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.