She was born in Columbia, S.C., or Charlotte, Va., or Massapequa, N.Y.—that part of her past didn’t matter much—and at 28, or 29, she came out of nowhere to become Woman of the Year. During her reign she sent the leading Democratic presidential candidate into involuntary temporary retirement, helped put the incumbent on the griddle of public opinion and knocked a prominent TV evangelist and his weeping wife off their pedestal and out of their ministry. Cute, blond and curvy—or cute, brunet and curvy; or cute, brunet-with-streaks and curvy—she was panted after by Hollywood, TV, newspapers, magazines, book publishers, agents and probably a few composers of grand opera, or maybe of nocturnes. Yet strange questions persisted: Why did she keep using three names, being called Donna Rice or Fawn Hall or Jessica Hahn? And how could she conceivably have three sets of parents? Could it be, America wondered, that Donna Fawn Hahn secretly was three different people whom the public simply couldn’t keep straight—the same problem they’d had with the devil-may-care Ollie Jim Hart?
The explanation, when it came, was stunningly simple. If Donna Hahn—or Jessica Hall or Fawn Rice, as she was also known—was a creature of mystery and too many facets, it was because she was not a woman but an unruly crowd. Specialists call the syndrome triplexia—what Jekyll and Hyde would have had if they’d been a trio. Even to the puzzled layman, the truth was irresistibly clear: Donna Fawn Hahn was the three faces of Eve.
The diagnosis made everything fall into place—how such a person could spend much of the year in hiding, nursing her bruised psyche, then emerge to sell her story not to one magazine but to several, and be interviewed twice by the usually perceptive Barbara Walters. (It also explained how she got all those parents; a religious person, she had simply been born again, and again.) In one phase a triplexic could smuggle secret documents out of a government office under her blouse, then righteously tell a Senate committee that “sometimes you have to go above the written law.” (When she was Fawn she was a naive blond who loved her country and believed in her boss.) In another phase she could sail off to Bimini with Gary Hart, sit in his lap, sing “Twist and Shout” with him on a bandstand, wreck his campaign, and play herself in a jeans commercial. (As Donna she was a naive blond who loved parties and wanted to be in pictures.)The third incarnation was harder to figure. Jessica told the world how Jim Bakker once had his way with her and why she accepted his offer of $265,000 in hush money. Then she said, “I am not a bimbo,” posed nude for Playboy to “feel clean again,” had plastic surgery “to put my past behind me” and was accused of having been a teenage hooker, which she denied. This, clearly, was an American life with not just one second act but a few too many.
Yet, despite the confusions engendered by their strange multiplicity, the three personas had some things in common. In all her guises the irrepressible Donna Fawn claimed to have grown from her many experiences. In fact, said Fawn to Barbara Walters, they “made me realize that probably I’m a lot deeper than I thought.” Deeper, perhaps; but in her own eyes at least, pure apple pie. As Donna she called herself “just a typical Southern girl really,” while Jessica swore she was “just an old-fashioned Catholic girl.” Maybe that was the problem. As all three she was, finally, too naive, too eager, too loyal, too starry-eyed—or just too smitten with the smooth Ollie Jim.
Of course it was all too crazy or tacky or giddy or titillating to last. Suddenly it was almost New Year’s Eve, and the clock was about to toll midnight. Suddenly 1988 was due for arrival, with a fresh cast of characters awaiting the spotlight. Ollie Jim Hart had gone on his way, the jeans ads were gone from TV, that issue of Playboy had gone from the newsstands. Our hearings now were ended. And as quickly as Donna Fawn had arrived, she too was gone, leaving not even a telltale glass slipper.