Well, Now My Confidence Is Really Shot

Margo Howard at 20

Margo Howard reflects on her dealings with two celebrated womanizers

In the New York Times recently there was a review of Alexandra Styron’s memoir about life as a Styron. That would be with Father Bill, Mother Rose, and three other sibs. The reviewer said the book was terrific, and mentioned in passing that Ms. Styron dealt openly with the many affairs of her father, the famous author. Well, that threw me for a loop, and I will tell you why – but I need to offer some background first.

In … oh, hell, 1960, when I was 20, I was an intern for Hubert Humphrey in his Washington Senate office. He was then running for the Democratic Presidential nomination, as was JFK. Not far from his office was the Senators’ elevator, exclusively for the use of, well, Senators. Of course that’s the elevator I would pop into every now and again. Twice when I was in that elevator, so was JFK. And you know what? He never looked at me … twice, as the saying goes. I did not have hurt feelings about this until it became public knowledge that he was a real ladies’ man. So then I got to thinking: What’s wrong with me? I wasn’t bad looking, and got quite a bit of male attention.

Kind friends who knew I had hurt feelings about this episode – or rather, absence of episode — tried to buck me up by saying, “Well, he didn’t ‘do young.’” That calmed me down until I read about Mimi … the 19-year-old White House intern he had shipped to Europe so he could have the pleasure of her company there while on Presidential business. That did it. I’d had a lot of compliments during those young years, but I had to face facts: if I didn’t catch the eye of a famous womanizer, there was no escaping the feeling of being a total flop.

But back to Bill Styron. We met in Chicago during the famous Conspiracy Seven trial, which conveniently took place when my starter husband and I were finis. I had a brand new press pass, a famous journalist beau who was covering the trial for the New York Times (the late J. Anthony Lukas), and a friendship with one of the noisier defendants, Abbie Hoffman. (We’d both gone to Brandeis). Styron was there, as a journalist, as was Jason Epstein, the famous book editor. This is not to anyone’s credit, but that trial became everyone’s social life. The news people hung out together, along with Bill Kunsler, the lead lawyer, Tom Hayden, Abbie, Lenny Weinglass.

In that setting, Styron and I were good pals. We were to cement the friendship later on when Esquire ran the first chapter of “Sophie’s Choice.” For whatever reason, it wasn’t well-received — but I thought it was wonderful, and wrote him a note saying I loved it. That apparently meant something to him, most likely because the negative feedback surprised him. And a few years after that he paid me a lovely compliment. I was visiting a girlfriend at Martha’s Vineyard who was in a famous tennis game: it was my hostess, Kay Graham, Rose Styron, and a woman whose name I forget. At their game, my chum invited Rose and Bill to the little dinner she was having for me. Rose said she’d love to, but Bill was under his black cloud and wasn’t going anywhere. Later in the day, Rose called my hostess to say that she’d told Bill of the dinner and my being in town, and he said, “We’re going.” It was a wonderful dinner party and his depression lifted, at least for the evening.

So … although I had heard here and there that Bill stepped out, I had no idea his extra-curricular activities were what the book reviewer implied, and once again I had to think: What was wrong with me?! And that, dear reader, is the story of how my confidence has been – once again – shot to hell.

35 Responses so far.

  1. avatar crystalclear says:

    Margo, I enjoy your personal well written stories.   You should never not feel confident!   You are a beautiful lady with an enormous sense of humor.

  2. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Maybe they knew you’d say no. Or thought you’d say no.  Men tend not to make passes at someone they think, or know, will say no.  Wolves have big egos you know.

    • avatar senka says:

      I’m not sure if I can consider myself a womanizer but I definitely can’t resisit beautiful women. I will not ask a woman I feel will say no to me because I dont see why she should say no to me. I want a fun moment not a lecture on morallity and ethics from a woman as beautiful as the author here.

  3. avatar beiskaldi says:

    I just got out of a ‘relationship’ with a womanizer. Normally they avoid me like the plague. Baby Snooks is right, they do have big egos, and the common denominator they all have is that they prey on women who seem vulnerable. I was vulnerable and one jumped on the opportunity. So take it as a compliment, that you are strong, confident, and way more woman than someone like that can handle!

  4. avatar Randy Portwood says:

    Margo, you’re a stunning woman now, and you certainly were when you were 20. I’ll not forget when I first read your column and saw your photo. My first reaction was, “Wow! She’s gorgeous!”

    I’m a gay male and have never quite understood men. LOL. I’ve been told many times I’m a handsome fellow, yet I’ve not been approached by “manimizing?” LOL!) men. Like you, I thought something was wrong with me (and still do much of the time). A friend of mine explained it to me this way: We all have an aura we give off, and simply put, men sense I’m not interested in anything but love.

    I agree with Baby Snooks and beiskaldi. Men can sense who will say “yes,” and who will say “no.”

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Randy – sweet post. Thank you. And what better place to hear a “wow” than wOw!

  5. avatar Shaindy Lander says:

    Wow-o-wow, you were gorgeous at twenty and you’re gorgeous at 70 (that cannot POSSIBLY be true, btw). G-d willing, I age that gracefully. Forgive my not knowing, but have you put out your own memoirs or at least thought about it? I daresay you have had a most interesting life. I would love to read about it. And btw, thanks for all your great columns – I look forward every Thursday and Friday to reading your common-sense advice. Cheers,


    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Shaindy – there actually has been talk of my doing a memoir for some time. I am considering it. Thanks for the kind words.

      • avatar Shaindy Lander says:

        That’s good news. Sooner rather than later would be best, incidentally.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Don’t consider it . Do it!

      • avatar Dan Patterson says:

        Yes, please, please, please write a memoir! You’ve had a fascinating life and have known so many interesting people, I revere your advice column, and your memoir of your mother was excellent and moving. I also would enjoy a collection of your articles and a collection of your columns (while I’m being greedy!)

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          Anyone who can so deliciously refer to the first husband as the starter husband no doubt will have a best seller.  So….

  6. avatar Lila says:

    I agree with beiskaldi. Most womanizers won’t go for strong, confident women. In all my years in the Army, with one sex scandal breaking after another — Aberdeen, the Sergeant Major of the Army, Tailhook, the USAF Academy, and seemingly a jillion individual incidents — I was never harassed, not once, and I never worried about the possibility. Had it happened, I would have instantly and absolutely destroyed the perpetrator, and I think they kind of knew that. Then again, I was never the “come-hither” type either – no ambiguity or teasing with me. Just here to do my job.

    So – yes – take it as a compliment, that these men probably saw you as a serious, confident and competent PERSON and not just a “skirt.” Or some other word.

  7. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    The Count is rendered speechless by your photographs. Well not totally. Hubba Hubba comes to mind.

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Count – I am laughing. I have not heard hubba hubba in I don’t know how long! Thank you.

      • avatar Pdr de says:

        The phrase “Hubba Hubba” became popular in the 1940’s – began at an army camp in the south in 1943. Was used pretty much through World War II and became obsolete after that. I can recall moves at the time involving soldiers where one heard the phrase.

        • avatar Pdr de says:

          P.S. You were stunning in your 20’s and are beautiful now! Must be nice to see your face in the mirror in the mornings; I’d certainly much prefer to see your face in the mirror than the one I do see.

  8. avatar blueelm says:

    It probably only means you seemed confident and secure, the sort of person who wouldn’t let people take advantage of her: people who like to take advantage of people know how to watch out for those types.

  9. avatar blueelm says:

    Oh, and you were and are a great beauty!

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      blueelm — “were,” honey, is the operative word. But I must say it was fun.

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Margo that is false. I have seen you many times in the Social Diary and once in person at Michaels. I tried not to gawk. But you remain a beauty to this day.

        • avatar Margo Howard says:

          Count – how I wish you had come over to say hello.

          • avatar Count Snarkula says:

            What a kind thing to tell me. But you were with DPC and you both were having what looked like a wonderfully dishy lunch I just couldn’t intrude. But thank you for the future invitation to say hello. I will next time! XOXO

          • avatar Margo Howard says:

            I am usually with DPC there! Occasionally a girlfriend …
            And as you know about Michael’s, table-hopping is not unheard of!

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Oy. A dishy lunch I would have intruded on. But not told Margo I was Baby Snooks. Although I suspect at some point she would have figured it out. 

  10. avatar crystalclear says:

    You deserve the compliments, Margo.   Honestly, you do.   I’m not sure what your political leaning may be and so I shall say what does it matter?   You have many memories and experiences floating around in that pretty head of yours.    I cannot fathom how many people you have helped with your advice through the years.   Bravo, Miss Margo, bravo!

  11. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Maybe you’re just not that hot.  Attractive, but not hot. Maybe you looked like convent material, a nice girl. Someone’s best friend, the hot girl’s best friend. Who knows?  They’re dead.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Paul you need to look again at the photo. She was, well, hubba hubba. And stll is.  

  12. avatar Sharris says:

    Margo Dear! You are such a joy to read, as always! An undeniable treat for the eyes, as well. I remember the late, great Mike Royko made several references to your mother as a “great looking broad” or a dame with “great legs”; something along those lines. You obviously inherited her genes, both in beauty and brains. No one would ever have messed with Eppie, and I would imagine these men were smart enough to realize that you were not a vacuous beauty. By the way; your line about “starter husband” is what made me laugh so hard when I first read it months ago, I was compelled to follow you on Twitter. You haven’t disappointed!

  13. avatar Paul Smith says:

    “He’s just not into you”.  Great episode from Sex In The City. They just were not into her.

  14. avatar Rho says:

    You were and still are beautiful.

  15. avatar anneh says:

    and really, how sad is it that we women care about such things?  but, alas, we do…at 51 I was hoping it gets better and that such trivial and small things as whether or not we are “hot” or “pretty” goes by the way side in favor of bigger and smarter things…guess not.  and honestly, to care about either JFK or Styron desiring you?  Seriously, when it comes to those two men and their values regarding women I’d be GLAD to have been overlooked…you can do much better.

  16. avatar Jean B says:

    Oh, Margo, how I can relate. Not long ago we hired a temp just a couple of years younger than me. Both in our 40’s, both with kids around 20. She is blonde, brown eyes, slightly over weight, and very busty. I am brunette, dark blue eyes, also slightly over weight, and more than average up top. She is also very bubbly. I am friendly and joke with my co-workers all the time, but they know where the line is. Anyway, this temp got hit on one day by two Soldiers we were working with, they wouldn’t even look my way. I was also her supervisor and had to be the one to put a stop to it. At work I kept my thoughts to myself, but when I talked to my boyfriend about it I told him that I didn’t get it. She is such a ditz, brain cells are just not there, and she really isn’t drop-dead beautiful. Why her and not me?!!!! His response was 3-fold. #1-I don’t put out the vibe that tells them I am looking. #2-they already knew they would get smacked down, hard. #3-I am a confident, head-strong person with a strong work ethic. He’s right on all counts. Didn’t really make me feel better, but he tried.