It’s an unsolvable chicken-or-egg question as to whether superstar songstress Helen Reddy would have made it without her supermanager husband, Jeffrey Wald, or vice versa. Certainly, Jeff’s no one-client spouse-manager drone—he also handles disco fox Donna Summer, comedian David Steinberg and Sylvester Stallone. “It’s a tribute to Helen that they came to me,” says Jeff. “They admired the integrity of her career. She’s never done a commercial and never had to compromise politically or as a woman.”
That’s a gracious remark from an I-Am-Manager-Hear-Me-Roar hustler type like Wald, but success has turned them both into junior (he’s 34, she’s 36) statesmen, if that term might be used for the writer of I Am Woman. They’re also major philanthropists: Reddy donates more of her income to charity—one-third—than the Osmonds. And it was Wald who staged the recent Hubert Humphrey benefit in Washington. They sat at Table No. 1 with the Carters (honorary chairlady Liz Warner was shunted to Table No. 2), and as Helen sang the lyrics, “When one of us is gone, and one is left to carry on,” to Muriel Humphrey, there wasn’t an unmisted eye in the room.
Both Jeff and his Australian-born wife have suddenly emerged as political movers, raising millions for Democratic candidates like California Gov. Jerry Brown, a close chum who just over a year ago reread marital vows commemorating the Walds’ 10th anniversary. The Gov also appointed Helen to the nine-member Parks and Recreation Commission, his only campaign contributor to be rewarded with a post. “She cares,” explains Brown. (It’s nonpaying, though, and Helen doesn’t even submit expense accounts.) Despite Helen’s comparative outspokenness, her nomination was unanimously ratified by the state senate. “Everybody likes trees,” she cracked. When queried, “Do we call you Ms. Reddy or Mrs. Wald?” Helen replied logically: “Just call me commissioner.” The monthly sessions she considers “a learning experience. How to chair a meeting is not something women often learn, especially in show business.” And she allows as how, “when Jerry is President—not if—I’d be available to be appointed to anything for which I was qualified.” No way, though, that she’d gun for elective office. “Campaigning would be like being in show business,” she says. “And if I’m going to do that, I’d like to be paid the enormous sums of money you get paid in show business while I’m getting it in the neck.”
Alice Cooper may denigrate her as “the Queen of Housewife Rock,” but the bread’s still coming in to the tune of some $3 million a year. She’s one of three top solo female recording stars of the decade (along with fellow ex-Aussie Olivia Newton-John and fellow Jerry Brown fan Linda Ronstadt), one of the pricier Vegas acts (over $125,000 a week), and perhaps Hollywood’s next Julie Andrews (Helen’s latest film, Pete’s Dragon, is Disney’s biggest grosser since Mary Poppins).
“I have this sick, obsessive need to be Wonder Woman,” cracks Helen. What she didn’t like about the movie The Turning Point was that “it kept saying that you had to choose between having a family life and a career. I’ve never believed that.” When playing Vegas she Learjets back and forth each night so she can spend afternoons with Traci, her 15-year-old from her previous marriage, and Jordan, 5, her son by Jeff. “There have been moments when I’ve resented the intrusion of the children and wished I could be Joni Mitchell going off in a cave for a year to write one album,” she says. But though she’d “like to indulge myself artistically, family is an important touch with reality. You can never get an over-inflated ego with a teenage daughter around.” The family spends Christmas together in a two-bedroom, solar-heated Lake Tahoe log cabin (purposely acquired on the California side so that the Gov can goof off there without being accused of abdicating) and takes two summer months in Hawaii.
The idea of Jerry Brown vacationing is less surprising, perhaps, than Jeffrey Wald. “I told my new clients that if they can’t live with that, I can’t handle them,” says the new Jeff. Tiny Tim used to demand his presence at 4 a.m., but that was before Wald had coronary symptoms. The attack didn’t change him instantly—he got a phone in the intensive care unit—but for the last year he’s been easing up, if only, he says, to frustrate the big-agency “piranhas” in the business. Sure he has a phone on his speedboat, aptly christened Intimidation, but now it’s jiggered to permit only outgoing calls. He still insists that his office staff (the boss included) eat lunch at their desks. “But he’s changed his attitude,” says Helen. “He doesn’t allow himself to get as excited. Nothing is that crucial now.” “I have allowed myself to accept having made it,” he explains, though he adds, “This is a business where there’s no such thing as excess.”
Wald, whose last acting stint was, suitably, as Nathan Detroit in a summer camp production of Guys and Dolls, has even taken time to do a cameo in Sly Stallone’s film-in-progress, Paradise Alley. Naturally, he acted as his own manager, ensuring he was paid $2 above scale, changing in the director-star’s dressing room, and shamelessly padding his four-line role. “Money in itself is never the object with me,” says Wald. “It’s just the lubricant of life. It oils the wheels.” Sharpie that he is, Wald insists, “I still can’t balance a checkbook.” “That’s what he has me for,” laughs Helen. “I started with nothing and I could go back to nothing.” And Jeff agrees, “We could scale right back down.”
When the two met, at a Greenwich Village party in 1966, he was a nothing from the Bronx, and she was a nobody just up from Melbourne. “Helen was the only decent-looking chick there,” Jeff remembers. “That was a Friday. By Tuesday we were living together.” The biggest expenditure was cockroach spray, and their dream was to earn $125 a week. When Helen’s second record (her first was I Don’t Know How to Love Him) wasn’t getting enough promotion to suit her manager man, Jeff recalls that he once “unzipped my fly” to get one Capitol exec’s attention and another time “stopped an elevator between the seventh and eighth floors and beat up on the label’s promo VP, screaming, ‘The record’s stiffing because of you.’ ” Jeff still relishes that image. “It makes people careful about how they deal with me.” By 1972 that second single, I Am Woman, became the invincible number DJs played with apologies (“I hate the song but my wife loves it”) and the pop battle hymn of feminism.
Now, however, a slightly disillusioned Reddy feels “the movement needs a new focus, issues that unite all of us, not divide us.” Though she calls Marabel Morgan et al “the opposition,” Helen can see “even getting together with Anita Bryant or Phyllis Schlafly on the issues of child pornography and abuse.” Helen’s feminism and Jeff’s aggression are not the only things that have mellowed, and both swallow criticism easier than in the old days. She dismisses reviewers who find her stiff onstage (“Many people think a British-sounding accent makes you aloof”) and no longer has to worry about a rotten rep in Australia that hit bottom three years ago when she became a U.S. citizen. “You’re allowed to leave Australia, but you’re not allowed to succeed,” she snaps. Now, though, after thinking she’d never go back (her parents, both ex-vaudevillians, are dead), Reddy is actually planning to write a history book about Australia. “When you’ve left school at an early age, you’re left with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge,” she explains. What else is next? “I’ve patterned Helen’s career on Sinatra’s,” says Wald, with manager’s license. “A multimedia one so if the records slacken she has movies, clubs and TV to fall back on.” He’s dealing for another movie, wishfully A Touch of Class-style comedy. She’s now cutting an LP to follow the recently released Pete’s Dragon sound track and planning the first of a series of NBC specials. Helen thinks another child, “as a comfort for my old age,” might be nice. After all, they have six bedrooms (as well as separate his and hers dressing rooms). Behind the fence, gate and security guard, their Brentwood estate also has a pool and tennis court which has helped Wald, a ferocious player, drop 40 pounds. One thing that has kept such a feisty pair together, figures Helen, is that “we still fight a lot. And every six weeks or so,” she half kids, “we wonder if we can last. But our marriage,” roars Reddy, “is a lifetime commitment.”