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Meeting Gloria Steinem: first encounters and initial impressions
A 70th birthday celebration

March 31, 2004
Compiled by Dana Cook

Mort Sahl, comedian Dated

as an employee of Help magazine, she came to Los Angeles. And she wiggled around, and I asked her out, and we dated for some time in Los Angeles and New York, but I found something missing. I couldn’t get it turned on; but in those days, I was almost enough for both of us. You know the American male—goes off at eight looking for love and by eleven or twelve he becomes discouraged and settles for sensuality. Later on I saw Gloria write for Harper’s Bazaar “How to Get an Even Tan.” She calls herself a writer. I don’t know how that would compare with Principia Mathematica. I saw her use Mike Nichols. Women using men as stepping stones—all the things she condemns.
And Gloria became a professional liberal. That’s easy for a Jewish girl from Cleveland whose father was a junk dealer and who went to Smith College…. (1958)

from Heartland, by Mort Sahl (Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1976)

Liz Smith, gossip columnist What was she driving at?

I adored Gloria Steinem, but I just didn’t get what she was driving at. I’d worked my ass off in a man’s world and I thought success for women was a normal uphill, terrifying, selective process—you had to simply win against all odds.
I met Gloria early on in my career when she was a lowly editor for a humor magazine called Help….Gloria wrote balloon captions to go over famous photos….
A few years later, I was working pro bono on a fashion charity and up to me came a gorgeous, glamorous woman dressed like a butterfly. Gloria Steinem batted her eyes and said, “Liz, you don’t recognize me!” My dear Gloria was then dating brilliant guys like Mike Nichols and Herb Sargent, the head writer for Saturday Night Live. She was carving out a career as a freelancer and also rising in the social firmament. So when she suddenly forsook all that, plus a big commercial career as a writer, and became the leader of millions of downtrodden women, it took a bit of adjusting. I had read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963. It hadn’t made much impression on me. (New York, late 1950s)

from Natural Blonde: A Memoir ( Hyperion, 2000)

Tom Hayden, New Left activist Sophisticated and appealing
and California state senator

the National Student Association conference…Over one thousand students gathered at the University of Minnesota…Editors and student government leaders from major campuses across the country were present…
There also was a woman who interviewed potential applicants, including myself, to participate in an international youth festival, where her task force was planning to offset communist influence. It was tempting, partly because the travel to Europe was paid for by her committee, and partly because I was curious to meet her. This miniskirted woman kept coming up in conversation among eager young men; her name was Gloria Steinem, later the editor of Ms. Magazine and perhaps America’s best-known feminist.
We talked twice in her office, where she explained how an American delegation including outspoken liberals like myself could defend the United States against Soviet-sponsored delegations to the 1962 Helsinki youth festival eager to exploit American racism. She was sophisticated and appealing, and only a scheduling problem kept me from taking her offer. (Minneapolis, 1960)

from Reunion: A Memoir, by Tom Hayden (Random House, 1988)

Renata Adler, magazine journalist Envisioning old age

One day, in the course of an interview for Glamour, Ms. Steinem asked me how I envisioned my old age. I said I couldn’t imagine it, actually, but I knew what I hoped. I hoped I would be sitting in a rocking chair beside another oldster, and agreeing with him that, in spite of what might have seemed, at the time, to be mistakes, everything had turned out to be fine. Ms. Steinem was surprised. She had never been able to imagine herself in old age otherwise than alone… (New York, mid-1960s)

from Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, by Renata Adler (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Michael Caine, actor Her male chauvinist pig

I was going to be given the ultimate accolade—an interview with The New York Times. The next day in the Oak Room of the Plaza, I was indeed interviewed by a young and beautiful reporter named Gloria Steinem. She wrote an article headlined Maurice Joseph Micklewhite: What’s He Got? In it she decided that I did indeed have a certain je ne sais quoi although it was never actually defined, but she did manage to confuse Michael Caine with the character of Alfie, and when she later became an ardent feminist I was always at the top of her list of international male chauvinist pigs, which I am not, of course. Is this fair, Gloria? (New York, mid-1960s)

from What’s It All About?: An Autobiography, by Michael Caine (Turtle Bay Books/Random House, 1992)

Susan Brownmiller, feminist and author Great Stone Face

Gloria Steinem was a friend of Women’s Liberation in 1969, but she had not yet thrown in her lot with the movement. Her plate was already overflowing with causes. Gloria spoke out against the war in Vietnam on the late-night talk shows, raised money for liberal Democrats and for Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers, and wrote earnest pieces on all of her issues for the popular magazines. Genetically endowed with the rangy limbs and sculpted features of a fashion model, Steinem glided through the rarefied world of radical chic expertly building her political connections. Beneath the exterior of the celebrity journalist was a woman who yearned to save the world.
My first encounter with [Betty] Friedan and Steinem, in the flesh, took place during the fall of 1967 at Friedan’s apartment in the neo-Gothic Dakota on Central Park West. Betty was hosting a fundraiser for a writers’ group against the war, and Gloria was a cohost, although they had not met before….Putting my name through her mental calculator, she clicked her long fingers and paid me a compliment on something I’d written. I returned the compliment by saying that her statements against the war had been terrific on [Johnny] Carson or [Dick] Cavett a few nights before.
She then treated me to a self-assessment that I would mull over many times during the next few years as she soared into prominence as the movement’s anointed leader. That evening I learned that Gloria was a keen student of her own natural powers, which she worked tirelessly and attentively to improve. She was aware that she had a rare gift to make things go down palatably in the “cool” medium of television, as Marshall McLuhan had defined it, but she did not yet comprehend how far it might take her.
I call myself the Great Stone Face,” she confided. “But am I getting through or doing it wrong? I joke that I could call for a victory for the Viet Cong and Johnny would say ‘That’s nice, Gloria. We’ll be right back, folks, after this message.’ ” (New York)

from In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, by Susan Brownmiller (The Dial Press/Random House, 1999)

Jim Brown, football player Physically and mentally wonderful

Gloria was assigned to write a magazine piece about me. She came out to the Arizona film set where I was making a movie, returned with me to Los Angeles during a break in the filming. One afternoon we were crossing Sunset, it was busy, I offered Gloria my hand, and I noticed that turned her off. She was a feminist, I suppose my offer offended her. As I spent time with Gloria and her tape recorder, I saw she was extremely bright and vocal, and I was sure many guys had not been able to stomach that. It attracted the hell out of me. So did the challenge, I have to admit, of winning the affections of this particular feminist. Gloria and I started dating, and she was wonderful, physically and mentally. She may hate me after this but she was real fond of me then. (1968)

from Out of Bounds, by Jim Brown with Steve Delsohn (Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing, 1989)

Rafer Johnson, decathlete Real as rain

One of the few pleasant things that happened to me at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was meeting Gloria Steinem. She too had been a [Robert] Kennedy supporter who was trying to move the party in the direction RFK would have taken it. I believe we met on a bus going to or from one of the convention events.

Sometime the following year I looked up Gloria in New York, where she lived. That was the beginning of a friendship and romance that continued on and off for a couple of years. Our lives were not exactly conducive to steady intimacy. We would see each other when I had to be in New York or Gloria had to be in California. Long periods of time would pass when our only contact was by telephone. When we were together we had to squeeze private moments into hectic, and very public, schedules….


From time to time I’d have to laugh about the things that were said about Gloria by people who did not know her. There was nothing abrasive about her, for instance; she was warm, mild-mannered, and thoughtful. There was nothing phony or self-important about her either; she was real as rain and often self-effacing. And she certainly didn’t hate men. If Gloria hated anything it was injustice—that, and being singled out for her looks instead of what she stood for. But at the risk of offending her I must say that Gloria was as beautiful as she was intelligent, and she still is.

from The Best That I Can Be, by Rafer Johnson with Philip Goldberg (Doubleday, 1998)

Rita Mae Brown, lesbian activist and novelist “Women are women”

Gloria Steinem, blonde, gorgeous, smart, changed the feminist movement. She was a Johnny-come-lately to those of us who’d been scarred by the NOW wars, the struggles with gay men just to see our issues recognized and, of course, the unremitting hostility from the press.
She used the media better than anyone thought possible. She knew what she could present and what she couldn’t. She knew that how you look is more important than what you say, sad but true. She was so beautiful, men couldn’t dismiss her.
As in any small pond with a few big frogs, she stirred resentment. Not from me. I’d never been so glad to see someone in my life.
I trusted her….
She needed little from me. I represented a fringe group at that time. However, she didn’t dismiss me or the women from the New Left. She heard everyone’s point of view.
I asked her what she thought of gay women.
Women are women,” That was that. (New York, late 1960s)

from Rita Will: Memoirs of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam, 1997)

Katharine Graham, publisher of Washington Post Influenced my thinking

My friendship with Gloria Steinem was also an important influence in my thinking [about the women’s movement]. Being younger, she had been shaped by the 1950s, a very different time from my own frame of reference. I had watched the burgeoning women’s movement, of which she was a distinguished leader, from afar at first and was put off by the pioneering feminists who necessarily, I now suspect, took extreme positions to make their crucial point about the essential equality of women….
As time passed, Gloria, more than any other individual, changed my mind-set and helped me grasp what the leaders of the movement—and even the extremists—were talking about. I remember her first efforts to talk with me seriously about the issues. My response was, “No, thanks, that’s not for me.” She persisted, however. I recall her encouraging me to throw off some of the myths associated with my old-style thinking. She said, “That’s General Motors passing through our womb—you know, it goes from our fathers to our sons. But there is this kind of authentic self in there that is a guide if it’s not too squelched, and if we’re not too scared to listen to it.”…
when Gloria came to me for funds to start up Ms. magazine, I put up $20,000 for seed money to help her get going. (late 1960s)

from Personal History, by Katharine Graham (Knopf, 1997)

Judy Collins, folk singer Solace, heroine, friend

I met Gloria Steinem in the late sixties, and she continues to be a solace, a heroine, and a friend. Shortly after we first met, I went to a consciousness-raising group at Gloria’s. She had begun to look for funding for a new magazine devoted to feminist issues. I went to some meetings with Gloria, Marlo Thomas, Margaret Sloane, and Florynce Kennedy. It was a diverse group, and we gathered once a week to talk about ways in which we could grow as people. (New York)

from Trust Your Heart: An Autobiography, by Judy Collins (Houghton Mifflin, 1987)

Robin Morgan, poet and feminist Behind the glamorous image

For the first time [in about 1970], Gloria Steinem registers on my consciousness as someone worth knowing. Until know, in different ways, she and Betty Friedan have been driving us radicals batty. Friedan too vociferously denounces us, exaggerating our message toward androcide; Steinem too helpfully explains us, blanding our message toward insipidity. On the few occasions I find myself stuck with them, doing a radio or TV show, Friedan is downright rude (not just to me but everyone, especially Steinem, which is oddly comforting), Steinem is always warm, yet she strikes me as being largely irrelevant to serious feminism at this point. She’s written sympathetically about us for New York magazine, and she’s fine on liberal causes—against the war and for the Farmworkers—but she’s one of the Beautiful People, she’s chic, dates powerful men, and actually campaigns for Norman Mailer in his short-lived attempt to become mayor of New York. I don’t dislike her but, being a bit of a literary and political snob, regard her as a well-meaning but glitzy jet-set journalist, not an activist.
I became a contributing editor of Ms. magazine in 1977. My acquaintance with Gloria Steinem had over the years slowly developed into a friendship, especially as I came to know the real, vulnerable woman behind the glamorous image—the woman who was at heart, as she puts it, “still a working-class, fat brunette from the wrong side of the tracks in Toledo, Ohio, with a mentally incapacitated mother, yet.” Gloria, already a celebrity as a journalist, had been anointed by the media boys as a feminist leader the moment she showed interest in the Women’s Movement, but she was growing into that role by working seriously at becoming a skilled feminist organizer. I’m not always fond of her public persona, although I recognize the at times strategic value of such an image. No, to me her most important contribution lies in the thousands of beneficial actions, large and small, that she’s made discreetly, behind the scenes, for absolutely no personal gain….

from Saturday’s Child: A Memoir, by Robin Morgan (W.W. Norton, 2001)

Nora Ephron, journalist, novelist Women and technology
and screenwriter

At a certain point in the [Democratic national] convention, every N.W.P.C. [National Women’s Political Caucus] meeting began to look and sound the same. Airless, window-less rooms decked with taffeta valances and Miami Beach plaster statuary. Gloria in her jeans and aviator glasses, quoting a female delegate on the gains women have made in political life this year: “It’s like pushing marbles through a sieve. It means the sieve will never be the same again.”…The microphone breaks down. “Until women control technology,” says Gloria, “we will have to be dependent in a situation like this.” (1972)

from Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, by Nora Ephron (Alfred A. Knopf, 1975)

Martin Amis, journalist and novelist Unashamedly glamorous

I sat waiting for Ms Steinem in the midtown offices of Ms, the magazine that she co-founded in 1972….


Ms Steinem emerged from her conference, and we all got ready to leave. Our destination was Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, where Gloria would address the students—the kind of trip she makes once or twice a week. Photographs had not prepared me for Ms Steinem’s height and slenderness; her face, too, seemed unexpectedly shrewd and angular beneath the broad, rimless glasses (which she seldom removes). The long hair is expertly layered, the long fingers expertly manicured. Fifty this year, Ms Steinem is unashamedly glamorous: it is a pampered look, a Park Avenue look. Out on the street, a chauffeur-driven limousine mysteriously appeared, and in we climbed.


Gloria talked of her forthcoming visit to England, her intention to visit the Greenham Women and ‘to seek political asylum’ here if Ronald Reagan, ‘a smiling fascist’, won a second term. The frequency of her smile at first suggests, not falsity, but settled habit; after a time, though, it suggests a real superabundance of warmth—also energy and self-belief…. (New York, 1984)

from The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America, by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape, 1986)

Frederick Exley, sportswriter and novelist Busy-looking

...Ms. Steinem was coming to town to speak to a local women’s professional group…I had determined…I must meet her.
wheeling down the Sunshine State Parkway [from Palm Beach] toward my ill-starred meeting with Ms. Gloria Steinem.
Gloria’s hair was coifed in its usual way, flowing black-sepia with those blond strands that fell over and triangularly framed her lovely cool brow. Here were her big round raspberry aviatrix’s spectacles resting on those great high cheekbones that seemed somehow so much more striking than other cheekbones; and when she offered her hand, said hello and smiled and I had a glimpse of those big even white teeth I was visited by angels who whispered to me that something quite like heaven would be to put my tongue in Gloria’s mouth and just loll around on her back fillings for about a half-hour before moving up those marvelous ivory monuments up front…Gloria had on a pair of crumby-looking suite cyclist’s boots, raspberry corduroy breeches, and a short-sleeved navy blue cotton sportshirt that laced up the front in little x’s, Kit Carson style. She carried a floppy old canvas and leather grocery bag, ballooning with correspondence and manuscripts, and this together with a somewhat anemic pallor, a real tiredness about the eyes and a sagging untoned thinness reminded me again of how incredibly busy she must be. (Key Biscayne, Fla., early 1970s)

from Pages From a Cold Island, by Frederick Exley (Random House, 1974)

Benjamin Spock, baby doctor Denounced me

when I was running for president, I was asked, like all presidential candidates that year, to explain to the National Women’s Political Caucus my own views and those of the party in regard to the women’s liberation movement and to sexism in general. I realized that it would be a very hostile audience….When I got up to speak, several women left the hall. Rather than start by explaining the People’s Party point of view, I said, “I want to apologize first for some of the foolish things I’ve written and said,” then went on to explain the position of the party.
When I finished, Gloria Steinem, who was in the middle of the audience, stood up and thundered in the tones of Jehovah, “Dr. Spock, I hope you realize you have been a major oppressor of women in the same category as Sigmund Freud!” Freud had been very much a Victorian sexist, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t made profound discoveries about the psyche. So I comforted myself by thinking of it as a compliment, though Steinem didn’t mean it as such…. (New York, 1972)

from Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up With the Century, by Benjamin Spock, M.D. with Mary Morgan (Pantheon Books, 1989)

Shere Hite, sex researcher and author Friendly gesture

I remember one day I saw Gloria Steinem. She looked extremely pretty and I was afraid of her, she was so famous. She too wasn’t quite accepted by the core group at some conference or another where we were because she was so successful and had her own magazine, and I wasn’t accepted because I was still a ‘nobody’ and a blonde who sometimes wore make-up and besides, I was from out of town, ‘nowhere’. Gloria and I eyed each other at the edges of this circle of women who were casually hanging out, and gossiping, checking out clothing, sharing ideas and information. We both wanted desperately to be included (it seemed to me). She—being the brighter and braver of us that day—smiled at me and began to strike up a conversation. What did I do? Did I appreciate this gesture of hers, and respond? No! I snottily—but really, shyly—turned back to the group who didn’t accept me and weren’t noticing me. Why on earth did I do a stupid thing like that? I’ve always regretted it. Fortunately, this was not my last chapter with Gloria, for she became a friend and colleague, a relationship that has lasted for years. (New York, mid-1970s)

from The Hire Report on Shere Hite, by Shere Hite (Arcadia Books, 2000)

Lesley Stahl, broadcast journalist Backing Bella

On the shuttle back to Washington I sat with Gloria Steinem, a friend of Aaron’s [husband Latham] from their days together at New York magazine. She was furious at Jimmy Carter because he had just fired former Congresswoman Bella Abzug from the position of chairman of his National Advisory Committee on Women. Gloria said that she and other feminists were flying to Washington as a show of support…. (1977)

from Reporting Live, by Lesley Stahl (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Linda Lovelace, pornographic film star Kind

Gloria was trying to reach me…she had seen me on The Donahue Show and wanted to learn more about me.
Gloria wanted to interview me for an article. I went to her office…I had never seen Ms magazine before. Now I know the kind of woman who reads Ms is someone who is independent and stands up for what she believes, the kind of woman who makes up her own mind about things. I wouldn’t have qualified for a subscription back then.
My first impressions of Gloria were all positive and nothing has ever happened to change them. Everyone knows that she’s attractive, intelligent, strong and independent. However, I’m not sure everyone knows how kind she is and how much she extends herself for people who are less fortunate. (New York, late 1970s)

from Out of Bondage, by Linda Lovelace with Mike McGrady (Lyle Stuart, 1986)

Cybill Shepherd, actor Activating me

more time to read. One afternoon…the book I chose would have an enormous impact on the direction of my life. It was Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellion by Gloria Steinem. Although I had called myself a feminist for fifteen years, I realized I had not committed a single Outrageous Act in any public way to support women’s reproductive freedom or any other civil rights issue….Determined finally to become part of the solution, I called Ms. magazine and asked to speak to Gloria Steinem, the magazine’s founder, whom I had met briefly at a party in Manhattan a few years earlier. She took my call immediately and without wasting time, I asked what I could do to help the cause.
There’s a political action committee I’m involved with called Voters for Choice, she began. “They’re in need of a strong morally committed spokesperson. Would you consider that?”
Yes,” I said without hesitation. I was finally on my way toward exorcising the demon of political inaction and apathy that had been brewing since my childhood when I had been surrounded by the racism of the segregated south…. (mid-1980s)

from Cybill Disobedience, by Cybill Shepherd with Aime Lee Ball (HarperCollins, 2000)

Diane Von Furstenberg, fashion designer Radiant at 50

to Gloria Steinem’s fiftieth birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria…It was a great party. Gloria had gathered hundreds of friends and women supporters. She looked radiant. I remember thinking how great it would be to look that way at fifty and have accomplished that much. Gloria had given “a key to freedom” to many women and I had always admired her. (1984)

from DIANE: A Signature Life, by Diane Von Furstenberg with Linda Bird Francke (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

Alice Walker, novelist Supportive

to see the film [The Color Purple] a second time at the premiere in New York…
afterward Gloria…and Mort [Zuckerman] came up and we hugged and she was very happy for me. I felt so much for her. For of everyone she’s been the most supportive, a real champion of me and “Purple.” She said, knowing how worried I’d been [about how the film would be received]: “You don’t have to worry anymore. It’s beautiful.”…(1986)

from The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, by Alice Walker (Scribner, 1996)

Marilyn French, novelist Creating a coven

my coven celebrated the spring equinox. The coven was born when Gloria Steinem invited E.M. (Esther) Broner, Carol Jenkins, and me for dinner one night in 1988. Ms. having been (temporarily) sold to two Australian feminists, Gloria had fewer responsibilities than usual; for the first time in many years, she had some leisure time and decided to use it to do things she wanted to do instead of things she had to do. This included seeing women she wished to know better. She also wanted to form a group to celebrate, not traditional holidays, but their ancient equivalents, the solstices and equinoxes. We decided to call ourselves a coven, modeling ourselves on ancient cells of witches, wise women with healing powers in medieval Europe. Over the years, we became intimate friends—not in the sense that we spoke every day and knew every detail of the others’ lives, but as friends who knew each other’s qualities and had a sense of each other’s fears and longings, the grooves and velvet folds we were trapped in, our efforts to pull ourselves free; and we were ardent about one another’s well-being. These women were (and are) among my most important friends. The first meeting was held at Gloria’s house. I don’t recall our discussion that first night; we sat down to dinner at eight and rose at three in the morning. We all felt that this was something that should continue and, in future meetings, used the same satisfying form we had arrived at the first time. (New York)

from A Season in Hell, by Marilyn French (Ballantine Books, 1998)

Dana Cook is a Toronto freelance editor and collector of literary encounters.

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