In high school, Quayle paid more attention to politics - and to golf, his number one interest - than to classes. His grades were not good enough to assure him a place at DePauw University, which his grandfather and father had attended. But he was admitted as a 'legacy'. He graduated in 1969 with a C average.
The Vietnam war was at its height, and Quayle joined the Indiana National Guard rather than risk being drafted because, he said, he wanted to go to law school, which he did in 1970. He says now that his time in the National Guard, which was later to become a major point of political embarrassment, was the making of him: 'You go, 'Oh, hello world.' Hey, it's an eye-opener.' His wife, Marilyn, the enormously disciplined daughter of two doctors whom he met at law school, has said: 'That six-month basic training, crawling on his belly, that was really his transition point. If I'd met him before that, I never ever would have gone out with him.'
As it was, 10 weeks after they started dating, they were married.
In 1976, Quayle ran for Congress and Marilyn took control of the campaign, although she was well into her second pregnancy. 'The idea that a wife could have this influence and intelligence, have ideas of her own was foreign to the power establishment here,' said Alan McMahan, who has been the Republican Party chairman in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the past 25 years, 'but she had a firm hand and it was necessary, to keep the campaign on track.' Marilyn agreed: 'They were astonished from the beginning that Dan felt comfortable that I could represent him completely.'
'What Marilyn did,' said Walter Helmke, an Indiana state Senator, 'was formulate the issues for Dan. She came in and told us he is going to adopt a pro-life stance on abortion, he is adopting the position of the National Rifle Association. And he is against the Equal Rights Amendment. . . . I've always thought she felt more strongly about these issues than he did.' Marilyn Quayle said that she and her husband had discussed these issues 'at home at night' before she shared her views with others.
On that election night in 1976, Quayle won by 19,000 votes; at 29 he was going to Congress. But that was only the first step he and his wife had in mind.
Throughout the journey from Congress to Senate to White House, Dan Quayle's style has been marked by informality - 'radiant nice-guyism'. A conservative activist urged him, soon after the 1988 election, to emulate Spiro Agnew, Vice-President to Richard Nixon, and pick some fights that would antagonise liberals and make conservatives say: 'This is my guy.'
Quayle's response was not what he had expected. 'I must say that I have never been less well received in anything I have ever said to a friend. Dan just said, 'Well I thank you for your advice, but that's not appropriate'.'
Quayle's wife and many of his friends suggest religious faith and a naturally upbeat disposition have enabled him to get through all the ridicule he has encountered without apparent resentment.
The 1988 campaign included 'a lot of pain' and 'some very dark moments', Quayle said, 'but I think what I recoil against is the idea that the whole vice-presidency has been a long, dark journey. It's been a wonderful job and I thoroughly enjoy it.'
Jack Kemp, who was a rival for the vice- presidential nomination in 1988, has said of Quayle: 'He's not mean-spirited. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body.' But by his side he always had Marilyn, and, according to a former member of Quayle's Senate staff: 'You do something that looks like it's going to hurt the Vice- President and you're going to get in trouble with Mrs Quayle.'
In no role is Marilyn Quayle more dedicated than as the keeper of her husband's image. Former staff members tell of trying to get a formal photograph of him in 1977, when he first got into Congress; they kept sending her proofs and she kept on rejecting them; she saw well over a dozen before she was satisfied. 'I'm a perfectionist,' she said, 'and I was there to make sure it was done perfectly.'
Her concern about his image was more dramatically displayed in 1991, when she visited an office of her husband's at the Senate. On the wall was a photograph of him finishing a golf swing. His shirt was gathered in a way that suggested a paunch. She had it taken down, picked up a pen and began scribbling heavily, first over his midriff and then the rest of him.
'We took it pretty much as a joke,' said one of the staff present, 'but it flashed through my mind, she's taking a lot out on that picture.' Once she had scribbled, Marilyn realised that she had left a hostage to fortune (someone could say the Vice-President's wife did that).
She kicked it out of the frame, peeled it off the cardboard, tore it up and threw it in the wastepaper basket. She has described the episode as a 'lark'. But in an interview with us she became alternately distraught and indignant about it becoming public. At several points her voice quavered and she became tearful. 'I don't lose my temper very often,' she said. 'I am not violent.'
Within four months of Quayle taking office as Vice-President, reports were so widespread that his wife was the dominant, smarter partner in the twosome that she banished herself from her husband's new offices in both the White House West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building next door.
'I can't help him now,' she told a long- time friend. Marilyn Quayle, the friend said, 'was at her wits' end' as news accounts continued to portray Quayle as not up to the job. 'Her husband was being pounded into the ground and she knew she had to back away. . . . The more she helped, the worse it got.'
Mrs Quayle recalled: 'It became apparent that enough of a myth had been drawn up that it was detrimental.' The myth, she said, was that she 'ran the campaign because Dan was too weak' or that she was some sort of 'magic manipulator' of her husband. All untrue, 'unfair and ridiculous', she said. 'It was frustrating, very frustrating because . . . Dan and I were used to operating in a certain way.'
Her exile from his offices lasted only until attention shifted away. By early 1991, she had moved into a six-office suite in the Old Executive Office Building - twice the size of the one occupied by Barbara Bush when she was Second Lady - just across the hall from the vice-presidential office. The proximity made for more involvement, she said.
She described herself as part of a new generation of political spouses who have 'a professional role as opposed to kind of back door'. She is, she said, her husband's 'eyes and ears' with his staff, and his chief political adviser.
It is not necessarily the profession she would have chosen, and part of her story is the frustrations of an intelligent woman who has abandoned the legal career for which she trained, and which she deeply wanted, and taken a back seat to the ambitions of the man she
But it is a role she has thrown herself into wholeheartedly. Political colleagues of her husband's described their surprise, and sometimes pained amusement, at her level of involvement as his more disciplined, professional alter ego. Stories of her angry outbursts and intimidation of others are sufficiently widespread that she has divided his staff over whether she is an asset or a liability to him.
In the words of one of his associates, Marilyn Quayle has a definite imperious side. Those who are in her favour praise her generosity and warmth. But many who have come into contact with her say they have found it a chilling experience. There have been a number of incidents, verified for this report, in which Dan Quayle's associates or staff members - senior and junior - felt snubbed or belittled by Marilyn Quayle.
One Navy steward assigned to the vice- presidential residence was sufficiently concerned about his future after he refused to iron the family's clothing - a task that Barbara Bush paid extra to have done when she was Second Lady - that he wrote to President Bush to make sure his career was not damaged. Bush wrote back and reassured him.
A number of Dan Quayle's aides said they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable in his wife's presence or office. There is a palpable lightening of mood during trips on Air Force Two when she is not along.
All this has little apparent effect on Dan Quayle, according to even Marilyn Quayle's severest critics. When they fly together on Air Force Two, the Quayles spend hours talking alone to each other; in Washington, he instantly takes every telephone call from her during the day; he expresses approval and glee when some of her mischievous statements - such as her critical comments about James Baker, George Bush's 1988 campaign manager, whom she blames for some of the miscues that caused Quayle problems during the race - are reported to him.
From interviews with Marilyn Quayle and a number of her closest friends, as well as with Dan Quayle and associates of one or both of them, a portrait emerges of a complicated, bright, strong-willed woman who demands perfection of herself and others. Many agree that if perchance he ever became President, she could be the most influential First Lady in American history. Or, as one close Quayle associate put it: 'If she got to be First Lady, the public would soon forget about Nancy Reagan. Nancy would be considered a woman of the people.'
'The Man Who Would be President Dan Quayle', by Bob Woodward and David S Broder, is published by Sceptre tomorrow at pounds 5.99.