The only reason Susan Tendall picked up the March issue of Esquire was to kill time while waiting for a doctor's appointment. She was leafing through the magazine somewhat aimlessly when she unexpectedly happened on a picture of herself.
Amazed, she started to read the article that accompanied the 7-year-old picture, which showed her, as a 16-year-old, holding hands with a teenage boy at a rock concert.
Her amazement quickly turned to embarrassment and horror when she realized that the text surrounding the picture was an explicit narrative by two women discussing their love lives in the 1960s and early 1970s. A few pages preceding the page with her picture, a nude couple was pictures embracing.
Within a few weeks of that day in March when she first saw the magazine, Susan Tendall, her husband Luther Eugene (Skip) Tendall, and their attorney Peter Larsen decided that Esquire magazine owed the couple $2.4 million for the embarrassment the picture and its placement caused her, him, and her parents.
The libel suit filed by the couple last week in Montgomery County Circuit Court alleges that Esquire "did publish a scurrilous, lascivious article on 'free sex in the 1960s, containing many unprintable words, a half-page high picture of an entirely nude couple, coupled together, and vivid descriptions of the most illicit, immoral, and illegal and shocking conduct . . .
"Right in the middle of the article, the defendant did willfully and malicuosly publish a picture of Susan MacKenzie Tendall clearly representing that (she) was a member of the hippie culture of that era that is described and is one of the people engaged in the immoral, illegal and lascicious acts . . ." the suit continues.
Attorney Larsen said yesterday that, "if it were just the picture standing by itself, indicating that this was a young lady attending a rock concert in the park, there would be no problem at all . . . But that's a really lewd article . . . This picture had nothing to do with the article at all."
Robert Dianna, Esquire's general counsel, yesterday dismissed the Tendell's claim as a "nuisance suit." He added that "she was in a public place, and the photo caption clearly indicated. 'This is the way love looked in the 60s to the photographers of that time.'
"I think this whole thing is ridiculous," Diana added. "If we had to worry about that sort of thing, our editors would have to work with a lawyer at their elbows."
Diana added that in the past four years he has seen only about four libels suits filed against his magazine. He's not worried about this one, he said.
Skip Tendall, 24, a golf pro at the Manor Country Club takes the libel suit very seriously. It's not right for Sue to have to go through something like this," he said yesterday. "It's really embarrassing."