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About Martha Mitchell
Martha Beall Mitchell (September 2, 1918 – May 31, 1976) was the wife of John N. Mitchell, United States Attorney General under President Richard Nixon. Martha Mitchell gained notoriety in the press during the Nixon administration for her frequent phone calls to reporters and colorful comments on the state of the nation. She became a household name, appearing on several high-profile magazine covers, and a controversial figure in her own right. Her battles with alcoholism and her eccentric behavior led to a divorce from John Mitchell in 1973. She died of multiple myeloma two years later.
Martha was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to cotton broker George V. Beall and teacher Arie Beall (née Arie Ferguson). She graduated from Pine Bluff High School in 1937, and the comment beside her picture in the yearbook read:
I love its gentle warble,
I love its gentle flow,
I love to wind my tongue up
And I love to let it go.
She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Miami, from which she received a BA in history. She worked for about a year as a school teacher in Mobile, Alabama, then returned to Pine Bluff in 1945. After World War II, she began work as a secretary at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, but was soon transferred (with her boss, Brigadier-General Augustin Mitchell Prentiss) to Washington, D.C., where she met Clyde Jennings, Jr. whom she married on 5 October 1946, and with whom she moved to New York. By Jennings, she had a son, Clyde Jay Jennings (b. 2 November 1947). The couple separated on 18 May 1956 and divorced on 1 August 1957.
She married John N. Mitchell on 30 December 1957. They had a daughter, Martha Elizabeth (nicknamed “Marty”) on 10 January 1961. John Mitchell met Nixon professionally, became a friend and political associate, and was appointed Attorney General after Nixon's 1968 election to the presidency. As a result of his association with the 1972 campaign, he became associated with the growing Watergate scandal.
The Mitchells separated in 1973. After the Watergate break-in Martha Mitchell began contacting reporters when her husband's role in the scandal became known, which earned her the title, "the Mouth of the South." Nixon was later to tell interviewer David Frost in 1977 that Martha was a distraction to John Mitchell, such that no one was minding the store, and "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate."
At one point, she insisted she had been held against her will in a California hotel room and sedated to prevent her from making controversial phone calls to the news media. Because of her allegations, she was discredited and even abandoned by most of her family, except her son Jay. Nixon aides even leaked to the press that she had a “drinking problem”. The "Martha Mitchell effect", in which a psychiatrist mistakenly identifies a patient's extraordinary claims as delusions, despite their veracity, was later named after her.
In 1976, in advanced stages of myeloma, Martha slipped into a coma and died in New York at age 57. She is buried in the Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff.
The birthplace and childhood home of Martha Beall Mitchell, now the Martha Beall Mitchell Home and Museum, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 1978.
Martha Mitchell was portrayed in the 1995 film Nixon by actress Madeline Kahn.
In 2004, a three-act play, This is Martha Speaking…, by Thomas Doran premiered in Pine Bluff, Arkansas starring Lee Anne Moore as Martha Mitchell and Michael Childers as John Mitchell. That same year, a one-woman play about Mitchell, Dirty Tricks by John Jeter, appeared off-Broadway.
The song Martha the Mouth from Captain Sensible's album Women and Captains First is about Martha Mitchell.
Lily Tomlin - This is a Recording (1971) Track 14 "Mrs Mitchell"