I like to read the New York Times obituaries. There’s something fascinating about condensing an entire life into a 800-words or less essay. Recently, I read the obituary of Happy Rockefeller — the second wife of Nelson Rockefeller — with a kind of lurid interest.
She was Rockefellers’s mistress. Eighteen years younger, the two broke up their first marriages to be together. Rockefeller had been married for 31 years and had 5 children, and was in his second term as governor of New York. Happy Murphy (as she was then known), was Rockefeller’s secretary (oh the cliche) and married with four children, whom she abandoned in 1963 to marry Rockefeller.
Back then this was a scandal, and yet, Happy Rockefeller hit the campaign trail pregnant, winning people over. The New York Times reports:
“The first shock waves generated by the marriage of Governor Rockefeller to the former Mrs. Murphy seem to have simmered down to a ripple,” Gwen Gibson reported in The New York Herald Tribune. “One look at this wholesome, dimple-chinned woman, and the most critical matron is apt to remark: ‘She doesn’t strike me as a femme fatale.’ ”
Walk out on four children? Hey, it’s fine so long as you have dimples!
(Happy’s chump, not surprisingly, is painted in an uncharitable light for not wanting to grant her a divorce or custody of the kids. He won the kids, she got Rockefeller.)
So how’d that work out for her?
Well, the obituary, not surprisingly, is full of her charitable society deeds and grace as a first lady. Rockefeller lost the Republican presidential nomination thanks to the scandal, but did manage two more terms as governor of New York and was Vice President under Gerald Ford. They had fabulous homes in fabulous places and raised two fabulous children in their second marriage. (The other nine children ate shit sandwiches, collateral damage in the Great Love That Could Not Be Denied.)
And now the karma you were waiting for… An interesting tidbit scrubbed from the linked obituary (that DID appear in the first iteration in the Times… hmmm…) — Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack in the arms of his 25-year-old mistress, Megan Marshack. His “assistant.” To whom he reportedly left money and a NYC apartment a few doors down from his. From Wikipedia:
Rockefeller died on January 26, 1979, at age 70 from a heart attack. An initial report had incorrectly stated that he was at his office at Rockefeller Center working on a book about his art collection, and a security guard found him slumped over his desk. However, the report was soon corrected to state that Rockefeller actually had the fatal heart attack in another office he owned in a townhouse at 13 West 54th Street in the presence of Megan Marshack, a 25-year-old aide. After the heart attack, Marshack called her friend, news reporter Ponchitta Pierce, to the townhouse, and Pierce phoned an ambulance approximately an hour after the heart attack. There was some speculation in the press regarding the possibility of an intimate relationship between Rockefeller and Marshack. For example, long-time Rockefeller aide Joseph E. Persico said in the PBS documentary about the Rockefeller family “It became known that he had been alone with a young woman who worked for him, in undeniably intimate circumstances, and in the course of that evening had died from a heart attack.”
I guess the old saying proved true — when a man marries his mistress, he leaves a vacancy.