In 2010, you know you’re a scandalous woman if you have retained Gloria Allred as your attorney—not because you really have done anything terribly wrong, of course, but to protect your reputation and preserve your rights for telling your own story. Allred and her clients clearly have learned the most valuable lesson from all of history’s most scandalous women: The quality of the story trumps the historical facts like a full house beats a pair of deuces, and a woman serves her own best interests by telling her own story in her own way. History further demonstrates that a woman’s well-managed scandal can evolve into a tremendously successful career. Ten prominent examples make the case.
1. Cleopatra VII
Arguably history’s first political powerhouse woman: Generally known simply as “Cleopatra”—as in the Cleopatra, star of story, legend, and drama—the Egyptian queen departed from her fiercely Greek Ptolemaic predecessors, learning the Egyptian language and declaring herself a reincarnation of the goddess Isis. After Roman conspirators assassinated Caesar in 44BC, Cleopatra forged an alliance with Marc Antony and Caesar’s opposition. The political hook-up, however, paled by comparison with the historic consequences of their love affair. According to most storytellers, Cleopatra made conquest of all the ancient world’s most powerful men, seducing and them compromising them with her irresistible beauty and her even more compelling wit, charm, and intellect.
2. Lady Godiva
History’s first “uppity woman,” married to the Baron of Coventry, England, and champion of her oppressed people. To his wife’s considerable chagrin and over her repeated protests, the greedy and gluttonous Baron relentlessly taxed the people to support his own excesses. Finally, Lady Godiva wore down the Baron’s objections, and the two struck a deal: He would remit the taxes if she rode “naked” through Coventry; precise definitions of “naked” remain the subject of spirited debate among scholars, but artists always have chosen the no-clothes version, usually covering her with her own luscious, languorous locks. Jealous of his trophy wife’s considerable good looks, the Baron decreed that the townspeople had to shutter their windows as she cruised the main street. As the story goes, all but once citizen complied: the infamous “Peeping Tom” secured a permanent place in the history of voyeurism by drilling a hole in his shutters to catch a glorious glimpse of milady’s tenderest parts. For his troubles, Peeping Tom allegedly was struck blind. Lady Godiva took her brazen ride, and the Baron enacted the tax cuts as promised. History offers no record of the Coventry citizens’ living happily ever after.
3. Joan of Arc
Fifteenth century warriorette, who claimed she had visions from God instructing her to free France from English domination. Then uncrowned Charles VII sent nineteen-year-old Joan to the siege of Orleans, ostensibly as part of a relief mission. Once there, Joan scrutinized les vieux garcons battle plans, threw-out the old playbook, and lifted the siege in just nine days. She subsequently led French forces to several more quick and decisive victories, securing Charles VII’s coronation and the end of the dispute about his rights to the French throne. For her efforts on France’s behalf and because of her claims about divine intervention, an English Ecclesiastical Court found her guilty of heresy, promptly burning her at the stake. Twenty-five years later, Pope Callixtus III overturned her conviction and declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 and promoted to one of the patron saints of the French.
4. Ma Barker
A classic example of the story far outstripping the facts: According to the popular press, and especially according to J. Edgar Hoover and his fledgling squad of G-Men, Ma Barker was a tough-talking, cigar-smoking, Tommy-gun toting criminal mastermind who orchestrated approximately 100 hundred heinous crimes—big bank heists, high-profile kidnappings, and murders—between 1931 and 1935. On January 8, 1935, the Feds nabbed “Doc” Barker, who unfortunately carried a map to the Barker-Karpis gang’s Ocklawaha, Florida, hideout. Eight days later, federal agents surrounded the house, ordering the gangsters to surrender. Instead, Fred Barker opened fire on the agents, initiating a protracted fire-fight; witnesses and participants agreed it lasted several hours. Both Ma and Fred died in the gun battle, and FBI spokespeople reported Ma was found with a machine gun in her hands. The government publicly displayed their bodies, ostensibly to discourage other gangsters and criminal entrepreneurs, but also to boost the FBI’s public image. Witnesses and historians since have proven she never participated in any criminal activity, and they allege that FBI agents planted the gun in her hands after she died.
5. Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde)
Barely twenty-one when she began her notorious criminal exploits, Bonnie Parker was every bit as tough, sassy, and sexy as Fay Dunaway made her appear in the 1967 movie of her three-year crime spree with partner and lover Clyde Barrow. In the same way Bonnie and Clyde introduced explicit violence to the movies, the real-life Bonnie and Clyde introduced extreme and sometimes gratuitous violence into the relatively simple business of holding-up small rural banks and markets. The stylish villains of pulp fiction killed at least nine police officers and at least two innocent bystanders during their rampages across the Midwest and rural South. Arguably the first criminals to manage their own public relations, the couple posed for titillating and sensational pictures that inevitably found their way into the newspapers and newsreels of the early thirties. According to historian Jeff Guinn, “Without Bonnie, the media outside Texas might have dismissed Clyde as a gun-toting punk, if it ever considered him at all. With her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal, the oomph, that allowed the two of them to transcend the small-scale thefts and needless killings that actually comprised their criminal careers.” Bonnie and Clyde ultimately died in an attack by Louisiana law enforcement officials in 1934.
6. Fawn Hall
Starlet in the Iran-Contra Scandal that splashed across the headlines in 1986 and 1987, Fawn Hall was Colonel Oliver North’s devoted secretary when he “rode point” on the Reagan administration’s plans to sell arms to friendly factions in Iran and use the proceeds to fund Nicaraguan “Contra” rebels. Granted immunity in exchange for her testimony before Congress, comely twenty-something Hall lit-up CNN screens for two days during the summer of 1989, largely corroborating North’s testimony about wholesale destruction of documents related to the “arms for hostages” deal. In particularly salacious testimony, Hall described smuggling documents out of the office in her underwear. Penthouse and Playboy magazines engaged in a very public bidding war for the privilege of photographing her mostly naked; the bidding was more exciting than any of the photos that followed. Her celebrity launched a much-photographed but short-lived dalliance with actor Rob Lowe; later,she married rock promoter Danny Sugerman and retreated into relative obscurity.
7. Heidi Fleiss
The Hollywood Madam whose frequent media appearances and forthright descriptions of her activities prompted both local Los Angeles and Federal investigations. Leaks to the press from Federal wiretaps strongly suggested Fleiss’s regular patrons included a number of media, sports, and government luminaries, but Fleiss herself never corroborated any of the reports. The government failed to make its case against her for pandering, but the Federal courts subsequently convicted her of tax evasion, for which she served thirty-seven months. After her release, Fleiss retreated to a reclusive home in the desert; but, in 2010, she returned to the media and prominence when she appeared on “Celebrity Rehab” with Dr. Drew Pinsky. During her time at the Pasadena Recovery Center, Fleiss was reunited with Tom Sizemore, movie actor convicted of domestic battery after she filed charges against him in 2003. For the most part, their time in rehab was amicable and incident-free. At one time, reliable sources reported Fleiss was engaged to Dennis Hof, owner of Nevada’s notorious “Moonlite Bunny Ranch,” a legal brothel.
8. Monica Lewinski
The White House intern who helped a generation redefine the meaning of “sexual intercourse” and who proved that the Gap does make cocktail dresses in navy blue while inadvertently contributing to President Clinton’s impeachment. Also the spark plug that ignited First Lady Hilary Clinton’s famous televised tirade in which she alleged the entire scandal was the product of “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” Without denying his involvement with Lewinski, President Clinton fiercely averred, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Two phrases from the denial echoed extra loud. When forensic testing revealed semen on Lewinski’s little blue dress, well-placed sources confirmed that Lewinski had performed oral sex on the cheater-in-chief. Therefore, children of the nineties properly and legally inferred that oral sex is not “sexual intercourse.” Contrary to the conventional wisdom, however, Congress did not impeach Clinton because of the affair; instead, the indictment maintained Clinton had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” when he obstructed the inquiry into his dalliance with Lewinski. After a brief period of self-imposed exile, Lewinski re-emerged for a brief stint as a talk-show hostess.
9. Lindsay Lohan
Lohan first dominated the screen and press as Walt Disney Productions’ pre-eminent tween and teen star, bursting on the scene in the two leading roles of the studio’s spectacularly successful remake of The Parent Trap. Lohan immediately became one of Hollywood’s most bankable young stars and one of its leading models, gracing literally thousands of magazine covers, and posing for hundreds of high-powered advertising campaigns. Lohan modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch and most of the world’s leading photographers, who found her fresh-faced innocence absolutely compelling. As she came-of-age, however, Lohan turned into American tabloids’ “favorite trainwreck,” addicted to cocaine and several times arrested for driving under the influence. Although she continued to work in Europe, Lohan destroyed her American career and alienated even her most loyal fans, growing increasingly dangerous and destructive with each new well-publicized spectacle. On July 6, 2010, a Los Angeles judge sentenced her to jail for violating the terms of her probation on one of the DUI charges.
10. Rachel Uchitel
First of the falling dominoes in the Tiger Woods scandal: Details of the golfer’s affair with the New York City night club hostess leaked to the press late in November, 2009, and Uchitel revealed text messages and other evidence of the depth and duration of their involvement. The disclosures, in turn, triggered the infamous late-night fight between Woods and his wife, Elin. Allegedly drunk and disoriented, Woods managed to pilot his luxury SUV into a fire hydrant and a neighbor’s tree, injuring himself and doing some minor property damage, but mostly destroying his own public image. Throughout the sensationalized scandal, Uchitel maintained she believed her relationship with Woods was deep, serious, and committed; she believed Woods intended to leave his wife and marry her.
Uchitel first attracted public attention as New York’s “face of tragedy” when a pool photographer captured her holding a picture of Andy O’Grady, her fiancé, a victim of the World Trade Center atrocities. After her “discovery,” she worked intermittently as a reporter for E! and several television production companies. Most recently, Uchitel appeared on “Celebrity Rehab,” where she worked through her “addiction to prescription painkillers and love.” In November, 2010, Uchitel told The Daily Mail, “Instead of filling themselves with booze or drugs, love addicts become emotionally invested in a series of bad relationships. Since I lost Andy, I have always been looking for the perfect man. I wanted a man who would marry me, give me the house and children I long for. I plunged headfirst into relationships which I should never have been in.’