From Alisabethe Jergens Forsythe to Silent Thunder Woman: a Hand Cream Heiress Becomes An Indian Princess
It took the Sioux and Assiniboin Indians of the Red Bottom and Fort Kipp tribes six months just to prepare for the ceremony. Not in over 40 years had a stranger been inducted into their nations; a white woman, never.
Then last month, at Fort Kipp, Mont., to the accompaniment of drums and dancing and prayers in both Dakota and English, Alisabethe Jergens Forsythe, the fey, 27-year-old granddaughter of the founder of the Jergens Lotion empire, became a Sioux princess, Silent Thunder Woman. “It was,” says Alisabethe, “like being born and being old enough to enjoy it.”
Alisabethe’s self-made-millionaire husband, Peter Forsythe, 34, a real estate developer—he carries a portable phone in his briefcase—was also made an honorary Sioux, and named White Thunder. The couple’s ties with the Indians began in 1975, when famed Cherokee actor Iron Eyes Cody (PEOPLE, Nov. 10, 1975) told the hand cream heiress about the plight of Hope Ranch, a home for abandoned Sioux children near Fort Kipp.
The Forsythes borrowed a jet from friend Paul Anka, the singer, and flew there. “It was incredible,” says Alisabethe in her whispery voice. “Winter was coming and the children needed clothes and blankets and good food. I just couldn’t let them go on like that.”
Since then, between her duties as president of the A. Jergens Foundation (it’s her own, separate from the family’s) and her work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, she spends as much time as she can with the Hope Ranch foundlings. Her own affluent but waiflike childhood makes it easy for her to be sympathetic. “Your mother drinks? You say you’ve been abandoned? I know how it feels. I’ve been there too.”
Alisabethe, who grew up in New York and Bel Air and broke with her family nearly 10 years ago, remembers that the first word she spoke was not Mummy or Daddy, but taxi. Her father, Andrew Jergens, was in his 70s—it was his second marriage—and she saw him only once a year after her parents divorced when she was 7. Alisabethe stayed on with her alcoholic mother, the former Mary Roling. She went to expensive schools in New York and Paris and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Cincinnati. “But,” she adds, “I wasn’t living it up like everyone thought. I was always on the phone getting a doctor for my mother or calling one hospital or another.”
“All my life I was the weird one in the family,” admits Alisabethe, who believes she is clairvoyant. Last fall she was convinced she had ovarian cancer. “The doctors said it was impossible,” she recalls. But Alisabethe’s instincts were right. It took two operations within 10 days to save her life.
Another intimation is that she and pop singer Wayne Newton, a Cherokee, were Indian brother and sister in another time. Now that Alisabethe and Peter have adopted a Sioux orphan, J’me, 5 (pronounced Jamie), as a companion for their own 9-year-old daughter, Anjel, they have named him Andrewayne J’me Jergens Thunder Sun.
For the Forsythes, travel is a way of life, and they are endlessly moving among Montana, California, Vegas and Hawaii. But there is no question which place tugs at Princess Silent Thunder. “Spiritually, deep inside, I am like them,” she says. “My heart is just not in Beverly Hills anymore.”