Though otherwise a footnote to history, Maureen Dean provided one of the most memorable images of the 1973 Watergate hearings. Sitting stoically by her husband, John, the White House counsel who was later disbarred and jailed for his role in the cover-up, the cool, demure blonde rarely showed a flicker of emotion. But still Watergaters clearly run deep. Mo Dean, now 42 and a Beverly Hills stockbroker, has written a first novel, Washington Wives, that describes so much passion in and around the White House that it might as well be entitled Valley of the Pols.
Dean’s Potomac sexpotboiler is set in 1989. While there is no mention of Deep Throat or all the President’s men, there is plenty of deep breathing, not to mention expletives that Mo didn’t delete. Dean covers everything from shower sex to power sex—the latter on the desk of a White House press secretary. To add breadth, Dean also serves up subplots involving drugs, alcoholism and hereditary madness.
Lest anyone think the ladylike Dean has written a roman à clef, fear not. “It’s a novel, for heaven’s sake,” she protests. “These are fictional characters.” She does add, however, that her characters are composites of people she knows. And yes, such shenanigans do take place in Washington. “I mean, you can’t tell me that Gary Hart and his activities…you know,” she says, her voice trailing off. “Talk about perfect timing for my book.”
It should be noted at once that Dean cannot take credit for the plot. Movie producer Lawrence Gordon came up with that in 1985 with an eye to a possible miniseries. Gordon then approached Arbor House, where an editor suggested getting Maureen Dean involved to lend a little glamour to the project. Dean freely admits that she agreed to the deal because of the money. “Wouldn’t you?” she inquires.
While Mo was busy making money for clients at Shearson American Express, Arbor House hired New York writer Steven Gaines to flesh out Gordon’s plot with Dean’s help. Gaines claims his collaborator “had zero anecdotes,” and that she also told him she had never even read her 1975 book, Mo: A Woman’s View of Watergate, “co-authored” with TIME correspondent Hays Gorey.
Such matters aside, Dean says she was stunned when she read Gaines’s first draft. “It wasn’t me. It was really like a man writing about women, and not knowing women and not liking women. That’s when I said, ‘Let me do it.’ ” So in 1985 Dean settled down at a word processor, stopping every few pages to let her husband, now a successful businessman, read and comment. Two and a half years and three rewrites later, Washington Wives was finished. Dean was a tad miffed at how hard this writing business turned out to be. “The bottom line is: When you think something’s really going to be easy, it’s too good to be true,” she says. Given such profundities, it’s difficult to think of Dean as a natural novelist. Indeed, she admits she was helped by an unnamed editor friend in New York and by the folks at Arbor House.
Dean has dedicated her novel to the memory of her parents, who may not have suspected her of literary ambitions. Maureen Kane dropped out of Santa Monica College at 17 when her father died. She worked as a secretary, then as a flight attendant and married twice, before a friend introduced her to John Dean, who was in California scouting a site for the Nixon Library. “I just flipped for him immediately,” she recalls. “So I moved to Washington.” There she worked as an executive assistant to the director of the National Commission on Drug Abuse. On Oct. 13, 1972, Maureen and John were married and headed off for a honeymoon. Two days later Dean was called back to Washington to help quell the growing Watergate scandal. “I was in complete shock,” says Maureen of those dark days. “I kept thinking it would go away, but it didn’t.” She has no memory, she says, of locking herself in the bathroom and threatening suicide, though she once described such an episode to the press.
In January 1974, after John had served 4½ months in prison for obstructing justice, the Deans moved to Beverly Hills. John started a company that sells radio programming to networks. Once that was successful, he sold it and established Western Mercantile Services Group, a firm that buys and sells other companies.
Maureen, meanwhile, managed the family finances and liked it so much that she entered a training program at Shearson in 1982. Today she has several hundred clients. Childless, the Deans spend most of their time working and still live in the same modest split-level house they bought 13 years ago. Someday Maureen would like to write a magazine financial column, and she is also planning a second novel. Maybe she’ll call it Washington Husbands and let the boys have their due.