The following is a condensation of the book The Mary Hartman Story by Daniel Lockwood. I have chosen to include sections dealing with Charlie and Loretta Haggers as they apply directly to The Mary Kay Place Place subject matter.
This is not every single Charlie and Loretta sentence from the book as there are a number of plot outlines that continue after I left off. However, included here is Mr. Lockwood's interpretation of the characters, their early storylines, and their impact on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," which appears after his description of the events leading up to the climax of the Muriel Haggers plot.
The Mary Hartman Story
Bolder Books/Publishers/New York
In [the] beginning episodes [of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”] – where it seems so much happens with incredible swiftness – we are also introduced to the Hartmans’ next door neighbors, Charlie and Loretta Haggers, a deliriously happy couple. Charlie is considerably older than Loretta, but there are no celibate periods in the Haggers household, to be sure. Soon after we meet them, they set off for Nashville to peddle a demo record of young Loretta has made – it is their dream for her that she become a country music star. On the road, however, they meet with calamity. First they are terrorized by two armed re-necks who desist from raping Loretta only after she tells them that when she gets to Nashville she’ll push a song they’ve written. Then, after averting one disaster, the Haggerses collide with another – quite literally. They are crashed into a station wagon filled with tipsy nuns. Rushed to the hospital, Loretta is first informed that she is not, as she thought, pregnant and, as if that weren’t bad enough, she is also informed that she will probably never walk again. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they then find out that Charlie’s health insurance has expired and they are bankrupt...
...Charlie and Loretta are not so lucky in the medical news department. Her surgery has not only been ineffective, but was the wrong kind of operation. Still, Loretta is of a mystical bent and quite cheerful on the day of her release from the hospital – she just knows that everything is going to be all right. And, what’s more, the faith healer Dorelda Doremus is coming to Fernwood Friday night. She and Charlie decide not to buy a wheelchair, but to rent one on a daily basis, since she definitely won’t be needing it very long. (We are not nearly so convinced of this.) Mary, an ace researcher, learns in a magazine that Dorelda Doremus’s real name is Irma Permutter and that she comes from Brooklyn. This seems to throw her legitimacy into grave doubt – Mary’s idea of a faith healer would more likely allow someone from Plains, Georgia. (Mary also explains to a curious Loretta that the Hartmans have so many Bibles about the house because they are souvenirs brought back from Mary’s sister’s many nights in various motels.) Meanwhile, Charlie is trying to borrow money and foolishly, innocently, signs away the ownership of his house to the Friendly Loan Company. The sharpie who hustles him correctly predicts that this is a day Charlie will always remember...
...Dorelda the faith healer (to no one’s surprise – no one but Loretta and Charlie, that is) fails to deliver the miraculous goods, but Loretta is still not discouraged...
...Loretta, who, even when paralyzed, performed her wifely duties with a selfless fervor that made Mabel Morgan seem like a snow queen, indicated wooingly to Charlie that she was, as the saying goes, “in the mood” and Charlie, no slouch when it comes to appreciating the erotic treasure he has in Loretta, responded with a little pinch to her knees...And Loretta felt it! After a separation from her sensations she is unexpectedly reunited with them. It is mysterious, ineffable: suddenly, the Haggerses seem to be in the presence of a Higher Power – their Christian love and eroticism has delivered its wild, unspoken promise and brought them a miracle into their lives. They begin to pray – and of course here in Modern America it is always a little humorous and a little upsetting to see people in fervent prayer...But whatever our cultural discomfort with seeing actual grownups on their knees, talking to and praising some invisible Spirit, the fact remains that Charlie and Loretta have a lot to be surprised at and a lot to be grateful for. Loretta, who is never so far gone as to lose sight of her impending career, promises God a share of her ASCAP rights after she makes it as a country song composer...
...[Mary Hartman has set up a rendez-vous with Mae Olinsky, the woman with whom Tom Hartman had an extra-marital affair, and Mae’s second husband. The scene at the Capri Lounge, where Loretta performs, turns into an all-out brawl.] It would have meant a grim night at the Capri had it not been for another miraculous leap forward in Loretta’s recovery. Doing a number for the assembled, she began tapping a toe that had not been movable since the accident. (She is singing a gospel number at the time – what else?) Then, as if Jimmy Carter’s sister had just lain hands on her, Loretta, moved beyond description, gets up from her wheelchair. It is an astounding moment for all present, a glimpse at another world. All is joy except for the unscrupulous, humorously desperate attorney, Lucius Winnow (a name Dickens would give to a lawyer), who happens to be in attendance. He begins to bellow with fright and rage for Loretta to sit down: she is sinking his precious malpractice suit, ruining everything.
Later, Loretta gets the word from her vague, neurotic doctor (a chain-smoker) that her legs are on the mend and that she will be cured. Flushed with joy, she celebrates her incredible good news with a prodigious junk food feast: tacos, hamburgers, and milkshakes – double-thick cherry-vanilla. All of this is consumed in her secular church – the bedroom – and she and Charlie are about to begin some serious celebrating when a dazed Mary comes in. Since the fracas at the Capri – where she also began to suspect Tom was still interested in Mae in a way that went beyond sympathy – Mary has been in a deep funk. She feels that her life makes no sense, that nothing recognizable, nothing definable lies at the center of it. In an era of “do-your-own thing” Mary has the feeling that her thing doesn’t exist, or else that it exists someplace so removed from her that it would take a miracle as great as Loretta’s to lead her to it. The day before, this existential terror tore her from her bed in the middle of the night, at which time she went to the kitchen to think about her life. However, even at five in the morning she could find no peace…In the space of a few moments, Mary’s introspection was interrupted by Tom, Cathy, Loretta, and twice by Grandpa Larkin. Loretta and Cathy, oblivious to the crisis in Mary’s life because it is an inactive, nameless crisis, engaged each other in a little shop talk about sex, with Loretta celebrating the length of her orgasmic states and Cathy coming in a regretful, though impressive second. Mary is so hounded by them that she crawls under the sink to think and then, in a moment that was talked about and repeated for weeks by “MH2" fans, she calls the Fernwood directory assistance, just to see if she actually exists...
...Things continue intensely at the plant [where Charlie Haggers and Tom Hartman work] as well. (A union rivalry is a rare subject in American folk culture, which usually has been upwardly mobile.) Charlie, who is busily raising money for himself and Loretta by selling raffle tickets, is pestered by a ratty foreman called Tiny. The usually placid Charlie punches out Tiny – knocking him cold with a single blow...
...The increasingly mobile Loretta has received some fabulous news. The engineer who presided over her recording of the demonstration tape was impressed enough to produce a record from it! This stroke of good luck dovetails nicely with the case being dropped against big C for his punching out of the plant foreman...
...Next door to the Hartmans, Loretta and Charlie continue to be awash in great and horrible news, fate coming ceaselessly in their direction. Loretta’s disk looks like it might really be successful and even the foreman who Charlie knocked out is making obsequious overtures in his direction. Yet at the same time, the Haggerses have heard from Muriel, a Voice from the Past. She is Charlie’s first wife and she is on her way to Fernwood. For what purpose? No one knows. But Charlie promises that whatever Muriel tampers with inevitably goes afoul. She is a jinx, a curse. Loretta can’t be expected to follow these metaphysical speculations however; Muriel’s phone call is the first Loretta has ever heard of Charlie’s former marriage. She will refer to Muriel as Charlie’s “other wife...”
...Since Charlie and Loretta, regardless of their other qualities (and their lack of qualities), represent, in the context of the show, an ideal, a marital summit, this sudden exterior attack on their marriage is indeed a cause for alarm. Muriel, that hand from the past, that fragrant ghost...We are tipped in advance that her visit will be a tempestuous one by a dream, Charlie’s dream (an old technique in classical drama). Like most good men and tragic heroes, he can in no way totally submerge his contradictory feelings and so, though he is dedicated to Loretta, he calls Muriel’s name as he sleeps. Loretta hears it and even she – who adores Charlie and could never truly suspect him of being less faithful than she is – finds it a challenge to believe Charlie’s explanation: he was having a nightmare. Next episode Muriel finally arrives. According to the New York Post she looks like a “road company Blanche DuBois with a touch of the store-front reader adviser.” She wastes no time in revealing what has brought her to Fernwood, in fact she is brutally honest about it: she has come to destroy Charlie’s happiness. She reveals also the reson for her psychological vendetta. When she and Charlie had been married for five months, some 15 years ago, the diner they owned was invaded by a hold-up man. When the bandit told Charlie to put his hands up, Charlie quickly obeyed, not stopping to realize that he was holding a pan of piping hot bacon fat, which hit Muriel in the face. Now, she says, she has a scar which she must hide by carefully spraying and coiffing her hair. (Speaking of hair, when the grease hit, Muriel retaliated by setting Charlie’s toupee on fire.)
Apparently acting from her center of innocence, Loretta suggests – no, insists – that Muriel spend her time in Fernwood as the Haggerses’ guest, though Charlie fearfully warns of the folly of such a course. During an earnest discussion, Charlie tries to impress on Loretta the dangers represented by Muriel. He tells Loretta about the diner, the hold-up, the accidental burning. Later, however, the blowsy, ingratiating, presumptuous, mysterious Muriel contradicts Charlie’s account and says there was no hold-up after all. Now she says that Charlie simply threw bacon fat in her face because she was wearing open-toe wedgies.
Loretta brings her problem to Mary, hoping for some way of weighing the validity of the two contradictory accounts. Mary (who must be a little frustrated since, before Loretta’s story, the women have had an argument over who problem would be discussed and Mary has lost) says that there is something wicked in Muriel and that her story of the hideous disfigurement might not be truthful. How to find out? Simple. They will wait for sleep and – like characters in Shakespeare – take Muriel by surprise. They will push aside her masking gigantic curl and see what, if anything lies beneath it.
Next episode, mixed in with other carryings-on, as all of the above sequences were, Loretta and Mary slink into Muriel’s bedroom where she is, naturally, taking a nap. Mary, with a stronger constitution than Loretta, or a more benumbed nervous system, lifts the curl and sees the horrible scar. It is, she says, the most horrible sight her eyes have ever beheld. So Muriel’s tale – at least as far as having the scar goes – is true. Or is it? As Loretta and Mary leave the bedroom, we learn that Muriel has been awake for their little visit. The ambiguity, momentarily dispelled, is once again rampant.
No one is more confused over what to make of Muriel than Loretta. Charlie is stricken that she even hesitates to accept his side of the story and as they argue we see that already Muriel has begun to accomplish her destructive mission. After letting things heat up a little between Charlie and Loretta, Muriel appears and announces that her problem is soluble: she needs ten thousand dollars for plastic surgery. To Loretta, this seems a neat, accessible solution. Open-hearted – but with the distant dread that her life is being threatened and that Muriel must be dealt with – Loretta vows to give Muriel the money just as soon as royalties from her song start pouring in. Satisfied, victorious, Muriel retreats again. She goes to her room...and peels off her plastic scar.
Next come some more neo-Elizabethan high jinks: hoping to learn the truth and resolve their differences, Charlie and Loretta work out a scheme. Loretta will hide behind the drapery while Charlie confronts Muriel and gets the straight story out of her. It might have worked since Muriel has no reason to lie to Charlie but she spies Loretta’s little feet peeking from beneath the drapes and, quickly sussing out the situation, Muriel falls solidly back onto her role, her cruel and devious plot. Before this incident, the record company has sent Loretta her first royalty check and it is for the whopping sum of $11.44. The Haggerses, believing that fate is as kindly as they are, operate on the ga-ga assumption that the minuscule amount is the result of some administrative goof but now, with so much else going wrong, Charlie is beginning to believe that there has been no error and that this pittance truly represents their share of Loretta’s success. There is deep trouble in paradise. This disappointment, coupled with the wicked manipulations of Muriel, finally leads to an explosion and Charlie bolts from the house, a familiar enough response in Other Marriages, but a shocking turn at the Haggerses.
Later, Muriel, like a prematurely-aged Tennessee Williams character, takes to her bed, where, imprisoned by their guilt and uncertainty, Charlie and Loretta wait on her, bringing meals to her bedside. Charlie enters with a tray but unaccustomed to his servant role, enters her bedroom rather abruptly. He catches Muriel in the worst kind of nakedness, not with her body uncovered, but without her scar on. Startled, she fumbles for it and slaps it on her face, but fixes it to the wrong cheek. Charlie does not fail to notice this, and it appears that Muriel’s hold over him is ended. But, like the classic, practically motiveless, and unstoppably evil Iago, she blithely abandons the story of the bacon burn and says that the real reason she has come for the Haggerses’ loot is...to support a child, a dependent, a son – Charlie’s son. The son he didn’t know he had!
Later, in a little tête-à-tête with Loretta, who still needs the aura of past savagery to hold her in sway, Muriel says that though Charlie did not throw bacon grease in her face he did something even worse. Charlie, she says, shot her pet hamster, with a BB gun. Three times. Between the eyes!
But if the scar turned out to be bogus how can we believe the story of the son? Charlie demands Muriel prove her paternity claim. Dipping a conniving hand into her cleavage (where else?), Muriel produces the certificate of birth. The boy’s name is Timmy, and it is going to cost. Yet suddenly it seems that there will be money after all. Just when we are convinced that Loretta has been hoodwinked into signing a shady contract, the record company calls and says the tiny royalty check was an error after all, and a bigger one – much bigger! – is on the way. And not only money, but a crack at real stardom. Goodbye Capri Lounge, hello...Dinah Shore. This unexpectedly fortunate turn of events, coupled with some advice from Mary, gives Loretta more confidence in her right not to be victimized, and she and Charlie demand more proof from Muriel. The birth certificate could, after all, be as fake as the scar, as fake as the BB gun story. Reaching once again into her cleavage, with the deadly intent of ann outlaw reaching into his holster, or a wicked magician into his bag of tricks, Muriel produces a picture of Charlie’s alleged son. He is a boy with six toes on his left foot. An odd but unfortunately telling detail: the men in Charlie’s family have been six-toed on their left feet for generations.
And so, bearing the weight of the past, the Haggerses set off for Hollywood, where they hope the future awaits them. They have had promised to them – much to their delight – a series of hospitality gestures stunning in their second-ratedness. The treats in store for them do not so much underscore the poverty of Charlie and Loretta’s ambitions as the true, prefabricated nowhereness of Hollywood itself. They are promised an interview with Rona Barrett’s legwoman, a fistful of half price dinner tickets, a gig in Las Vegas...at a place called Arthur Lipschitz’s Mexicali, and a walk-on in a film entitled Blood Monsters of Macon County Beach. (The point here seems to be that Hollywood is the Capri Lounge.) Undaunted – and, indeed, pleased – by these torturous treats, Charlie and Loretta concentrate on a much more realistic aspect of the trip; sleeping together in a strange place and the pleasures they will give each other.
In Hollywood, Loretta is so entranced, so naively charmed, and so unalterably herself that she torpedoes her career. Her first mistake is to believe the courtesy shown her is truly personal – the kindness of strangers moves her. From the start, with the attentions of the “Dinah Shore Show’s” producer, Fred Tatterschwartz, Loretta feels herself to be in the care of people who are specifically concerned with her well-being. Rather than inspiring arrogance, as this quasi-star treatment might in another, the kindness of the “Dinah Shore” staff infuses in Loretta a deepening humility and religiosity. As her luck continues to appear to increase, her dedication to the spiritual force she believes made it possible also increases. By the time she makes her appearance on the Shore television show – decked out in innocent pink – she cannot fail. Even though the show is being broadcast live, Loretta has no reason to fear: she is in the realm of Something Greater. Her singing is perfect, her charm is utter, and even her little asides go over with rustic brilliance. Moved by her success, and wishing in her humility, to partly disassociate herself from it, to share it with others, she begins to mention all of the people on the show’s staff who have been so helpful, have treated her so marvelously. Still, on TV, she then notes that the make-up man (ah hah!) mentioned to her that all those helpful staff people were Jews. This does nothing to mute her praise, but she does add a thought, a musing, a kind of theological riddle: isn’t it strange that those Jewish people were so nice after crucifying Jesus Christ? And even if they did...isn’t it time we forgave them? Talk about show stoppers! The screen is filled with apologies – instant apologies – in behalf not only of Dinah and the show, and not only the sponsors who pay for the show, but in behalf of...the United States of America. Loretta, with one remark, is ruined.
She does, however, to her dismay, receive one offer: the United Klans of America would like her to perform for them.
All of this ties in neatly, and disastrously with Muriel, who waits for Charlie and Loretta in Fernwood. We see her on the phone calling an accomplice and telling her that the time is near for the pint-sized impostor to speak to Charlie on the phone. The Haggerses are to arrive the next day, and the kid must be prepared to do his rehearsed Timmy routine. Then Loretta’s producer, Clyde Muncie, arrives with a five grand royalty check and, now that Loretta has ruined her career with one remark, a letter cancelling her contract. Muriel puts the bad news letter away in her holster – er, her cleavage – and place the check in clear view, so Charlie and Loretta will only have the optimistic stimulus of the good news. When Charlie and Loretta get home, Muriel does mention a missing letter, but assures them that Muncie has said that Loretta’s career was going just fine and that new contracts, new opportunities are on the way. And speaking of things on the way: little Timmy is also on the way. Charlie’s dread is turning to joy, and with the magnanimity of success merging with paternal passions, Charlie is heatedly planning all of the things he will do for his long lost son: college, graduate school, making sure he becomes President of the United States.
To begin with, he goes out and lays in a tremendous supply of sporting goods; if he had a million dollars he’d [spend] it all. But all the money that is available is Loretta’s $5,000 royalty check, which Muriel asks for in exchange for custody of the non-existent son. (To make her lie more convincing, she adds that she wants visiting rights – or is she, like so many liars, falling under the powerful sway of her own inventions and actually believing that the boy exists?) There is still some worry about Loretta’s career but not too much and they believe that the $5,000 is just the beginning of the money that will be coming in to them. And so, the money is handed over, Charlie and Loretta prepare to go to the airport, and, that messenger of doom, Clyde Muncie reappears. With the Haggerses out of earshot, Muriel confesses to Muncie that the letter cancelling Loretta’s contract has been mislaid but begs him not to say anything: this is, she says, a very special day in their life so let’s not ruin it. When Charlie and Loretta reappear, Muriel, panicking a bit, for Fate moves fast in Fernwood – in fact, Fate may be the real Fernwood Flasher – announces that poor little Timmy ought not to be forced to choose between them so she is, er, leaving town, in fact, it just so happens, she’s just on her way, so...BYE! And thanks for the money. Regards to Timmy...The next we see of Charlie and Loretta, they are dragging themselves home from the airport, after a long, long wait for a boy who never came, who never lived. As Charlie says, they have been “tooken in.” All that remains is for them to find the letter from Clyde Muncie, which, moments later, they do. They then declare that they’ve hit “rock bottom.” But we know different. They are, even more so than Mary, survivors, graced with instincts that will not only keep them alive but will, beyond that, keep them close to each other, lead them unerringly to the real center of things. Recovering from failed marriages, failed businesses, failed careers, bankruptcies, evictions, treacheries, and even paralysis, Charlie and Loretta seem blessed, buoyed up by their unconscious understanding of the Greater Powers, of life’s larger meanings. Through their courage, their blindness, their impetuousness, their confidence and passion, their very willingness to believe and their capacity for hurt, Charlie and Loretta are genuine heroes. Failing to be the most interesting characters, on the show, or the most complex, they are, nonetheless, the most noble. Living with the instinctual Zen sense of bending and not breaking, they represent the triumph of the soul over the endless indignities of history.