It was possibly the classiest surrender since Lee at Appomattox. Abbie Hoffman first turned himself in to ABC-TV and Barbara Walters for a 25-minute explanation of where and why he had been hiding for the past six years. Then Hoffman and his lawyers visited with federal prosecutors, the fugitive was released without bail, and within a few days he had hit more TV shows than Charo. Timed precisely to flak his latest book, aptly titled Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, his surrender had been choreographed months before, and every minute of it filmed for a movie on his life. Hoffman, 43, had come in from the cold in what Hollywood agents call a package deal, and his pleasure was obvious.
Haplessly included in the package were the three leading ladies in his life. The starring role went to his longtime girlfriend, Johanna Lawrenson, a 38-year-old former model, whom Abbie calls “the most beautiful person I ever met.” In crucial supporting parts were his long-suffering ex-wife, Anita, also 38, who has been raising their young son alone, sometimes on welfare, and his mother, Florence, who is in her 70s. She lived in constant fear for his safety during his underground years and now wistfully hopes “he could still be a credit to society.”
Lean and elegant, Johanna Lawrenson was an unlikely companion for a radical on the lam. “We’re opposites,” says Abbie. “Johanna was bred, in every sense of the word. Before she met me, she didn’t know the difference between corned beef and pastrami.” As his self-described “security agent,” Johanna performed such odd but essential duties as sweet-talking gendarmes on the French Riviera who became suspicious of her shabbily dressed escort, and stuffing tranquilizers down his throat in a Las Vegas casino when the pressure became too much and he began shouting his real name. An irrepressible romantic, Abbie describes the flight of a rowdy Jewish rebel and a worldly WASP as a box-office natural—”Annie Hall underground.” Johanna sees things a little differently: “It was exciting sometimes, but it’s not romantic when your heart is in your mouth and you’re terrified that you might be caught and killed.”
As a public figure—Chicago 7 defendant, leader of the madcap Yippies, author of such loony tracts as Steal This Book—Abbie Hoffman has always seemed more interested in the drama of his life than the reality. It took an unexpected turn in 1973 when he was accused of selling three pounds of cocaine to a narcotics detective. Hoffman disappeared, and in 1976 turned up as a freelance writer named Barry Freed in the St. Lawrence River resort of Fineview, N.Y. His sudden return two weeks ago had all the manic elements of vintage Hoffman.
No one has paid a higher price for his years of misbehavior than Anita, the woman he left behind. They met in 1967 at a store he ran in Greenwich Village specializing in products made by poor people. For her it was “love at first sight.” Two weeks later they were living together, and they were married in 1967. Their son, america, was born in 1971, and three years after that Abbie was gone. Anita ended up in “a Lower East Side dump.” She recalls that Abbie could not be counted on for money. “He sent it when he could,” she says. “When he got his movie deal last year, he split up the money between Johanna, me and Sheila [Hoffman’s first wife in the early 1960s, by whom he has a teenage son and daughter]. Abbie is a very generous person.” Anita finally moved to Los Angeles and this year became a story editor for actor Jon Voight and producer Bob Schaeffel’s film-production company. “I haven’t been celibate for the past six years, but I haven’t lived with anybody either,” she says. “A lot of people thought I was waiting for Abbie. That’s not true.”
Indeed, she has known about Lawrenson since 1974. While traveling in Mexico, Abbie wrote that he had met Johanna and later married her under an assumed name in order to get bogus identification. “I felt more relief than jealousy,” Anita says. “I had been very worried about him because he was alone.” In 1977 Anita began sending america (who had adopted the less attention-getting name of Alan) to spend summers with Abbie in Fineview. Alan, then 6, was warned to protect his father’s identity. “It was something he had to accept because it was important for him to see Abbie regularly,” says Anita. “He’s been keeping these heavy secrets since he was 3, and to my knowledge, he has never leaked any information.” Alan calls Johanna his “other mother.”
In contrast to Anita, whom Abbie describes as “identical to me—if I’d been born a woman, I would have been born Anita,” Johanna is as cool as a Fineview winter. She apparently suffered the benign neglect that often befalls the children of famous parents. Her late father, Jack, was a founder of the National Maritime Union; her mother, Helen, is a well-known writer. In the New York of the ’30s, the free-spirited Helen was linked romantically with such famous men as Bernard Baruch and Condé Nast. Johanna bounced from one boarding school to another as a child, spent most of the 1960s abroad and supported herself by modeling in Europe. Her explanation of what she saw in Abbie when they met in Mexico is coldly matter-of-fact: “We were both students in a foreign country.”
Yet somehow Hoffman inspired her protectiveness. “Thank God for shiksas [non-Jewish women],” he says. “When my friends tell me they have a problem, I tell them to go get a shiksa. They do, and then they tell me I’m right. Johanna’s got a compass in her head.” Before he entered a room or a restaurant, she would first search the place for emergency exits and suspicious characters. She drove him around, made mail drops, found the pay phones and stayed alert. “I could never have made it alone,” Abbie says, and adds, “I’ve been going steady since I was 13.” He has asked Johanna to marry him legally many times, he says, but she insists it would be a meaningless gesture—unless he goes to jail and she needs a spouse’s visiting privileges. “What’s marriage?” she asks disingenuously. “Is it good or bad for taxes?”
Meanwhile the first woman in his life, his mother, Florence, still wonders what went wrong with her oldest son. Though first wife Sheila comforted her, as did his brother Jack, 40, who runs a disposable-hospital-equipment company nearby, Abbie’s years in hiding were anguish for her. The two times he risked visiting her at the family home in Worcester, Mass., she recalls, “He was shaking from worry that he’d be caught.” She cannot accept her son as the runaway radical. She remembers instead “a brilliant boy, an excellent bowler—I’ve got cartons of his trophies in the attic. He was tops at whatever he did. My husband [pharmacist John Hoffman] thought it was the professors at Brandeis that swayed him.” She finds his new book “very sad, very sad—his marriages, not being able to come to his own father’s funeral.” She worries that he’ll be sent to prison, her eyes brimming with tears. “I miss him a lot,” she says.