Gloria Allred, according to Time, is “one of the nation's most effective advocates of family rights and feminist causes.” The magazine didn’t write that yesterday, though, in the wake of Allred’s press conference on behalf of Sharon Bialek, the woman who has come forward to accuse Herman Cain publicly of sexual assault. Nope, that description came in 1984, back when she was bringing lawsuits against Los Angeles dry cleaners for charging men and women different prices to get their shirts cleaned. Yesterday, Time referred to Allred dismissively but correctly as “celebrity attorney Gloria Allred,” which is, well, fairly accurate. Allred has always had a taste for notoriety, but when she began her career, she went after it in service of genuine feminist crusading. Somewhere along the line, she began to court celebrity, supposedly to bring attention to her causes, but sometimes in the service, apparently, of simply getting paid.
Allred held the Bialek press conference at the Friar’s Club, which figures largely into her personal mythology: Back in the eighties, she became the first woman allowed to join the club, after she demanded, in signature brassy style, to be allowed in. It was one of the first Allred campaigns to push her into the national spotlight, and she seemed to decide that klieg lights flattered her best. The Friar's Club is now mostly symbolic for its celebrity/entertainment sheen — qualities we associate rather more closely than justice-seeking with Allred nowadays. After all, she last bubbled up most vividly in the public imagination for her work on behalf of several of the more notorious Tiger Woods mistresses: That scandal was, to steal a line from Allred herself, her idea of a stimulus package. Not only did she help Joslyn James, Rachel Uchitel, and another Woods paramour get large cash settlements, but she also represented his kindergarten teacher, who decided to sue for what she says was an inaccurate story he’d repeated about his childhood. Allred supposedly isn't seeking money on Bialek's behalf, but given her history, it's easy for detractors to be cynical. How’d she get from the dry cleaners to there? Follow us through the career of Gloria Allred, told through her signature press conferences.
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National Organization For Women, 1977
Allred, now 70, came relatively late to the law, but with a mission. She'd married, had a baby, and gotten a divorce all before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. Shortly after college, Allred was date-raped at gunpoint and says she nearly died after getting a then-illegal abortion. She taught for a while, including in the rough Watts section of Los Angeles, before getting her law degree at the age of 32. Along with the Friar's Club coup, much of her early work focused on women's rights: She became a representative for the National Organization for Women. At left, she's pictured bending California Governor Jerry Brown's ear on NOW's behalf in at a press conference in 1977. It wasn't yet an Allred-arranged media spectacle, but she knew how to find her way to a microphone.
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Patty Hearst, 1979
Even early on, in her high feminist era, Allred knew the value of celebrity in ginning up support for her cause — and the punch a press conference can pack. Here, she's with Patty Hearst, the infamous kidnapped heiress turned Symbionese Liberation Army operative, at a 1979 press conference in which the newly released Hearst pledged to become active in the women's movement, particularly on behalf of battered women. Allred had befriended Hearst while the heiress was still in prison, and then worked to get her out — a calculated leveraging of fame.
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Lynn Redgrave, 1981
In the eighties, Allred made something of a specialty of bringing high-profile gender-discrimination suits against Hollywood studios and directors — it was one way to keep one foot in crusading territory and the other in the celebrity camp. The actress Lynn Redgrave was dismissed from the CBS show House Calls for, she said, breastfeeding her newborn baby. Represented by Allred, Redgrave sued for $10 million in damages — a story that ended up in the pages of People magazine, which Allred could also credibly say was consciousness-raising, on behalf of less-famous mothers who had the same problem at work. (The studio maintained the trouble was over a salary dispute, and the suit was later dismissed). Surely the idea to bring that newborn baby to the conference was all Allred — it's hard to make good theater without the right props. Allred also sued successfully on behalf of a male actor, Neal Sheldon, who didn't want to appear in the nude in the movie Hardrock. (Sometimes the props are best left to the public's imagination.)
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Rita Miller, 1984
More props: Here's Allred at a 1984 press conference with her 22-year-old client and a picture of the baby Miller said belonged to one of seven Los Angeles priests who sexually abused her (including in a confessional). This was an early indication of Allred's proclivity for taking on sex-scandal cases, but around the same time, she also won a number of less splashy landmark discrimination cases: She successfully sued to prevent a trailer park from refusing to allow children to live there, for instance.
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Allred's tactics hinge, above all, on getting press, and sometimes on the shaming that publicity brings. In the mid-eighties, she prevailed upon California newspapers to print the names of more than 200 so-called "deadbeat dads," many of whom were subsequently located. As she became more of a famous name herself, she continued to lend her support to feminist causes. Here, in 1989, she attended a pro-choice rally, which, while not a press conference, provided a satisfying proximity to celebrity along with a genuinely feminist mission. That's the actress Morgan Fairchild at her left.
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Michael Jackson, 1993
In the nineties, Allred's practice tilted more toward pure celebrity, though usually there was a sex-scandal associated. In 1993 (sporting a rather Wacko Jacko-esque look herself), she represented the parents of a 13-year-old boy who accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse.
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Hunter Tylo, 1997
Allred also managed to be involved in the case of the century; she's pictured here answering questions during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, during which she represented the family of the victim, Nicole Brown Simpson. In 1997, she represented actress Hunter Tylo against megaproducer Aaron Spelling, who claimed she was dismissed from Melrose Place because of her pregnancy. Here, the two talk to the press following the announcement of Tylo's $5 million jury award.
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Kelly Fisher, 1997
That same year, Allred also worked on behalf of model Kelly Fisher, who filed a breach-of-contract suit against her former fiancé Dodi Al-Fayed, filed just weeks before Fayed died in a car crash with girlfriend Princess Diana. At the August 14 press conference, Allred was delighted to draw attention to Fisher's collateral — a nice, shiny prop, the sapphire and diamond engagement ring. Fisher can't seem to bear looking at the cameras, but luckily Allred is happy to do so in her stead. Gender issues (however vague) had become an excuse for talking about celebrities, rather than the other way around.
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Cathy Bellmore, 1999
By 1999, even Allred looked a little horrified at the thought of yet another O.J. Simpson–related lawsuit, but here she is gamely appearing with Cathy Bellmore, the mother of O.J.'s then-girlfriend, who said she feared for her daughter's safety.
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Brenda and Damon Von Dam, 2003
Not all the cases Allred took on were canonical tabloid fodder. Over the last decade, she solidified her M.O. by taking on a number of lower profile cases and applying the same press conference strategy to them. Any lawsuit involving Gloria Allred was instantly ratched up a notch or two: a good thing, to her fans, and something that distracts from the seriousness of the issues at hand, to her detractors. Here Allred is in 2003 with the parents of a murdered 7-year-old child.
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Amber Frey, 2003
In 2005, Allred gave a press conference during the Scott Peterson trial on behalf of Amber Frey, the massage therapist who was reputed to be one of Peterson's mistresses. The Peterson case represented a turn from just a few years earlier: Allred was now often in the business of standing up for the rights of the Other Woman.
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We're most used to seeing Allred with a female client at her side — it's one of the clearest vestiges of her early feminist crusading — but at this 2007 presser, she's there with Tony Barretto, the former Britney Spears bodyguard who testified against the spiraling star in her custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline. Here, Allred could make the case that she was still crusading for children's rights, but it seemed like a clear play to simply get her name into the tabloids along with his. Barretto, after all, was a witness, not someone named in the suit.
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Philip Ray De Blieck and Reverend Troy Perry, 2009
Allred made a brief return to her original crusading form: She represented Philip Ray De Blieck and his husband, Reverend Troy Perry, in bringing the first challenge to California's ban on gay marriage. Her early role in attacking Prop 8 was mostly ignored, perhaps because she'd eroded her credibility with celebrity cases.
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Joslyn James, 2009
But that year, she also took on the Tiger Woods bonanza. Here, Allred hugs her client Joslyn James, the porn star, with the ultimate prop — a philandering male, projected through her favorite medium — behind her.
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Paul Peterson, 2009
She also took on a case against Octomom. Here, Allred is pictured with her client, former child star Paul Petersen, who somewhat inexplicably decided to sue Nadya Suleman for breaking child labor laws.
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Debrahlee Lorenzana, 2010
Allred was back on the empowerment train in 2010, when she embraced (literally) Debrahlee Lorenzana, a woman allegedly fired from Citibank for being too sexy. In many ways, it was the ultimate Allred case: tabloid sizzle, lovely optics, and a feminist underpinning.
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Roger McDowell, 2011
But perhaps the ultimate Allred moment came earlier this year. Allred was representing the families of two 9-year-old girls, who said Atlanta Braves pitcher Roger McDowell went on a homophobic rant in front of them, then simulated sex with a baseball bat. The families decided to sue. The strength of her case was dubious, but Allred, naturally, held a press conference, where she proceeded to re-create McDowell's baseball-bat-as-penis act — in front of the girls! Never had Allred interacted quite so much with her props. She got a public apology from McDowell, but the incident was memorable more for the spectacle Allred created than the facts of the case itself. To borrow a phrase from someone else who built a whole business off the women's movement: You've come a long way, baby.