Marion Javits is the striking 49-year-old wife of New York’s 70-year-old senior senator, Republican Jacob K. Javits. A liberal from Democratic New York City, Javits has served in the House and Senate for 24 years, loving the life of a lawmaker. From the time she dabbled at a career in show business, Mrs. Javits has adored New York and its artistic milieu and shunned Washington, which she found pedestrian.
Accordingly, the Javitses have evolved a life-style which may be unique among political couples on the nation’s stage. Since their marriage in 1947, she has made her home and her life in New York among the strident and notable, while the senator’s abode weekdays and nights has been a Washington apartment (most recently in the Watergate). Marion Javits has raised their now-grown children—Joy, Joshua and Carla—in New York, tending the comfortable residence to which her husband, who is up for reelection this fall, returns weekends. There Clare Crawford of PEOPLE interviewed her about the pleasures and problems of being an individual in her own right and a political wife.
What part have you had in Senator Javits’ going to the Senate and staying there?
I think that I have played an important role. It was in 1956 that he first called me partner, and we had been married nine years. He was wrongly accused of seeking support for fellow travelers in the McCarthy hysteria and suffered for it. We grew very close, and I became a part of the decision-making process in his personal as well as professional life.
What was your life like before that?
I was busy having two children and then the third. I was somewhat active in his congressional career, but in a minor way really. In those days people weren’t watching political couples so much. The politician made the news, and only on his voting record, and they didn’t look too hard into his personal life except in extreme conditions. Did he drink? Was he immoral?
What are the pluses of a political marriage?
A political marriage just means that I am my husband’s wife. I like to be there when he’s making an important speech, or if there’s a college he’s going to that I feel is a key to his thinking. Then I’m interested in student-faculty reaction to him and his to them. But I don’t follow him all over. I suppose it’s the same with a theater couple. In the beginning of a marriage, when the husband is sent out of town to travel with a show the wife will go every time. Later it cools, and you find other ways of making the marriage more binding; a marriage progresses, relationships change. You can get left out, yes, because there does seem to be this cloistered attitude in politics. And the other thing that happens is the teenyboppers who surround, are in awe of and somewhat worshipful of the candidate.
What about these teenyboppers?
I shouldn’t call them teenyboppers. These are young women who have come to look for a career in Washington, where they feel they can contribute. Most of them are very intelligent—it’s very competitive—they come out of good colleges and fine backgrounds. There is glamour at the top. Everyone wants to touch the star. How much touching? That’s a very individual matter.
Has a young girl ever thrown herself at Senator Javits?
Not to my knowledge. But I don’t think that would get in my way particularly. What is the difference between a politican who has an affair and a truck driver who has an affair?
There is one difference. The press. It means to the press that the politician is either more glamorous or he is susceptible to more of the same. I live in New York. My husband lives in Washington. He’s going to be gone three days this week, three evenings. He’s out to dinner with somebody else, and I’m out at a movie opening with somebody. Does it mean the marriage is over? Does it mean that there’s danger? Yes, there’s danger. There’s danger when you wake up in the morning and may get hit by a car. And there’s danger that you’re going to walk into a person that you never dreamed you would ever see in your life.
Aren’t there a high number of political men who are divorced or separated from their wives?
I don’t think so. A very low number. In the Senate there are McCarthy, Tunney, Proxmire…I can’t see any one of those marriages breaking up because of Washington life. I really can’t. My hunch is that they were faltering before Washington. People who break up will often say, “God, it started the day we got married!”
What does public scrutiny do to a marriage?
It does bring on the Hollywood thing, you hold hands a little tighter, more significantly, and you’re more “wonderful” than everybody else. This all started with the Kennedys. Remember Bess and President Truman never held hands, and they didn’t really look at each other as if the dream of the world had happened in their marriage. But they had a regard for each other that was strong and tough and could withstand all the little passes, the sweetnesses of the other women—women possibly more significant and perhaps more attractive than Bess, but not for Harry.
What are the pitfalls of a political marriage?
Not to take too seriously what other people are saying. You just have to take a deep, hard listen to your own heart and your own head and your own judgment about what you want and what you really are reaching for. I think the publicity’s been unfair in terms of Teddy Kennedy. I think there’s been great unkindness shown to that particular marriage.
How do Washington extracurricular romances happen?
People are working intensely on a bill. They work late hours. The voting is late. The legislators, the research assistants, the secretaries are working together. Eyes link and look, and it’s the whole romantic episode that’s taking place: “We understand each other better than anybody else possibly could.” And so, again, at night, it becomes sweeter to share everything. Now that’s a very built-up romantic view. I do think, however, that many partake of it.
How can a political wife handle this?
I am my husband’s mistress, and the work has become his wife. It means I’m more of a romantic object for him to come home to when he is here. I think, like gamblers who become neuter or pugilists who have to neutralize themselves so the fight will be better, politicians are inclined to give their intensity to the strivings and the involvement of their work. The relationship at home may take off the heat but is hardly the one they really care about. Being the wife-mistress of a husband helps. I guess what I would love is if I could have my husband home every morning for breakfast, and we could take that hour and dream about the day and shape it up together. I suppose I’d like the same thing at night, but not as importantly.
How have you dealt with being alone?
I have always had my share of friends, some of whom share their lives with me. My husband has never minded my having dates, going out to dinner with men, people that I’ve met, people that I find attractive or interesting. If it’s in a column that I’m with so-and-so, it has never meant that one has to be horizontal immediately with them—or that it’s going to threaten our marriage because I’m seen with other people. I’m filling in for his not being there, and I think that that’s important.
Haven’t you a career of your own?
It really just evolved. In the early years, as part of his career I did the original research on the arts bill. He took it seriously because as a kid I had used up a lot of shoe leather trying to work in the theater. In 1963 I produced a play, Hang Down Your Head and Die. It dealt with capital punishment but was a huge flop. I also was in a picture. I studied Russian, English, Spanish and English lit—hopefully to get me into some writing—and I took art classes. TWA hired me to do a small study on food and the stewardesses’ role, and I did a very handsome report. For Pan Am I did a small film called London Is, which showed the London I know. Then I did a study for Olivetti when they were moving. And I became interested in public spaces that could be used at certain times of the day that are in a more personal way for art, which is what I am really into now—what I call living art.
What is living art?
I would like to see living art in certain lobbies when they empty out at 5 o’clock in the evening—to have the artist there, playing his saxophone or clarinet very softly, very gently, or somebody reading poetry. Just a minute’s worth. Wouldn’t it be lovely? Frequently people go up and down on the elevators and never look at each other. They work on the same floor in the same office and they’ve never even looked. They’ve never exchanged words. They’ve become mechanized in this technological society. So I am socially involved in what goes on in my society, but I’m not a social worker, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t choose to be an actress. But I’m playing a role. And I am completely liberated.