Photograph by Jill Greenberg
In the January 2012 issue of Los Angeles magazine, writer-at-large Ed Leibowitz tracks the fascinating rise (and rather lonely personal life) of the highest-profile lawyer in the country.
Leibowitz has written about many polarizing public figures for Los Angeles —including Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenneger, and Eli Broad—and found few to be as media ready and sound-byte savvy (surprised?) as Gloria Allred.
Here he reveals how he got Allred to shed her many-layered public persona, and what that persona has done to the woman underneath:
By Ed Leibowitz
In her bravura press conferences, Gloria Allred writes the script and calibrates the flow of information. On talk shows, she will employ her superior command of the facts and the relevant law not to humiliate her less able debating opponents, but to support them, and gently correct their work the way a teacher with infinite patience would guide a remedial student. Whether she’s attacking Tiger Woods on behalf of his mistresses or demolishing Herman Cain’s presidential ambitions, Allred is used to being in total control and shaping the narrative. She approaches a magazine profile of herself no differently. Most of the time I spent interviewing her she remained totally on message, offering bullet points of her past achievements and reinforcing her bona fides as a crusader for women. It wasn’t that she didn’t answer questions. Rather, she so dominated the proceedings that I rarely had the opportunity to ask more than a handful during an hour-long session.
On those occasions when I did get some personal questions out, Allred packaged her life story into a neatly tied parcel of teachable moments for womankind. She told me once that she wouldn’t only trust her best friend’s memory over her own, but anyone’s memory over her own. Of her public triumphs this is certainly not the case, but her public persona has taken on such gargantuan proportions that oftentimes the private Allred seems to have been banished long ago from the premises.
Toward the end of my reporting, Allred granted me a visit to her oceanfront home in Malibu. I ended up spending the entire day with her. For most of lunch, she spoke of her indispensable role in significant cases, but as we began walking down the beach, she began talking about her next-door neighbor back in Philadelphia, unfulfilled and possessed of so many regrets, who never managed to soar as Allred did, and who died of cancer after visiting her in L.A. She told me she has no great fondness for dogs, but she reveled in the adorableness of some puppies we passed. The beauty of the coast, the warmth of her neighbors, the languid pace set by multimillionaires on weekend decompression, even the dress code, which compelled her to swap out her signature double-knit suits for a souvenir Cirque du Soleil sweatshirt and a garish Ed Hardy baseball cap—under such rarefied conditions, she could indulge in biographical details that were of little feminist narrative value, and subjects that were of no material benefit to herself or her clients. If she didn’t relinquish her grip on her Blackberry, she at least loosened it a little. And then the public Allred would assert itself once more, and tender recollection and sensory bliss would cede before a new round of bullet points.
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