In doling out advice to troubled Americans over the last 20 years, Dr. Joyce Brothers has come up against thousands of cases of domineering husbands. There was one man, for example, who argued that “the male gorilla will only mate with submissive female gorillas” and suggested the same was true of human society. It may come as a surprise that liberated psychologist Joyce agreed—but then she usually does with Dr. Milton Brothers, her husband of almost 28 years.
“Joyce really believes in male dominance in a relationship,” says Milton, 50. “She has all the ability not to play the passive role, you understand, but she realizes that it’s necessary.”
It shows in Joyce Brothers’ day. She writes her syndicated column for 200 newspapers or works on her column for Good Housekeeping. She tapes a one-minute radio spot, (“I’ve been on the air every day in some form or another since 1958”) and answers mail about her ubiquitous TV appearances or the latest of her four books, Better Than Ever. She may prepare one of the 100 lectures she delivers every year (at about $3,000 per). But, after this dizzying schedule, when Joyce Brothers goes home to their 30th-floor New Jersey apartment overlooking Manhattan, she still cooks dinner for her husband.
It’s an arrangement that delights Milton. And Joyce? “The fact that he’s a doctor is very important to me,” she says. “I need a man who’s a challenge.”
Another kind of a challenge in 1955 inspired Joyce’s career. She was at home taking care of baby daughter Lisa, Milton was a $50-a-month resident, and they were being supported mainly by their parents. Then they watched TV’s The $64,000 Question.
“I saw that ‘incongruous expertise’ was the format,” says Milton. “Joyce knew as much about boxing as I knew about baking bread. But it was an easily assimilated area of knowledge.” So began an intensive six-week cram with books, films, magazines and encyclopedias. Less than a year later Joyce had won $134,000, and Milton was bankrolled in a Park Avenue practice.
Joyce survived the TV quiz show scandals—”The grand jury questioned me about boxing to test my credibility, and I came through with flying colors”—and she began appearing as a semi-regular on the Jack Paar Show in 1957. The next year she launched her own program of advice on a New York TV station, and since then she has been on the little screen nearly as often as the test pattern.
“I’m quite amazed that Joyce has gone as far as she has,” confesses Milton. “I didn’t fully appreciate what she could do with that slight wedge. Jerce [his pet name for her] is the greatest self-promoter who ever came down the tube.”
That determination was forged in middle-class suburbs of New York like Great Neck and Laurelton, where Joyce Bauer, the daughter of two lawyers, grew up. “I was always very good at anything I tried,” she recalls, with the same serene infallibility she displays on the air. One memory makes even more believable the noodle commercial that Joyce’s mother is now doing about her studious daughter. “When I was 12,” Joyce says, “I decided I was going to learn to get along with boys. I went to the library and got a book and learned how to get along with boys. I’ve approached everything in my life that way.” It led her to a home ec degree from Cornell, a psychology Ph.D. from Columbia and, before stardom, a brief teaching career at Columbia and Hunter College. (“I’ve tried to keep people from knowing about me,” she admits. “I’ve tried to sidetrack things into articles by me rather than about me.”)
Of his own background, Milton, who is addicted to one-liners, cracks, “I’m as American as stuffed derma.” Born and raised in Queens, he remembers a “happy, athletic childhood” despite his parents’ divorce. A baseball player almost good enough for the pros, Milton developed an interest in medicine while serving as a Navy corpsman in World War II, then began premed studies at Cornell. In 1946 he had a summer job driving tourists to Kenoza Lake in the Catskills where the Bauers were vacationing.
“I was in my bedroom,” Joyce remembers, “when my sister ran up the stairs and said, ‘I’ve just met the man you’re going to marry. Get dressed and come down.’ I did, and I knew instantly she was right.” They married in 1949, and their 23-year-old daughter, Lisa, a medical student, now lives in Houston with her husband. (“Lisa,” says Milton, “may be the most well-adjusted child in the world. She never indulged in any of that self-destructive experimentation.”)
Their own marriage, the Brothers insist, has been utterly free of those intriguing discords that are column fodder for Joyce. Have they ever considered divorce? Joyce is secure enough to answer with a joke: “Divorce? Never! Murder? All the time!”
Their life now focuses on the 18th-century house they’re restoring on a 210-acre farm in New York’s Dutchess County. Milton describes the hard work there as “occupational therapy” for their intense schedules.
Joyce is all but umbilically attached to her voluminous, cross-referenced files—”everything in my field since 1958.” (She denies using ghostwriters; one collaborator suggests, “Just say I do research.”) The frequent criticism that she peddles a kind of mama’s chicken soup psychology nettles her. “It’s very easy to talk down to somebody,” she responds. “It’s much more difficult to understand things so well that when you communicate it seems effortless.”
Milton divides his professional hours between private practice and teaching at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. His recent book on his specialty, Diabetes: The New Approach, stresses the importance of controlling blood sugar to minimize the effects of the disease. He is captain of the New York Princeton Club squash team and says his current aspiration is “to keep vanquishing younger men on the court.”
Joyce, 48, is more ambitious. “I plan to go into politics someday,” she announces. “I want to run for the Senate.” Who could help but believe her?