Second Acts

Casablanca to the contrary, it’s not always the same old story as time goes by. Babies grow up, hairlines recede, gurus move to Montana. To find out just how much difference a few years make, we paid a follow-up visit to 21 intriguing story subjects from out of the past.

Siamese twins Clara and Altagracia Rodriguez were born joined at the pelvis; the operation that separated them, performed by Dr. C. Everett Koop, was only the fourth successful one of its kind. On their first night as separate entities, the 14-month-old twins fell asleep holding hands (PEOPLE, Oct. 7, 1974).

UPDATE: Fate proved bittersweet. Tragically, Altagracia choked on a piece of food and died in 1976. “All the suffering and waiting,” says her mother, Farida, “and she died in less than 15 minutes.” Villagers in the family’s hometown, Las Auyamas, Santo Domingo, turned against Farida, blaming her for the child’s death. Dr. Koop flew to Santo Domingo to comfort the family and to persuade the villagers that “even if I had been standing there, I could not have saved her.”

Clara is now a healthy 15-year-old and was recently crowned festival queen of San José de Ocoa, where the family lives today. “We have only Clara,” says Farida, “but she is all the happiness we need.” Dr. Koop, now Surgeon General of the United States, keeps a photo of Clara in his office, and she still writes him grateful letters. “But,” he says, “I’m sorry I can’t get letters from two girls.”

After venturing into the Venezuelan-Brazilian border area to study the seminomadic Yanomamo people, Philadelphia-born anthropologist Ken Good fell in love with Yarima, a Yanomamo girl who had never seen the outside world. When Yarima, whom he married in 1986, became pregnant, Good brought her to Philadelphia, where she learned, as she put it, “to make light by moving a little stick on the wall” and overcame her fear that mirrors would “swallow up my spirit.” While Ken searched for a way to support his family, Yarima coped with the shock of dislocation and adapting to a radically different world (Jan. 9, 1987).

UPDATE: Now living with Ken in Gainesville, Fla., Yarima has learned a few words of English and has adjusted to such modern conveniences as vending machines and sweatpants. Financially more secure since he sold the movie rights to his story (Alan Alda reportedly wants to play him), Good is finishing his doctoral dissertation in ethnobiography, while Yarima raises David, now 3, and Vanessa, 15 months. “I don’t care if they end up hanging from trees in the jungle or studying nuclear physics,” says Good. “I respect both cultures.”

By 1984, Allentown, Pa., pizza parlor owner Tony Toto had survived numerous attempts on his life, most of them committed with the full cooperation of his wife, Frances. Among other things, Frances had hired assailants to hit Tony over the head with a baseball bat; place a trip wire at the top of the stairs; and shoot him—on two occasions—while he slept. (Before the first shooting, Frances drugged Tony’s chicken soup so he would doze soundly. He was shot in the head but lived. On the second occasion, he was shot through the chest but, miraculously, suffered little damage.) More remarkable than Tony’s survival was his reaction when he discovered that Frances, together with her lover, was behind the attacks. A self-confessed ladies’ man, Tony held his wife blameless, paid her attorney’s fees and, with the couple’s four children in tow, visited her regularly in prison after she was convicted of soliciting for murder (May 7, 1984).

UPDATE: “I’m in one piece and still laughing,” says Tony, now 43 and working in a printing shop. Last February, after serving four years, Frances, 44, was released from prison and returned to their redbrick ranch house. The Totos say they are more in love than ever. “I think if you find the right person, you have to stick with it,” says Tony. Director Lawrence Kasdan is planning a movie based on their lives, starring Tracy Ullman and Kevin Kline and tentatively titled I Love You to Death. Says Tony, hugging Frances: “I don’t understand why people break up over silly things.”

Gary Oden, 20, edged out 26 other contestants, all women, in a San Diego Make-It-Yourself-with-Wool sewing contest. His victory garment was a double-breasted suit; his prize, a two-week trip to Paris (March 11, 1974).

UPDATE: Fifteen years later, Oden has yet to return from Europe, except to visit and buy a Harley. “The minute I won, my mind was made up,” says Oden, 35. “Now I couldn’t live in the States, where nobody can imagine eating lunch for three hours.” Oden spent 10 years as a model and recently began designing jewelry. He no longer makes his own clothes and relies on a minimalist wardrobe: “One black leather jacket, one pair of black jeans, one pair of heavy black boots, one classic tuxedo and a few dead-simple T-shirts.”

By the mid-’70s, some 70,000 members of the Me Generation had found their own space with help from est, a spiritual growth system founded by former encyclopedia salesman Werner Erhard (Dec. 29, 1975).

UPDATE: Erhard has replaced est training with the yuppier Forum, which promises “a decisive edge in your ability to achieve.” The new training costs $625 but allows trips to the WC at will (such visits were forbidden during est’s heyday). Twice divorced, Erhard, who lives on a 96-foot yacht in Sausalito, Calif., says he is “open to getting married again.” His formula for looking tan and taut at 53? “Make a commitment to be healthier this year than last year.”

When his daughter Kristin was just 8 weeks old, Memphis photographer Bob Williams bought her a bathing suit big enough for a woman. The $8 latex outfit enveloped Kristin like a collapsed pup tent, but over the years she grew into it, a process Dad recorded during a series of yearly photo sessions. Kristin was 16 when PEOPLE last visited (Aug. 30, 1976).

UPDATE: Although Bob had hoped to continue the annual photo sessions “until Kristin turned 82,” life didn’t work out that way: His daughter married and moved to Pensacola, Fla., while Bob stayed in Memphis, where he preserved the suit in a cedar chest. But last month, Kristin, now 29, returned home to pose in her birthday suit one more time. Nostalgia—and the February chill—gave her goose bumps, which she begged her father not to photograph. “They’ll only make me look fatter.” Fat? No way—although Kristin did thank Bob for buying a suit “with lots of elastic.”

When Dorothy DeBolt’s fifth pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, her grief took a brave and wonderful turn: “We realized how lucky we were to have four healthy kids, and maybe the way to thank God was to adopt a child.” Dorothy and her husband, Bob, eventually adopted 14 handicapped kids (April 3, 1978).

UPDATE: All of the DeBolt’s children have moved out and are living on their own. Says Dorothy, 65: “The goal—theirs and ours—was always to be independent.” The couple, who live near San Francisco, have moved to a smaller home where, jokes Bob, 58, “after 18 years, we can run naked through the house.” Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids—a group founded by the DeBolts to help place “unadoptables”—has now found homes for more than 6,000 handicapped children.

When last visited, Alex Joseph, founder of a sect that practices polygamy, enjoyed domestic serenity with 13 wives. Many of the residents of Glen Canyon City, Utah, looked upon him with suspicion, and the law was on his tail for cohabitation and questionable fishing practices (May 12, 1975).

UPDATE: His legal problems resolved, Joseph, 52, has become a big cheese in Big Water, as Glen Canyon City renamed itself in 1984. Now serving his second term as Mayor, he is down to nine wives. “Marriage doesn’t always work out,” he observes. Although he used to bestow his romantic favors on up to four wives a day, Joseph now generally lets his wives take the initiative. No problem, says Elizabeth, 35: “We simply make an appointment.”

Looking like a couple of Frank Perdue rejects, Tecuya and Sisquoc, among the first California condors hatched in captivity, were each four inches long and weighed eight ounces when born (April 25, 1983).

UPDATE: To the delight of San Diego Zoo curator Bill Toone, Tecuya turned out to be female and Sisquoc male. They have reached puberty and, says Toone, “are beginning to show signs of puppy love.” As eggs, Tecuya and Sisquoc were snatched from the wild and hatched at the zoo; if they become parents, it will be the first time that California condors born in captivity have bred.

Billed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s heaviest twins,” Billy Mc Crary, a/k/a Mc Guire (747 lbs.), and his brother, Benny (727 lbs.), victims of a pituitary disorder, were, in Billy’s words, “making the best of a bad situation” by touring as a wrestling team. Both were married, drove custom-built Chevys and took up two seats on airplanes. But doctors warned the 31-year-old twins that unless they lost weight, they couldn’t survive another five years (Jan. 9, 1978).

UPDATE: After gaining another 40 lbs., Billy died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 1979. “That was the worst day of my life,” recalls Benny. He quit wrestling because “the magic was gone” and traveled with his wife, Tammy, promoting a Wrestling Hall of Fame. Diagnosed as a diabetic, Benny lost 526 lbs. in two years on a diabetic exchange diet. Feeling like “a new person,” he opened an auction house near Asheville, N.C., where he employs his natural showmanship to hawk goods. He also preaches the gospel of lean. “Every chance I get, I tell people they can lose weight if they want to,” says Benny. “I give the credit to God first, and then Tammy.”

As a scrawny 12-year-old, Walter Polovchak made headlines by refusing to return with his parents to the Soviet Union, from which the family had emigrated. The politically sensitive battle continued until he turned 18 and became a U.S. citizen (Oct. 21, 1985).

UPDATE: “I still feel good about staying—better than ever,” says Polovchak, now 21 and a mail clerk. “I’m discovering and learning new things, and it’s a lot more than Jell-O and bananas”—both new to him when he arrived in the U.S. Polovchak, who has lost his accent and gained a 1983 Maroon Buick Riviera, corresponds with his parents and hopes that under glasnost they’ll be allowed to visit him in Chicago. But he’s not planning to go see them, he says, “unless I have a guaranteed return.”

In 1987 deputies removed the five tearful Cooper kids from the loving foster home they’d known for 22 months. Childless themselves, foster parents Larry and Paula Mick had become very close to the children, who’d been taken away from their manic-depressive mother. Citing over attachment to the Micks, the state of Iowa split the children between two other foster homes and planned to return them to their mother, Karen Cooper, when she finished treatment (Feb. 2, 1987).

UPDATE: The Iowa Supreme Court has since severed Karen Cooper’s parental rights, and another judge has forbidden Paula Mick to talk to them. The children, now aged 4 to 14, are living in Newton, Iowa, with their mother’s brother, prison guard Mike Butler, and his wife, Rhonda, who are expected to adopt them. Their real mother is still under psychiatric care, though no longer hospitalized. “I miss my kids a lot,” says Karen, who gets only snatches of information from her sister-in-law. The Micks’ marriage crumbled under “the stress of losing the children,” says Paula. “It was ugly and nasty at the end.” She still thinks about the children “all the time.” Meanwhile, NBC has bought the rights to the Cooper story for more than $75,000, which has been put in trust for the children, and plans to air In the Best Interests of the Children this fall.

She greeted her husband at the door in pink baby-doll pj’s and white go-go boots. She pleasured him under the dining room table to make home life more fun. And in the very thick of the women’s movement, Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman became the best-selling nonfiction book of 1974 (April 7, 1975).

UPDATE: Morgan, 51, most recently published The Electric Woman, which offers advice for fast-track females, and celebrated a 25th anniversary with her much-seduced husband, Charlie, 49. After a bout with thyroid cancer left her making “every day the best I can,” she does volunteer work and gives talks to corporate wives. A sample lecture title: “How to Jump-Start a Run-Down Husband.”

Ten days after he arrived in Vietnam in 1968, Rory Bailey, then 21, lost most of his face when a rocket exploded in his tent. Blinded and so badly disfigured that he chose to wear a mask in public, Bailey had undergone 40 operations when PEOPLE first told his story (March 25, 1974).

UPDATE: Now 41, Bailey has since undergone six more operations. In 1987 doctors at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic reconstructed his nose, but, he says, “the nostrils aren’t shaped as I’d hoped. There is one itty-bitty one underneath and one humongous one off to the side. I’m finding out that the impossible can’t happen.” He hopes to start working for his church in South Haven, Ind. Says Bailey: “Maybe there are people out there I could help.”

Trent Petrie was born four months prematurely, weighed only 12 oz. and, said his mother, Debbie, “looked like dark Jell-O.” He is believed to be the smallest preemie ever to survive (Aug. 11, 1986).

UPDATE: Trent is now a lively 3½-year-old in Dilworth, Minn., with a passion for the Beach Boys and Pee-wee Herman. “He feels very good about himself,” says Debbie. In spite of four eye operations, Trent is blind and has asthma. “But the probability that he would have multiple handicaps was very high,” she says. “If we were doing as well as he is, it wouldn’t be so bad.” Though her husband, Merle, a printer, has taken another part-time job, the Petries find themselves burdened by medical bills. Still, says Debbie, “I thank the Lord every day for Trent because we cannot imagine life without him.”

At 18 months, Raun Kaufman was diagnosed as autistic and given no chance of recovery. Unconvinced, his parents, Barry and Suzi, decided to try a unique therapy that consisted of bombarding Raun with constant love and attention. Somehow, Raun began to emerge from his autistic shell, and by 3½, he seemed completely normal (March 15, 1976).

UPDATE: At 16, Raun earns straight A’s in prep school. Convinced that their method might help other kids with problems, Barry, and Suzi, both 46, have adopted three children, including one who was suffering from malnutrition and another whose father had tried to kill him. They have also written books about their experiences and preside over the Option Institute and Fellowship in Sheffield, Mass., a therapy center that they bill as “a place for miracles.”

Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) founder Elizabeth Clare Prophet amassed millions through tithing and was known as Guru Ma to 75,000 souls. But three lawsuits, one brought by an ex-husband for “involuntary servitude,” darkened the picture (July 1, 1985).

UPDATE: Two cases, including her ex’s, were settled out of court, while ex-parishioner Gregory Mull, who claimed he’d been threatened with “immediate physical harm,” won 51,500,000 (Prophet is appealing). CUT has moved from Malibu to a Montana ranch, with 450 followers.

Remember the Alamos? Susan and Tony Alamo (right, during a photo op with Dolly Parton) founded a fundamentalist cult in Alma, Ark., whose members, after Susan died in 1982, spent months trying to raise her from the dead with prayer (June 13, 1983).

UPDATE: Alma locals believe that Susan’s body was committed to a mausoleum in 1984. After that, says Sheriff Joe Gregory, “the [Foundation’s] population sort of dwindled down to nothing.”

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s troubles began when his secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, fled the U.S. while under investigation for siphoning $43 million from the Bhagwan. Many of Rajneesh’s followers were relieved: Sheela had brought politics and paranoia to the Antelope, Ore., retreat where free love and naked lunches had been the norm (Oct. 7, 1985).

UPDATE: Rajneesh himself was deported for immigration fraud and bounced around 21 nations before settling in Poona, India. His fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces is now down to one, albeit with refrigerator and VCR, and he has developed a habit of changing his name. First he dropped Bhagwan, then he asked to be called Zorba the Buddha. Now he’s back to Shree Rajneesh.

As the lead singer of the Plasmatics, quotable, photographable Wendy O. Williams (getting acupuncture treatment, right) shot to fame by sledge-hammering TV sets, chain-sawing guitars and baring her breasts onstage—and occasionally even making music (her most successful U.S. album was New Hope for the Wretched). “I love stepping over the line,” said Williams, whose modest goal was to become no less than “the heaviest female singer in the history of rock and roll” (July 25, 1983).

UPDATE: A vocal vegetarian, Williams, 38, is nowadays as likely to appear in a health-food journal as in a heavy-metal mag. She still tours solo and with the Plasmatics, occasionally ventures into the studio and has finally finished an ornate series of tattoos on her back. Long hair has replaced her trademark mohawk, and she is hard at work on an eclectic veggie cookbook called Wendy’s Megafoods for the 21st Century Hunter Gatherer. Wendy is sure that her audience is still out there, and just as sure that they are “still totally on the edge.”

“A little friendliness goes a long way,” said Sam Chapman, explaining why he and his father, Clarence, chose to spend up to 12 hours a day just waving at anyone and everyone who passed their junk shop in tiny Tamaroa, Ill. (Nov. 11, 1985).

UPDATE: Sam and Clarence are still out there waving, hour after hour, day after day, although they trim their schedule in winter. “I might have put on a little weight,” says Sam, now 39, “but otherwise I haven’t changed.” Since becoming celebrities, have they felt pressured to spruce up their ramshackle house, clean up their junk pile or buy a phone so they can milk the media coverage for all it’s worth? “No,” says Clarence. He and Sam would rather stick to doing what they do best. How long may they wave? “As long,” says Sam, “as I can lift my arm.”

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