Bina Bernard
September 09, 1974 12:00 PM

The cheeriness of their new home, atop a hill in sunny Beverly Hills, belies the fate that is about to overtake them. So do their smiles. John Dean is scheduled to go to jail this week, and for him and his wife Maureen, there are the same cruel questions that confront any man facing prison: Who will support the household? Will the marriage endure the separation? In the end, can the pieces of a shattered life be picked up?

Dean is no ordinary felon, of course. It was his testimony before a Senate committee that helped put Watergate into history and led, eventually, to the resignation of President Nixon. For his part in the Watergate cover-up, Dean, former White House counsel-turned-star-witness, was given a one-to-four year prison term after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

Since he was sentenced last month by Federal Judge John J. Sirica, Dean has spent his final days of freedom with wife Maureen fixing up their $110,000 tile-roofed split-level and mulling their uncertain future. But even this precious time has not been entirely their own. “We could never make plans,” says “Mo,” whose benign smile remains unchanged from the days of the televised hearings. “We never knew when John would be needed in Washington to testify.” Thus far, Dean has been called before the select Senate committee, the Watergate grand jury, the Mitchell-Stans trial in New York and the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s so unfair,” adds Mo. “They ask him to give and give and he gets nothing in return.” The couple will almost certainly spend their second anniversary, Oct. 13, separated by prison bars.

For Dean himself, bitterness has largely yielded to a quiet stoicism. What would he have done differently? “Mustered my moral courage earlier,” he replies. Sitting beside Mo in their beam-ceilinged living room, he pauses between puffs on a filter-tipped cigarette and shakes his head. “I was surprised by the sentence,” he concedes. “That morning in the courtroom I sensed the judge was going to hit me hard.” (Mo says she was “shocked.”) What saddens Dean most, perhaps, is his disbarment. “It’s a further punishment,” he contends. There has been an added inconvenience: the presence of two federal marshals who have guarded the Deans 24 hours a day. Sighs Mo: “You not only lose your privacy, but your freedom too.”

Shuttered within their new home and seldom venturing away, the Deans all but gave up tennis for swimming in their secluded backyard pool. “I look forward to the day of anonymity again,” muses Dean, recalling the days before Watergate, television cameras and autograph hounds. “You have to lose it to know how much you enjoy your privacy.” In their rush to complete the house, Dean has worked along with the contractor—installing door frames, sandblasting the ceiling, putting up bookshelves and lighting fixtures. To assure Mo’s safety, since the federal marshals will leave once Dean is in jail, a friend’s college student son will live in a room above the Dean’s garage.

Despite a seemingly lavish California lifestyle, the Deans are not without financial troubles. They still owe more than $15,000 in lawyers’ fees and their cash reserves, which came largely from a book advance and the sale of their Alexandria, Va. house for $135,000, are rapidly dwindling. “We only have enough for the next two months,” estimates Mo. “After that it will have to be what I can earn.” That could be considerable. Unencumbered by the gag rule that keeps her husband from writing or talking publicly about Watergate, Mo Dean has already turned down a movie contract, a TV commercial and a public relations job. Instead, the cool, blue-eyed blonde is writing a book based on her diary and stands to make $1,500 or more per appearance on the lecture circuit. “It’s hard to share your life with strangers,” she concedes, “but I have a lot to say, and I’m going to say it.”

Although stripped of his ability to practice law, Dean hopes to make a living as an author. Bantam paid him a five-figure advance—Dean says that it is less than his White House salary of $37,000—for a nearly-finished novel of Washington politics, tentatively titled The Nomination. He also plans a book of essays on American government.

Finances aside, the Deans are most troubled by the prospect of separation. “It will go fast,” says Mo bravely, “I’m going to be very busy.” Reaching across the coffee table to touch his wife’s hand, John Dean says, “Since I left the White House, Mo and I have been together 24 hours a day, except when I was testifying. This has not only tested a marriage, but a good friendship. We are probably closer today than if none of this had happened.” Does Dean miss the White House trappings? “No,” he replies, “I wanted to leave long before Watergate. I turned down many good job offers. I was persuaded to stay, on the grounds of loyalty to the President and team effort, and by flattery and encouragement. Somebody once joked that if I had left, I would have missed my place in history. I would willingly have missed it.”

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