The names of Jerilyn Ross and Sherri Joyner, two guests on a "Donahue" show about phobias, were reversed in a Style section photo caption yesterday.
Four Washingtonians bared their worst fears today for Phil Donahue and his loyal following of 7 1/2 million Americans.
Their extreme phobias.
Take Marjorie Goff. The '50s, '60s and most of the '70s passed her by -- all she knew about the world was what she saw on "Lassie" on Sunday nights. She was a housebound phobic for 30 years.
Today, dressed in a smart blue linen blazer and white skirt, full of color and life, Goff led the group at the TV studio here.
It hit her in 1947. "I was sitting in a beauty shop under the hair dryer, pins in my hair. All of a sudden I had this feeling I was going to drop dead. I ran from the beauty shop, pins still in my hair, down the street and home. I jumped into bed."
She emerged in 1978.
The Rockefeller Center audience oohed and aahed.
Extreme phobia, as old as the ancient Greece from which the word originates, is one of the most serious mental health problems in modern-day America, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. An estimated 13 million Americans are afflicted.
To say that everyone is afraid of something -- snakes, mice, water, heights -- is to trivialize such illness, as Donahue and his active audience acknowledged as the four guests' stories began rolling in. Theirs were debilitating fears -- generally categorized as agoraphobia, an abnormal fear of open or public places.
For Genowefa Fluk, just flying from National to La Guardia on the Eastern Shuttle Wednesday was an ordeal. "I never thought I would get on the airplane. A friend had given me a stuffed animal to hold. As the plane took off, I practically tore it in two."
The last time she attempted to fly was in 1977. She got as far as the airport -- and turned back. "The rest was downhill," she said. "A wall of fear."
For five years she wouldn't leave her house. She was afraid of dying, afraid of insanity, afraid of heights, depths. "I was afraid of being afraid."
A few years ago, Sherri Joyner was riding the Metro to a party in New Carrollton. Although she knew it was against subway rules, she was eating, and suddenly a piece of McDonald's hamburger lodged in her windpipe. "I turned blue and I nearly died," she said. "First I couldn't go into the Metro. Then I couldn't eat out in public. Finally I couldn't go out in public."
For these three women and one man, Fernando Van Reisgersberg, the trip to New York and the stint on "Donahue" was a catharsis. As Jerilyn Ross, the self-proclaimed "mother hen" of the group and associate director of the Roundhouse Square Psychiatric Center in Alexandria, where they all received help, said, the TV appearance was "a chance to show the world that there is hope for sufferers of phobias."
Their stay here began with a Wednesday night dinner at Tavern on the Green. While Fluk, Ross and Goff looked on in the famed restaurant tucked into the southwest corner of Central Park, Joyner ate her first meal in public in five years: French onion soup and a baked potato with melted butter.
"I couldn't have done it without them," she said of her colleagues, none of whom she had met before. But, she noted, she still can't eat meat in public.
Then there was the cab ride to 30 Rockefeller Center at 7:30 this morning for makeup and a quick chat with Donahue, who told them to speak up and "don't be afraid to interrupt." Not one showed a fear of television cameras.
After this morning's taping, in a cafe' by the skating rink in Rockefeller Center, Ross, who had been crippled by a fear of heights that prohibited her from going above the 10th floor of a building, told the other two women about her successful return trip to the site of her first panic.
"I felt like I had won a gold medal in the Olympics," she said. "What a conquest!"
Suddenly Goff stood up and before a crowd of strangers imitated Donahue -- much to the amusement of her companions. She scrunched her shoulders and held out a make-believe microphone. "Then his eyes get big," she said, "and he looks at you and says, 'What are you like . . .' "
Then after a little encouragement, she broke into the refrain of the hit '30s song "When You're Smilin'," soft and throaty like one of the Andrews Sisters.
"It's a good thing Tallulah Bankhead isn't here," she said with a quick laugh. "She would say, 'You mad, mad, mad woman.'
"Oh, God, I love making people happy."
"She's making up for lost time," explained Ross.