Helen Reddy Sings Out for Women's Lib—but Jeffrey Calls the Tune

She is woman, hear her roar; but he is husband-supermanager, and hear him roar even louder. Helen Reddy has been the best-selling female vocalist in the world for the past two years with a run of No. 1 hits (the latest: Angle Baby) unequaled by any songstress since Patti Page back in the fifties. That status, and everything else she is or has, Helen concedes she owes to Jeffrey Wald, whom she married eight years ago. “He runs it all. Naturally when the moment of performance comes I have to deliver—but everything else is him. It’s not my career, it’s our career.”

And how does that square with Reddy’s image as the singer-composer of I Am Woman, the unofficial Lib Movement anthem? It was a Grammy winner, and in accepting the award, Helen thanked—after Jeff—”God, because She makes everything possible.” “I’m not a card-carrying anything,” explains Helen. “I’m a feminist, but it’s not what I do for a living.” She prefers Alice Cooper’s definition of her as “the Queen of Housewife Rock.” “That means I’ve reached a lot of people in a simplistic manner who would never go to a lecture or read an article on Women’s Lib. My basic audience is women who have had their heads turned around by the knowledge that something’s going on out there—that they can stay married and have their own identities. I’m not for the swinging singles. I have a career and marriage happening all at the same time, and that’s the example I set.”

The example Jeff sets is that of the classic Hollywood hustler who will stop at nothing to do a deal. He is famous for his bad language and worse manners. Helen, who insists “Jeff’s bark is worse than his bite,” needs him, reports a friend, “to talk to all the people she can’t say no to.” The Walds bellow at each other, too, says Helen, in “huge, healthy fights. He knows I love him all the more when I scream at him about something he said, or about some poor mangled corpse he just trod on, on his way to the top.”

Besides Reddy, Jeff manages only one other client, songwriter Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband, who collaborated with Helen on the title tune of her album tribute to Wald, Love Song for Jeffrey. The family royalties and appearance fees (including those from her movie debut as the ludicrous singing nun in Airport 1975) have been so vast of late (probably over $2 million in 1974) that Helen and Jeff have become a kind of philanthropic foundation. “We’re heavy backers of political candidates—especially women,” says Jeff. They played benefits in 1974 for, among others, Judy Petty, who was beaten by Wilbur Mills for Congress, and successful gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown in California. “We pay a lot of taxes,” sums up Jeff, “but we’d rather give it away directly to help schools, the rebuilding of slums, to control air pollution. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you can’t breathe.”

Their new house, Jeff tells everyone who gets past the high-security fence, was once occupied by MGM studio chief Dore Schary and cost the Walds $600,000, which he and Helen paid in cash. Renovations and additions may go another $1 million. In the garage are two Mercedes 450SLs. Her license plate says HR Wald; his, PS 79 BX in honor of his grammar school in the Bronx, “to remind me where I came from.”

Wald, 31, grew up in a modest apartment in that borough. He became an agent for William Morris with the goal of finding a singer and starting his own management business. Helen, 33, was born in Melbourne, the daughter of popular Australian vaudevillians Max and Stella Reddy. Helen’s career began at 4, and her hit Keep On Singing echoes her childhood experience as a kind of dancing Down Under Shirley Temple. “It was instilled in me: you will be a star,” she recalls. “So between the ages of 12 and 17 I got very rebellious and decided this was not for me. I was going to be a housewife and mother.” The rebellion and marriage to an old family friend produced a daughter Traci and lasted only a few months.

The removal of a kidney when she was 17 forced Helen to stop dancing and concentrate on singing. In a local talent contest, she won passage to New York. She arrived in 1966 with Traci, who was then 3, her return ticket and $200. When her capital dwindled to $12, friends in New York gave her a party, each contributing five dollars to keep her going. Jeff was invited, “didn’t pay the five dollars,” Helen notes, “but it was love at first sight.”

At first, the only booking her new agent could get her were Veterans’ Hospitals, and it was five years before they finally clicked with a record, I Don’t Know How To Love Him. “The money I’m making now is some compensation for those times when we couldn’t afford to eat in New York,” says Helen. “When we did eat it was spaghetti and we spent more of what little money we had on cockroach spray. Now I may make $20,000 for one night in Waco, Texas, and I’m drinking champagne, but I’m eating vending machine peanuts. The glamour is overrated.” At least it seems of little interest to her—in his new annual list of the ten worst-dressed women in the world, designer Mr. Blackwell named Reddy No. 1, supplanting 1974 victor Bette Midler.

The Wald household, which also includes a son of their own, Jordan, 2, is so infused with show business that Traci, now 12, spoke two lines on her mother’s 1974 single You and Me Against the World and was rewarded with a gold record which hangs in her own bedroom (Mom has nine in the study). The only problem is that Helen’s record sold only some 750,000—250,000 short—and the plaque’s a fake. “We have to keep everybody happy,” says Helen. “This is a house full of big egos.”

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