Sometimes laughing bitterly and defensively, sometimes choking on her words and crying, and making at least one member of the jury cry with her, Jean Harris resumed her testimony today, and continued the sad tale of her relationship with Dr. Herman Tarnower, the man she is accused of murdering.
It was not a tale, however moving or entertaining, to win the hearts of the feminists who have adopted her cause. For Jean Harris in love, as she told her own story, was a pitiful woman, a supplicant.
She knew, she said on the witness stand, that her lover saw other women, but she felt she "didn't have a right to be judgmental about it." After 14 years with the doctor, years in which he continually saw other women, her feelings "never changed."
And rather than get angry at Tarnower about his other women, she made jokes.
The last Christmas she spent with the doctor, three months before she would shoot him to death, she wrote a poem for Tarnower, teasing him about womanizing. It was a long poem, six pages, modeled after 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and it dealt with the subject of her lover's other women at length.
"In the guest room lay Herman, who, trying to sleep,/ Was counting the broads in his life instead of sheep," it went. As for what Tarnower would want for Christmas, Harris was knowing -- and condoning.
"But here's one little thing that I know he will use," she wrote, in the voice of Santa Claus, later in the poem. "If his evenings are lonely he'll have no excuse./ Here's some nice new phone numbers in a nice new black book./ (I'm not quite the innocent gent that I look!)/ This book holds the key and the hope and the promise/Of a whole bunch of fun with some new RED HOT MAMAS."
Harris, under cross examination, seemed to deny that there was anger in the poem. She had taken great pains, she told the prosecutor, not to use the names of women with whom Tarnower might be involved, unless one cropped in about which she wasn't aware.
"The point was to be amusing and not be annoying," she said more than once. "It was meant to give pleasure and be honest, and it did."
Former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Va., Harris has been in court since October, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Tarnower, the womanizing hero of her poem.
The prosecution, noting that Tarnower had been seeing another, younger woman, Lynne Tryforos, who worked as Tarnower's assistant, says Harris shot Tarnover deliberately, in a jealous rage.
The defense insists that Harris was "suicidally depressed," and that the shooting was a tragic accident.The pressures that provoked Harris to drive to her lover's home with a pistol and a bouquet of flowers were pressures having to do with her insecurity about herself and her problems in her professional life, the defense claims.
Today, Harris' second day on the stand, she spoke of some of those professional pressures, as well as her growing sense of despair. She also, under the questioning of defense attorney Joel Aurnou, spoke about Tarnower and his women.
But, though Aurnou's questioning seemed an attempt to establish that Harris was a woman who accepted her lover's philandering. Harris' replies, however witty and flip, were clearly the replies of a woman in pain.
In what may have been her last letter to the doctor, a letter with clear feminist overtones ("It just wasn't in the cards for me to fix the cottage cheese and run the errands at noon"), she still signed her letter "In gratitude."
She also, in that letter, showed that she was well aware of rival Lynne Tryforos and held that woman in contempt.
"I am sure it has never occured to you, because you will never be able to think of men and women as equals, but the truth is, darling, if one of the few women you do admire -- say, Audrey [wife of Seymour Topping, managing editor of The New York Times] or Ronnie Rothschild or Elizabeth McCormack [a former president of Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.] or Iphigene [mother of New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger] were to adopt the male equivalent of Lynne as lover and richly rewarded 'boy Friday' you wouldn't ask them back to dinner a second time."
"Not only are you the man I had loved for 14 years, I think you're unconstitutional."
Under direct examination by her defense attorney, Harris began her testimony with Christmas and New Year's over 1979-80, the last holiday she spent with Tarnover before, as she phrases it, "he died."
She spoke of spending the vacation with their old friends, Vivian and Arthur Schulte, at their home in Palm Beach. They were the friends who were mentioned in her Christmas poem.
She spoke, with the short, ironic laugh that comes to her when she speaks of Tarnower's women, of an episode that nearly marred that vacation in Palm Beach. It was, she told the jury, a tiny ad on the front page of The New York Times, and it said, "Happy New Year, Hi T., Love Always, Lynn."
And did Harris mention that ad to Tarnower? her attorney asked.
She did indeed, Harris answered, with a tight smile.
"I said, 'Hi, why don't you suggest she use the Goodyear blimp next year. I think it's available,'" Harris said, as the courtroom, particularly the women in it, exploded in appreciative laughter. t
The subsequent testimony was without laughs. Struggling to keep from crying, working her jaw furiously in an attempt to remain composed, Harris told her lawyer that it didn't matter to her that the doctor saw other women.
"Did you have the same feelings for the doctor that time [their last year together] as you had since 1967?" Aurnou asked.
"They never changed," said Harris, her face contorted with the attempt not to cry.
She spoke of other things, then. Of a request from Tarnower, in February, 1980, that she help him with his new book (she made the revisions within a few days), and of her growing feelings of despair at the Madeira School.
She spoke of feelings of exhaustion and depression as she traveled on a fundraising tour for the school the week before the killing, of her dependence on the pills Tarnower had sent her for years (she had run out in March and asked him for more). She said that, the month of the shooting, there was "a continuing fatigue, growing and mounting, and depression, I think."
"I felt used up. I guess. I couldn't function anymore," she said, her voice echoing the exhaustion.
"How did you feel?" her attorney pressed.
Harris struggled for breath, seeming nearly close to collapse.
"I find it hard to keep talking about it," she said. ". . . Tired, unhappy, discouraged, inadequate. . . ."
Her composure failed her, however, as she spoke of the events at Maderia the Thursday before the Monday she shot Tarnower, a time during which she expelled four seniors for keeping marijuana paraphernalia in their rooms. It was a difficult decision, as Harris told it on the witness stand.
"We had a meeting of the student body, and there were strong feelings -- there's a lot of free speech at Maderia, which is a good thing," said Harris with one of her nervous laughs.
"There were two feelings. The younger girls seemed to feel we should just expel them. The older girls felt, how can you dismiss a senior who is a good friend and a nifty girl? -- and they were nifty girls," she said.
The experience, Harris said, so drained her that she went home and "crawled into bed in the guest room, the only room without a phone."
"It was very hard to expel four girls two months before graduation," she said. "It was a very difficult thing to convince myself it was the right thing to do. . . . Three of the parents were wonderful about it, one was just obnoxious. . . . "
Her voice broke, and she began to cry, strongly. "Two of the parents were superb," she said. "Even two of the students hugged me and said I had to do it, they were really great. . . . "
She stopped, crying.
"It's not something you're supposed to do, you're not supposed to weep over [such things] if you're the head of a school, but I did," she said.
She cried. And if the defense attorney had turned his head from her he would have seen, in the jury box, in the front row, at least one woman, and maybe two, crying along with Jean Harris.