April 07, 1975 12:00 PM

While the women’s liberation movement has been campaigning to take the role playing out of marriage, a 37-year-old Florida mother of two, Marabel Morgan, has built a thriving business on the credo: “Let your husband be your master.” Her book, The Total Woman, last year’s nonfiction best-seller, sold more than 500,000 hardback copies, and the paperback rights have been bought for $600,000. Marabel’s success at merchandising her step-by-step techniques for connubial bliss has made her a kind of Xaviera Hollander of happy housewives.

As a crusading marital troubleshooter, the first failing marriage Marabel rescued was her own. After six-and-a-half years it had slipped into a joyless routine in which “pass the salt” was extended conversation. “If Marabel hadn’t been the one to change,” insists lawyer-husband Charlie, “we would probably be among the ranks of the divorced.”

What triggered Marabel’s transformation from nagging hausfrau to Total Woman was a dinner-table argument over plans for the next evening. “From now on,” decreed Charlie icily, “when I plan for us to go somewhere, I will tell you 20 minutes ahead of time, you can get ready, and we’ll do without all this arguing!” Marabel quickly realized that “at the rate we were going, 10 years from now we would hate each other!”

She decided to try to save the marriage. After a cram reading course in self-improvement (like Dale Carnegie and marriage manuals), she began to “experiment” with her role as wife. One evening she greeted conservative Charlie at the door in pink baby-doll pajamas and white go-go boots. He “dropped his briefcase on the doorstep and chased me around the dining-room table,” she confides to readers of her book.

Recalling her pre-TW days, Marabel confesses, “I was a shrew. Charlie was looking for me to make him happy when he came home, and I began to do it. Within one week he began to talk. It took about eight months for us to really communicate the way we used to before we were married.”

Encouraged by friends, the messianic Marabel was soon preaching her gospel to eager disciples. The TW movement started in homes and soon spread to churches, schools and men’s conventions—last year, for example, Marabel addressed the Turkey Growers of America. There are now about 100 instructors in 28 states and Canada teaching Marabel’s $15 course (four two-hour sessions). Among the 15,000 graduates are singer Anita Bryant, Mrs. Jack Nicklaus, Mrs. Joe Frazier and a dozen Miami Dolphin wives.

Marabel and Charlie, who at 35 is two years her junior, met in 1962 when his mother introduced them. At the time Charlie, a Miami native (his parents founded a piano company there), was a law student at the University of Miami. Marabel, the daughter of an Ohio security guard, was working as a counselor on Charlie’s campus with the Crusade for Christ, a nondenominational Christian group. She had come to Florida a year before after quitting Ohio State in her sophomore year, when the money she had earned as a beautician ran out.

Six months after they met, Marabel was snuggled next to Charlie in his car when he proposed. Marabel, however, had fallen asleep and awoke only in time to hear “…and that’s what I want in a wife.” Had she been awake, she laments, “I could have saved myself and Charlie years of misery.”

For both Marabel and her followers, sex is a vital part of the TW treatment: in the second week of the course, pupils are told to be ready and willing for love-making at any hour during each of the next seven days. (During one lecture a student muttered, “What’s she think I am, a sex maniac?”) Marabel herself reveals that she has seduced Charlie under the dining-room table by candlelight (“A very creative girl,” he brags) and sent sexy notes to his office.

Other homework assignments include greeting husbands in provocative costumes. One woman stripped to the buff and wound herself in Saran Wrap and a big red ribbon. An NFL player, whose wife had taken the Total Woman course, decided to reverse the game plan and met her at the door wearing only a hair ribbon, an apron and galoshes.

Marabel’s tips to aspiring Total Women include “remove all prickly hairs and be squeaky clean from head to toe,” never allow the hands to be still during intercourse, and bolster a husband’s ego by asking him to open jars. Some husbands have viewed such ploys as TW trickery. “It’s not manipulation,” Marabel protests. “We are just doing it because we want to be tip-top wives.”

Now partners with Marabel in their burgeoning TW business, Charlie finds himself squeezing his tax law work into mornings and evenings, but he’s not letting Total Women dominate him. “Foremost,” he maintains, “I’m still a lawyer.”

Both he and Marabel vow that success will spoil neither them nor their marriage. But TW is consuming so much of their time that they have to work at planning family picnics and outings with their two daughters, Laura, 9, and Michelle, 5.

A maid now comes in once a week to clean the Morgans’ split-level home in upper-middle-class Bay Point, Florida. “If she can’t come, I do it,” says Marabel. “I am a homemaking executive, and I like to make pies and cakes and clean my house and put flowers in vases.”

With her success and newfound money, Marabel sometimes has to stifle her old independent self. Every once in a while, when Charlie rubs her the wrong way, she admits thinking, “If only I weren’t teaching that blasted course, I’d tell him a thing or two.”

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