Next month Amazon Prime drops a new documentary series about Lorena Bobbit, an American woman who became famous 25 years ago because she was convicted of slicing off her husband’s penis. The series is promising to look in detail at the story. It is certainly worth investigating, because it was always much more complicated than it it was portrayed in the tabloids, where it played out as some dark, brutal comedy about a man having his penis excised. It wasn’t that; it was a story about spousal abuse. In early 1995 I was sent by Night and Day, a relatively new supplement of the Mail on Sunday, to Las Vegas, where I (kind of) interviewed John Wayne Bobbit. Later, I flew to Washington DC, and arranged to have a manicure with Lorena who had recently returned to her old job in Arlington, Virginia, just outside DC. This was in the earliest days of the web and certainly the Mail on Sunday was not then online. I have therefore posted the piece in a series of scans of my own cuttings.
A couple of things. I am open in the piece about the subterfuge I used to get to spend time with Lorena. Looking back now it’s not something I’m proud of, and is definitely not something I would repeat today. I apologised to her at the time. All I can say is I was in my twenties, and those were different times. Secondly, for those slightly baffled as to why a Guardian group lifer was working for the Mail on Sunday, a little bit of newspaper history: back in the early 90s the MoS had reached a sale of well over two million and concluded that if they were to expand further they would need readers from the broadsheet market. They decided that they did not know how to do that. Hence, they hired a young former Guardian journalist and rising star called Jocelyn Targett, then at the Sunday Times, to launch an upmarket supplement. He phoned a bunch of us up at the Guardian and asked if we’d like to join him. My response was that I couldn’t write for a Tory rag. He told me that there would be no interference from the rest of the Mail; that I could carry on writing Guardian style journalism but that I would be paid Tory money. So it proved. I firmly believe that Weekend Guardian Would happily have published this piece.
(Statement of obvious: read both columns on each two column scan, before moving on to the next.)
A SLICE OF LIFE.
She’s a manicurist. He’s a rising star of porn films.
They’re married but live 2,500 miles apart.
Which – since they are Lorena and John Wayne Bobbit – suits them just fine…
By Jay Rayner
First published in Night and Day of the Mail on Sunday, March 19, 1995.