March 03, 1980 12:00 PM

When Henry Ford II was arrested for drunk driving on California’s Pacific Coast Highway in 1975 with model Kathleen DuRoss in the car, his only comment afterward was a stoic, “Never complain, never explain.” Last week he seemed to have little choice. He and his estranged second wife, Cristina, marked their 15th wedding anniversary in a Detroit courtroom on the opening day of a bitter divorce proceeding. The courtroom was filled with townspeople anxious for a glimpse of their most famous citizen. A fortune in alimony and property was at stake—Ford’s wealth is conservatively estimated at $70 million. Cristina was known to have turned down a $5 million settlement. The promise of scandalmongering testimony seemed great. Yet Cristina insisted before the trial began: “I am not going to court to accuse my husband. I am going to defend myself, my rights and my honor. I have been forced into this trial. It is the only way I have left.”

Despite this, most lawyers expected an early settlement, and indeed on the second day of the trial, the two Fords announced they had reached an agreement. The terms were not disclosed. Still, the settlement had not come in time to prevent some colorful and embarrassing revelations. Ford had refused to discuss the case, but his aunt Rosemarie Marcie-Riviere was outspoken in his defense. For her part, Cristina, in a pretrial interview with PEOPLE, gave a blunt, if self-serving, perspective on her troubled life as a Ford. She portrayed Henry, 62, as an insensitive and faithless husband and herself as the wronged wife, distraught and grieving since he moved out abruptly two days before Christmas 1975. “I am scared and lonely,” she said. “I am here alone with no family in Detroit—which is Ford country—where most people are partial to him. I feel fragile.”

Reality is often the victim in the process of divorce, and the last point of agreement between Henry and Cristina Ford seems to be that they met at a dinner party at Maxim’s in Paris 20 years ago. She was a model in Milan, five years past a divorce from British naval officer John Austin; Ford was in the 20th year of his marriage to first wife Anne, the mother of his three children. At the party, which honored Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, “I broke protocol by seating Cristina next to Henry,” his aunt Rosemarie recalls. “I thought he would find her amusing.” And so he did, despite the presence of his wife. “He told me within three hours of meeting me that he was going to marry me,” Cristina revealed to one interviewer. “I laughed—he had a wife. I told my sister I’d met this amusing man who made some car—I couldn’t remember which one—and I said, ‘These American men are very impetuous.’ ”

Cristina moved to New York, where she says she was courted by, among others, Charles Revson, but she continued to see Ford. Four years after their meeting, Anne got an Idaho divorce (plus a reported $20 million). A year later Henry married Cristina.

“I was a good wife,” she insists. “When I met him he was overweight—245 pounds. I slimmed him down. We rode our bikes, I taught him how good and healthy fresh fruits and vegetables are. I took care of him like he was a child.” Ford’s aunt Rosemarie says that is nonsense: “She was a night bird. She never wanted to go to bed before three or four in the morning and she lived [in the Ford mansion] as a guest. She was off to New York every chance she had.” Certainly her social life was prodigious: sharing caviar-stuffed quail eggs with the Shah in Persepolis, dining on lobster mousse with close friend Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, attending the wedding of Franco’s granddaughter and other royal galas—often without Henry. Some of his friends believe he took up with DuRoss simply because he was alone so much of the time, but Cristina says that isn’t true. “He was always so busy,” she explains. “He would say, ‘Bambina, you go ahead without me.’ ”

Cristina says she was “shocked” when she found out about DuRoss. “He never showed any hint that he had another woman,” she insists. “When he was jailed in California, I was so hurt, so mad. I couldn’t believe it. Everything I believed in was shattered.” After that, she says, she lived “like a nun” in Grosse Pointe, though the vow of poverty was never among her burdens. Four servants remained with her in the 45-room mansion, as well as a chauffeur (she doesn’t drive). She spent her days exercising, reading (mainly biographies), cross-country skiing and cycling around Grosse Pointe. It wasn’t enough. “Now for me is hell,” she said as she awaited her day in court. “How would you like it if your man dropped you—bingo? In two weeks the mistress had taken the place of the wife.” She accuses Ford of vindictive-ness. “I found out from a bloody newspaper that he sold my apartment in the Cariyle [a New York City hotel]. And I found out from televison that my antiques were to be auctioned off at Sotheby Parke Bernet—I couldn’t believe it.” Her efforts to forestall the auction failed.

The Ford family saw things differently. As Rosemarie put it before trial: “She never loved him—how can she accuse him of adultery? And she loathes Grosse Pointe, but now she is squatting in the house. It is a sort of Italian vendetta. The only reason she cared about the furniture was because it was expensive.” Cristina’s answer was a $10 million slander suit against Rosemarie.

Cristina says the experience has been instructive: “I found out the ones who were hugging and kissing me all those years only because of whom I was married to—the phonies.” Her friendship with Sophia Loren and Imelda Marcos has comforted her, and tracking the relationship between Ford and DuRoss, 40, has given her an almost philosophic outlook, she says. “Time goes by and history repeats itself,” as she once put it. “We women believe what men say. We tell them we understand. But the understanding woman eventually becomes the Strega [witch] at home. I ask you—isn’t life a farce?”

Meanwhile, Kathleen and Henry play backgammon, watch TV and bicycle around Grosse Pointe together. “There was a good rapport, an honesty right away,” DuRoss said not long ago. “We’re not legally married, but I don’t see anybody else, he doesn’t see anybody else, we are constantly together and we build our lives together—isn’t that what a marriage is?” Ford’s new house is only eight blocks from hers: She says they won’t share a home unless they are married (“He’s old-fashioned that way”). As if talking to Cristina across the emotional chasm between them, Kathleen recalls the night her husband, father of her two grown daughters, left home on a brief errand and was killed in an auto accident. “You know,” she reflects, “nothing is forever.”

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