In the end it was a drama that never played: the anticipated emotional confrontation between the spurned wife, the dogged prosecutor, the governor, and the woman he risked so much for out of love.

The key players had anticipated, or dreaded, it for days. Barbara Mandel, the governor's wife of 33 years, couldn't sleep Wednesday night, and awoke just after 4 a.m. "The first thing I did was to make a pot fo coffee and sit down and think things over in my mind," she said today.

She'd be a reluctant witness in her former husband's political corruption trial, she told herself, "because I am my own person and no longer part of the governor's life." She dreaded the prospect of the limelight. But if she had to testify, she didn't want to appear vindictive. She wanted to look good, to appear the same loyal helpmate she'd been for 33 years. She wanted to do it with class.

So did Jeanne Mandel, who has stood by her husband's side throughout his months of trouble. She went to the beauty parlor Thursday and dressed carefully today in a fashionable white print dress.She looked like a million bucks.

She claimed she didn't dread the confrontation, or any emotional outbursts. "I think we're both intelligent adults," she said, speaking of the former Mrs. Mandel. But she considered the prosecutors' subpoens to Barbara a shabby "cheap shot."

"I don't think the governor's family and his personal life had to be draffed into this," she said, nervously fingering a cigarette outside the courtroom where her husband is standing trial.

Just 30 minutes earlier, chief prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik had quietly told reporters that he had decided not to call Barbara Mandel as a witness, disappointing the crowd that nearly filled the sterile courtroom for the first time since Mandel's trial began three weeks ago.

There were two versions of why. First, Skolnik's. He said he had never intended that Barbara Mandel would be a major prosecution witness, giving hostile oral testimony. "The central thrust is subpoenaing her was to get certain documents," he said. Once her attorney had supplied these documents and defense attorneys agreed they could be introduced as evidence there was no need to call her.

Jeanne Mandel and defense attorneys read it differently. "I guess he (Skolnik) found out what she was going to say so he dropped her," Jeanne Mandel said. "I've never thought she was the kind of persons who would be spiteful or revengeful. I think she's known Marvin as I do as a very honest and able individual who's been wrongly persecuted in this courtroom."

Gov. Marvin Mandel's slide from power is Maryland's longest playing melodrama, now nearing the end of its fourth year. It has all the stuff of a real life pulp romance.

Block it out act by act. The powerful governor, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, meets the beautiful lady, a blonde divorcee no less. He falls in love, struggling for years to keep the romance secret. Finally, on a quiet midsummer day, he announces unexpectedly, "I am in love with another woman, Mrs. Jeanne Dorsey, and I intend to marry her."

He moves out of the governor's mansion. But his then wife, Barbara Mandel, refused to leave, suggesting that "the strain of the job has gotten to him." She leaves only after the governor, then a man of modest means and taste, agrees to a divorce settlement that includes over a quarter of a million in cash and bonds, a $100,000 life insurance policy and a new Buick.

Sprinkle the next four years of the script with political victories, a strong dose of high living, an ample supply of wheeling and dealing and finally charges of political corruption. Move into a controversial trial with the governor in apparent failing health.

But before the drama moves to its final verdict of guilt or innocence, throw in one last spine chilling secne before a packed house - a courtroom confrontration between the governors' present and former wives.

That's where things stood this week after chief prosecutor Skolnik announced he had call Barbara Mandel to the stand. The audience, of course, gathered hoping for blood, a look inside the heads of the two women, a glimpse at the trauma and tribulations of a real life romance played out in technicolor for the whole world to see.

Barbara Mandel waited to be called all morning Thursday in her lawyer's office, two blocks from the federal courthouse. "I was uptight about it, knowing that once again I would be thrown into the limelight," she said today. "I expected to see hundreds of newspaper people and I knew every one would want to interview me." . . . I was hoping that they wouldn't be pushing and shoving."

"I was not nervous about having to face the governor or Jeanne because they are no longer part of my life," she continued. "I was nervous because the press might make a zoo out of it. I'm not an animal in a zoo."

Up until slightly after 6 p.m. Thursday she was braced for the prospect. But in late afternoon her lawyer, Nevitt Steele Jr., a former assistant, S. attorney, met with Skolnik and other prosecutors in the courthouse.

Then principals in that meeting refused to discuss it for the record. But according to various sources, Steele argued that it would be "bad p.r." or legal strategy to call Barbara Mandel to the stand because she would offer little testimony damaging to her former husband and could make it clear she was appearing under duress.

"She wouldn't have acted like a pitter, scorned wife," one source said. "She's not hostile to the governor. She's too big a person for that."

Steele and Skolnik refused to talk about what testimony the former Mrs. Mandel would have offered. "Our position all along has been that she didn't want to be involved in the investigation or trial," Steele said. "I think it would put her in a bad light, an embarrassing circumstance. She had no desire to be in that position."

Steele apparently presented Skolnik the last of a number of documents he had requested at the meeting. At about 6 p.m. Skolnik telephoned Steele to tell him his client would not have to testify.

Barbara Mandel, who now lives in an apartment in northwest Baltimore was relieved. "Now I can once more go back to tennis, golf and traveling," she said.

"I do feel great sorrow for the governor," she added, however. "He's not well. When I lived with him, I knew him as a strong man, a healthy man, a good man. When I see him now sick it does hurt me."