The Vancouver Conversations: A Few wOw Women Remember Traumas and Dramas in High School, First Jobs, First Children
Editor’s Note: Cynthia McFadden, Mary Wells, Lesley Stahl, Joni Evans and Liz Smith convened on Mary Wells’s yacht, Strangelove, in Vancouver for a glorious summer weekend of good friends and great conversation. Here’s what they talked about …
JONI: Hey, Liz, are you still the same person you were in high school?
LIZ: You’ve gotta be kidding. I mean that scrawny little know-nothing, aspiring, wannabe kid who would have done anything to bring attention on herself. You still think I’m that same person? I’m still the same. But in the process I became a snob, a semi-intellectual closet case, you know. All kinds of things happened to me that have been magical and wonderful. I feel much better than I felt in 1936 when I was reading Gone With the Wind.
JONI: But you are still the same person. You still have that, “I’m going to be somebody.”
LIZ: You know, I hate to be so trite, but going to the University of Texas did a lot for me. It changed me a lot. It sort of translated me from nothing into where I felt I had the equivalent of an Erasmus High School education, and so I could go on to New York and try to be somebody. I don’t think that would have happened without going to U.T.
JONI: Was that because you excelled in college?
LIZ: No, I just learned a lot and learned what I didn’t know and had wonderful experiences. I am the luckiest person in the world. I have been really lucky all my life. I showed up, like Woody Allen.
LESLEY: Women say they’re lucky and men don’t say that. Men say they made their lives.
LIZ: Well, I’ve worked hard. But I felt I … you know what? I was just translated up and up and up by working with fantastic men. I have only worked, really, in my whole life with one woman, Helen Gurley Brown. And that was late in my life, when I thought I was smarter than she was.
JONI: Were you?
LIZ: No. But, I don’t think that counted. It was men who translated me and pushed me to excel.
LESLEY: But when you came along there weren’t women you could work for. There were only men anyway.
LIZ: Yes. Well I worked for great men [Mike Wallace, Dave Garroway, Igor Cassini, Allen Funt].
CYNTHIA: You know what? I’m with Thomas Jefferson on that point. It’s amazing how the harder I work, the luckier I become. You know, it’s the truth. And of course there’s luck. It’s the person you meet that you would never have met who actually thinks maybe you have something or whatever. Of course there’s luck involved. But honestly, without the hard work and determination, the accomplishment and ability to achieve that, you know, you can’t turn the luck into anything but —
LIZ: Oh, well, let’s face it. I had a lot of charm and … and I was very cute when I was young.
MARY: When I started in work, everybody I worked for was a woman.
CYNTHIA: You had female bosses?
MARY: I went to New York to school and then everybody I worked for in New York and New Jersey, they were all women.
LESLEY: I thought you were the first woman boss in advertising.
MARY: No. No, I was the first woman that ever took an advertising agency public. I’m the first woman that ever was on the New York Stock Exchange. But there were lots of women in advertising.
LIZ: Mary, it was you who broke the glass ceiling, really, for all times.
MARY: That may be. But the women I worked for were tough babes and they were smart and they were really, really forceful. The woman running Macy’s, the woman running McCann Erickson, the woman running Doyle Dane Bernbach under Bill Bernbach. I mean, they ran the show. They were fabulous. They were great.
LESLEY: Alright. Back to high school.
JONI: So were you, Mary, the same person in high school as you are now?
MARY: Oh no, because I never existed in high school. We were very poor and they had — my mother wanted to get me out of Ohio because she wanted me to have a different life than she had. And she couldn’t afford to give me tap-dancing lessons, you know. She couldn’t afford all that stuff. So she found the Youngstown Playhouse. I mean it’s sort of a miracle because I didn’t know it existed. And then she really forced me to spend my life there when I was in high school.
LESLEY: But when you were 18, did you have stars in your eyes?
MARY: I was in New York then. I went to New York when I was 16 and a half to be an actor. I was in the Neighborhood Playhouse. Then I finally got a job out of desperation, because I knew I had to do something because I was going crazy. I really didn’t want to be in the theater. And the first job I got was in an advertising agency and I loved it and I was crazy about it. But everybody then that I worked for was a woman. They were all women and running —
LIZ: Isn’t that fantastic.
CYNTHIA: Did they treat you well?
MARY: Oh, very well.
CYNTHIA: Because, you know, people always say women are terrible to other women.
MARY: Oh, no, they were terrific. They were all my mentors. They all thought I was great. I thought they were great. They were all mothers to me, every one.
LESLEY: What planet did you grow up on?
MARY: I don’t know but they were fabulous. And Phyllis Robinson, who was the copy chief of Doyle Dane Bernbach — it was at Doyle Dane Bernbach just after it really hit. It was right after “The Graduate,” it was right after the Beatles. It was when New York had gone creative in a huge way. And she was the one who was really running Doyle Dane Bernbach at the time. I mean Bill was the genius but she was running the show. And she was fabulous to me. And I learned so much watching how she handled a bunch of creative geniuses, and how she handled Bill, because handling him was a major to do.
CYNTHIA: You know, my memories of starting out were about being the only woman in the room most of the time, and about getting a lot out of that. I mean, partly it was about the empowerment that I felt as being the only woman in the room. And I understood full well people who later said they liked it that way and they wanted to keep it that way.
LIZ: Well, yeah, like me. I mean, those famous men I worked for – five or six of them in a row – I wanted to be just like them. And I had the chance to be ambitious, with them thinking I was harmless.
CYNTHIA: You know, do you see how recent this is? I gave a commencement address at Columbia Law School this year. So, I went back. And I graduated from law school in 1984 and it wasn’t until I went back to give that speech that I realized I never had one single female professor the entire time I was in law school. And, in fact, there were no women on the faculty.
LESLEY: What is it like now?
CYNTHIA: What astounded me is the faculty was on the dais with me and I thought, “There are an awful lot of women here.” And I said so. “Hey, are these people professors?” Yes. I mean, it is so different than it was.
JONI: Who were you in high school?
CYNTHIA: Oh, I feel my racing heart just saying this. I wanted something. I didn’t know what. I wanted something. I was in Auburn, ME, in a little tiny town. There was actually a very big high school because it was a regional high school. So there were 1,500 kids in my high school, which sounds amazing if you’re growing up in Auburn, ME. But, you know, I was bossy and ambitious and sort of like I am now, and it wasn’t so attractive. I mean, it wasn’t … so attractive now, but I am it now. But I liked being the center of attention. I liked running things. I was the editor of the school newspaper. I won the state debate championship when I was a junior in high school.
JONI: But then you were who you are now.
CYNTHIA: Friends always say: “You’ll never lose an argument.” I mean, I will argue until you just say, “uncle,” because you don’t want to argue anymore.
LESLEY: Cynthia’s the same person. Right?
CYNTHIA: I am. I am.
MARY: What about you, Lesley, in high school?
LESLEY: Well, mine is kind of peculiar because my memory and my sense of high school is that I was absolutely miserable. I don’t remember high school. I’ve completely repressed it, however, except for a diary. And the diary says that I was happy.
CYNTHIA: I see you as, like, the cheerleader, the most popular girl in the room. I bet that is who you were.
LESLEY: Well, according to the diary I was very happy and I was a cheerleader – a substitute cheerleader. But, my memory … if I hadn’t had that diary I would swear to you that every day I was miserable, I was just depressed and unhappy. And so I can’t explain high school. And I don’t remember high school.
CYNTHIA: Hey, did you feel pretty?
LESLEY: No. Not at all. I wasn’t pretty.
LIZ: What happened to you? You are now.
LESLEY: So how did this happen? I absolutely don’t remember high school. My mother threw a 40th birthday party for me and I walked in the room and I said, “Who are these people?” And they were my best friends. Oh, I remember junior high school, grade school, college. But those four years in high school just vanished.
CYNTHIA: Were you precocious? I mean, did you have boyfriends in high school?
LESLEY: Oh, well there’s a wonderful story about me and boyfriends. I don’t know if it’s too long to tell, but it’s pretty good. I didn’t have boyfriends at the beginning of high school. Then my mother, who ran my life – I mean, talk about a puppeteer, this is the ultimate. And all my girlfriends had boyfriends and my mother said, “You do know what to do?” And I said, “No.” She said, “Just get yourself a boyfriend, any boy. Doesn’t matter. Any boy. Then all the other boys are going to want to know why he likes you, and then you’ll have boyfriends.”
CYNTHIA: It’s good advice, actually.
LESLEY: Well, she told me to do something — I did it. So I got a boyfriend. The whole relationship took place on the phone. So, OK, he was my boyfriend on the phone. And I had him for about a month. And then another boy I liked called me. And so it happened. My mother made it happen.
CYNTHIA: Alright, Joni. You’re up.
JONI: Well, I have a little bit of everybody, so, you know what? I had a burning ambition. I mean, outrageous. But I don’t think I knew what it was for. I mean, I knew I didn’t want to be my mother. She was great to me, but her life and growing up in a protected, suburban community … hated it. Boyfriends were everything to me. Frank Taylor, head of the football team, I wore his ring around my neck. I can remember the ring. I remember the ID bracelet with Frank and the safety pin. It was all about boys. It was all about boys. I didn’t make the cheerleading squad — I almost committed suicide. I mean, it was the most important thing. But I can’t remember much else. I mean, I know I wasn’t me yet, but I was a golfer. I was a great golfer. So that was the beginning of men — playing golf, not my mother. Win at golf. Don’t have to play by the rules. I mean, all those things were forming.
CYNTHIA: Did you know you wanted a career?
JONI: Yes. I think so. I mean I didn’t have the specific career. But I had fun. I mean, I was … I was all about necking in cars. I was a terrible student. And I had a mother who would say, “Honey, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re happy.” Never studied. My sister was the perfect … she was Marjorie Morningstar or somebody. And I was like this kid with enormous ambition.
LESLEY: Second born, right?
JONI: Second born. I was the boy in the family – the golfer.
LIZ: Boy, if there’s one thing you ain’t, it’s a boy.
JONI: No, I didn’t feel pretty. But I was sexy. I was sexy. I don’t know what that meant, but I remember … of course I was necking everywhere. I was … a slut. No, I never went below the waist. That was very important.
LESLEY: First base only.
JONI: First base only. I mean, that’s what I remember. I remember everything. Everything. And I have all my diaries and it would say, “Joe came today … John came … oh, Jack and Lou were starting in the basketball game. I said I would go with them.” It was boys and boys and boys and boys.
LIZ: And you haven’t changed a bit.
LESLEY: You know that my mother had to tell me to kiss a boy. She had to instruct me to do that. She said, “Oh, kiss him. It’s not going to hurt you. Just do it.”
LIZ: Oh, my God.
LESLEY: She did. She did. I wasn’t, you know …
MARY: My mother didn’t know sex existed. I think I happened one night when she was sleeping and had a very vivid dream. Nobody in my family ever discussed anything that ever came remotely near sex.
LESLEY: But, you know, sometimes those people who don’t talk about it, they close the door and turn out the lights …
MARY: Well, actually, when she was dying I found little books of little notes that the two of them wrote to each other when they were first married. They would certainly give you the impression that they had something going, because nothing in my life with them ever did. I mean, they were never together.
LESLEY: Were you an only child?
MARY: Yes. And it was a small town and everybody knew what everybody was doing in that small town. Nobody ever talked about sex.
LESLEY: Did you want siblings? Did you feel like you were sort of out of it because you —
MARY: I mean, I felt that I didn’t know the sort of secret code of kids because I didn’t have siblings.
LESLEY: I felt that there were answers out there to questions that I didn’t even understand.
MARY: I think that only children are completely different animals.
LESLEY: You’re different because sibling rivalry is so formative.
MARY: I felt very strongly that I was waiting for life to begin.
LESLEY: Me, too.
CYNTHIA: I wanted to be an adult.
LIZ: You know, if you grow up with brothers like I did, sandwiched between two brothers and a very dynamic, interesting father, who was nuts, you certainly didn’t … I certainly didn’t want to be like my mother, who was always standing in the front door, in the screen door, with a broom or something saying, “Come and dry the dishes.” I wanted to go off and do what my brothers were doing.
LESLEY: Did it ever occur to you not to work?
LIZ: No. Well, I mean, I knew I had to work if I wanted to get out of Texas. I was raised in one of those real WASPy, Christian ethic things where work was everything. So finally it became everything to me.
JONI: Can I say how different this was. I was not allowed to babysit. We were such princesses, my sister and I, that my mother would not allow us to babysit. That was beneath us. I never earned a penny. And the first day out of college I took a job and I remember my paycheck, I can see it, was $71, at McCall’s magazine. My whole life changed. It was like heaven.
CYNTHIA: My mother wouldn’t allow me in the kitchen. She didn’t want me to learn how to cook. She didn’t like that. She said, “There’re better things in store for you than this.” She wouldn’t teach me how to wash the clothes, run the … no, no, no. “Go study. If you have extra time, go study. Go practice the piano.” I mean, she obviously — though she didn’t articulate it this way — wanted me to have something that she hadn’t had.
LESLEY: Well, my mother articulated it. “You will have a career. And I’m not talking about a job, sister. I’m talking about a career.”
CYNTHIA: Right. She wanted you to be someone. My mother wanted me to be someone. Obviously your mother did.
MARY: She never vocalized it. She just sort of did things. I don’t know, I felt like I wasn’t really on earth. Like I was sort of hovering around everybody else and that I was waiting for my moment. And that at a certain time, a scheduled time, I would just suddenly arrive and life would begin.
LIZ: And you know what happened? That’s what happened. As soon as you let yourself stop being your mother’s creature, where she wanted you to become an actress —
MARY: It happened when I started working in the advertising business. I knew all the time that I was in the theater, and everybody thought I’d stay in the theater because I was a test case. I was the only young one. At that time they had much older, more professional people who were in the theater at that school. And I just hated it. When I walked into that first job, I remember thinking, “This is me. This is me.” And then everything – color came on, lights came on, the music came on. I mean, it was just astonishing.
CYNTHIA: So are you happy? Are we all happier as adults than we were as children?
JONI: I’ve never been happier. Never been happier. And with each age I got happier and happier.
CYNTHIA: I certainly feel that way. I’m happier now than I have ever been.
LESLEY: Talking about happy. Did any of you see this article? I think it was in Newsweek recently, that it’s a myth that people who have children are happier? In fact, people who don’t have children, said this article, are happier. That blew me away.
CYNTHIA: I have to tell you, I spent 42 years as a person without children. Having spent the last nine years as a person with a child, if I had missed this experience, I cannot … I used to think people who said the things I’m about to say were, like, smoking something funny. I have become the woman I used to try to avoid. I mean, my goal in life was to avoid the woman who was saying, “Oh, and little Johnny.” And now, it changed every single particle of my being. It has made me a better person, a better journalist. The idea that somehow my life would be happier – I would have said it, but for me, I’m not saying for everyone, for me it was the turning point in my life.
LIZ: And you were pretty great before you had Spencer.
LESLEY: I feel the same way.
CYNTHIA: Do you?
LESLEY: I had my child when I was 35 and I can’t imagine having a happy life without her. When I say I’m happy, it’s partly because I have a friendship with my daughter. But every age that I went through with my kid was wonderful. There wasn’t a day that wasn’t wonderful.
CYNTHIA: Me neither. I mean that.
LESLEY: I mean it, too. And people think we’re lying. I’m not lying.
CYNTHIA: Not lying.
MARY: No, no, no. I agree with you. I have two daughters and I can’t imagine life without them. They’re clearly the loves of my life, and have been since day one. But I adopted them, and I adopted them when they were tiny babies, so there’s absolutely no difference whatever.
LIZ: Well, Joni and I don’t know what you’re talking about. Though I must say, my godmothership of Cynthia’s little boy has been the most delightful experience. But I don’t know. I would have been a terrible mother. I would have just been permissive. I would say, “Here, go play in the street. Here’s $500.”
CYNTHIA: My mother told me I would be a terrible mother. My mother, who adopted me, said – and this wasn’t said with rancor, this was said with her best shot at honesty, “You’re a professional person. You’re not suited for this. You don’t have patience. You know, you’re interested in yourself.” All the things that are true, that I thought disqualified me from parenthood. And so — listen, the last good eggs dropped.
LIZ: Joni and I don’t know what we’re missing.
JONI: Well, I feel the same about my dog. But, this study, I’m interested in the study and I remember this wonderful book called Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. And, in fact, they say the same thing, that people are much less happy when they have children.
LESLEY: Stumbling on Happiness. That’s exactly right. But do you know what it is — this really is about marital satisfaction.
CYNTHIA: Who said anything about marriage?
LESLEY: Let me finish the sentence. Then you can tear it apart. Marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of a first child. So that’s what that says. So maybe you have to be single to really, really have another child.
CYNTHIA: Well, I was married. But Mary, Lesley and I were already established in our professions when we had our children, which makes a big difference. To be 25 and have a baby is a very different thing than to be 35 and have a baby. And I think that, you know, it’s easier to say it’s joyful when you have plenty of money to hire help, when you have enough professional status to be able to say, “No, I don’t think I’ll do that one. I’ll do this one.” I think it makes a difference.
LESLEY: Well, and we also feel better about ourselves when we’re established and we’re not clawing so much.
MARY: But, you know, I think also we’re probably older and wiser and we are more patient because we understand the value of the children. So we’re willing to put up with a marriage that’s maybe not terrific. And when you’re free of that marriage, for some reason, you are really happy with your children.
LIZ: When you’re really free and alone, it’s true. Like, what Joni said, joking, about her dog.
JONI: I wasn’t joking.
LIZ: No, I mean, you know, caring for another human being, or an animal who depends on you, is just a universal thing.
CYNTHIA: And you’re happy, in part, because you’re involved in a really wonderful relationship. I think, that you have to have somebody in your life to love, or you don’t have happiness, don’t you think? Look, it’s hard to have children and not have any resources, which is the way most people have children.
JONI: That book talks about expectations. Expectation is really the definition of happiness. If you ask somebody, “What is a great meal?” who has just had a great meal, they’ll say, “I don’t need much.” You have somebody that’s starving … it’s all different. So that happiness is really measured by what you already have or don’t have yet.
CYNTHIA: That’s interesting.
JONI: It’s a little bit like what you’re saying – you already achieved, so having a child come into your life after you’ve achieved is easier.
MARY: If you’re very young, and you have a mad passionate love affair with somebody and you get married – first of all, there are a lot of books out right now that suggest that men are very quickly over that period. I mean, that lust lasts about 18 months total. I mean, that’s the longest —
LESLEY: Just for men?
LESLEY: Not for women?
MARY: Oh, no, no, no. They were talking lust and the length of lust.
LESLEY: But I’m saying, why just the men? I would think it’s also true of women.
MARY: I think women probably start right off caring for a man on maybe a broader scope because most of these books will tell you that men, it’s essentially all about sex. And that when you do have a baby and you’re young, and a man is still at a high peak sexual period in his life, that kind of destroys some of his illusions about marriage and about love. And that after that, there’s a lot of adapting; there’s an awful lot of learning – growing up and figuring out. It’s: Do I really want to be with this person and go through the whole business of a small child? especially when young men are in their 20s. And there’s probably a lot of truth if you’re looking at it through the eyes of 20-year-olds, and especially through male eyes.
LIZ: There’s a lot of ultimate disillusion.
MARY: I read a long thing about this just a short time ago that said losing things is highly psychological. And that if you really study what it is you lost, and you really think about it very, very carefully, you lost it for a reason.
CYNTHIA: What kinds of things?
MARY: Well, there’s something going on that, for whatever reason you needed to lose this —
CYNTHIA: I needed to punish myself, or whatever.
LESLEY: What about when you leave your credit card in a restaurant?
MARY: Oh, that would definitely be psychological. That’d be a big one.
LESLEY: What does it mean?
LIZ: I had my mother’s wedding ring, and her engagement ring, which was like two-and-a-half carats or something. It was respectable for the time. And I am addicted to catalogues, so I had bought this fake thing that looks like a whipped-cream can or something — a container that resembled a real item. And I was so determined not to lose these items, I didn’t want to wear them or anything. But I thought they were really valuable to my ongoing life. So I put them in this thing, put them in the refrigerator, and somebody in the interval came along — one of my maids or helpmates in my apartment — and they threw this can out. I can just see them picking it up and shaking it and saying, “Oh, this is empty.” And there it went in the trash. I suffered a lot over my stupidity. But now I think maybe I lost it on purpose. I really want to move on. I’m not a keeper, a saver. I’m not very sentimental about the past. And I’m always looking to what’s the next thing. So maybe it was a relief to lose them. Forgive me mother …
JONI: What about being robbed? Lesley, you lost quite a lot of things. How do you feel about that?
LESLEY: It hurts. And it still hurts. But that’s really different.
LIZ: It wasn’t your stupidity.
LESLEY: No, it wasn’t my stupidity and I don’t think it was psychological. But it is painful. And every day I think of something else that’s missing, and it’s a new pain.
LIZ: And you never got anything back, Lesley?
CYNTHIA: What kinds of things were taken? Jewelry? But they found it, didn’t they?
LESLEY: They know who did it but they never prosecuted him because they had a lineup and there were four witnesses in the building and only two identified him. And the fourth chose someone else. So they couldn’t prosecute him. So he’s out there. But he got all my rings. He got bracelets. He got my father’s cufflinks. I miss things and … just sentimental things from my mother and things I loved.
CYNTHIA: Tell me, when you came into the apartment, how did you realize what happened?
LESLEY: It was awful. First of all, my housekeeper was in the apartment. We have an apartment where our bedroom is upstairs. He came in through the roof upstairs. She was downstairs, and went upstairs to get something and the door was locked. What he had done was put a chair up against the door, and she thought that was odd. She couldn’t figure it out. But when the police told her he had been up there, she got quite hysterical. By the time I got there, cops were swarming everywhere, and my bedroom was just a mess.
CYNTHIA: He messed it up, too?
LESLEY: Oh, he went into every drawer, he opened everything. Things were on the floor. He took the computer, he took my camera. It just was painful. And invasive.
CYNTHIA: Were you afraid to sleep in the apartment?
LESLEY: No, I wasn’t. And I don’t know why. You know, this was my second robbery. The first time I was robbed, I was hysterical. And this time I was calm.
MARY: We were robbed once — and speak of being hysterical! When we got home, the man was still there. He pulled a knife.
LESLEY: Where were you? Where was this?
MARY: This is in France. And we were building a wing onto the house and we came upstairs and my husband went into his dressing room, in his area, and all of the sudden I noticed that the two dogs went running ahead of me and they jumped on the chair and cuddled in my bedroom. And I thought, “What’s this? What’s going on here?” And then I heard my husband, Harding, yell and … he was calling for a member of the staff in the house. And they came running upstairs and they started running towards him. And I saw this man running out with this knife. Harding said it took him months to get over it because he said the man was coming right at him, looking him in the eye. He had his hands full of stuff, but he was looking Harding in the eye and he had this knife. And Harding said he figured he, you know, that was it. But something changed it and he just swerved around Harding and ran out. There were strange stairs and he went down the stairs, dropped the knife, so that they had everything, but they never found him. They never found him.
LIZ: Well that’s different. That’s really horrible.
MARY: Harding couldn’t get over it. It took him months to get … He said he’d wake up in the middle of the night with dreams of those eyes.
LIZ: Have you ever lost anything, Joni?
JONI: I’ve lost a lot of things that I cared about. But I think we adjust. You know, it’s like, “I’m never going to buy anything that expensive ever again.” Or it’s not going to mean anything significant. I don’t wear anything that important. The one thing I never got over in my second marriage, I lost my house, I lost my job, I lost my friends, I lost my dogs. I lost everything in that divorce. I mean, I walked away from that life.
MARY: Your dogs?
JONI: My dogs. They lived on his property. I had to pay thousands in legal fees to get to visit those dogs every other weekend. I mean, you don’t want to know.
LIZ: But Joni, you lost your books?
JONI: I lost first editions of all the books, all the authors I edited: Joe Heller’s and Mario Puzo’s, many authors who wrote me dedications.
LESLEY: Did you get them back?
JONI: I never got them back. Someday I’ll break in and find them.
CYNTHIA: I’m listening to each one of you. I have such a lump in my throat and I have to tell you, I cannot think of one single thing that mattered to me that I’ve lost. I mean, now part of it is that physical things don’t matter very much to me, and I’ve never been robbed. I have my father’s wedding ring, he’s deceased, and I would feel horrible if I lost it.
LIZ: And you have Spencer Tracy’s wristwatch which was a great gift from Katharine Hepburn.
CYNTHIA: I do. I have some wonderful things that are sentimental to me, that would be terribly painful to lose. But I just have not lost them, or had them taken.
JONI: Spencer Tracy’s wristwatch? Where can I steal it?
CYNTHIA: I realized how cavalier I am about money. I want to have enough to pay the bills, but I’m not really interested in it. And I somehow think … it’s something that happened as a child. I think I thought that, you know, you shouldn’t be too interested in money somehow. I don’t know. I don’t know the genesis of this. But my aunt was the secretary for the local bank president and so when I got my first checking account she was always telling my father that I was overdrawn or doing it badly or wrong. And so I vowed at 20 that I was going to have a job where I never had to balance my checkbook. And I wasn’t going to write down the numbers. And I have achieved that level of financial success.
JONI: Do you think it’s a female thing? Is there a man who does things like that?
CYNTHIA: I hope not … I’m ashamed. I don’t say this with any great pride. I realized the other day that I couldn’t tell you what I’ve done with a lot of my money; that I have a ridiculous amount of money in my checking account because I’m too lazy or disinterested to invest it.
LIZ: But you’ve been very clever with money from real estate. You made some very good financial deals.
CYNTHIA: Yeah, I haven’t gotten them because they were good financial deals. I’ve done it because I loved the property.
LESLEY: I think you may be unusual. There’s a range and you’re way over here. And some are way over there – they care too much. And then, you know, there’s a bell curve.
CYNTHIA: But do you think women —
LESLEY: I’m talking about women. That’s what I’m talking about. I think women are all over the lot. I think women – some women – are obsessed with money. And that’s what they concentrate on; that’s what they care about. They’re on the ticker 24 hours a day, watching every little blip and depression in the market. And there are women like you. And the rest of us float around …
CYNTHIA: Now where are you on the scale?
LESLEY: Well, you know, I don’t watch anything.
CYNTHIA: Well, see.
LESLEY: Yes, I mean, I do invest. And I know where the money is.
CYNTHIA: Do you know what you’re invested in?
LESLEY: No, I don’t know the stocks I’m invested in.
CYNTHIA: Thank you.
LESLEY: No, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to know. And the people I invest with say the best investors are those who are not breathing down our throats. And I accept that.
CYNTHIA: Is that true, do you think?
LESLEY: Totally true.
MARY: Well, if I were dependent on the growth of stock … I’m in bonds. And I’m in the last word in secure bonds. I’ve sacrificed a lot of money in the last ten years, in the last eight years.
LESLEY: You haven’t done the stock market at all in the last ten years?
MARY: No. But, you see, I do other things. I was born with a nose for real estate. And I make a lot of money buying and selling real estate. When I look at a house, I just know. I know exactly when I go into a community which is the one to buy and when to sell it and it’s just a gift. And I have made as much money buying and selling real estate as people have made in the stock market. And it’s something I know and feel very comfortable with. If I were investing in stocks, I would … I think I’d be terrified because I take care of a whole bunch of people. It’s not that I want anything, it’s just that I’m sending a whole bunch of kids through school. I’m taking care of a bunch of people who literally couldn’t — wouldn’t — have a house, you know. I mean, I have a bunch of people that I can’t let down. So it’s not like I’m buying diamonds or anything. It’s that I can’t let them down. I have no income … see, you all have income. You are all getting paid by somebody. When I sold the company I gave up that idea of getting income from someplace. And I don’t want to start another advertising agency. I really don’t.
LESLEY: You started wOw.
MARY: Yes, we did – we did. And I think I very much like that, actually. But what I really have to do is be sure that the money that I made by selling that agency is invested in such a way that I can continue to take care of people, in the way that they expect to be taken care of.
CYNTHIA: How vigilant are you? I mean, do you meet every week with someone who briefs you where you are?
MARY: No. When you buy the kind of bonds I buy, it’s very easy to be vigilant because there aren’t a whole lot of them. They don’t pay as well as a lot of other bonds. But they ride right through everything. And then you have these flights to safety when they do extremely well. And then you sell them and you buy more of others. So, I mean, if you’re with people that know what they’re doing, you have your moments when you do very well with them. But it’s certainly not like being fully vested in the stock market.
CYNTHIA: But do you feel like you need to be briefed on a regular basis?
MARY: Yes. Yes. Yes, I am. I go to Geneva at least once a year, sometimes twice, and we have meetings. And they come to New York or wherever I am. They come to speak where my home is, or they come on the boat or wherever I am. And they come and they’re friends now. They’ve become really good friends. And they send me reports regularly. There’s not a lot of movement because there aren’t a lot of these bonds. And when you are in a period of movement, then I’m really interested, you know. But, you see, I’m dependent on bonds and I’m dependent on the buying and selling of real estate, because there are so many people who depend on the money that I give them.
LIZ: I’m exactly like Mary. Exactly. We are the same person. Only I’m way down here and she’s way up there. I worked my whole life for love. You know, for the love of working. And I always thought if I was making $200 a week, I was really doing great. But eventually I’d be rich. And so, eventually – after a lifetime of working – I wrote a book and I got a million-dollar advance for it. Thanks to Miss Joni Evans. And my good friend Mr. Pete Petersen put me into bonds that are unassailable. And while everybody else is making thousands, millions of dollars in the stock market, I was scraping along, you know, making two percent or something. But it has finally added up to a sort of respectable amount. So I won’t go broke with whatever is left of my life. And I thought that was very good advice on his part. And then I had a streak of good luck where I was the highest paid press journalist in the world, for about five years. So I managed to sock some of that away. So I’ve been really lucky. But when you talk about salaries, Mary, I’m working for love again. Yet I’m not a public ward yet, thanks to Miss Joni Evans and Mr. Pete Petersen.
JONI: When you socked away that money, where’d you sock it?
LESLEY: Back in bonds, do you think?
LIZ: Pete told me what to put it into, and it was all unassailable bonds. And I frequently say, “But wait a minute. Couldn’t I invest elsewhere?” Pete says, “No! Leave it alone! You might need it. You might need it to see you out of the world.” You know, I’m just like Mary. Exactly. I’m in my canoe and she’s in her big boat. I don’t need a big boat.
LESLEY: What about Joni?
JONI: Well, I’m lucky because I have a sister who is a professional, and runs a huge, fantastic firm. And they handle all investments, mostly stocks. And I’ve had an average 15 percent growth annually. You don’t have to watch every day. All you have to do is know someone who’ll watch for you. It’s like you can’t color your own hair, you have to know a good colorist.
CYNTHIA: I have to say, maybe I’ve just had a bad streak. But I could name three people I know well, who have had their trusted person betray them. I mean, I’m just very suspicious about people.
LIZ: Well you haven’t done anything about it.
LIZ: You’ve just gone off on another expensive vacation.
JONI: But there is something deeper in this — which is the Suze Orman point — that I really do think women are frightened of taking risk, much more so than men. And, you know, women save money more than not.
MARY: They save it when women who are married to very wealthy men, when the wealthy men die, the women who have been, up until that time, buying diamonds and everything that they could think of, suddenly feel very poor.
LIZ: Right. Right. And they become very mean about their money and their philanthropy.
MARY: And they get very mean.
LIZ: I could give you a long list. If I could get a dime out of any of them for charity, you’d be amazed.
CYNTHIA: I do think that people who make their own money have a different relationship with money than people who have married money.
JONI: Or inherited money.
CYNTHIA: I think it does make a difference, too.
LESLEY: Well, what’s the difference?
CYNTHIA: I’m not worried about losing it to the extent that I’m willing to do too much about it. I think I could do it again if I had to. And I think that’s the basic underlying assumption.
LIZ: You have a lot of confidence in your abilities and I think you think I could recover no matter what they do to me.
CYNTHIA: But I think that’s what people who make the money tend to think. And I think people who inherit it or marry it tend not to think that so much.
LIZ: Yeah, they’re really afraid that it’s going to go away.