Marabel Morgan stood at the podium. Her curly hair picked up the lights from the cameras. Her radiant smile could be seen all the way to the back of the room. She leaned forward to speak and there was a hushed silence as several hundred women waited, rapt, to hear her every word.
In a soft and feminine voice she began to speak. She told them of a Total Woman seminar she had given in a southwestern state on how to have a happy marriage and of a beautiful, angry young woman who had approached her afterwards and said she could not go home and carry out the day's assignments because she and her husband were not speaking to each other. Finally Morgan convinced her to go home, take a bath, put on something special and cook her husband's favorite meal. The woman left, grudingly but agreeing to do it.
"When she walked away," Morgan told the women, "I wanted to say, "Oh, give it a try. What have you got to lose?"
The next morning, she told them, when she went back to the seminar, the young woman was sitting on the steps outside waiting to tell her what had happened the night before.
She told her she had gone home, taken a bath, put on a beautiful pair of pajamas, set the table with candles and flowers, cooked his favorite meal and her husband didn't come home at his usual 6:30. She waited as the time passed, with no phone call, alternating between being calm and collected and being in a white rage. Finally, shortly after nine, he appeared, fortunately during a moment when she was feeling calmer.
She said nothing, but lovingly fixed and served his warm dinner. Finally, he looked up and said, "What's the matter with you, Terry? Why aren't you crabbing at me?" And she replied, Morgan told the women, now totally mesmerized by the story, "Because I really want to be a wonderful wife to you and I'm trying." With that, Morgan told them, the husband got up from the table, came around to where she was, kneeled down on the floor, took her hand and began to sob like a baby. "We broke the ice and talked all night," said Terry the next morning to Marabel. "And I think we're going to make it."
There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Marabel Morgan - author of "The Total Woman" and "Total Joy," pert, blond, syrupy-voiced, sweet, born-again Christian, pariah of the women's movement - may just be, without knowing it, one of the most avantgarde feminists in America today.
Because Marabel Morgan has left the women's movement behind. Honestly.
But out there somewhere are over three million people (not just women) who think she's got the answer. For many of them her philosophy really has worked.
Marabel Morgan has had a cover story in Time magazine, has sold three million copies of her book "The Total Woman," will probably sell the same number of "Total Joy" which is basically a rehash of the first. She is most widely known for her Total Woman seminars which she has established throughout the country where thousands of women have been taught, through simple skits, how to please their husbands.
She has done it by addressing a subject that is of major interest and concern to everyone. And she has done it in such a simple, basic language that it is very easy to overlook. For some people.
Here is what it is: Marabel Morgan says that to have a happy marriage a woman should:
A - Be nice to her husband, compliment him, tell him he's great.
B - Stop nagging at him and trying to change him.
C - Understand and try to fulfill his sexual needs.
Now, right away you can see the problems. Overly simplistic, you'd say. Wildly sexist. Why shouldn't the husband be doing those things? Sex isn't everything. Why should women stay home and be slaves to their husbands and families? Who is this simpering bubblehead anyway? Isn't she the one who tells women to take off their clothes, and greet their husbands wrapped in Sarah Wrap when they come home at night?
Earlier this week at the National Religious Broadcaster Convention, between a press conference and a women's seminar. Marabel Morgan, now 40, and her husband Charlie, 38, were talking about her books, her philosophy and their marrigae.
It was their 14th wedding anniversary.
She is small and has fluffy light blond-streaked hair, a pretty oval face and a wide, bright Florida sunshine smile. She really does look like the May Queen she once was and acts like the Miss Congeniality she also once was. She is dressed in a smart-looking blue silk flowered print dress with a vest and boots. And one gets the feeling that in an interview she waits for the questions as one might wait for the song to be played on Name That Tune.
She is hardly an intellectual but she is perceptive about people and polite and open and friendly.
She is the kind of woman you would want to have give you a baby shower. She would squeal and cry at all the right moments.
She says she wrote her first book, not for men but for women mainly because at the time "I never dreamed anyone would read it. It's just that my experience was so successful I had to put it down on paper."
"When I was writing it down," she says, "there were many times when I would just burst out laughing at some of the things I was writing. I would think "This is ridiculous, this is just ludicrous. I won't be able to face my neighbors, I won't be able to go to the grocery store." But when I realized the impact and the ramifications the book would have, I decided not to eliminate the frou-frou things. That in order to penetrate I would have to agitate."
So, much the same way militant feminists have burnt their bras and marched against men, Marabel Morgan, herself in the vanguard of her own movement, realized that in order to have impact, she had to get them to notice. So she wrote for anybody with at least "a fifth grade education" and if some of her seemed unoriginal (a strong current of "Do unto others . . ." runs through) and simple, so much the better. She wanted a mass audience.
"I decided I would put it to them," she says. If it agitated them, well, so much the better. I didn't want them to do the things I did. I was just giving my own personal experience. I was surprised that there was so much reaction because by book is so naive, really. But I have been attacked. When they attack me I just say whatever they think is fine with me."
"I love being a home executive as well as writing."
("I'm not just a housewife. I have a domain," she explains. "I'm calling the shots like an emperor. And the term home executive gives housewives a dignity that they need.")
She wrote "The Total Woman," she says, after six years of marriage when thing were really beginning to fall apart.
"Basically," she says, "I had never seen a happy marriage. My mother was married three times while I was growing up. I didn't know how to make one work. I did everything wrong. I nagged Charlie, I complained and I looked like the end of the world at night when he came home.
"We were on the road to the end until I decided to change, to try to do things that Charle wanted me to do. Little things that seem so simple, like making fried chicken for him. I wasn't about to make fried chicken. Like trying to meet his needs like encouraging him, protecting him from jars.
"But the main thing was that he really appreciated my not nagging him any more. And so he began to meet my needs. For six years I had been saying why don't you meet my needs?"
"And," she says, "he was talking to me again. I was so filled up with this experience that I had to write it down. You see, for nine years I had worked before I was married at 28. I had been a hairdresser.I was a strong, independent woman. And I was not about to go into a marriage with a man telling me what to do. Instead I was telling him what to do."
Morgan says when she wrote the book she was "knee-deep in diapers" and that all she wanted to do was to "raise kids, cook up a storm and have fun."
After the book her situation changed at home, yet her detractors accused her of doing nothing but "sitting around in front of the TV set all day long eating bon-bons. Women, especially housewives, she says, have been painted as non-persons who choose to put their brains on the shelf, who get married and turn into vegetables. But the American women are creative and well-educated and have so much to give.
And if you're married and have a husband and children you shouldn't let all that you have slide down the tubes."
"My children," says Morgan, "are 3 and 12 and in school. My daytime is mine. I could go to luncheons, or play tennis or manage a huge corporation or stand on my head if I wanted to. A woman with children in school has so much free time that she can handle some kind of career.
"But the basis of my philosophy is that I just think that thousands of people have proven that getting married and having children does not fulfill people totally.
"And I know that a 9-to-5 job does not produce peace.
"Money doesn't make a happy atmosphere at breakfast, and education doesn't take away barriers of communication.
"A person is spinning her wheels until she is fulfilled by the Living Ultimate. He brings fulfilment."
During the entire interview, that is the only time that Morgan brings up the subject of God. As she says later to a group of religious women at the conference. "There are more effective ways to get your message across than going in under the banner of Christ." And she points out to them, pleading with them not to misunderstand her, that she knows talk of God and Jesus can a real turn-off to many people who are not believers. "I tried Europe, traveling, college, a great fiance," she will say. "And nothing worked. Then when I was 23 I tried God and he produced the goods.
"When I got married I expected a Cinderella story. Now when young women ask me what marriage is like I tell them "three little words - work, work, work."
"I think," says Morgan thoughtfully, "that men and women are equal in status. They're just different in function in a marriage relationship. I believe women have the edge on men with brains but they don't have the physical strength.
"I also believe that one of my functions is to create a happy atmosphere in the home. I believe that falls to the woman. I can't explain it. I just know that's the way it is. My 8-year-old daughter says it's not fair. And I say, 'Honey, you've got it. It's not fair.'"
Women trying to change their men, says Morgan, is one of the prime reasons for unhappiness in relationships. "I can't change another person," she says. "I can only change myself. If Charlie won't do something I can either be a martyr about it or I can get ahold of myself and do it, saying 'I am in control here and I feel proud of my control.'"
"Life," she says, "is a struggle.It will never be perfect here on this earth. To wish it would be is a waste of time."
Many of the things that have been written about Marabel Morgan have made her sound like a fatuous nut. She is accused of advising women to dress themselves in Saran Wrap (which she never did) and was ridiculed for advising women to wear sexy nightgowns and play silly sexual games. She has, in fact, told the women, somewhat to her own embarrassment, what worked for her, and she sternly recommends they do nothing that doesn't work for them.
"A lot of articles have been written about me with a slant, with a sex angle," she says, with a laugh. "As you can see I'm not very sexy."
She is hardly a sex queen, but she is pretty and feminine and has a lot of energy and enthusiasms which could be considered sexy. She smiles a lot and some, though, might perceive her delivery a bit saccharine. She can still laugh at herself and her work.
And one thing she's learned for sure out of her born-again marriage is the importance of sex.
"In the first 6 1/2 years of my marriage I didn't realize how important sex was to a marriage," she says. "I didn't think sex had much to do with it. I had no idea men think about it almost all the time. A lost of women can take it or leave it. But with a man it's a driving force. In a normal marriage it's very important. It's like the oil that keeps it smooth and running.
"I do not, however," she says, "put the burden on the women for making a marriage go. But it is her attitude that sets the tone for the marriage."
One of the misconceptions about her that troubles Marabel Morgan is "that I bow to everything he says and just say 'yes master, that's terrific.' That's not the way it is.
"In fact," she says, "the women's movement and their original goals to offer options to women is tremendous. I think it's a shame that many women were pushed into marriage and children because they thought you were over the hill if you were over 21. But the other sad thing is that they made many women believe that if only they could get out from behind those four walls and into the work force they would find salvation."
Charlie Morgan is a nice-looking guy, friendly and easy-going. He is a tax lawyer in his own firm in Miami where the Morgans live with their two girls and he often travels with his wife when she goes off on her promotion tours or speeches. (She says she tries to go away only once a month for a few days at a time.)
Charlie sees things pretty much the way Marabel does. "We just had a stalemate in our marriage," he says. "We went from lack of communication to bitterness to a full blown war. I'm not basically a screamer," he says. "And being a lawyer I have to negotiate and haggle and argue with people all day. I didn't relish doing it in the eveing in my own house. I could have been the one to change. But as it happened I wasn't. We both got locked into our situations. 'The Total Man' could have been written. A man could do all the things Marabel's talking about. If our temperaments had been different I might have been the one to do it. I don't think it was a sex thing that she wrote it. I think it was a temperament thing."
The crunch came, he says , when he came home one night and she pushed him to the wall and he told her to get off his back. She cried all night, then decided that she must change.
"The main thing" says Charlie, "was her attitude. She tried some things - some I like, some I didn't" He didn't like the international dinners with the kids in native costume. He did like the baby-doll pajamas and boots.
"That was fun," he says. "The main thing about that was the element of surprise. But not every night, just enough to keep you off balance, enough to keep you from bringing the guys home from the office."
His reaction to her was "instant," he says. "Once I knew she was trying I knew we were not in an adversary position, that we were on the same team, then I wanted to do the things she wanted me to do like take out the garbage or take her out to her favorite Chinese restaurant. When it looked like I was being forced to do something I wouldn't. I don't like to be controlled or manipulated.
"Many of the things she wanted," says Morgan, "came about, not because she planned it that way but because I wanted to respond in kind. Husbands usually say to me, "Would you send your wife's book to my wife?" And I say to them. 'Don't worry about your wife. Why don't you start it? Then she'll notice things in you?'"