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Portrait of Nettie

“I wouldn’t’ve recognized myself,” says Nettie Featherton, 81, of the famed 1938 Woman of the Plains portrait taken of her by the late documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. Nettie, along with other subjects of Depression-era pictures, was recently sleuthed out by the Nebraska Historical Society. In 1938, she told the society, she was picking cotton with her husband and three sons near Carey, Texas. Now widowed, ill and living on a meager veteran’s pension with one son and her cat in Lubbock, Texas, Nettie doesn’t even recall posing for Lange. “But my youngest son does. He was 4 and she gave him two nickels.”

A party for the Shah

It was not the ideal 60th birthday for the exiled Shah of Iran. Demonstrators chanted “Death to the Shah!” outside New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where he is being treated for cancer and recovering from gallbladder surgery. (Back in Iran the more cynical of his former subjects charged his illness was a sham to win him U.S. sanctuary.) His wife, Farah Diba, accompanied by the inevitable security man, gave him a single rose (she’d sent 60 earlier) and a rum-custard cake with three candles. Three? Explained an aide: They symbolized Farah’s wishes for wealth, health and happiness.

ABBA’s assets

Their sanitized Euro-pop sound has made the Swedish group ABBA (from left: Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson) a monster group almost every place in the world but the U.S. So in hopes of remedying that, the Nordic four launched their first Stateside tour last month and were SRO in New York, Las Vegas and Washington. Even critics of their music granted ABBA’s visual assets. “Spandex has rarely served the cause of ogling so well,” noted the usually reserved New York Times of the revealing (and warm) Star-Trekky costumes, by Swedish designers Owe and Lars. Keeping their figures is no problem. After an intermissionless 105-minute show nightly, the two women are so drained they have to be recharged with vitamin shots.

Nevelson’s flame

She just turned 80, but no one expects sculptor Louise Nevelson to stay home baking cookies for her grandchildren. Right now she’s preparing for a 1980 Whitney Museum show of her “environments.” Meanwhile, the Municipal Arts Society threw her a birthday party at Luchow’s and gave her an award for her contribution to public sculpture, which is all over town. Instead of blowing out the candles on the cake presented her by Mayor Ed Koch, she bade them “Burn, burn, burn,” then ignited her own taper at both ends by dancing with Koch to Chevalier’s old wheeze, Louise.

Merv the knife

Phil Donahue may be the darling of syndicated talk these days, but Merv Griffin is an elder. To celebrate the 2,000th telecast for his present production company, Metromedia, Merv taped a special from Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. There, amidst a crush of fans, he cut a giant cake and accepted the center’s Commemorative Art Medal for his “love and affection for the performing arts.” Other recipients include—in a juxtaposition that may lead Communist propagandists, among others, to wonder about Western values—Dmitri Shostakovich, Andres Segovia and Joan Sutherland.