Lifestyle

Many are wondering what Camille Cosby is thinking

Bill and Camille Cosby in 1966 when he received an Emmy Award.

david pickoff/ap file photo/1966

Bill and Camille Cosby in 1966 when he received an Emmy Award.

evan vucci/AP FILE PHOTO/2014

It’s the husband, not the wife, who has been accused of crimes. But as the number of women alleging Bill Cosby drugged or sexually assaulted them reaches into the dozens, frustration is mounting against Camille Cosby, too.

Like betrayed wives before her — Hillary Clinton most famously among them — Camille Cosby is being called upon to answer for her husband’s behavior — and her own.

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“I hate to say this,” said Beverly Gooden , the social activist who created the Twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed, “but there is a question about whether she is complicit in the [alleged] crime. People are wondering: Did she know? How long did she know? If she didn’t know, how did she not know?”

Women’s rights activists and others are hoping for a window into Camille Cosby’s mind-set — even if it’s only a terse “no comment” as she rushes past reporters — if she’s deposed as scheduled in Springfield on Monday, Feb. 22, by lawyers for some of Bill Cosby’s accusers.

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She fought the deposition, but earlier this month a federal judge ruled that she would indeed have to appear. But she may refuse to answer questions barred under Massachusetts’ spousal disqualification rule, which generally prohibits spouses from being forced to testify about private conversations with their spouse.

As time passes, a chorus of critics is growing impatient with her silence.

Rebecca Traister , a noted writer on gender issues, sees a “a hunger from every direction” for Camille Cosby to proclaim where her loyalties lie.

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“There are Bill Cosby defenders out there who want her to stand by him and not give in to the pressure to leave him,” said Traister, the author of “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women,” and the forthcoming “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.”

At the same time, Traister said, “there is a clamor for her to distance herself from him — a great hunger to see her mete out punishment. That’s where the wife comes in, as the entry point to an otherwise unknowable figure.”

At this point, there may be two unknowable figures: him, and her. After decades she has spent largely — although certainly not completely — in the shadow of his global fame, many know less about Cosby’s real wife than they do about Clair Huxtable — his TV wife.

The Cosbys have been married for 52 years, but as the Washington Post wrote in a 2014 profile, “A girl like Camille Olivia Hanks wasn’t supposed to meet a boy like Bill Cosby.”

She grew up in an upper middle-class family, outside of Washington, D.C, the Post wrote, with parents who were both college graduates, and who apparently believed society was so important that she was presented as a debutante in 1961.

That’s an upbringing that contrasted markedly with Bill’s. He grew up in a poor section of Philadelphia; his mother was a maid and his father struggled with alcoholism.

But their paths crossed when she was studying at the University of Maryland and he was in town for a gig in Georgetown, and they went on a blind date.

‘Decades later, she would confess to the pain that her husband’s “selfish” behavior caused her in their LA years, as he indulged a roving eye,’ Mark Whitaker wrote in his controversial 2014 book.

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At 19, at the end of her sophomore year, reportedly to her parents’ displeasure, Camille dropped out of school to marry the relatively unknown comedian.

But Cosby didn’t stay unknown for long. They married in 1964, and the following year he starred in the hit TV series “I Spy.” By 1971, fame and Hollywood life had become so intense that it contributed to their decision to move back east, to the Western Massachusetts town of Shelburne Falls, according to Cosby biographer Mark Whitaker.

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Camille and Bill Cosby leave their New York home on the day that their son, Ennis, was murdered.

“[D]ecades later, she would confess to the pain that her husband’s ‘selfish’ behavior caused her in their LA years, as he indulged a roving eye,” Whitaker wrote in his controversial 2014 book, “Cosby: His Life and Times.”

The Cosbys raised their five children in Shelburne Falls, and during those years Camille Cosby came into her own. Among other accomplishments, she earned a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts; co-produced a Broadway play; became her husband’s business manager; and, after the Cosbys’ only son, Ennis, was killed in a robbery attempt near a Los Angeles freeway in 1997 by a white Ukrainian immigrant, spoke out on the country’s racial tensions.

“I believe America taught our son’s killer to hate African-Americans,” she wrote in a widely read piece in USA Today in 1998. Later in the piece she wrote that “racism and prejudice are omnipresent and eternalized in America’s institutions.”

Over the years Camille Cosby has become known as someone who doesn’t seek attention, and now seems particularly eager to avoid the spotlight.

Her last public statement came in December 2014 — after multiple women had come forward alleging that they’d been sexually assaulted — when she not only proclaimed, “The man I met, and fell in love with, and whom I continue to love, is the man you all knew through his work,’’ but went one step further by blaming the media for publishing allegations without “vetting” his accusers.

But more recently, last Dec. 30, Camille Crosby didn’t accompany her husband to his arraignment at a courthouse in Elkins Park, Pa., on aggravated indecent assault charges stemming from a woman’s allegation that in 2004 he drugged and sexually abused her at his home in a Philly suburb.

A phone call and an e-mail to Bill Cosby attorney Monique Pressley were not returned.

Meanwhile, with Bill Cosby out on $1 million bail, and People magazine reporting on Jan. 5 that Camille is standing by him, the public is left to guess at what she really thinks.

In that light, something Camille Cosby told Oprah Winfrey at the end of a magazine interview in 2000 feels almost painful when read today.

“Is there anything internally — emotional or spiritual — that makes you fearful about being all that you can be?” Oprah asked.

“Nothing,” Camille said.

Oprah: “Nothing that holds you back?

“Not at this stage,” Camille responded. “The only thing that can hold me back is myself.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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