Cornelia Wallace packed her belongings into a small blue van yesterday and moved out of the Governor's Mansion saying she's had it with her turbulent six-year marriage to Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
"I have left the mansion for I can no longer endure the vulgarity, threats, and abuse," she said, adding that she had instructed her three lawyers - hired last week - "to do what is necessary to protect me."
Sources close to the 38-year-old Mrs. Wallace said that, despite the strong language in her statement yesterday, she was hoping for an "amicable divorce. She and her lawyers declined to elaborate on the "vulgarity, threats and abuse." She was believed to be staying with her mother, Big Ruby Folsom Austin.
A spokesman for the governor was so surprised at her actions that he initially called a local newspaper for details.
Later in the day, Wallace, 58, issued a terse statement. "It's a private matter and I trust that our friends will treat it as such."
The Wallace's have had one of the least-private marital rifts around, with each chapter in the continuing saga unfolding and exploding in headlines.
Early last month, a dark-haired mystery woman went around Montgomery at night, distributing photocopies of a divorce petition to newspapers, TV and radio stations. One local TV reporter was called by a woman who instructed him to go to supermarket produce department and "look among the bell peppers." There, among the bell peppers, was the divorce petition, which was never filed.
Close friends of Cornelia's say that Wallace frequently threatened his wife with divorce.
Then last fall, Gov. Wallace acknowledged that he discovered his wife and bugged his telephone.
"For all practical purposes my marriage was gone," Mrs. Wallace said earlier this year, trying to explain why she bugged her husband's phone. She contended that she wanted to find out who was "spreading destructive rumors" about her. "Any rewards or closeness were just totally destroyed because of all that had been said. I wanted to find out who my 'accusers' were.
It turned out that some of them were women who would like to be in my place - who hate me and would like to see me gone. I slipped into a right unpopular place when I married George Wallace."
She also said that the governor's brother, Gerald, "spread rumors that I have slept with every state trooper around." Her brother-in-law denied the allegation.
The Wallaces were married a year and four months when he was shot by a would-be assassin and permanently crippled during the 1972 presidential campaign. "There were those who said our marriage wouldn't last a year," she recalled earlier this year. "And then when George was shot, they said I wouldn't stay a year. It's been five years since then. I've just been trying to hang steady in the saddle."
Asked why she would cling to a marriage that had so disintegrated, Cornelia reiterated in February that she "cherishes" the concept of a home and marriage, and that she dreaded a second divorce. (She was previously married to Floridian John Snively III.) She also said she had no idea how she would support herself if she was no longer Gov. Wallace's wife.
Several years ago, Cornelia Wallace tried to break into show business with a country record. "Baby With the Barefoot Feet," that never went anywhere. "I had a great deal more confidence when I went into this marriage than I have now," she said earlier this year.
Wallace plans to run for the U.S. Senate next year and friends say he had hesitated to seek a divorce because of political considerations.
A friends once said of George Wallace that politics was his whole life. "He ain't got but one serious appetite - and that's votes."
Cornelia Wallace said she could never imagine the governor in retirement. "He doesn't have any hobbies. George can't sit and talk about anything. A friend once listened to us and said, 'Y'all talk on parallel lines.' We've never been able to have a real give-and-take discussion."