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Worlds Away From Watergate : Mo Dean Writes a Steamy but Savvy Novel While Redefining Her Kewpie Doll Image

October 28, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

That summer of 1973, she was the perfect Washington wife, standing by her man no matter what. Impeccably dressed, flawlessly made up, her hair pulled back into a polished bun, she mesmerized the nation with the silent vigil she kept behind her husband's witness table day after day at the Watergate hearings while his testimony brought down a President.

What a difference 14 years can make.

Yes, she still is married to John Dean, only now they live in Coldwater Canyon. Yes, she still has that doll-like delicacy at age 42, only now that shocking crown of platinum has been warmed to a honey color. And yes, she is keeping another vigil--only this time, she is a licensed stockbroker sitting slumped in her wood-paneled office at Shearson Lehman Brothers watching the market go down, down, down .

"It's a good thing these windows don't open," quips Maureen (Mo) Dean, her blue-green eyes fixed on her computer screen for the latest Dow Jones average. "But I know it'll be OK . . . I was able to live through Watergate and all the things that happened to me personally afterwards, so I will live through this.

"It's not the end of the world."

She pauses for a moment, perhaps remembering what the end of her world was like--when her husband was reviled as a liar, when he was sentenced to prison, when he was disbarred from practicing law, when he had to start all over. "And anyway," she adds, "if it hadn't been for all of those events, I wouldn't be sitting here right now talking to you about a fun book I wrote."

The book is "Washington Wives," Dean's steamy but savvy just-published novel about ambition, greed, sex and social maneuvering in and out of the bedrooms of the nation's capital--a sort of Potomac version of Jackie Collins' "Hollywood Wives." She claims it's not a roman a clef. But just by writing it, Dean expects that, once and for all, people will find out what her friends and clients already know--"that I'm not just this kewpie doll that sat behind John."

"She's the most deceptive kind of woman," explains Pamela Mason, widow of actor James Mason and part of Dean's inner circle of Beverly Hills friends. "She looks very sweet and simple and innocent--a little 'piece of fluff' type of woman. But she is much more solid than that. That's why her friends call her 'Moby' Dean."

It was Dean who decided after the Watergate scandal that she and her husband should start life anew in her native Southern California. Her mother was dying of cancer, and she wanted to be nearby. "Besides, there was nothing left for us in Washington at that stage. And I thought it would be a good place for John to get away."

Santa Monica College Dropout

Raised near the Hughes Aircraft plant in Mar Vista, an area she once described as "a hole in the doughnut of affluence," with a father who worked as a diamond setter (and died when she was 17) and a mother who was a factory timekeeper, Maureen Kane graduated from Notre Dame Girls Academy. After dropping out of Santa Monica City College, she worked for a San Fernando Valley insurance company and then as a stewardess for American Airlines.

But it was men, not work, that would give direction to her life early on.

She once told of receiving a 9.5-carat diamond ring from an older man who sued unsuccessfully for its return after they broke up. She married a scout for the Dallas Cowboys--but it turned out he had never divorced his previous wife. Then in 1967, she married her high school sweetheart. It was an on-again, off-again union until he was killed in an auto accident two years later. At age 24, Dean found herself a widow.

On Nov. 13, 1970--"Friday the 13th," as Mo likes to point out--she met John Wesley Dean III, then President Nixon's young, bright, excessively buttoned-down counsel who, during a trip to California, looked her up on the recommendation of Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. Two days later, John Dean asked her to spend Thanksgiving with him in the Virgin Islands, and they began a whirlwind courtship that ended six weeks later with Mo moving to Washington.

For the next year, they more or less lived together--though for appearances' sake, she kept some clothes at a friend's apartment. She worked for a while as a $10,470-a-year executive aide to the director of the National Committee on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. But mostly she waited for John Dean to propose.

He did--finally--and they were married in October 1972, four months after the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex.

When Dean talks about Washington wives, she is not necessarily talking about herself, at least not then. "I think they know pretty much what they're getting themselves into when they marry. I didn't," she explains.

'Totally Apolitical'

For one thing, she was "totally apolitical" in those days. "I was just wildly in love. I only went there for John."

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