman” and looks after Louise Lasser as her special charge—all part of her duties as publicity chief of producer Norman Lear’s awesome television empire. She and Louise had become fast friends since the advent of “Mary Hartman.” The enormity of her predicament had not yet completely sunk in on Louise—but she willingly played the game of keeping her mind on other things.
Louise came over with her mongrel, Kefir, so named in honor of a liquid yogurt. Kefir played with Barbara’s two girl dogs, Cheyenne and Pookie, and that provided a pretext for running chatter.
Other than that, Louise spoke with her father in New York, S. Jay Lasser, the famed tax expert who is now retired, and who didn’t even do Louise’s tax returns when he was active. She spoke to some close friends and consulted with lawyers. In Barbara’s words, Louise tried to “keep it in perspective and tried to dwell on the good, not the bad.”
Mostly, she talked about and to the dogs.
The first lawyer brought in on the case didn’t last very long. He was Robert K. Steinberg, who frequently was called upon by Louise’s business management firm, Sol Lazarus and Co., to handle less consequential matters affecting Louise—like traffic tickets. Steinberg wanted to implement an immediate plan of strategy. Part of it was to talk with Louise and have her tell her story—or as much of it as he might think prudent—to the authorities. According to Ms. Brogliatti, official spokesperson for the show, Steinberg conveyed his ideas to Louise’s personal manager, Larry Brezner, and Brezner said, “No thanks, we have another means we want to go.”
Steinberg was very put out at not being permitted to see his client, and he insists that he stepped out because of that frustration. He claims that after being called in by Lazarus, he checked with the police and district attorney and set up appointments for Louise to talk with the proper authorities. He says he was told that the New York offices of Tandem would have to pass on his request to talk with Louise and take her to the district attorney’s office in the event he wished her to make a statement.
Says Steinberg, “I received a call back from New York that said I was to squash the case, that she would not appear in court, that she would not appear in my office, that I could not speak with her, I was to kill the case and squash it…I explained to them that maybe in New York they can pull this kind of crap, but this doesn’t go on in California, and they’re jeopardizing her rights because whatever rights she has will be protected by a lawyer.”
Steinberg still expressed indignation and concern even after he withdrew—or was excused—and attorney Donald Bringgold was assigned to the case.
“I wanted to speak with her to find out the facts,” Steinberg insists. “There are issues like search and seizure. Still unanswered [to his knowledge at the time] is how the cocaine got into her purse…There is the arrest issue. There’s the quantity of goods found, how the goods were found, the best procedure. A thousand different things.
“What does an agent know about a possession-of-cocaine charge? So I told them that if they didn’t produce her I was out. They called me back from New York the next day and said, ‘You’re out.’ It was someone from Norman Lear Productions. I didn’t even know who it was. I have no idea who the person was.”
Ironically, Steinberg claims that he told Lear’s representatives from the beginning that “if everything else failed she’d probably be diverted”—for diversion is exactly the course that was pursued by attorney Bringgold. During the week after her arrest, there were many strategy meetings between Louise and Bringgold. There had been a series of conferences between Bringgold and Deputy District Attorney Marvin Kaye, who heads the D.A.’s office in Beverly Hills. And by Thursday night, a final course of action had been determined.
Due to be arraigned before Judge Leonard Wolfe in Beverly Hills Municipal Court the following Tuesday, Louise would fool the news media and the general public by making a sneak appearance the next morning and filing what is called an “application for divergence.”
Divergence is the route Ryan O’Neal took when he was busted for marijuana possession earlier this year. It was not, as District Attorney Kaye told this reporter when he first indicated he was prepared to recommend divergence, a special out for celebrities. It was a state law providing for a defendant to avoid a trial by agreeing to enter a one-year rehabilitation program. At the end of that time—if she watched her p’s and q’s and lived up faithfully to the terms of her probation—Louise’s felony arrest would be wiped off the books and she would be as free as a bird.
But three preliminary conditions had to be met—first, the recommendation of the district attorney; second, the concurrence of the judge; third, an affirmative recommendation from the probation department. On Friday, without a blink of the eye, Louise got the first two crucial go-aheads from judge and district attorney. However, it would not be official until a month later when and if the probation department returned with the final green light on divergence.
On the Monday morning following the fateful Saturday, Louise reported to television station KTLA for the taping of “MH2”—as it has become to be called in the trade—as if nothing had happened. But except for the tapings, she wasn’t venturing out of her hotel, which she had moved to after leaving Ms. Brogliatti’s house and the name and whereabouts of which were a closely guarded secret known only to a few trusted confidantes.
Members of the cast gave her all the distance she wanted, and followed, publicly, the low-profile, business as usual line laid down by the show. They were sympathetic, assured Louise they were all behind her and offered to do anything they could. All she had to do was ask. She didn’t ask. The show went on—in its customarily unorthodox manner.
All through the week, Louise held up very well. When she talked with former husband Woody Allen three or four days after her arrest, he said all the right things like, “Don’t worry about it, Louise. Let the lawyers do the worrying. That’s what they’re getting paid for.”
But Thursday night—the night before when was to appear in court to make her application for divergence—the strain began to tell.
“Thursday night,” Barbara affirms, “she got very scared. All of a sudden the seriousness of it really hit. She saw all the newspaper clippings and heard all the radio stuff. She totally lost her concentration on everything. She couldn’t think about anything else. She couldn’t get her mind off it. Before that, we were able to do with the basic jokes. Which is like Norman’s way of doing things—to cover up the seriousness by making a joke about it.”
The next day, District Attorney Kaye recommended divergence after getting a Criminal investigation and information rap sheet from the state capital confirming that Louise had no prior convictions. Judge Wolfe went along, and the rest was up to the probation department.
Things were looking brighter, Louise felt better. Lots better.
While the news media chronicled Louise’s misadventure in print, on radio, and on television, the world of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” held together very nicely. There was not one threat of cancellation, reports the show—not even a single negative comment—from any of the stations that carry the series all around the country, nor were there any negative comments from viewers. And through it all there were the usual frantic requests for storylines and glossy pictures and Mary Hartman T-shirts.
One person who heard the account of Louise’s arrest on the radio thought it was a review of the show. In general, the show itself had provided an astonishing pre-conditioning. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” or Louise Lasser, Louise Lasser, she could do no wrong.