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Get The Real Story On The Woman America Loves To Hate
Quick with comebacks, slinging zingers and dispensing advice, Dr. Laura is today's hottest radio personality. Sixty-thousand people call her syndicated talk show every day hoping to get on the air to be abused and berated. Twenty-million people tune in to hear what Dr. Laura might say next. And 2.5 million people have bought her bestselling advice books. But few of those listeners and readers know the truth about the woman ...
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Get The Real Story On The Woman America Loves To Hate
Quick with comebacks, slinging zingers and dispensing advice, Dr. Laura is today's hottest radio personality. Sixty-thousand people call her syndicated talk show every day hoping to get on the air to be abused and berated. Twenty-million people tune in to hear what Dr. Laura might say next. And 2.5 million people have bought her bestselling advice books. But few of those listeners and readers know the truth about the woman behind the mike-and a life filled with contradictions, cover-ups, and shocking secrets. Now this unauthorized and unexpurgated biography dares to tell about the marriage she destroyed, the friends she betrayed, the family she abandoned, and the lies she tells. . .
Read, in stunning detail, about:
* The childhood that haunts her with a legacy of unhappiness
* Her first marriage and quick divorce, a break-up she hides while she chastises callers for leaving relationships
* Her current husband, the once-happily married professor she chased-and caught
* Her private practice, and the former patients who say their therapist is the one who needs help
* The puzzling estrangement from the mother and sister she shuns off the air, while preaching family values during her show
* The bizarre behavior that has provoked rumors about the fragile woman behind the hard-talking public persona
* And much, much more!
But the true measure of your character is not in your
thoughts but in your behavior, especially when you're
provoked. Ultimately, you are what you choose to do.
—DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER
APRIL 13, 1997
From the instant Laura C. Schlessinger, Ph.D., stepped out thedoor of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas,she should have felt the heat.
It was the third of March, 1997, and a sunny 73 degrees. Thetemperature, it seemed, was every bit as warm as her welcome.
In town to speak at two different charitable events, "Dr.Laura," as she bills herself, left her husband, Lew Bishop, andtheir eleven-year-old son, Deryk, at home, in the family'ssprawling house in Hidden Hills, just across the freeway fromCalabasas, California. That, in itself, was rare for Dr. Laura,who prided herself on being, first and foremost, "my kid'smom"—the kind of mom, she told her millions of listenersnearly every weekday, who put family first and career somewherefurther down the line. And the kind of talk-radio hostwho expected the same moral stance from her fans. Withoutqualification.
"Welcome to the program," Dr. Laura would say at the startof each call to her three-hour, five-day-a-week, interactive,moral advice show. Then, the caller would launch into his orher "moral dilemma."
On a typical day, Dr. Laura would hear from around sixtoeight fans an hour, most of whom would start out by sayinghow much they adored Dr. Laura, her show, her morals or allthree. But even a warm welcome from Dr. Laura or adorationfrom the fans could not save some callers from verbal lickingsif they were not living up to Dr. Laura's tough moral code offamily values, which excludes, among other things, sex out ofwedlock, divorce if kids are involved, and leaving children inchild care.
If she had ever listened to Dr. Laura, a caller like Jennifer,the unwed mother of a three-year-old, really should haveknown better. Jennifer had called in to confess a second pregnancyby another live-in boyfriend.
"So he's not anxious to get married, is that right?" queriedthe good doctor.
"No, he is actually," claimed Jennifer. "We know we'regoing to be together—"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," broke in Dr. Laura, who has heard thisall before. "Is he the father of the other kid?"
"That was another infidelity," explained Jennifer, adding,"We are in the nineties and things just happen."
"I see—yon woke up in the middle of the night pregnant, notever having had intercourse with the man you aren't marriedto," answered Dr. Laura, sarcastically. "I knew that in the 1990ssomething had to be different. What kind of crap are you handingme, woman? People got pregnant by intercourse since thebeginning of humankind. There is nothing new in the 1990s."
"I'm animal [sic] enough to admit how I got pregnant,"explained Jennifer. "As things go, people are a lot more liberalnow—"
"I'm not," chimed in Dr. Laura. "You're pregnant out ofwedlock? Liberal is good? Is that in the best interest of the kid?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying," said Jennifer, who thenconfessed that her moral dilemma was whether or not sheshould have an abortion.
"This is the nineties, just suck it out into a sink. Kill it. Terminateit. Get on with your life," said Dr. Laura, again sarcastically.
"Jennifer, you came to the wrong house to get this handout....This is a life.... That's it," she added, forgoing herusual tendency to use one of her preferred terms, "slut," or herfavorite comebacks, "How stupid can you be and still be able tochew your food?"
But this was Dallas, not the airwaves, and although Dr.Laura's radio time was over, her work was not done.
Laura was on her own in Dallas. And, even though she wasgetting paid $30,000 a pop for two speeches, plus squeezing ina promotional event with the local AM talk-radio station thathosted her show, she did not appear particularly gleeful.
When several women from one of the organizations she wasaddressing met her plane, she was brusque with them, and in ahurry to be off. At the hotel where she was to address a functionthat evening, Dr. Laura surveyed the first suite reserved for herand reportedly said the "smell" was not right. Hotel managementquickly maneuvered her to a second suite, which she alsofound unsuitable, as she did a third and a fourth. Finally, at thesuggestion of one of the women in attendance that they couldfind another hotel, Dr. Laura moved to an even more expensiveplace, ranked among the top ten in America: The Mansion onTurtle Creek. The expenses, per prior arrangement, were beingpicked up by her hosts.
"One usually goes to the Mansion for the food," explainedD. J. Kassanoff, an English teacher at Southern Methodist University(SMU) in Dallas, who attended Dr. Laura's speech thefollowing evening and was familiar with the arrangements."But, since Dr. Laura keeps kosher, they had arranged with alocal kosher catering concern in Plano to bring in food for theirguest."
Laura's first event was a speech and dessert, sponsored bythe Assistance League of Dallas at the Grand Kempinski Hotel.Made up of 120 women who "do good works for charity," theLeague signed Laura first to keynote their biggest fund-raiser ofthe year. Tickets were from $50 to $100, and the proceeds fromthe event were slated to benefit several local educational andmedical charities for children.
Between 2,000 and 2,300 people filed into the Crystal Ballroomat the Grand Kempinski at 7:30 that evening, anxious tosee Dr. Laura in action.
Phyllis Davis, a friend of several League officers, rememberedbeing surprised by Laura almost from the moment shewalked onstage. Instead of immediately addressing the crowdafter what Davis recalled as a "marvelous introduction" byDeborah Duncan, then a Dallas television personality, Laurastepped forward and said she needed the stage setup changed.
"She's short, and I'm short, so I understand those kind ofthings, but she moved the whole stage around. She had someonecome on and move everything [the furniture] over ... andall of this while we are all sitting there, waiting. Then she endedup kind of walking around with the mike so she could be seenin total.
"She was kind of cutesy," Davis continued. "This was a psychologistsupposedly there to answer questions, but at the sametime, she is a show person, getting paid to do a job. She talkedmainly about herself and how she converted [to Judaism] andhow she handled her little boy. Then she opened it up for questions.People raised their hands from the audience, and thensomeone would take them the microphone.
"There was not one person who asked a question whowasn't put down in the most rude fashion I have ever seen,"recalled Davis.
"They were questions somebody my age would never ask.They had to do with marital problems and how to handle thingswith a husband. These people had paid money to come see thiswoman, and she absolutely put each one of them down. Shesaid, `I do things differently, and if you listen to my program,you know those are the kind of things I'm not even going toaddress: They are too frivolous.' She was not good.
"I was expecting a more sophisticated attitude towardspeople who had come. I was surprised that a psychologistwould come forth with the kind of answers and treat people theway she did," said Davis.
Even though Davis did not remember anyone saying,"Wasn't that just great?" Laura's appearance on March 3 wasreceived less poorly than her performance the next evening.
The following morning, Laura was guest of honor at abreakfast for advertisers sponsored by KRLD, the radio stationin Dallas that hosted her show. Rose Saginaw, a Dallas marketingexecutive and confessed Dr. Laura fan, attended witharound 100 others.
"It was at a lovely restaurant at the Quadrangle, which isnormally not open in the morning, but they opened up thewhole place. My impression of her, as a person, was that shewas even wittier, more caring, and more sensitive than I hadeven imagined. She was very human. On the other hand, shereally said some dumb things.
"She said, `I'm so glad to be in Dallas. You look so good. Iexpected to find a bunch of overweight people.' There had beena story in the paper about overweight people in Texas, but,number one, that was about San Antonio. Dallas is a fashioncenter and we are not overweight. Those people who filter forher didn't background her. It was kind of an insulting thing.Those were her opening remarks," said Saginaw.
Still Saginaw believed Laura was a caring person. "I justthought her ears weren't hearing what her mouth was saying. Ijust think you pick up the patter and the tongue goes and theears are slower. I mean, light travels faster than sound. I justdon't think she heard herself. It didn't sit well. The reason I'mmentioning it is because it helped me understand why theywere so upset in the evening. I think she listens carefully whenshe does her work. On the other hand, when she is not listeningto an individual, she just didn't pick up the vibes within thegroup. I think that's what happened that evening."
"That evening" was the second speech Dr. Laura was paid togive, this time for the women's division of the Jewish Federationof Greater Dallas. Three women from the federation pickedLaura up in a private car at The Mansion on Turtle Creek andchauffeured her to the federation's fund-raiser at the SheradonHotel.
"They had worked very hard on this fund-raiser, and thiswas their reward," said a woman from the federation who wasprivy to the planning.
"Laura was in [the car] for no more than three minutes.[She] said, `This car smells. Someone has had on perfume. Icannot ride in it.' Then she got out of the car," remembered thewoman. "Then she insisted they get her a cab."
Laura reportedly went through three different cabs beforeshe found one that passed her smell test.
Part of her contract with the federation, which served akosher meal, was that Laura appear at a reception for largedonors prior to the dinner and speech for 1,300 ticket holders.At the reception, Laura was described as "hostile" andanswered questions from partygoers "only in monosyllables."
D. J. Kassanoff sat at a front table when Dr. Laura was introducedand remembered her as "thin ... much thinner than Iwould have ever expected a nonanorectic person to be.
"Before she even spoke they had a little film interviewingrabbis from all different congregations and people whobelonged to the congregations like Mort Myerson. The symphonyhall [in Dallas] is named after him. These were biggivers to the federation. They talked about what the Jewish WelfareFederation meant to them, and it showed children and thelike. It was really a nice presentation.
"They gave [Dr. Laura] a nice introduction, and then one ofher first comments was that there was no mention of God inthis first presentation, and she said, `The foundation ofJudaism, of course, is God.' She is a recent convert. The realityis, there was no need to mention God; that was a given. This[presentation] was to raise money to support organizations,"pointed out Kassanoff.
"I don't know what her message was supposed to be. Iassume it was `Why I am a Jew,' or `Why all of you who are notOrthodox Jews are not particularly good Jews.'
"She made fun of a Reform female rabbi she went to. Shesaid when she first wanted to convert she went to a Reform congregationto be converted. She said she walked in and told thefemale rabbi, who said, `Cool. Sign here.' It took a male rabbiin a Conservative synagogue to lead her in the right path, shesaid. In one breath ... through innuendo ... she had put downboth professional women and Reform Judaism. She didn't havethe slightest knowledge of her audience."
And things went downhill from there.
"At first I was smiling and thinking it's okay, she can becutesy," said Kassanoff. "I'm sitting in front. She is making eyecontact with me and I will smile. Then I decided, I am not goingto do this because I don't like what she's doing up there. Shethinks she is being very clever and cute and she's being veryoffensive.
"One young woman stood up and said, `I teach school. Iteach a minority group and only thirty percent of my parents areinvolved and I find it very difficult. How could I get those otherparents involved? I know they work and they're tired, but I needthat involvement.'
"Dr. Laura's answer was `Thirty percent are involved? Well,you're very lucky. That's more than have ever been involved inthe places where I've lived,' and then she said, `We should alllive in a minority neighborhood.' She just flippantly tossedaside the question.
"And, I can't remember exactly what she said, but she talkedincessantly about her son, about how proud he is to be Jewish,about how much he agrees with what she says, about how shedoesn't leave him, although she left him this time.
"She talked about intimacies that, if I would have done thatwith my own children, they would have been angry. And if theyweren't angry, I would have been angry with myself. She talkedabout going to [the] mikva and both of them getting undressedto be converted. She talked about her relationship with him. Itwas practically incestuous in my opinion, her constant relianceon her son, her constant mentioning of her son, not so much asa son figure but as an equal, like one would mention one's husbandor one's significant other.
"She talked very little about her husband, although she mentionedher husband was in the process of converting, and verymuch about her son," said Kassanoff.
Adele Hurst, Ph.D., a Dallas psychologist who also attendedthe presentation that night—not as a psychologist, but to supportthe Jewish Federation—remembered thinking "how stagedand glib she was at presenting.
"She had instant remarks and a way of deflecting, so if shedidn't want to answer something, she put it back on the person.She is an entertainer," said Hurst, who believed that, judgingfrom the applause, the audience was "half and half" withrespect to Laura's presentation up until a point when she was"very rude" to a questioner. "The applause seemed to die downafter that."
"I heard people were leaving in the back," added Kassanoff."We would have gone, too, but we were in the front row.
"She didn't ask for questions and answers until the end,"said Kassanoff, who remembered the last question asked.
"This woman said, `I'm a grandmother of intermarried children.What would you say to a grandmother of intermarriedchildren?' [Dr. Laura] responded, `My grandmother's dead. Iwouldn't say anything because my grandmother's dead.'
"And the woman said, `No, you don't know what I am tryingto say. I'm the grandmother. How do you handle—' and [Laura]interrupted and said, `My grandmother's dead. I don't knowhow you'd handle it. I have no answer to you. My grandmother'sdead.' That was the last question. Now that's somebodywho is cracking," believed Kassanoff.
"When she cut off the final lady, and she cut her off sorudely, then she said, `I've got to go.' And she left. They [thefederation women] gave her these presents for her son as shewas walking off. The person who introduced her was off thestage, standing to one side. She said, `Oh, by the way, we havepresents from Texas for your son.' Laura was no longer on thestage when they handed them to her. [Laura] left them. I don'tknow if she set them aside right then and there, but she didn'teven take the presents they had made for her son.
"She had two men on either side of her," recalled Kassanoff,"and she whisked by my table and she left. She must havesensed she was persona non grata at the end of the talk. She wasno longer smiling. She was rushing. I would say she Wasn'tembarrassed, but she realized she had been rejected. She sensedthat rejection and was eager to get away."
Afterward, Kassanoff was "so angry" that she went homeand wrote three letters that night, even though she had neverbefore written a letter to the editor.
"Her tales of her dysfunctional childhood, her fixation onher son, and her recent conversion to Judaism came across asnarcissistic musings instead of the informative anecdotes of aprofessional," wrote Kassanoff to The Dallas Morning News."Many of us believe that she has unfortunately adopted Judaismas one would embrace a cult, not only revealing her problematicand fragile emotional state but also overlooking the obvious—thatthe inherent beauty of our religion lies precisely in itsvariety."
"She came with a chip on her shoulder," said Kassanoff."She is a woman in the middle of finding out something aboutherself and not liking what she is finding. I got that definiteopinion. She seemed to be in self-analysis. And anybody whotalks the way she talked to others, especially her fellow women,I think that means there is something inside of her. She is notliking women.
"This woman needs help," concluded Kassanoff. "She probablyneeds therapy more than anybody I ever listened to."
While the buzz in Dallas was that everyone was "consistentlymiffed" at Laura's performance, Rose Saginaw did not.find the sentiment to be universally true.
"Interestingly," revealed Saginaw, "a crowd has a mentality;if you weren't miffed, you shut up. At a dinner party the nextnight [March 5], of course that was the buzz. Everybody wasasking, `Were you there or were you not?' I said to a personnext to me that I wasn't there, so therefore I'm not offended. Isaid, `I understand how she riled so many people, but I'm notunderstanding why it has taken on such a life.' This womansaid, `Well, I was there and I didn't think she did anything thatbad.'
"It was politically incorrect to not be offended," concludedSaginaw, who even after Laura's faux pas at the KRLD breakfaststill remained a fan.
"I just loved her. She's very human. She was adorable justbefore she left [the breakfast]. She said, `Okay ... my time'sup ... I'm going shopping!' I identified with her. I can seewhere she is out of touch sometimes, but I was not irritated atall. I felt for her, because I think she is so smart.
"There's an old expression: `Smart, smart, smart, smart,dumb.' All of us are smart, smart, smart, smart, dumb. And yet,when you see a celebrity, especially someone who has donewhat she has done, you expect only smart, smart, smart, smart,smart."
And perhaps, "smartly," the incident in Dallas would havedied if it were not for another move, perceived by many as"dumb." On March 12, 1997, on her national radio program, Dr.Laura regaled her audience with what had happened to her inDallas.
She talked about the "bad experience with the audience atthe women's division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas,"and "the unbelievable mean lies that Marlyn Schwartzwrote in The Dallas Morning News."
In tears, Laura related how Schwartz's column had "gossiped"about how difficult she had been, changing hotel roomsand cars because of the odors. She justified her behavior by sayingshe has allergies and sinus problems.
Saying she was in a "personal and spiritual crisis" over whathad happened, Laura revealed she had spent two hours on thephone with her rabbi. She said the criticism was particularlyhard to take as it came from one of her "own people." (Schwartzis also Jewish.)
Then she said that in order to take away "the pain and uglinessof the experience," she was sending her $30,000 fee tocharities, with the direction that it be earmarked for homes forunwed mothers.
A second Marlyn Schwartz column on the subject ran thefollowing day. Schwartz noted that her first piece made clearthat Laura was bothered by the smells. "But the point was herungracious attitude in dealing with people about this. She wasnot being maligned for having allergies.
"I told one reporter," recalled Schwartz, "that if [Laura] hada spiritual crisis over sinus, she has more of a problem than Ithought.
"I was not trying to make this a controversy," reiteratedSchwartz.
Schwartz said she was particularly surprised when LewBishop, Laura's husband and manager, called her that same dayand "told me everything was false in my story."
At first, Lew told her that Dr. Laura was not paid for the federationspeech, though the federation verified that the fee was$30,000. Finally Lew told her that Laura had not been paid yet,and that the fee was actually $25,000, with $5,000 for the agentwho booked it.
"I said, `Why are you calling me and not your wife?'"recalled Schwartz about that call. "He put her on the phone andshe started screaming at me. She yelled, `Why are you callingme?' And I said, `I didn't call you; your husband called me.'And she said, `That was a mistake,' and slammed down thephone."
Thanks to Laura's on-air meltdown, the story of what happenedin Dallas became fodder for the national media.Reporters by the dozens called Schwartz for her reaction.
"CNN called me at the end of [Laura's] show," recalledSchwartz, "and said, `Are you sorry you did this?' I said, `Idon't have anything to be sorry about. I reported her behavior; Ididn't commit it.' But I Will tell you this, I was so mad that shewas pitting a Jewish woman against a Jewish woman, I said,There is nothing in the Old Testament that says, Thou shalt beobnoxious.'"
The episode had other repercussions.
Excerpted from DR. LAURA by VICKIE L. BANE. Copyright © 1999 by Vickie L. Bane. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.