Even before he went public last month, former Yippee leader Abbie Hoffman's identity was suspected by a handful of his close associates in Fineview, N.Y. And true to his sense of media drama, Hoffman carefully arranged his first network television interview with ABC's Barbara Walters so his film company could photograph the famous correspondent greeting Hoffman as their motorboats met in the middle of a lake.
"I kind of thought it was him all along, but it didn't really matter," one of Hoffman's friends, Richard Spencer, told free-lance writer Cable Neuhaus.
Carol Amsterdam, another friend, said a magazine article about Hoffman in hiding by Jerry Rubin tipped her off last year. Rubin's article placed Hoffman in a remote river valley with a riverfront house, said he worked as a community activist, and mentioned his tiny hands. Amsterdam worked with Hoffman (known to her, of course, as Barry Freed) in a group called Save the River, which opposed winter navigation of the St. Lawrence. And Amsterdam told Neuhaus that she'd always taken note of Freed's small hands.
Other little-known facts about Hoffman's secret life:
Hoffman and his girlfriend Johanna Lawrenson spent this summer fixing up their home so it would look good on camera when Hoffman decided to go public.
A couple of years ago another Wellesley Island visitor, former Andy Worhol model Viva, began telling neighbors Freed was really Hoffman. Lawrenson worked hard to cover for Hoffman by protraying Viva as an unreliable source for such information.
Hoffman, contrary to some reports, did not begin Save the River; he was on the group's steering committee. His natural ability to generate media interest in an issue led him to be the group's spokesman; he was nervous, however, when local photographers took pictures of him attending hearings with New York Gov. Hugh Carey and Sen. Daniel Partick Moynihan.
When Barbara Walters arrived to interview Hoffman, she was impressed by his security arrangements. Hoffman paid John Lawrence Yehle $200 to drive Walters around in a boat for the benefit of the film company making a movie about Hoffman's life based on his new book, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture. Yehle said he laughed when he heard Walters on "20/20" liken Hoffman's security with that of PLO's Yasser Arafat. Hoffman lived just a few minutes off a major highway, and the nautical rendezvous was a gratuitous scene fashioned for Hollywood.
Footnote: For the FBI, at least, Hoffman's arraignment on drug charges closes the chapter on nearly six embarrassing years of watching the fugitive write for national publications about his life underground.