For nearly a week now, the San Diego living room of Dorothea Morefield and the den in Ernest and Susan Cooke's Memphis home have been converted to tiny television studios, a rat's nest of electronic wiring and cameras displacing the furniture and a crowd of three to four dozen reporters recording the families' every word and glance.
For the duration of this, the long grand finale of the hostages crisis, the Cookes and the Morefields and other relatives of the former captives, like Louisa Kennedy, have willingly opened themselves and their lives to the scrutiny of the world, setting their emotives out on an electronic stage for an audience of millions.
For some of these newly minted public figures, this was all the result of a carefully crafted decision: they feared Americans might forget the hostages and they offered themselves as reminders. For others, however, the media attention just built up gradually -- they were friendly first to one reporter, then to another, until they found themselves unable to turn away journalists.
"In the beginning I was very reluctant to talk to [reporters]. I'm an extremely shy person and it was very difficult right after the takeover for me to talk to anyone other than immediate family about it. I had trouble talking without breaking down," said Susan Cooke, another of former hostage Donald J. Cooke.
But, she said, when NBC's "Today," show aksed the Cookes to appear early last January, her husband Ernest persuaded her to agree. "He thought we ought to talk to the media to keep the story alive, so people would not forget the hostages," Susan Cooke said yesterday.
In San Diego, Dorothea Morefield had alrady come to the same decision, both to keep people's eyes on her husband Richard and the 51 other captives, and to give herself a job, something she could do to help him.
"At least when you go out and speak to a crowd or to a reporter you set a goal," Morefield said. "I had very mixed feelings at first. I got very nervous when I speak. But there's a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you do . . . you feel you've done something and done it well."
Perhaps the most visible of the hostages' relatives, however, was Louise Kennedy, the wife of embassy economic officer Moorhead Kennedy Jr. and the press spokesman for the families' organization, the Family Liaison Action Group (FLAG).
"I was faced with the fact that if I was going to say something, I was going to do it through the media. This was the best way to do it," Kennedy said recently.
Here we are, basically a very small group of people, we don't number more than . . . 500, I guess. Highly publicized. . . .
"I think you take a stance on things. You may not understand altogether why you do it. In my case I felt that standing up for our institutions was the only thing of importance." Talking to the press, she said, was the way she felt she could accomplish this.
She refused, however, to allow most of the press access to her children or her home, although she never changed her home telephone number.
Morefield didn't change her number either. But by the end of a year's worth of media interviews, she had inherited four extra phone lines: one, on the stair landing, belonging to CBS, two in the garage belonging to ABC and an unlisted number known only to her immediate family and the State Department.
"We were just like one big happy family," Susan Cooke said yesterday as she recalled the crush of the press. "It built up gradually through the year, so we were used to it. Had we been thrust into this mass media business without a warning, it would have shaken me up.But the fact we'd been dealing with them for the past 14 months made it almost a way of life."