He was the millionaire and she was the maid. His favorite song was "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Hers was "My Happiness." He searched for truth while she looked for love and perhaps that should have told them something, but of course, it didn't.
Anne-Marie Rasmussen married Steven Clark Rockefeller on a summer's day in 1959 and the papers went crazy.
They hauled out all the tinseled, tired stereotypes, and it was still Eisenhower and they still seemed true.
There was plenty to work with: they met secretly, that first summer, on the family yacht. She was born on an island, his mother collected them. She spoke no English when she came to this country, he was tired of the way money talked.
It was true love, it was rags to riches, she was Cinderella and they would live happily ever after.
They were divorced 11 years later.
"It is a shame to start something and not finish it the way you hoped you would." Anne-Marie Rasmussen is 41 now and the story is there to read between the lines in her face, tears and anger, depression and confusion, and now the fading of her big brash beauty. But the voice is still strong and harsh and urgent, a crescendo building to a catharsis it never seems to reach.
"Certainly I'm not proud of it. You make the best of things, you go forward. But I think it's a pity that Steven and I couldn't make it. We let people down, all those people looking for lost romances. We put a needle in the balloon of all their fantasies." Once, her prospective mother-in-law gently advised her not to wear her sweaters so tight if she didn't want people to get the wrong ideas about her; now her V-necked sweater is mauve and cut low. Her ultra-suede pants skim the top of cowboy boots.
She came to town the other day as an artist, taking, as artists do, the chaos of the past and shaping it to present meaning. There will be an opening next week, at the Washington World gallery, to introduce her work. She spends 13 or more hours a day making collages out of the flotsam of old photographs, bras, bric-a-brac, wallets; making drawings that have a frantic, scarecrow quality about them; thinking now, of designing jewelry. The artist as exorcist. The past still haunts her.
"It's been 10 years since it happened and I still don't understand." The Norwegian accent seems to keep the words from flying away from her. "I cannot accept the fact that one day, he left. I cannot understand that. I was too interesting to leave. We were the perfect couple."
By the time the marriage shattered like a champagne glass, the world was ready to whirl on to other fascinations. They wrote about open marriages in the paper, not storybook ones. For Rasmussen it made no difference. "Someone once told me that it wouldn't matter if I married 15 more times, the only one anyone would remember would be the first."
She was 18 when she joined her uncle in America. Her life on the island of the south coast of Norway was washed in harsh winds and winter dreams. There were no cars or movies or parties, there were only her mother's old love letters kept in a silk bag to feed her fantasies of romance.
Manhattan, to her dismay, was also anisland, but she got her first job and rode her first elevator all on the same day -- it was the one marked "Service" at the Rockefeller home on Fifth Avenue. The first glimpse she got of Steven was the Deerfield Academy graduation picture she dusted on his mother's dresser.
She met him for the first time when the servants were brought in to see the family Christmas tree -- it took the Rockefellers three days to open all their presents. She stood in the vast, brilliantly lit hallway and stared, embarrassed, at all the nude sculpture.
In the summer, they met again at Seal Harbor, and he danced with her at the Firemen's Ball. They met secretly after that, and she wrote to her mother -- "Do not worry about the name. I promise you, he is not a playboy. This is not his basic nature -- I can tell from our discussions. Only one worry -- he takes his life and himself much too seriously. I almost feel pity for him. He is a young person who is desperately looking for a meaning and purpose in life -- if there are such things, I surely have not found them. Who knows?"
It is easy, once the story is stripped of present tenses, to see why he loved her and why it didn't work. At the Rockefeller table, the portions were small, the issues great, the discussions long and intense, the voices never raised in anger. Steven Rockefeller praised Anne-Marie for her "naturalness," called her his "island girl," while his father, Nelson, asked that she not laugh so loudly in the mornings.
After they were married, amid pomp and ceremony and publicity, they tried to settle down to the simple life Steven insisted upon -- she would do the cooking and cleaning and watch out the window of their apartment in the evenings, waiting for him to come home. It didn't last long that way. Anne-Marie had married a Rockefeller and that's what she wanted to be. w
"I liked everything money could offer and all the glamor that came with it," she says now from within the folds of her full-length fur coat. "Steven was too guilty to enjoy his money. He drove around in this VW that was falling apart, he drove all these miserable cars. I couldn't enjoy this. I didn't see the point of it.
"He fought the idea of my spending money and having maids. I got more and more stubborn. He started me off on a budget of $250 a month to buy clothes and run the house and finally I said heck with this and started spending tons of money. And I loved spending every cent of it. Everyone thought I was rich because my husband was rich and I decided 'all right, I'm going to do it, I'm going to make believe.' I never knew how much money my husband had."
He complained that "his sweet natural country girl was becoming more of a Rockefeller than the Rockefellers." He took to birdwatching, plunged into philosophy, studied the Bible. She went to psychiatrists for the depressions that surged over her, found that getting her hair done did more good.
She studied Emily Post with a passion. When John D. Rockefeller jr. died, it seemed even her grief was indecorous -- she was the only member of the family who cried. She took courses frantically "so I could talk to my husband on his level" -- sociology, "The Science of Creative Intelligence," "The Art of Conversation."
America seemed to alarm her. The rice they threw at her wedding seemed a threatening gesture, and when the Wyoming ranch hands banged pots and pans together in honor of their honeymoon, she thought it was because she had been a kitchen maid. A friend gave them some asparagus tongs after the birth of her son, Steven. She thought they looked like delivery forceps and was upset by what she thought was the cruel humor of it.
They had three children by the time the marriage ended in 1969. Steven now lives in Middlebury, Vt., where he teaches philosophy and religion. For a time, she stayed on the Pocantico Hills Estate, and Nelson Rockefellor came to tell her on behalf of the brothers that she could stay there as long as she liked. He established the rent at $1 a year.
Rasmussen's eyes soften and the harshness drains from her voice as she talks about her father-in-law. "He made me feel so important." She is still shocked by the publicity that attended his death -- "I have trouble understanding, with all he has done, why we can't be big enough to look beyond possibly human error and think of all the good he accomplished."
She lives in New Canaan, Conn., now on a piece of land that seems to her another island, surrounded this time by streams and ponds instead of the North Sea, or iron gates or the black depressions that only stopped plaguing her, she says, when a doctor finally prescribed lithium for the chemical imbalance he told her had been causing the "dark tunnels" in which she felt she had been living.
"You're talking to someone who has been dead most of her life," she says now. "I felt nothing. I couldn't even take care of my own children. I just wanted to be dead."
The days she wasn't depressed after her divorce found her trying to lose herself. "I took photographs like a madwoman, I danced and danced and danced, it felt so good to dance, there was someone to take care of me, I knew while I danced, nothing could happen." She went to Africa, climbed Kilimanjaro. "Men would come to me and say, 'I'll make you happy,' and I would say, 'Everyone has tried and tried and no one can make me happy.'"
There was a brief second marriage to a Norwegian-American businessman, one that she won't talk about. Since then, she has reserved her respect for "the couples in their 70s who still walk down the beach hand in hand."
After many years, she believes in God again. "By coming back to life, I felt I was given a second chance. Now I feel as if I'd better show why I didn't die. Now, all the sad ones, the deluded ones, the depressed ones come to me, I tell them, 'If there's hope for me, there's hope for you.'"
She clings to her art now; it promises salvation. One of her drawings is called "Miss Paris" -- she drew it after she had locked herself in a hotel room there for 16 days. Another is called, "Love Me Please" -- something she asked her husband over and over again in the exhausting search for happiness.
She is asked, finally, if she is happy now, after all the fantasies have faded and she has tried to tie her expectations to art, where illusions are not looked upon as punishable offenses.
She answers slowly. "Yes, I am, for the moment," she says, but changes her mind. "I'd rather say, I'm content. In many ways, I'm much the same person as I was when I was 14, as if I'd never been married or had children. p
"I just wish," says Anne-Marie Rasmussen, once Rockefeller, "it wasn't all so complex."