In the mirrored living room of her pink stucco West Hollywood home, an auburn-haired radio personality with a six-figure income and size-four figure nuzzles the man of her dreams. She turns to him, murmuring with honeyed voice and steely eye: “I do not want an intimate relationship with you unless I know what your intentions are.” Why, honorable, of course, sputters her Prince Charming; how about marriage?
“When?” she responds sweetly.
Such was the scene between psychologist Toni Grant and paper-products executive John Bell some enchanted evening last March. The wedding took place in June in the garden of the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. For Grant, 43, the nuptials were evidence that she is capable of practicing what she preaches on The Dr. Toni Grant Show, a daily call-in program syndicated to 88 stations. The wedding was also proof of the efficacy of Grant’s thesis in her new book, Being a Woman, Fulfilling Your Femininity and Finding Love. To wit: Women today must surrender to passive femininity if they are to marry and keep their heroes.
Instant best-seller though it may be, Being a Woman is not on everyone’s summer reading list. The book has outraged feminists, who argue that its message stops just short of Marabel Morgan’s. In terms borrowed from analyst Toni Wolff, the mistress of C.J. Jung, Grant urges women to better integrate the hard-driving “Amazon” side of their personalities with their “Mother,” “Madonna” and “Courtesan” qualities. “Today’s woman is a stressed-out, nervous person,” explains Grant. “She’s competitive and doesn’t like to yield to anything. She knows how to have an orgasm, but she isn’t light, fun or easy to be with.”
So what does all this mean for the poor harried career woman? For starters, Grant scoffs at the notion of “having it all.” She also rejects the idea that a woman’s professional accomplishments enhance a man’s desire. “Formal education may be an asset in the marketplace, but in matters of the heart it can be a liability,” writes Grant, who doesn’t advocate dropping out of school but feels that women should know the cost of their choices.
How, then, should today’s woman plan on snaring a man? Pretty much the same way yesterday’s woman did, according to Grant. “Sing, dance, laugh at his jokes, tell him stories,” she advises. But don’t sleep with him, she cautions, until you have extracted a commitment, and under no circumstances consent to what, in another era, was called shacking up. As Grant puts it, using the angling imagery she frequently favors: “Living with a man is tantamount to overfeeding the fish but never quite getting him on the line.”
Feminists are appalled by Grant’s fluttering-eyelash approach to courtship. “Cheap stuff,” protests Betty Friedan. “A lot of women are living wonderfully changed lives because of feminism. It’s invidious for a woman who is herself a professional to try to mislead women to possibly going back and devoting their lives to a phony definition of femininity.” Observes Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine: “It’s very debilitating for a woman to fake it and create a double self. If that’s how to get married, we’re back to square one.”
One of Grant’s most vocal critics is her collaborator on the book, Los Angeles radio show host Susan Block. Block says Grant has publicly minimized her work on the book, and that once it was completed, “Toni dropped me like a hot potato. She’s very focused on her priority No. 1—which isn’t relationships. It’s herself and her career.”
Block freely discusses how watered down are the book’s “distilled” and “composite” case histories of private patients and 40,000 radio callers. “It was difficult to base the case histories on callers because their stories are shallow and limited [by airtime],” says Block. “Also, Toni told me she hasn’t seen patients for the last five years. So the case histories in the book were drawn from our own lives and those of our friends. Toni is the kind of woman who considers everything to be research, including every man she dated.”
Raised in Bayport, N.Y., where her father was a dentist and her mother a Montessori teacher, Grant married medical student Neil Hollander during her junior year at Vassar. At Syracuse University she earned her Ph.D. in psychology while Neil served his residency. The Hollanders then settled in West Hollywood, where Toni raised two daughters, Kimberly, now 18, and Courtney, 13. She also set up a private practice in clinical psychology and by 1974 landed a spot as a guest psychologist on a local call-in program. She was given her own show in 1975 and has been playing Dear Abby ever since. Detractors call her advice superficial and question whether a woman who drives a Jaguar, has two housekeepers and hobnobs with celebrities can really understand the problems of the average listener. Off the air, Grant has even been known to disparage her audience. “God, women are such bimbos, a lot of them,” she said in a recent interview. “They say these vague things like, ‘I just want a meaningful relationship,’ and then we move a little further into the conversation and the bottom line is that they simply don’t know how to get these men to marry them.”
There was a time, presumably, when Grant didn’t know either. When her first marriage fell apart in 1980, she dealt with her new freedom cautiously. “Toni was a virgin in the dating game,” says her friend Kelly Lange, a Los Angeles TV-news anchorwoman. “She knew all the answers from an intellectual vantage point, but not from a practical vantage point. She had her adolescence in the last six years.” A former friend of Grant’s concurs. “Toni loved dating, particularly very wealthy men,” she says. “Looks didn’t matter to her. She liked men who treated her well, who would take her to dinner, buy her presents, call her back. She took a long time before she slept with anyone.”
But once she did, according to Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, she didn’t hold back. “She was the hottest sexual partner I ever had,” says Goldstein. “But basically it was a dishonest relationship. I loved her fame. She loved my excitement. I was like the gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The dirty experience for a respectable woman. I knew it wouldn’t last.” In fact, Goldstein says Toni broke off with him in May 1985 and he felt hurt and abused when she publicly denied their affair.
Grant maintains that writing her book was a way of learning what she wanted in life. “I found I was confused about being a woman,” she says. “I was growing up and maturing into womanhood, and researching the book helped that.” Grant has admitted she had no trouble attracting men but had trouble holding them because she was so competitive. “It was hard for me to write the marriage chapter. I felt a sense of failure. I wondered if I was destined only to teach instead of do.”
She was also concerned about her credibility as a single woman telling other women how to capture a man. Fate intervened last January when Grant met Bell, then 45, at a conference of top executives in Hawaii. Bell had been divorced from his first wife for a year and was wary of a new relationship. A businessman based in Marion, Ind., he was also taken aback by Grant’s celebrity status. “Here I am, this little farm boy,” says Bell. “I’m 5’8″. I don’t view myself as a Robert Redford type.” Grant didn’t seem to object and even offered to move to Marion once Bell popped the question. Instead, her husband-to-be chose to operate his business out of Beverly Hills, where he and Grant recently bought a French Regency-style home with a 2,000-square-foot master bedroom suite.
Surrounded by wedding presents and looking forward to her fall honeymoon in Hong Kong, Grant says she’ll be writing more books. Might Being a Man be among them? “Well,” snaps Grant, “it wouldn’t be called that, because the essence of man is doing, not being.” Nor are men looking for such a book, she says. “Men don’t sit around in groups and talk. They are simple creatures. They just know if they feel good or don’t feel good.” With that, she gets up, hugs her new husband, and they take off for her radio studio.
—Andrea Chambers, with Jacqueline Savaiano in West Hollywood