Longform

THE ANGUISH OF ALEX HALEY'S WIDOWWITH HER HUSBAND'S LITERARY LEGACY DISPERSED, SHE'S LOCKED IN A BITTER PROBATE BATTLE

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But unlike My, Alex had been married twice. After leaving Nannie, Alex married again, briefly.

He rarely talked about his ex-wives, except to say that Nannie was "sweet" and that his second wife, Julie, was "volcanic."

It didn't matter to My anyway. She knew in Jamaica that their relationship was the perfect one.

They worked together on Roots for 18 months. When they met, Alex had already done the research, and completed the chapters on Kunta Kinte's capture and journey. But the book was largely unwritten and 12 years overdue. Creditors were hounding him. Editors were hounding him. He had no money, and every once in a while he would sneak back to the United States to make money lecturing.

Then he would return with a few dollars, and they would work. They often discussed the story, talked about the characters. Then he would write a few pages, and edit them. She retyped. He edited again. She retyped. It would go on like that until he would say "Do it on the white this time," which meant the page was to be typed in final-draft form on white paper.

"I paced him so that when the time came for his nap, he had already surprised himself with successes," she says. "It was wonderful to go from success to success."
They dreamed of marrying, of modeling "excellence" for couples of all races. They set it as their goal to work together forever as they were doing in Jamaica. She would help him with his books and he would help her with hers.

But that closeness they found in Jamaica was not to happen again.
@rule:
@body:When Dr. Myran Lewis moved to California with Alex Haley in 1976, she took with her two pairs of blue jeans, a box of books, a green dress, a red dress and a pair of maroon wedgies.

Her wardrobe was fine in Jamaica, it would certainly be adequate in Los Angeles. But as soon as Roots came out that fall, she knew there was very little about her that was adequate anymore.

Alex became an instant hero. There were lectures to give. Interviews with the press. And, feeling that he had to "give back" some of his good fortune, he graciously accepted each and every invitation to speak, granted each and every interview. He went out practically every night.

When My asked to go along, Alex would tell her he didn't want people to know about her. Or that she wasn't quite ready to be seen by the public. He didn't want her to embarrass him or their race, he said.

He hired a new secretary, his cousin's wife, whose name was Jenny. "She was an exquisite black woman with bangles and other jewelry. She was tall and statuesque. Suddenly I felt sort of like some of the women in Jamaica who were simply utilitarian. I felt squat, functional, definitely not fashionable. I remember feeling so self-conscious I went into the bathroom and cried.

"Alex came into the bathroom and said that our lives had changed, and he was going to need other people."
Then Alex started taking Jenny to the parties, saying it was better to be accompanied by a secretary who could help him take notes.

To this day, My rejects the notion that Alex and Jenny were having an affair.
But Jenny was glamorous and My wasn't. She remembers looking at Jenny one evening in a striking pantsuit with a V neck. Jenny wasn't wearing a bra. "What would Grandmother say?" My remembers thinking to herself.

She tried to hide her disappointment at being left behind. She was crushed not to have been included in the ceremony in which Alex received a Pulitzer Prize for Roots. But she refused to let herself feel anger. Instead, her colon would seize up and she would double over in pain. "I didn't want to make him feel badly; I wanted him to enjoy the success that had come so late in life," she says.

Secretly, she decided to become as lovely as Jenny. She worked out with Richard Simmons. She worked out with Jane Fonda. She began to e-nun-ci-ate every word just as Jenny did. Her family, especially her grandmother, began to worry. "Baby," she remembers her grandmother saying over the telephone one day, "don't talk like that."

One day she had her makeup and fingernails done, hoping Alex would approve. He didn't. "Alex was furious with me," she says. "What did I think I was doing? Was I turning into some Beverly Hills floozy? I was to get that stuff off my eyes. I was to get that stuff off my nails."

One day Alex brought her a companion--a Yorkshire terrier named Snooks. He became her constant tagalong, still is today.

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Terry Greene