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THE SUNDAY PROFILE : Woman Warrior : She's known as a relentless and uncompromising activist for liberal causes--and as a workaholic. But Margery Tabankin is about to change jobs and take a vacation.

July 31, 1994|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1989 she went to the West Bank and met with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a trip supported by the Arca Foundation.

"This one was a huge dilemma for me as a Jew. . . . I became a Jewish woman who (believed) that the survival of Israel meant hearing out a peaceful solution to the situation as opposed to taking a rigid view of don't negotiate, don't be flexible."

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After years in Washington, burnout turned to meltdown. With her chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms looming, she decided to quit Arca and come west.

"I came to this very apartment and I never left," she says of her condo on the beach in Santa Monica. "For the first two years I was living with rented furniture, thinking clearly I was just here visiting. After my second year I sent all the rented stuff back and bought furniture."

Eventually, she succumbed to the California lifestyle.

"It can be reported," she says, laughing, "that I have become \o7 completely\f7 California. I get acupuncture once a week, I have a chiropractor and I get massages. I'm still political but I've definitely been California-ized."

Tabankin came to the HWPC at the recommendation of some Streisand Foundation board members and found the Hollywood community, unfettered by the rigidity of Washington, amazingly refreshing.

And in the HWPC she found women who shared her personal and political views, including support of abortion rights, gay rights and campaign-finance reform, an issue that consumes her. The membership is a who's who of talent and powerbrokers: producer Paula Weinstein; actresses Cybill Shepherd, Jane Fonda and Geena Davis; songwriter Marilyn Bergman, and studio exec Lisa Henson, among others.

"They could be sitting behind their gates, but they choose to do this," Tabankin says. "And it's not a networking group. Nobody would dare pitch something to somebody. It would be so uncool. . . . There is no way that would work if there were men in the group."

What Tabankin brings to the group is a "sophisticated sense of how the political and entertainment communities can work together," says her friend Danny Goldberg, president of Atlantic Records. "She's uniquely effective in terms of maximizing the relationship."

Bergman, a co-founder of the group, knew of Tabankin's political reputation long before she played matchmaker to her, Streisand and the HWPC.

"She was kind of legendary," she recalls, "during the '60s and the Carter Administration. When I heard she was thinking of making this move (to Los Angeles), light bulbs went off in my head."

If Tabankin's working style is tough, Bergman says, "it's a kind of tough that comes from somebody who is so principled that they can't be compromised. And she's not intimidated or impressed by celebrities."

Tabankin remembers her initial meeting with Streisand this way: "When I walked away from it, I thought, she's really thin and little, and she knows all this stuff about the environment. How is that possible? I didn't know any Hollywood people, really, so that was my first impression."

But Tabankin acknowledges that one of the challenges in her HWPC position has been defending the why-should-we-take-stars-seriously-as-activists issue.

"They don't have to give up their American passports just because they work in this industry," she explains.

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On a warm Friday afternoon, Tabankin sits in a recliner with an intravenous drip in her arm. It's her standing weekly appointment for her mega-vitamin cocktail (20,000-plus milligrams of Vitamin C and other vitamin boosters), the only treatment that has helped yank her out of the debilitating, flu-like symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Once downplayed as possibly psychosomatic, the ailment is now recognized as a legitimate medical problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are looking for causes and cures.

Tabankin likens the illness to " 'The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' when you feel like the pods have moved in and taken over your life, or that you're fighting your way through these clouds."

Now, the clouds have lifted.

"I actually went out to dinner the other night with friends, stayed out really late, came home, went to bed and came to work the next day. I thought I was never going to climb out of this. And it's like I've been given this incredible blessing right now."

But having the illness also guaranteed that Tabankin could no longer be the poster child for workaholism.

"It was a very big growing experience for me," she says. "What's important to you becomes very clear. You have X amount of energy, so what are your real priorities?"

She's found that slowing down has its rewards: indulging in spy novels, going to movies alone, staying home watching stupid TV shows and ignoring the phone.

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