Marcy said she had run away from Flint, MI, after lengthy warfare with her father. To punish some transgression, she said, he had killed her pet turtle and torn up her vegetable garden, and was not nice to her boyfriend, a drummer named Twig. That May, before her 17th birthday, Marcy packed her clothes and, with her pet cat, caught a ride to Detroit, where she fell in with a motorcycle gang called The Outlaws. Marcy grew frightened of the guys’ carousing, and she moved in with a 28-year-old pusher she called the Walrus, from her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland. Stoned one day, she injured her leg jumping out of a moving car, and developed an infection after the Walrus treated her with morphine. She said it turned “beautiful colors, but it hurt.” He got her to a hospital in Windsor, Ontario; she spent two weeks recovering, and then hitchhiked to the Newport Folk Festival. “After that,” she told me, “I ended up here.”
Since then, she had lived in two-dozen crash pads, slept on park benches, and was trying to lose weight by taking speed. Someone beat her up with a milk crate in Tompkins Square Park. She became pregnant during drug-fogged sex and borrowed $200 for an abortion, then illegal, which was performed in an apartment by a woman who was just out of her teens and made crude jokes during the procedure. Her idea now was to earn money to help friends buy a bus and go see the Grand Canyon.
I’d become dazed by all her distress, having had little experience with people lost and in pain. But, never mind, I knew what I’d been sent for, and deadline loomed. I handed her the few dollars in my pocket, said to wait there for the photographer—don’t worry, he’d do a profile shot, not her full face—and split for the office.
Writing the piece, I wondered what to call her. I’d used “Marcy” in the draft because that was her name, but told Shew Hagerty I’d promised not to identify her. He said he liked the sound of “Marcy,” so let’s keep it. There are hundreds of Marcys running around, he reasoned, and besides, we’re not using her last name. “Fine with me,” I said.
Headlined “Gentle Marcy: A Shattering Tale,” the story blew everyone away. It earned me a write-up in the front of the magazine. I got a scribbled “Hear, hear!” from Oz on his special notepaper—he wasn’t too free with those. It also created a sensation among readers. Hundreds of letters poured in, many of them with checks for Marcy. One little girl from San Francisco sent a quarter and a dime. “I have enclosed my week’s allowance,” she wrote. “Please give it to Gentle Marcy.” To top it off, Reader’s Digest said it would pay $1,500 to reprint the story, a giant fee back then.
After a few days, the glory faded. Then a researcher at the magazine told me she’d just heard a radio interview with Marcy on the New York rock station WNEW. I got the tape. The interview was conducted by a newsman named Steve Young, who opened with some commentary trashing the hippie movement, how unwashed they were, and deluded. A case in point was this girl Marcy, whom he claimed to have found at the Diggers Free Store—no mention of the Newsweek piece. He’d persuaded her to talk by letting her and some friends sleep on the floor of his apartment.
He titled his bit “Marcy, a Child Again.” When she came on the air, you could tell from her speedo speech she was flying high. Much to my dismay, she led off by saying how devastated she’d been by the Newsweek article. This reporter had paid her for the interview, she said, and promised not to use her name, only he did. I’d also mentioned Flint, so her parents could easily identify her, something I hadn’t bothered to consider. Her mother would be crushed; she’d thought Marcy was working at Macy’s.