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For Patty Hearst, It Was Never Difficult to Put 'Tania' Behind Her; for the Public, It Hasn't Been That Easy : 'I was a normal, jerky 19-year-old, basically. I was sitting at home, minding my own business . . . suddenly my life changed.'

September 09, 1988|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — She lives in a fancy suburb, drives a fancy car, serves on fancy charity committees. She has a husband, a strong marriage of nearly a decade and daughters named Gillian and Lydia. She calls herself a conservative Republican. For recreation, she loves to shop wholesale, favoring the fashions of Mary McFadden.

No, Patricia Hearst Shaw does not dwell on the events that began 14 years ago, two weeks before her 20th birthday. She apportions little time for pondering her kidnaping by the Symbionese Liberation Army, her life in hiding with the revolutionary brigade that dubbed her Tania, the bank robberies they committed or the ugly, angry words she hurled at her family.

"It's all a long time ago," Hearst, as she is still often known, said in an interview in the anteroom of her husband's office here.

No Lingering Nightmares

She does not have nightmares about the SLA. She does not see a psychotherapist. In her clear, finishing school voice, the same voice that called her father Adolf and used obscenities to blast the capitalistic "pigs" on SLA tapes, she fends off questions about Myrna Lee Opshal, killed in an SLA robbery outside Sacramento.

"Those people are the ones who have to live with that," Hearst said, referring to the handful of SLA survivors. Such violence, she said, "is what those people had committed their lives to."

No, she is not bitter, Hearst maintains.

However, "I am still angry with the SLA."

"Brainwashed," by her own description and that of the legal professionals who represented her, into embracing the tenets of the SLA at the time of her kidnaping, Hearst bounced back just as quickly to the conservative philosophy of her upbringing. The urban guerrilla of 1974, pictured then toting a huge gun, wearing tight pants, a beret, a dark wig and a scowl, now graciously conducts a midday meeting in silk pants, high heels and a flower-printed jacket of the most buttery-soft suede, a gift, she explained, picked up in Italy by "one of my stepmothers."

A Five-Year Drama

The drama of Patricia Hearst and the SLA lasted five years "almost to the day," from the moment of her abduction just after 9 p.m. on Feb. 4, 1974, to her release from federal prison, after serving time for bank robbery and weapons violations, at 7:30 in the morning, Feb. 1, 1979.

"Now there's been another 9 1/2 years," Hearst said. Time enough, she said, to "go on and rebuild your life."

But the release of the movie on Sept. 23, "Patty Hearst," and the re-release of Hearst's autobiography, "Patty Hearst: Her Own Story" (originally published in 1981 as "Every Secret Thing"), have thrust Hearst and her experiences back into public attention. If Hearst has, as she insists, successfully integrated her difficulties with the SLA into what is by all appearances a comfortable and affluent existence, the world at large remains fascinated by the tale of the newspaper heiress who joined forces with her captors.

"People don't let go. They just don't," Hearst said. "I've let go a lot better than they have."

To "borrow from literature," Hearst said, "it is the fascination of the abomination." Her case, she said, "is sort of 'The Thing That Would Not Die.' "

At 34, Hearst seems to have grown into the suburban society matron role for which she was groomed from birth. The SLA, Maoism and the multimillion-dollar People in Need food handout program organized by her father in an attempt to gain her release seem but distant blips on her personal memory radar. Even the layout of her Berkeley apartment has faded from her recollection. She said she doubted she would recognize Steven Weed, her former fiance, if she saw him on the street.

Hearst has been married since 1979 to ex-policeman Bernard Shaw, once her bodyguard, now the director of security for the Hearst Corp. in New York. She has her causes, serving as a committee chairman for the Rita Hayworth galas for Alzheimer's disease and working as a panel member for the Creo Society for children with AIDS.

"Those children have no one to help them," Hearst said of the AIDS-afflicted young people. "They are poor little creatures that live out what's left of their lives in a hospital."

Hearst has long, honey-blond hair assisted by artful, expensive-looking highlighting. She has soft brown eyes and seems prettier, far less angular, in person than she appears in photographs. She wears a simple gold wedding band.

She also wears a Rolex wristwatch that she gazes at regularly. She has agreed to spend no more than one hour talking about her book, the movie, her life. Her conversation is crisp. Between sips of coffee from a Twinkie Donut Shoppe cup, she is eager to get on with things.

"I don't sort of take this thing home with me," she said. In fact, "it's hard, because I've got my kids in school, and I have to go to school meetings, and then I have to do these interviews." In some ways, she said, "it's sort of embarrassing."

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