(David Zalubowski/Associated Press
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - On an episode of ABC’s “Wife Swap,’’ Mayumi Heene pounds her fists and shouts in frustration because she believes her costar isn’t paying enough attention to one of his sons.
Off-camera, the mother of Colorado “balloon boy’’ Falcon Heene is a stoic, hard-working woman who is loyal to her family and sometimes subservient to her husband, those who know her say.
She now could face charges along with her husband in last week’s runaway balloon spectacle, the latest twist in a 12-year marriage that has never been short on drama.
Heene has been at her husband’s side as they chased down tornadoes and hurricanes, looked for UFOs, launched rockets, and pursued his dream of becoming a TV star.
Friends say she emigrated from her native Japan - it’s not clear when - and met Richard at an acting school in Hollywood. Public records show they married in October 1997 in Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas. They have three boys, ages 10, 8, and 6.
The couple ran a film-editing business in Los Angeles for a while, renting a house in 2006 and 2007 from Carrie Cavalier, a Burbank-based photographer who takes publicity headshots.
“When they had their editing business, she was doing all the work. She was in the back guest house doing editing and working on the footage all the time,’’ Cavalier said.
They moved to Fort Collins two years ago, making the city north of Denver their base for a wide range of bizarre experiments that culminated with the balloon saga. Six-year-old Falcon Heene was reported trapped in the saucer-shaped balloon as it floated across the Colorado plains, but was later found alive and well at the family home.
Authorities say Falcon was a pawn in a hoax his parents hatched to get publicity for a reality TV show. They say the parents could face criminal charges and be asked to pay restitution for the cost of the massive search-and-rescue operation. The couple have denied staging the incident.
Richard Heene, 48, is the public face of the family, and his aspirations to become a reality TV star and television scientist are well known. Mayumi Heene, 45, has been mostly in the background.
Barbara Slusser of Fort Collins, who worked with Richard Heene on a proposed TV show called “The Science Detectives’’ or “The Psyience Detectives,’’ described Mayumi Heene as stoic, strong, intelligent, and big-hearted.
“But she also is totally subservient to Richard and the boys. Whatever they want, they get,’’ Slusser said.
She said Mayumi didn’t have much of a say in family matters, but is devoted to what Slusser called their “unit.’’
“She’s devoted to the unit. She’ll go down with the ship,’’ Slusser said.
The Heenes moved to Fort Collins by late 2007. Investigators say Richard Heene worked in construction. Neighbors say Mayumi Heene rarely left the house.
The Heenes appeared on “Wife Swap’’ late last year and again in March, with Mayumi Heene trading places with a mother from a Connecticut family. The show described the other family as “safety-conscious’’ and said the Heene household was as “chaotic as a twister.’’