Patty Hearst has been in and out of the media spotlight for decades.
The granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst was kidnapped in 1974 by the very ’70s-ish Symbionese Liberation Army. Within weeks she had joined the SLA, was photographed in front of the SLA flag — and helped rob a bank.
After nearly 2 years, Hearst was captured. She served 22 months in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. On President Clinton’s last day in office — acting on her statements that she had been brainwashed, raped and tortured by her captors — he pardoned her.
This Sunday, CNN premieres a 6-part series: “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst.” A weekly podcast — “Patty Has a Gun: The Life and Crimes of Patricia Hearst” — has already begun.
Meanwhile, pressure from Hearst convinced Twentieth Century Fox to cancel a film about her ordeal. She invoked the #MeToo movement, saying the project would re-victimize her.
With the heiress/bank robber/victim back in the news, Westporters of a certain age remember her as a neighbor. She and husband Bernard Shaw — a former member of her security detail, when she was out on bail — lived off Clapboard Hill, in the 1980s. They had 2 children together, along with Shaw’s son from a previous marriage.
Not far away — on Hedley Farms Road — lived another famous Westporter: comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
You’d figure that — besides being a mile apart — their paths would never cross.
You’d figure wrong.
In 1985, artist Miggs Burroughs designed a special flag for the 150th anniversary of Westport’s founding. Dangerfield donated funds to produce 60 full-sized flags. To celebrate — and show some respect for the guy who said he never got any — a celebration was set for Barbara Roth’s Greens Farms home.
A crowd of 100 gathered. Miggs and 1st Selectman Bill Seiden were seated in front.
Dangerfield stood up to speak.
“Obviously impaired, and sweaty and nervous, he was fumbling his way through a short talk while 2 women in the back of the crowd loudly chatted,” Miggs recalls.
The stand-up comic did not use his wit to embarrass them. Instead, Miggs says, he scolded them “without any humor or restraint.” He called them “rude,” shocking the crowd.
Miggs looked at the women — and was mortified to see that one was his wife, Mimi.
She was talking with Patty Hearst.
Mimi — who also remembers the incident well — thinks they were talking about their kids, who were in pre-school at Greens Farms Congregational Church together.
She says that after the presentation, Dangerfield walked over to them. He sputtered more scolding words.
Paul McGuirk — a Norwalk Hour photographer who had known Mimi in high school — was there too. He recalls that day too. In fact, he says, Dangerfield was in such a “fuming rage” that Mimi left in tears.
Hearst — having been through much worse — told him to “go f— himself,” McGuirk says.
Miggs — who was giving interviews and “missed the fun” — adds, “My impression of Patty was how petite and very attractive she was in person — especially compared to the larger-than-life and dangerous image portrayed in the media.”
But there’s more to the Patty Hearst/Miggs Burroughs connection. Years earlier, he had been asked to paint “Tania” — her SLA alias — for a New Times magazine cover.
He worked from the photo shown at the top of this story. But Miggs’ editors asked him to “sex it up,” with her hair blowing in the wind and her shirt unbuttoned to the waist as she wielded a machine gun during the bank robbery.
Miggs ran into Hearst and her husband a few times after the Westport 150th-anniversary flag event.
“They were always very friendly and down to earth,” he notes.
“To this day I don’t know if she was aware that I was the one who did that cover of her.
“And I was always reluctant to bring it up.”
BONUS MIGGS BURROUGHS AND PATTY HEARST FEATURE: During one of those casual conversations, Miggs asked Patty to tape a brief endorsement for his “Miggs B on TV” Cablevision show.
She quickly agreed. Here’s the result — filmed in her front yard: