She herself was desperate to marry and have children. But her famous boyfriend—journalist Bernard Levin—wouldn’t tie the knot. So at 30, she came to New York and became an iconic figure of eighties Manhattan, a much-ridiculed exotic “It” girl and the author of controversial biographies of Picasso and Maria Callas (the first made waves for accusing the painter of misogyny, the second for a plagiarism scandal). Then it was off to California, where she married oil millionaire Michael Huffington, had two daughters, became part of the Gingrich revolution, and oversaw her husband’s disastrous race against Dianne Feinstein. When the couple divorced (and Michael Huffington came out as gay), Arianna was again a bit of a laughingstock: the flashy divorcée whose gay husband had tried to buy an election. So when she underwent her political transformation—catalyzed by new friends such as Franken, with whom she literally shared a bed on Comedy Central’s political-debate show Strange Bedfellows—it raised eyebrows. Her 2003 run against Schwarzenegger was treated as a sideshow. How could she be trusted?
But the truth is, there are as many consistencies to Huffington’s history as there are variations. Wherever she’s gone, she’s thrown her famous “salons.” In her twenties, in her thirties, her forties, and now in her fifties, she’s thrown out contrarian arguments—on feminism, on art, on politics. Bold and seductive, with that memorable Zsa Zsa purr, Huffington has continually argued for, and modeled, a (depending on one’s perspective) disarming or maddening archetype of female power that draws little distinction between personal relationships and professional ones.
The other factor that links all of Huffington’s various personae is her spirituality. She’s been a spiritual seeker since she was 17, when she studied comparative religions in India. And her penchant for cultish ideologies has allied her with figures like John-Roger, the leader of the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, an old friend who attends her salons in California. If there is a precursor to Fearless, it’s the far-more-intellectual Against Reason, the book she wrote after her smashing success with The Female Woman. It was rejected by 36 publishers—a dense spiritual manifesto that seemed like a baffling follow-up to her best seller. “I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of leadership, and what makes leaders, and the crisis in leadership. So I literally locked myself up and wrote a book which I thought—so naïve!—I just worked around the clock, because I thought this book is important, I really need to get the book out!”
If critics call Huffington a shape-shifter, this does not bother her. “I hope I’m not the same person. There’s a core that is the same, there is a kind of blueprint to our personality. But I’m consciously working on my flaws.”
She knows that her new crowd—people from The Onion and The Daily Show, as well as Franken, whose Stuart Smalley skits were an affectionate satire of precisely the type of self-help rhetoric she wields in Fearless—might not necessarily jibe with her spiritual side. But she greets that possibility with positive serenity. “I see these as eternal verities, not as New Age–y. If you read the sacred texts of every religion, they all preach the same things. If they resonate, it’s because they’re in our DNA.”
We’re gliding up the West Side Highway, late for an appearance on the radio show “Left, Right & Center,” where she is introduced as “coming from the fourth dimension of political time and space.”
At tea the next day at the Plaza Athénée, where Huffington is staying, we share scones. Upon entering the lounge, she as usual ran into someone she knew: Bob Hertzberg, a former Los Angeles mayoral candidate.
We talk about her daughters, Christina, 17, and Isabella, 15. She writes about them quite a bit in the book, describing Christina’s desire to get her parents back together and Isabella’s bout with anorexia. “It was hard for me to notice,” she tells me. “Because she started eating unbelievably healthy, the way I taught myself to eat, to keep my weight down as I grew older. But then at her 12th birthday she refused to have her birthday cake, and her doctor said if you don’t put on ten pounds in the new month, you’re going to be hospitalized. I was really upset at the doctor at first, because I never—my whole thing is not to make children afraid, not to threaten them, it’s not my parenting style. But it had a very deep effect on her. It put the good fear into her.”
Huffington tells me this book is her rawest, most confessional writing, inspired by the courage she’s seen on blogs. And it’s true that it is studded with descriptions of her most vulnerable moments: her miscarriage at five months, her monomaniacal wooing of Levin (she studied the works of Wagner before attending the opera with him), her anger at being condescended to during a debate with Schwarzenegger. And yet it often doesn’t feel very confessional. She has turned her life into a series of lessons.